A Printable, Downloadable, PDF version of this itinerary is available for purchase. Includes Places to Stay in proximity.
ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:
It is no wonder that Bavaria is a favorite destination for so many travelers. This southeastern corner of Germany proudly maintains the reputation of having the friendliest people, the most breathtaking mountains, the quaintest villages, the prettiest lakes, and the most famous castles in Germany. Summertime paints Bavaria’s valleys and hillsides with edelweiss, Alpine roses, and orchids. Winter gently softens the landscape with a carpet of snow. This is a region where traditional dress of lederhosen and dirndls are worn with pride. This itinerary traces a route that begins in Munich, Germany’s “secret capital city,” dips briefly into Austria to visit Salzburg, winds through the high Bavarian Alps, visits the resort towns of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Oberammergau, highlights Ludwig II’s fairy-tale castles, and concludes at the Bodensee (Lake Constance) at the lovely towns of Lindau and Meersburg.
Recommended Pacing: Spend two full days in Munich, giving you time to visit one or two museums, explore the city center, experience one or two beer gardens, and make a half-day trip to Dachau. A half-day drive (including sightseeing) brings you to Berchtesgaden (we offer a hotel in Schönau am Königssee), which merits a three-day stopover (two, if you do not visit Salzburg). The drive along the Alpenstrasse takes a complete day (with sightseeing and lunch). Base yourself in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area (we suggest places to stay in Ettal, Elmau, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Grainau, Hohenschwangau, Oberammergau, Pfronten, or Seeg, any of which make an excellent base for exploring the area). If you cover all of our sightseeing suggestions here, you will need four nights. A half-day drive will find you in Lindau or Meersburg, where we recommend a one-night stay.
Munich, the “gateway to Bavaria,” stars as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Locals refer to Munich as “the village” because it is compact and easily explored on foot with the aid of short trips on the clean and efficient U-Bahn and S-Bahn underground railway systems. Munich, a wonderful beer-drinking, music-loving city, rivals Paris and London with its excellent shopping, museums, cultural events, and plethora of things to see and do. You do not need a car during your stay here, so if Munich is your first German destination and you are arriving by plane, leave your large pieces of luggage at the luggage office at the airport, and travel downtown via the S-Bahn, returning to pick up your car and bags as you depart. Purchase a pass for the subway system: it’s a great deal and allows five adults, up to three children, and a dog unlimited U-Bahn, S-Bahn, bus, and tram travel for 24 hours.
A logical place to begin a tour is the Hauptbahnhof (main train station), a dynamic, lively place with tourist information, fast food, bookstore, bus terminal, and the convergence of many of the U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines. Walk out the front door of the station and head for the first square, the Karlsplatz Stachus, whose official name is the Karlsplatz, after Elector Karl Theodor. The townspeople, however, had such a high regard for Foderl Stachus that they named the square after him in 1730. Leaving the Stachus, wander under Karlstor Gate (past McDonald’s and Burger King) and into the pedestrian zone of the old city, which is alive with fountains, fruit stands, ballad singers, and lay preachers. Off to the left, notice the Renaissance façade of St. Michael’s Church, and ahead, the twin turrets (square with rounded domes) of the Frauenkirche (cathedral), both a landmark and symbol of the city. Marienplatz, the beautiful square that serves as the heart of Munich, is just a short distance farther. Tables and chairs spill from cafés well into the square dominated by the ornate, lacy, wedding-cake, golden-sandstone exterior of the Neues Rathaus (town hall). When the clock on the town hall strikes 11 am, noon, or 5 pm, colorful figures emerge from around the clock to perform a jousting tournament. Awaiting the hour is a perfect excuse to frequent one of the little cafés in the square.
Take a short walk off the square to Munich’s oldest parish church, Alter Peter (St. Peter’s Church), with its impressive 11th-century interior. Climb its tower for a panoramic view, which on a clear day extends to the Alps. Close by the Alter Peter church is the Viktualienmarkt, a permanent marketplace/beer garden full of stalls providing excellent, inexpensive things to eat. Head back towards the Marienplatz past the Speilzeugmuseum, a toy museum with lots of dolls and soldiers, along with a vast array of cars, planes, and trains, and onto the Tal. Munich is famous for its beer halls, which serve well-priced food, as well as huge quantities of beer, and at Tal 7, you find Weisses Bräuhaus with a sophisticated, pub-like atmosphere. If you are looking for oomp-pa-pa music, singing, joviality, and fellow tourists, the famous Hofbräuhaus is just a five-minute walk away. Head down the Tal, turn left on Hochbruchstrasse, turn left again as you face the Hotel Rafael, and you arrive at the enormous barn of a building that houses the Hofbrauhaus. Row after row of rough-hewn tables and benches surround the musicians, and in summer, the merriment spills out to the tables and chairs set beneath the trees on the large patio. (Our favorite beer garden for a warm summer evening is found in the vast park Englischer Garten near the Chinese pagoda.)
There are three outstanding museums to visit: the Alte Pinakothek, the Residenz Museum, and the Deutsches Museum. The Alte Pinakothekhas an incredible collection of works by 14th- to 18th-century masters such as Raphael, Michelangelo, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Brueghel, Goya, and Titian. To help you find your way around, the museum provides an excellent plan of the rooms organized by country and period. Start upstairs with the Dürers, Rubens, Rembrandts, and Italian masters then tackle the Brueghels and Germans on the ground floor. (Alte Pinakothek, Barer Strasse 27, U-Bahn 2; Neue Pinakothek, Barer Strasse 29, U-Bahn 2, 10 am-5 pm, closed Mondays.) The Deutsches Museum, often referred to as “Germany’s Smithsonian,” has a vast array of displays where you push buttons, turn wheels, and pull levers, making the serious subject of science and technology great fun. There are over 19 kilometers of displays, so you need to be very selective. The lack of explanation in English makes it frustrating for non-German speakers, though you can purchase a guidebook in English. (Located on its own island in the River Isar, S-Bahn to Isartorplatz, 9 am-5 pm, closed certain holidays.) The Residenz Museum is so huge (over 100 rooms) that different tours are offered on alternating days. This was the enormous gilded home of the Wittelsbachs, who ruled Bavaria for more than 700 years. A separate ticket admits you to the Schatzkammer, a treasure house filled with the Wittelsbachs’ glittering crowns, jewelry, and knickknacks. (Located on Max-Joseph Platz, 3 blocks from Marienplatz, 10 am-4:30 pm, closed Mondays.)
An easily accessible half-day trip from Munich is Hitler’s first concentration camp, the Dachau Concentration Camp (1933). The barracks are gone but reconstruction gives an idea of the conditions prisoners had to endure. Around the perimeter fence the watchtowers still stand and a museum (unsuitable for children) exhibits, without compromise, what life was like here. You can view the crematorium ovens where over 31,000 people lost their lives, even though this was not primarily an extermination camp. A visit here is a very powerful experience, and the camp’s motto, “Never Again,” strikes home. Dachau is 45 minutes northwest of Munich. Take the S-Bahn 2 towards Peterhausen to Dachau and the 724 or 726 bus from outside the station. The driver knows where you are going and indicates when to alight. From here, it is a ten-minute walk following signposts for Konzentrationslager. When you leave, the bus will take you from just outside the camp gates back to Dachau’s train station. (9 am-5 pm, closed Mondays.)
Fall, of course, translates as the Oktoberfest and many people from all over the world congregate in Munich to participate in the festivities. This happy, noisy celebration of sausage and hops begins in September and concludes on the first Sunday in October. The festival confines itself to a meadow in the southwestern part of Munich called the Theresienwiese.
Leave Munich on autobahn 8 in the direction of Salzburg. About an hour’s drive brings you to Prien (just a few kilometers north of the autobahn) where you turn right for the Chiemsee, Bavaria’s largest lake set against a backdrop of distant mountain peaks. Although not as beautiful as some of Germany’s other lakes that are tucked into mountain pockets, the lake is a draw for sports enthusiasts, and has two very interesting islands: Herreninsel, the lake’s largest island, where Ludwig II built his imitation of Versailles, Schloss Herrenchiemsee; and the adjacent picturesque little island Fraueninsel, crowded with a Benedictine convent and fishing community.
Park by the lake and buy your ferry ticket (which affords a visit to either one or both islands). A 20-minute ride across the lake brings you to Herreninsel, where after a 20-minute stroll through woodlands, you reach Schloss Herrenchiemsee, set in a clearing facing magnificent fountains with lawns running down to the lake. If you prefer, you can take a horse-drawn carriage between the dock and the front steps of the palace. King Ludwig II of Bavaria had two idols, Louis XIV of France and the composer Richard Wagner. Herrenchiemsee was his recreation of Versailles, complete with the magnificent hall of mirrors. While Louis XIV used Versailles to dazzle the world, Ludwig used his Versailles as the backdrop for his exuberant fantasies. During his numerous visits, he ordered thousands of candles to be lit at night, and he wandered the decadent rooms enacting his fantasy of absolute monarchy, secluded from the real world on his isolated island. Tours leave every 20 minutes and last half-an-hour in length-English tours are available. The The König Ludwig Museum that occupies the ground floor of the south wing gives a summary of the king’s life, and outlines his building projects: Herrenchiemsee, Neuschwanstein, and Linderhof are the only projects that were partially completed before his death at age 40 in 1886. Raised in isolation at Hohenschwangau, Ludwig began his reign with great promise at the young age of 18. Before long, though, his interest in politics diminished and, in a vain pursuit of happiness, he embarked on his monumental building spree of fairy-tale castles. The expense of the program and Ludwig’s erratic behavior alarmed the government, who feared (probably justifiably) that the king might bankrupt the country with his wildly extravagant projects, so they declared him unfit to rule by reason of insanity. Four days later, Ludwig was found drowned under mysterious circumstances-supposedly suicide, but the world still wonders, “Who done it?” Whatever the truth of the matter, today the tourist benefits, as all of Ludwig’s palaces are now museums. (9 am-5 pm, April to September; 10 am-4 pm, October to March.) Be prepared for long lines in high season.
Leaving the Chiemsee, continue east along the scenic autobahn to exit 115 at Bad Reichenhall, following signposts to the mountain town of Berchtesgaden. Set in a crescent of towering mountains, Berchtesgaden, an ancient market town, is a very popular tourist destination. Explore the Schlossplatz (the picturesque castle square) with its ancient granary, accounting house, and the Residenz that was transformed from an Augustinian monastery and is now an interesting museum full of weapons, tapestries, paintings, and porcelain. (10 am-noon, 2-5 pm, last admission 4 pm, closed Saturdays Easter through September and only open on weekends October to Easter.) Berchtesgaden is a lively town which is packed with visitors in summer. Confine your sightseeing (Königssee, Salzbergwerk (salt mines), and Kehlstein (Eagle’s Nest)) to early mornings and spend your afternoons on the well-marked walking paths.
Located 4 kilometers south of Berchtesgaden, Königssee’s setting and beauty are comparable to some of the world’s most magnificent fjords. Steep walls enclose this idyllically beautiful Alpine lake, which is accessible from the tip of its one small resort village. It is a popular excursion, and overhead signs direct you to the huge parking lots (paying, of course). Traffic on the lake is restricted to electric boats, which glide on a half-hour journey around the bend of the glass-like green lake, where the picturesque 18th-century chapel and settlement at St. Bartholomae are built on a pocket of land near the lake’s edge. A backdrop of maple trees and mountains completes the idyllic scene. There are cafés, restaurants, and walking paths to explore before the return boat journey. (Sailing every 10 to 20 minutes, 8:15 am-4:15 pm, May to September.)
Salt was the principal source of Berchtesgaden’s prosperity in the 16th century and now the Salzbergwerk (salt mines) are one of the town’s principal tourist attractions. Don miners’ garb, sit astride a mining wagon, and travel through tunnels of gleaming salt crystal. On the hour-long tour you’ll raft across an illuminated subterranean lake, slide down two long, slick, wooden banisters, and learn how they mined salt long ago. (9 am-5 pm, May to mid-October, 12:30-3:30 pm, mid-October to May, closed Sundays, tel: (08652) 60020, fax: (08652) 600260.)
Hitler’s Alpine retreat Kehlstein (Eagle’s Nest) is overrated and should be visited only for its view, not for its associations with Hitler who visited there only five times (go only on clear, sunny days). The road from Berchtesgaden to Obersalzberg winds two-thirds of the way to the summit where the parking lot is crowded in summer. A shuttle bus takes you on the narrow, winding road with its hair-raising hairpin bends over the Scharitkehlamn gorge. An elevator whisks you the last 125 meters to the foreboding, granite-walled structure. (8 am-4 pm, May to end of October, weather permitting.)
SIDE TRIP TO SALZBURG
The proximity of Salzburg (25 kilometers) makes this Austrian city made famous by The Sound of Music just too exciting a proposition to pass by (allow a day, and be warned that it is very crowded in summer). Cross the border at Marktschellenberg, and you know you are in Salzburg when you see McDonald’s and car dealerships. As in all cities, parking is the problem-watch for a small, blue signpost “P Altstadt” (for parking), indicated to the left. Follow signposts for Altstadt Mitte, which lead you beneath the castle and through suburbs to a parking garage, carved into the rocky promontory beside the Altstadt (old town). Take your parking ticket with you as you pay at the booth before returning to your car.
Salzburg Cathedral with its three massive bronze doors was built about 1630 and modeled after St. Peter’s in Rome. There are over 4,000 pipes in its organ.
You can tour the adjacent Salzburg Residenze, the grandiose palace commissioned by Archbishop Wolf Dietrich. It’s an impressive Baroque edifice. You can tour only with a group and tours in English are given only in July and August. (10 am-3 pm daily.)
Getreidegasse is the old town’s colorful main street, famous for its many old wrought-iron signs looking much as they did in 1756, when Mozart was born at number 9.Mozart’s Birthplace Museum (Geburthaus 1756), filled with portraits, musical scores, old keyboard instruments, and violins, is a popular Mozart shrine. (9 am-5 pm in summer, shorter hours off-season.)
The Hohensalzburg Fortress dominates the skyline. While it is not worth touring the interior, the basic entry fee gives you access to the view and the courtyard. The funicular from the edge of town near the cathedral, which runs every ten minutes, whisks you up to the castle. (8 am-4 pm daily.) Just across the pedestrian bridge from the heart of Old Salzburg are Schloss Mirabell and Gardens,built by Archbishop Wolf Dietrich for his mistress Salome Alt. There is no charge to wander through the lovely terraced lawns.
Returning to Schönau am Königssee from Salzburg, follow signposts for Munich and the autobahn. When Munich signposts disappear, keep following those for the autobahn, which you take in the direction of Villach (E55). Once on the autobahn, follow signposts for Berchtesgaden (exit 160).
It’s a five-hour drive from Schönau am Königssee to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, much of it along the Alpenstrasse (Alpine Road). Adding in time for sightseeing and lunch along the way, allow a day for the journey. Hope for sunny weather as the Alps are incredible against a backdrop of blue sky. Mark your route on a detailed map as you often follow signposts for towns without ever going there.
From Berchtesgaden drive towards Ramsau (9 kilometers, road 305). At Ramsau turn left for Hintersee, which takes you into the village past the world-famous Ramsau Church with the towering Alpine peaks in the distance, and brings you to a small Alpine lake, the Hintersee, whose crystal-clear waters reflect the hotels on its far shore. Drive around the lake and continue on the narrow road that takes you through pine forests to an Alpine meadow dotted with farmhouses. Turn left (signposted Alpenstrasse), following a country road that returns you to the 305 at the head of the pass.
Descend to Unterjettenberg, a cluster of houses in a green meadow with the high Alpine peaks in the background, and cross the River Saalach (signposted Traunstein). The 305 descends through woodlands and just as it opens up to a broad valley, makes a sharp, left-hand turn (signposted Reit am Winkl) and climbs the pass high above the village of Ruhpolding. Passing high Alpine lakes, isolated farms, clusters of chalets, hiking trails, and breathtaking vistas, it’s a 21-kilometer drive to Reit im Winkl. This attractive village provides the perfect excuse to leave your car and explore its quaint shops and restaurants. On the outskirts of Reit im Winkl, you cross the border into Austria and the 305 becomes the 172, which follows a tumbling mountain river for the 5-kilometer drive into Kössen.
Just 7 kilometers away lies Walchsee, a small lake with a beautiful setting where the pastures rise steeply from the lake to forests and the craggy, gray mountains. Pass through the town of Durchholzen before crossing back into Germany. Cross the busy autobahn (E45) into Oberaudorf and wind through the town’s bustling main street following signposts for Niederaudorf (2 kilometers). Before reaching the village, turn left on a narrow country road for Bayrischzell (20 kilometers): en route the road climbs steeply to the little village of Wall, which clings to the hillside with spectacular, rolling valley vistas below and rocky, snow-covered peaks above. Passing through hamlets of two or three chalets, the road crests the pass and winds down to the enticing ski village of Bayrischzell. Detour into the village and browse through the shops and cafés around the little square that sits beside the church.
A 15-kilometer drive (on the 307) brings you to the Schliersee lake where Neuhaus nestles at one end and the town of Schliersee clusters at the other. The more industrial town of Hausham lies just 1 kilometer away and from here you follow signposts to the Tegernsee. At the lake turn right into the attractive town of Gmund, skirt the lake on its northern shore, then turn left for the resort town of Bad Wiessee (road 318). At the southern end of the lake turn right towards Achensee. The road soon leaves the Alpine pastures and travels through wooded forests toward the Austrian border (if you arrive at the Austrian border post, you have gone too far). Turn right at the signpost for Bad Tolz, following the 13 as it travels beside a large dam where Alpine peaks are reflected in the deep aquamarine waters. Take the first left (Wallgau) and follow the 307 to Vordereiss where you leave the main road and cross the river to follow a narrower toll road through rugged countryside to Wallgau. Between Wallgau and Kryn the green pastures are strewn with picture-postcard barns. From Kryn follow the E533 into Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
Our suggestion is to base yourself in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area. We suggest hotels in Garmisch-Partenkirchen; nearby Grainau, Elmal, Ettal, Hohenschwangau, and Oberammergau; and just a little farther away in Pfronten and Seeg. Any of these towns makes an excellent hub for exploring this lovely area.
Framed by some of Germany’s most dramatic, jagged peaks, Garmisch-Partenkirchen is backed up against her highest-the towering Zugspitze. At one time two villages, Garmisch and Partenkirchen, merged to meet the demands of accommodating the 1936 winter Olympic Games, and the distinction between what were once two communities is still apparent. Garmisch is a bustle of activity with broader, newer streets lined by larger stores and hotels. Partenkirchen, with narrow, winding streets and timbered buildings, preserves more old-world charm.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a skiers’ delight in winter and a walkers’ paradise in summer and fall. One of the loveliest well-marked trails takes you through the Partnachklamm Gorge (behind the Olympic ski stadium), where you walk along a rocky ledge with a guardrail between you and the tumbling river, sometimes passing through rock tunnels and behind cascading waterfalls. You get a little wet (take a raincoat) and the gorge is chilly even in summer, but the experience is breathtaking.
Pretty walks can be by taken by riding the cable car up the Wank mountain and walking down to the valley floor. (8:45 am-5 pm, May to October.) Additional scenic views are found by taking the Osterfeldbahn to Osterfeldkopt (2050 meters).
For some it’s a must to travel to the top of Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze (2966 meters)-remember to take warm sweaters for this excursion. The Zugspitze cog railway departs from the Zugspitzebahnhof, next to the main railway station, almost every hour on the hour (also from Grainau). The train ascends through the valley and brings you out below the summit of the Zugspitze-a cable car departs about every half-hour and whisks you the last 3 kilometers up the mountain. Enjoy the view, soak up the high Alpine sunshine, and return to the valley on the other cable car for the ten-minute descent to the Eibsee Lake. From here the train returns you to Garmisch or Grainau. (Departs hourly 7:35 am-3:35 pm in summer, last return approximately 5 pm.)
Because there is so much to see and do around Garmisch-Partenkirchen, we outline a circular tour; but be aware that there is so much sightseeing that you cannot accomplish everything in one day, especially if you plan to include the Ludwig II theatrical performance. Leave Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the direction of Munich for a short distance, then follow signposts for Augsburg and Oberammergau, which brings you to the little village of Ettal. You cannot miss your sightseeing destination here for overshadowing the village is the Klosterkirche (monastery) where Benedictine monks distill liqueur, although you will see not a monk nor a sign of their commercial operation. The church is an exquisite Baroque riot of colorful paintings and gilded woodwork.
Continue for a very short distance in the direction of Oberammergau and turn left on a country road that quickly brings you to Linderhof, the smallest and most homey of Ludwig II’s palaces. Be sure to buy an English guidebook at the entrance, as there aren’t always enough English-speaking guests to warrant a guided tour in English. A ten-minute stroll through parklike grounds brings you to the squat, little palace with its fountains and Italian-style gardens. The guided tour leads you from one outrageous room to another, including the decadent state room, and the dining room where Ludwig ate solitary meals at a table which was lowered, like a dumb waiter, below the floor so that meals were served without Ludwig being disturbed by servants.
Walk up the hill to the Venus Grotto. Ludwig commissioned the building of this cavernous grotto hung with stalactites and festooned with garlands where a conch-shell boat floats in the middle of an illuminated lake and the jeweled Lorelei cliff glitters with crystals. A short distance farther along the woodland path you come to the Moorish Kiosk where Ludwig dressed up as a Turkish sultan and smoked his hookah surrounded by young boys dressed up as palace eunuchs. Small wonder that the Bavarian government questioned his sanity! (Allow for a wait in summer, 9 am-5:30 pm, April to September; 10 am-4 pm, October to March.)
Continue across the Austrian border through wooded countryside on a road that quickly brings you to the Plansee, whose rocky shore seems to rise almost directly from the glassy lake. As the valley opens up to the rooftops of Reutte take a right-hand turn signposted Deutschland (Germany). This takes you around the town and brings you onto the road for Füssen and Königsschlösser (King’s Castles).
Füssen is a charming walled town whose maze of pedestrian streets are fun to explore. There are lots of shops, outdoor cafés, and restaurants, and a wonderful indoor market. Füssen’s Hohes Schloss, standing high above the river, is usually overlooked in favor of its more famous neighbors; but now Füssen has an attraction all its own, the Musical Theater Neuschwanstein, with a majestic setting right on the edge of Lake Forggen surrounded by the Alps. Here the legend of Mad King Ludwig and his fantasy-filled life is presented in the musical production Ludwig II. The musical, which lasts three hours, including a 45-minute intermission, is performed in a heavy Bavarian dialect: so English, Japanese, French, and Italian translations are projected above the stage to aid comprehension. A remarkable tribute to Bavaria’s king, the production is as opulent as Ludwig’s own life, with a revolving stage, sleighs pulled by real horses prancing through a dramatic snowfall, and a grand finale when the king walks on the lake and the golden fountain, a replica of the one at Linderhof, rises up from the depths of the water. An enchanting performance! Tickets are available at the theatre ticket office in Neuschwanstein and conveniently at almost all the hotels in the region that proudly display the Ludwig II Musical decal. I would strongly recommend obtaining tickets through your hotel or travel agent before you leave home to enable you to schedule your trip accordingly and not waste precious travel time trying to obtain reservations. (May to October, shows at 7:30 pm every day except Mondays, matinees at 2:30 pm, Saturdays and Sundays; November to March, shows at 7:30 pm, Sundays, matinees at 2:30 pm, Saturdays.)
Many recognize Neuschwanstein, located high above the valley atop a rocky ledge, as being the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s castles at Disneyland and Disneyworld. You begin to appreciate the effort that went into building this castle as you walk up the steep path to the fortress high above. The only way to decrease a half-hour uphill hike to a ten-minute one is to take a shuttle bus or horse-drawn wagon partway to the castle. This is one of Germany’s most popular sightseeing attractions and the only way to avoid summer crowds (and long lines) is to arrive early in the morning. If you just cannot schedule the first tour of the day, our advice is to admire Neuschwanstein from afar and tour Linderhof (less crowded) to get an appreciation of Ludwig’s taste in interior design. The castle’s fanciful interior, designed by a theater-set designer and an eccentric king, is a romantic flight of fancy whose rooms afford spectacular views of Alpine lakes and snowy peaks. Ludwig greatly admired Richard Wagner and scenes from his operas are found throughout in the decor. At the end of the castle tour, walk up the Pollat gorge to the Marienbrucke which spans the ravine above the castle: you will be rewarded with a spectacular view. (Allow for a long wait in summer, 9 am-5:30 pm, April to October; 10 am-4 pm, November to March.)
From the road at the foot of the castle, it is a short walk to King Ludwig’s childhood home, Hohenschwangau. Though the interior is somewhat heavy, it has a homey quality to it. It was here that Ludwig met his adored Wagner, and here that the young king lived while he kept a watchful eye on the building progress at Neuschwanstein. (9 am-5:30 pm, April to October; 10 am-4 pm, November to March.)
Leave the castles in the direction of Augsburg and travel up the ever-broadening valley through rolling green farmland to the large village of Steingaden where you leave the 17 and turn right onto a country road signposted Weis and Oberammergau (29 kilometers). Detour to Wies to visit the Wieskirche, a pilgrimage church whose simple exterior belies the most exquisitely beautiful interior. It’s a popular excursion, so there are cafés and paid parking but once you step into the beautiful interior, all the surrounding commercialism is forgotten. (8 am-5 pm, October to March; 8 am-6 pm, April to September.)
As you drive from the Wieskirche to Oberammergau, you cross the Echelsbacher Bridge, which spans a deep, wooded ravine with the rushing River Ammer far below. To appreciate the fabulous view, park at one of the car parks (found at both ends of the bridge) and take a few minutes to walk along the bridge.
Detour off the main road into the famous village of Oberammergau where many of the homes have ornate murals and seemingly all the shops sell very expensive carvings. Every ten years the Passion Spiel (Passion Play), a religious play, is performed here. It was a spectacular performance for the millennium and will be staged next in 2010. All the residents in town are involved in the production and performance of this play, which celebrates the end of the misery and death associated with the Black Plague. In between plays it seems that everyone in the village carves. While it’s a bustling spot during the day, in the evening it’s very serene. The church has a very attractive interior. From Oberammergau a half-hour drive through Ettal returns you to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
When it is time to leave the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area, a two- to three-hour drive will take you to the most westerly part of Bavaria, the lovely island of Lindau. Along the way there is much to see. Leave Füssen following the 310 towards Kempten. As you near Pfronten, study the nearby hilltops and locate the ruined medieval fortress of Schloss Falkenstein where Ludwig planned to build his next castle. His death put an end to his fanciful building program, so instead of a grandiose castle you now find several lovely hotels on the mountain.
Just as you leave the village of Nesselwang take a left-hand turn down a lane for Wertach, which gives you an opportunity to travel a quiet country road for a short distance. Regaining the 310 at Wertach, turn towards Sonthofen. The road climbs steeply to Oberjoch, a ski resort spread across the summit, and opens up to vistas of the valley as it winds down past Hindelang, where you pick up signposts for Lindau. Join a dual carriageway for several kilometers at Sonthofen and on to Immenstadt whose narrow streets are clogged with traffic as you follow signposts for the 308 and Lindau. Leaving Immenstadt, you leave the soaring granite peaks of the Alps behind and travel beside a lake and along a valley bordered with green hills. The valley opens up at Oberstaufen, a small town that steps down the hillside where every home seems to have a fabulous view of the far side of the valley whose green pastureland is dotted with farmhouses.
Traversing rolling green hills, you arrive at the Bodensee (Lake Constance), the nearest thing to an inland sea in Germany. The problem with the Bodensee is that it is impossible to appreciate its beauty from the shoreline. There are not many places where you can actually get beside the lake, and the traffic-clogged road (31) that parallels its shoreline runs slightly inland. A solution to this is to tackle the traffic on the 31 to reach your base in the Bodensee, leave your car, and do your sightseeing by boat.
Arriving at the Bodensee, follow the well-signposted route through the suburbs to Lindau Insel. If you are not staying on the island, park your car in the large car park just before the bridge road to the island of Lindau. The island’s main thoroughfare, Maximilianstrasse, is bordered with lovely old houses. The Altes Rathaus (old town hall) on Bismarckplatz dates from the 15th century and is famous for the brightly colored
frescoes that decorate its façade. The harbor is guarded by the Lion of Bavaria and the Mangturm, a tower that was once part of the town’s medieval ramparts. All along the harborside promenade, restaurants and cafés spill out onto the pavement. During the summer months regular ferry service connects Lindau to Konstanz (Constance), Meersburg (2½ hours), Mainau island, Bregenz (Austria), and Rorschach (Switzerland).
Another base for explorations of the Bodensee, Meersburg, lies an hour’s drive (two hours’ in heavy traffic) beyond the geographic bounds of Bavaria towards the other end of the lake. We include it in this itinerary because it is such an adorable little medieval town, offers charming accommodation, and is perfect for boat trips on the Bodensee. Arriving in Meersburg, follow signposts for the Altstadt. (If you cannot find parking at the top of the hill, follow signs for the ferry and park in the large car park beside the ferry terminal.) During the summer months regular ferry service connects Meersburg to nearby Konstanz (Constance) and Mainau island, and farther afield to Lindau and Bregenz (Austria).
Wander among the little narrow, cobbled streets lined with half-timbered houses along the Steigstrasse. Atop a rocky promontory overlooking the lake, the Altes Schloss (old castle) dates back to 628, when a longhouse and tower fortress were built by King Dagobert. The castle was enlarged over the years, and by 1510, the structure you see today, complete with drawbridge and moat, was in place. The castle was purchased in the 19th century by Baron von Lassburg as a storage place for his vast collection of books and weapons. His sister-in-law, Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, wrote some of her most famous poems here, and her little rooms are very much as they were when she lived here. (You can also visit her little house in a nearby vineyard.) The Lassburgs went bankrupt and the castle was bought by the Furstenberg family (as in the beer). They sold the books to buyers in the United States but kept much of the weaponry. Tour the castle at your own pace with the aid of a typed-sheet (in English), and enjoy the various rooms, which are furnished to illustrate what life was like in the castle’s different eras. (9 am-5 pm.)
In 1520 the nearby town of Konstanz (Constance) became Protestant so the bishop moved from Konstanz to the castle in Meersburg. It was decided that the castle was not grand enough for a resident bishop, so the Neues Schloss (new castle) was built between 1750 and 1802 to suit the bishop’s palatial tastes. No sooner was the bishop installed than his bishopric was moved (furniture and all) to Freiburg. Happily, they were not able to move the magnificent ceiling paintings, and the grand rooms are a perfect venue for changing art exhibits and musical concerts.
Garden lovers will not want to miss taking the boat excursion to the tiny island of Mainau. Lovely, fragrant gardens bloom from March to October in the grounds of an 18th-century castle owned by a Swedish count. From Mainau you can return directly to Meersburg, or take the ferry to Uhldingen to tour the prehistoric lake-dwellers’ village reconstruction before either taking the bus (every half hour) or walking 5 kilometers beside the lake back to Meersburg.
From Meersburg a two-hour drive takes you to Freiburg, where you can join the Highways & Byways of the Black Forest itinerary.
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