germany's romantic road - detailed itinerary

Heidelberg Germany Neckar Valley Germany Romantic Road Germany Schwangau Germany Bavaria Germany Munich Germany
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Day 1 - Heidelberg
Your journey begins in Frankfurt, Germany's principle international gateway. Take a morning train to Heidelberg. The trip takes just 50 minutes.

There are those who believe that Heidelberg is just too popular to be truly enjoyable. If you find crowds particularly off-putting, then avoid the summer and visit during the late spring or early fall.

But there's a reason that 2.5 million tourists visit Heidelberg every year. It's a beautiful, vibrant, romantic city with enough history, charm, and culture to seduce almost anyone.

One of the few German cities not destroyed during World War II, Heidelberg retains much of its medieval and Renaissance architecture. More than 600 years since the founding of its University, Heidelberg is still, in many ways, a college town. Be sure to eat ? or drink ? in one of the convivial student taverns.

If it's Wednesday or Sunday, start your day at the flower-filled market on the main square, Markplatz. On Tuesdays and Fridays it's at Friedrich-Ebert-Platz. You'll find all sorts of temptations there.

The Rathaus or Town Hall is on one side of the square. And there's a lovely baroque fountain in the center.

Also on Markplatz, the Church of the Holy Ghost is a good example of the High Gothic style. The church once housed the Biblioteca Palatina ? Europe's greatest library ? which was plundered by General Tilly and shipped off to Rome.

After exploring Markplatz, head for Heidelberg Castle. If you're trying to pace yourself, take the two-minute cable car from the platform near the Kornmarkt up the steep hill. Otherwise you can hike up Burgweg and enjoy the changing panorama.

The rose-colored sandstone castle is mostly in ruins, except for the Palace of Friedrich IV which has been almost completely restored. The terrace outside the palace is a photographer's dream.

Don't miss the Heidelberger Fass (Great Cask) in the Wine Vat Building. Made from 130 oak trees, the vat has a capacity more than 50,000 gallons.

Other highlights of the castle include the German Renaissance Ottheinrich Building which once housed the Hall of Mirrors, and the Pharmaceutical Museum in the Chemist's Tower.

After you've explored the castle, walk down the Burgweg to the old town. For lunch, why not try of one the student taverns ? Zum Roten Ochsen (The Red Ox Inn) at Haupstrasse 217 on Zum Sepp'l at Hauptstrasse 21. The former has been serving German beer, huge plates of hearty German cooking, and general merriment for over 300 years.

The older part of Heidelberg is compact and easy to explore. Everything you'll want to visit is on the south bank of the river. The Alte (Old) Universitat is a three-story Baroque building dating from 1712. The Neue (New) Universitat, on the opposite side of Universitatsplatz was begun in 1930.

The medieval tower in the courtyard ? the Hexenturm ? is all that remains of the original city walls.

Not far from the Neue Universitat, Peterskirche is the oldest parish church in the city. The graveyard here has many tombs dating back 500 years.

Back toward the river, Haupstrasse is the main pedestrian street. In addition to all the smart shops and cafés, you'll find the Kurpfalziches Museum (Museum of the Palatinate) in a Baroque Palace here. Highlights include a cast of the 500,000-year-old jaw of "Heidelberg Man," the 16th-century Altarpiece of the Twelve Apostles, and a collection of German paintings from the Romantic period.

If you need something to tide you over, stop at Konditorei-Café Schafheutle at Haupstrasse 94 or Café Journal at Hauptstrasse 162.

Since Heidelberg's attractions are clustered on the south side of the river, the best place to take pictures is from the north side. Cross the Alte Brucke (Old Bridge) with its towers resembling old German helmets, then head up Schlangenweg (Snake Path) to Philosophenweg (Philosopher's Path). The walk will take you through terraced vineyards to the woods where you'll enjoy sensational views of Heidelberg Castle with the city and river below.

There are lots of good restaurants in Heidelberg. Perhaps the best is the Kurfurstenstube in the Der Europaische Hof hotel. The dining room is formal, the food is French, and the bill will be big. But whatever you order will be inventive and impeccably prepared. Zur Herrenmuhle is in the same league and offers the experience of dining in a 17th-century house.

For great ambience, it's hard to beat the Kurpfalziches Museum Restaurant in the Kurpfalziches Museum or either of the dining rooms in the Zum Ritter St Georg hotel. Wherever you choose to dine, be sure to make reservations as well in advance as possible.

Heidelberg has a lively theater scene ? for current listings, pick up either the Konzerte em Heidelberg Stern or Heidelberg Aktuell at the tourist office. And there are dozens of bars along Untere Strasse and Hauptstrasse. If you're interested in hearing some live music, try Cave 54 for jazz, or the Schwimmbad Music Club for a little of everything.

Day 2 - Heidelberg
Spend the day doing whatever you enjoy. If Baroque palaces and gardens appeal to you, pick up your rental car and take a short drive to Schwetzingen. The summer residence of the Palatinate electors, the palace was built in the early 18th century.

There are forty opulent rooms to tour, including the Swiss room with its original tapestries and the superb Rococo Theater, a highlight of any visit here.

The Palace is closed on Mondays, but the Gardens are open every day. They include a formal French garden, informal English gardens, and whimsical touches including ancient ruins, a Mosque, and a Roman moated castle. Covering 178 acres, the grounds here make up one of the finest 18th-century parks in Europe.

If you'd like to do something physical, take the Heidelberg Castle funicular up to Konigstuhl, the second highest hill in the Odenwald range. On clear days, you can see all the way to the Black Forest.

There's a series of hiking trails through the woods, and you'll be rewarded with unforgettable views and photo ops. Just follow the colored arrows into the woods.

There's also an 18-hole golf course not far from town.

No visit to Heidelberg would be complete without a little shopping, so leave some time to browse in the shops along Hauptstrasse, Untere Strasse, and Ingrimstrasse. You'll find great antiques, china, crystal, music boxes, chocolates, and, of course, world-renowned cutlery.

For those who enjoy German beer, the Biermuseum at Hauptstrasse 143 offers 101 different varieties. And Vetters is Heidelberg's best microbrewery.

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Days 3/4 - Neckar Valley
Germany's Burgenstrasse or Castle Road runs from Mannheim all the way through Neckar Valley to Prague. The 50-mile stretch along the Neckar River between Heidelberg and Heilbronn is one of the most scenic with lots of castles, medieval villages, and vineyards en route.

Pick up your rental car this morning and head south on B37.

Your pace depends on your interests. This is a wonderful place for cyclists; the Neckar Valley Cycle Path runs right along the river. You can rent bikes at any rail station along the way and enjoy the path for as long as you'd like. It's well-marked, scenic and well-maintained.

If you'd like to stay in a castle high above the river, you can base yourself in Heinsheim, Neckarzimmern, or Hirschhorn. If a quaint village is more your style, stay in Bad Wimpfen or Mosbach.

After you leave Heidelberg, you'll pass through Neckargemund before crossing the river to reach Neckarsteinach, where the remains of four castles have been combined into one complex known as the Schadeck. Although much of what's there is in ruins, it's still an atmospheric spot.

There's also a long promenade along the river. Go for a stroll, hop on a boat, or just sit and watch the world go by.

At the large bend in the river, Hirschhorn is a town whose castle has become a hotel. The views from there are breathtaking, so its worth a visit even if you don't stay there. Consider a stop at lunch time.

One of the Neckar's most romantic castles is a short drive away in Zwingenberg. The silhouette of its towers rising from the forest is spectacular.

There are many great hiking and walking trails here, as well as a small lake, so if you enjoy the outdoors, allow some time here.

The medieval village of Mosbach is best known for Palmsches Haus (Palm House), perhaps the finest half-timbered building in Germany. There are several things worth exploring here ? the town hall, a small museum, and a chapel with some late Gothic frescoes.

With its rolling vineyards, dense forests, and charming villages, the Neckar Valley is a wonderful place for a hot air balloon ride. During the season, these can be arranged in Mosbach.

There's lots to do in Gundelsheim. A number of good hiking trails lead through the surrounding forests, and you can take a boat trip down the Neckar to Heilbronn.

Horneck Castle, destroyed in 1525 by the larger-than-life knight Gotz von Berlichingen, has been restored to its original condition. Once owned by the Teutonic Order of Knights, today it towers over Gundelsheim.

Across the river in Neckarzimmern, Burg Hornberg is well worth a visit. Perched high above the river, the castle is surrounded by vineyards noted for the excellent white wines they produce. Gotz von Berlichingen lived here during the 15th and 16th centuries and you'll see his suit of armor, an innovative prosthetic arm and other relics of the larger than life squire immortalized by Goethe.

Today, the castle is a lovely hotel with great views and vineyards, managed by the present baron.

Just up the road, you'll find Burg Guttenberg ? one of the Neckar's best preserved castles. In addition to outstanding views from its keep, the castle also offers an interesting museum, a research center for birds of prey, and an outstanding restaurant. Try to arrive at 11:00AM or 3:00PM for the raptor demonstration in which eagles and vultures soar above the ramparts.

The next town along the west bank of the Neckar is Bad Rappenau-Heinsheim. The castle here, Schloss Heinsheim is now a hotel with a good restaurant.

Noted for the healing properties of its waters, Bad Rappenau is a year-round spa and there are several salt-water pools here, so if the weather's fine, bring your bathing suit along.

Founded by the Romans in the 1st century AD, Bad Wimpfen was the imperial residence of the Hohenstaufens during the 13th century. Today, it is one of the most charming towns along the Neckar.

To really get oriented, climb the Blauer Turm (blue tower) ? Germany's oldest watchtower ? for great views of the village and the Valley. You can explore the ruins of the imperial palace and there's a museum in the 16th-century Steinhaus tracing Bad Wimpfen's history. Not far from the Steinhaus is the Hohenstaufentor ? the castle's main entrance.

Take time to stroll the picturesque streets of the old town, particularly Klostergasse. And note the beautiful half-timbered houses and gardens.

If time allows, there's a good self-guided walking tour that starts at the Rathaus (city hall). Follow the signs with an eagle holding a key in his beak.

The tour will take you to the Ritterstiftskirche (Knight's Church) of St. Peter and St. Paul. The Romanesque church has a lovely Gothic cloister. Take a few minutes to watch village life from the church square.

Stiftskirche is happily located on Markplatz, Bad Wimpfen's market Square. Its 13-century stained-glass windows are some of the oldest in Germany.

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Day 5 - Rothenburg
Leave the Neckar Valley this morning headed for Ohringen. Today, this former residence of the Hohenlohe princes is best known for the 15th-century church where they are buried. The beautiful 15th-century Altarpiece of St Margaret is displayed inside the church.

From Oringen, continue on to Neuenstein. The castle here provides a detailed look at 16th- and 17th-century German court life, especially the Knights' Hall and Imperial Hall with their furnishings and armor. The kitchen is particularly interesting.

Schwabisch Hall along the steep banks of the Kocher River is the next stop. Its lively Markplatz ? dominated by the steps leading up to Michaelskirche ? is one of the loveliest in Germany.

On the square, you'll find a lovely fountain dating from 1509, the Baroque Rathaus (town hall), and St. Michael's Church. If it's lunchtime, Hotel Garni Scholl has a terrace café overlooking the Markplatz.

Three miles from town, the Hohenloher Freilandmuseum is a collection of 30 buildings from the 16th to 19th centuries. They have been restored to their original condition and provide a vivid recreation of early rural life in the area.

From Schwabisch Hall, continue along the Burgenstrasse through Langenburg and Blaufelden en route to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the most perfectly preserved medieval city in Europe. Since you will be staying in a hotel here, you may drive into the city ?get a parking permit when you check in.

That Rothenburg is intact is something of a miracle ? or a series of miracles. Essentially, those who were ordered to destroy it over the years realized that it was just too beautiful to destroy.

Despite having two-and-a-half million visitors a year, Rothenburg somehow manages to retain its charm and it's undeniably the highlight of Germany's Romantische Strasse or Romantic Road.

Check into your hotel, then start your tour of the town. For a splendid orientation, climb the 214 steps of the Rathaus tower. Or walk atop the 13th-century city walls. They are just over a mile in circumference, but there are stairs every two or three hundred yards. Take plenty of film for either outing.

Be on the square on the hour between 11:00AM and 3:00PM, or between 8:00PM and 10:00PM to see the Meistertrunk (master drink) Show. According to legend, the Mayor of Rothenburg saved the town in 1631 by drinking a three-liter tankard of wine in one gulp. The doors to the town clock open and the scene is reenacted to the great enjoyment of the awaiting crowd.

The Rathaus itself is half Gothic dating from 1240 and half Renaissance from 1572. Inside, there's a museum that outlines Rothenburg's history during the Thirty Years' War.

Outside, the Herterlichbrunnen, an ornate Renaissance fountain, is the centerpiece of the square. A couple of blocks to the north, you'll find Stadtpfarrkirche St Jakob (Parrish Church of St. John). Tilman Riemenschneider's masterspiece ? the Altar of the Holy Blood ? is here.

The apex of German woodcarving, the altar was created to house a reliquary containing a drop of Christ's blood.

Nearby, the Reichsstadtmuseum is located in a 13th-century Dominican monastery. The museum's collection documents the city's 800-year history, and you'll see many interesting objects ? including the three-liter tankard used to save the city.

Across town, on Burgasse the Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum (Middle Ages Criminal Museum) contains a vivid assortment of instruments of torture and punishment as well as a fascinating look at legal history.

The Nightwatchman's Tour is a truly enjoyable way to learn some of Rothenburg's history. The one-hour tour begins under the market square clock at 8:00PM. So make your dinner reservations accordingly.

If you're in the mood for something lively and casual, try Rattsube, right on Market Square. If you'd like something romantic, Baumeisterhaus at Obere Schmiedgasse 3 has the most beautiful courtyard in town.

Day 6 - Rothenburg
Spend the day doing whatever you enjoy. If you'd like to stay in town, stroll along the Herrengasse and check out the mansions of Rothenburg's early wealthy.

The Franciscan Church built in 1285 is the oldest church in town. It also has a Reimenschneider altar.

Continue on Herrengasse through the old gate to the castle gardens. With its great views of the river, this is a wonderful spot for a picnic.

If you'd like to see more of the medieval villages along the Romantic Road, drive the short distance to Weikersheim. Once the seat of the Hohenlohe counts, Weikersheim's castle has lovely gardens and relatively few tourist.

Six miles west of Weikersheim, Bad Mergentheim has been a popular spa since 1826. The Deutschordensschloss here was the home of the Grand Masters of the Order of the Teutonic Knights from 1525 to 1809. Its church was redesigned in the 18th-century by Baroque master Balthasar Neumann, and the castle also includes a museum of the German Knights of the Teutonic Order.

If you're in Bad Mergentheim at lunch time, consider splurging at Victoria, one of the finest spa hotels in the area. The restaurant here is outstanding. And there's a pub and lounge if you prefer something more casual.

Art lovers may want to work in a side trip to Stuppach to visit the chapel that contains Matthias Grunewald's Stuppacher Madonna. Oenophiles can taste wines in nearby Markelsheim. And animal lovers should visit the Wildpark Bad wildlife park to see wolves, bears, and other native European species.

To enjoy the Romantic Road on a more personal level, consider renting a bike. They're available at any rail station or Rad & Tat, Bensenstrasse 17. There are several nice rides through the surrounding countryside. To slow down even more, walk to the tiny village of Detwang, 2 miles away.

Whatever you do, be sure to leave time for shopping. Rothenburg offers some of Germany's best. Fine art, wine and wine glasses, woodcarvings, Hummel figurines, toys, clocks, and Christmas ornaments are all first rate.

Because of the high concentration of outstanding hotels, Rothenburg also enjoys some of the best restaurants in Bavaria. When you're ready to pull out all the stops, try the dining room at the Eisenhut or the Hotel Baren.

If you're up for some after-dinner activity, there are a couple popular discos in town. Ask your hotel for the location of the current hot spot.

Day 7 - Donauworth
After breakfast at your hotel ? or pastries from the corner Backereien ? leave Rothenburg for Dinkelsbuhl, 26 miles to the south. A smaller, less visited Rothenburg, Dinkelsbuhl prospered in the 15th and 16th centuries and today many fine houses from that period line its cobblestone streets.

Visit the Stadtpfarrkirche St. Georg (St. George's Parrish Church), one of the finest late Gothic churches in Bavaria. Climb the 200-ft Romanesque tower for magnificent views ? and photos. If you're only up for one climb a day, save yourself for Nordlingen, 20 miles to the south.

Like Rothenburg, Nordlingen's is still encircled by its ramparts. On the north side of Rubenmarkt, the town's market square, you'll find the 15th-century Church of St. George. Climb the tower's 365 steps ? one for each day of the year ? and on a clear day you'll be able to see 99 villages.

Fifteen million years ago, a meteor over half-a-mile wide struck the area. Those interested in geology can learn more about it at the Rieskrater Museum.

If you're in Nordlingen at lunch time, try Meyer's-Keller at Marienhohe 8, a short stroll from the market square. If the weather's fine, you'll enjoy the large beer garden under stately chestnut trees.

Schloss Harburg, 12 miles south of Nordlingen is worth a visit if time permits. One of Germany best-preserved medieval castles, it contains excellent collections of statuary, illuminated manuscripts and ivory.

Continue on to lovely Donauworth at the confluence of the Wornitz and Danube Rivers for the night. The older part of town is actually on an island in the river.

Settle into your hotel, then stroll the Reichsstrasse, one of the finest streets on the Romantic Road before dinner.

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Day 8 - Fussen
This morning, drive along the Romantic Road to Augsburg. During the 15th and 16th centuries, Augsburg was one of Europe's richest cities, thanks to the Welser and Fugger families ? Renaissance bankers of incredible wealth and power.

In 1519, Jakob Fugger the Rich built the first low-income housing project, The Fuggerei. A town-within-a-town of 53 gabled houses, the Fuggerei has charged its tenants the same rent ? one Rheinish guilder ? for 450 years.

During the Renaissance, Augsburg's wealthy built their mansions along Maximilianstrasse and a stroll along this lovely street with its fountains and facades is a must.

Augsburgs's famous sons include Hans Holbein the Elder and Younger, Leopold Mozart (Wolfgang's father), and Bertolt Brecht, and those who are interested can tour their houses.

Dom St. Maria (the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary) contains the oldest stained glass windows in the world and five paintings by Hans Holbein the Elder.

From outside the Cathedral, you should be able to see the two onion domes of the Rathaus (town hall). Considered the finest secular Renaissance structure north of the Alps, its Goldener Saal (Golden Hall) is well worth a visit.

To the left of the Rathaus, the Perlachturm (Perlach Tower) rewards climbers with incredible views. A yellow flag flying from the top of the tower means that the Alps are visible.

If it's lunch time, there are lots of outdoor cafes on the main square in front of the Rathaus.

The Schaezler-Palais was built in the 18th century as the home of the von Liebenhofen family. Today, it houses the Deutsche Barockgalerie (German Baroque Gallery) and the Staatsgalerie. Works by Holbein the Elder, Durer, Van Dyck, Tiepolo, and Veronese are on display.

When you finished sightseeing in Augsburg, drive to Schwangau, your base for exploring the world's greatest castles.

This evening, have dinner at your hotel and turn in early so you can get up and out in the morning.

Day 9 - Schwangau
Words can't really do justice to Neuschwanstein Castle. King Ludwig's "fantasy in stone" is one of the most spectacular buildings in the world. And consequently, one of the most popular.

To avoid the throngs ? and long waits in line ? plan to be at the castle by 8:30AM, it opens at 9AM. It's a steep half-hour climb up to the castle, so take the horse drawn carriage.

You'll go through the castle on a group tour and your ticket will have an entry time. If you have to wait, walk to Marienbrucke (Mary's Bridge). The bridge spans a narrow gorge and is a wonderful place to photograph the castle.

Ludwig maintained a close friendship with composer Richard Wagner, and in many ways, Neuschwanstein (New Swan's Castle) is another telling of the same tales. Opera fans will recognize scenes from the lives of Tannhauser and Lohengrin in the elaborate interiors.

Designed by Ludwig and a theatrical set designer and built by three architects in succession, Neuschwantstein is barely a half a mile from Ludwig's boyhood home.

Although Ludwig worked on his "German Knight's Castle" for 17 years, he lived here for less than six months. Neuschwanstein was unfinished at the time of his death in 1886.

Highlights of your tour include the King's Apartments, decorated with Nordic legends; the Byzantine Throne Room, which never had a throne; the King's bedroom, which took four-and-a-half years to carve; and the magnificent Singer's Hall, modeled after the hall where the legendary contest in Tannhauser took place.

Schloss Hohenschwangau, Ludwig's boyhood home, may be a bit of a letdown after Neuschwanstein, but it's still well worth a visit.

Originally built in the 12th century, Hohenschwangau was completely reconstructed when Ludwig's father, Maximilian II,bought it in 1832. The castle is furnished in the traditional Gothic style and, considering its splendor, it's actually quite homey.

Have lunch in one of Schwangau's cafes.

There are several things to do in the afternoon depending on your interests. If the weather is really nice, get out on one of the area's Alpine lakes. You can take a cruise on Forggensee, or rent boats or windsurfers at Hopfensee or Weissensee.

If you feel like hiking, take the Tegelberg Gondola up to the 5,500-ft summit. The views of the Alps and lakes from there are breathtaking, and watching the hang gliders take off from the top of the lift is fun and exciting. The hike down the mountain is two-and-a-half miles.

Alternatively, you could hike to Lechfall, where the Lech River tumbles into a deep gorge. A footbridge over the falls allows you to return a different way.

One of Europe's most visually stunning Rococo churches is a short drive away in Wies. Wieskirche (the church in the meadows) was designed by Dominikus Zimmermann who considered the church his masterwork.

The solemn exterior leaves one unprepared for the riot of decoration within. Gold leaf, brilliantly colored frescoes, ornately carved ornamentation create a visual feast that is unrivalled in Germany.

There's a theater in Fussen right on the Forggensee. The musical Ludwig II is performed nightly. It's expensive, but if you're ready for an evening's entertainment, it fits the bill.

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Day 10 - Garmisch
This morning, leave Schwangau and cross the border into Austria. Pass the Austrian town of Reutte, then drive along the Plansee and back into Germany to Linderhof, the smallest of Ludwig's palaces.

Deep in the woods, Linderhof is more villa than palace. With it's formal Italianate gardens, Moorish pavilion, Moroccan house, and German mythological figures, its combination of elements and influences could only have been conceived by Ludwig.

Although the palace was meant to be more intimate than the other royal residences, several of the rooms surpass Versailles in their luxury and opulence.

The Moroccan and Moorish pavilions in the beautiful adjoining park were originally in the Paris World Fairs of 1875 and 1867.

Don't miss the pavilions that recreate scenes from Wagner's operas, particularly the Grotto of Venus. "Over-the-top" doesn't begin to describe this cavern drawn from the Venusberg sequence in Tannhauser.

Continue on to the village of Ettal which is dominated by a massive monastery, Kloster Ettal. Founded in 1330, the original church was redecorated in the mid-18th century and today it's one of the foremost examples of Bavarian rococo. The enormous dome with its fresco by Jacob Zeiller is particularly impressive.

A liqueur made by the monks and attributed to be a homeopathic remedy is for sale outside the monastery. It's made with more than 70 herbs from the surrounding mountains.

When hunger calls, grab a table on the outdoor terrace at Edelweiss, next to the monastery. Or drive two-and-a-half miles to Oberammergau, best known for its once-a-decade Passion Play.

Oberammergau itself is quite cute and it's the center for Bavarian woodcarving. If you're interested, you'll find plenty of places to buy nutcrackers and cuckoo clocks.

The Wellenberg Recreation Center is one of the best in the Alps with outdoor pools, fountains, sauna, and a solarium. When the weather's nice, it's a great place for a dip.

Continue on to Garmisch. Although it's Germany's top Alpine resort, it still retains its village charm. In fact, each evening at 6:00PM, traffic comes to a halt as herds of cattle return from grazing.

Check into your hotel, then begin your exploration of Garmisch. Start at the Alte Kirche. Surrounded by restored chalets, the old parrish church has lovely 16th-century Gothic vaulting.

In neighboring Partenkirchen, the Chapel of St. Anton is a little pink and silver gem. Outside the church, Philosophenweg (Philosopher's Way) walk offers magnificent panoramas of the surrounding mountain peaks.

For dinner, try Reindl's Restaurant in the Partenkirchner Hof or the 500-year-old cellar in Posthotel Partenkirchen.

Because Garmische is a year 'round resort, there are lots of options after dinner. You can usually find a program of Bavarian folk dancing during the summer. There are also frequent concerts at outdoor parks in Garmisch and Partenkirchen.

You'll find discos and dance clubs in several of the hotels. And there's even a casino here.

Day 11 - Garmisch
Today is yours to explore the Bavarian Alps however you choose.

At the top of your list ?literally and figuratively ? should be a trip to Zugspitze. At 9,731ft., it's Germany's tallest mountain. To reach the summit, you can take the cogwheel train from Zugspitzbahnhof station in Garmisch or the cable car from Eibsee. The train takes an hour and fifteen minutes, and the cable car takes just ten minutes. Consider buying a combination ticket so you can experience both.

From the summit, you'll enjoy breathtaking views of the Bavarian and Tyrolian (Austrian) Alps. There's a restaurant with a terrace and a gallery there. Be sure to dress warmly even in summer.

There are several other peaks you can ascend, notably Wank and Alpspitz. There are wonderful hiking trails on each.

This entire area is a hiker's paradise with hundreds of walks for hiker's of all abilities. One of the most enjoyable for beginners is the hour-long hike from the top of Eckbauer down through the woods. It passes along the gorge created by the Partnach River. There's a chair lift to the summit, or you can take a horse-drawn carriage part of the way.

The tourist office in Garmisch can point you to the right path, based on your experience and physical condition.

If you like to combine exercise and culture, consider a visit to Jagdschloss Schachen, Ludwig II's hunting lodge. Half Alpine chalet and half Arabian Knights fantasy, the lodge is at the end of a fairly arduous climb. If you're interested, you can get all the details from the tourist office.

Eleven miles south of Garmisch, Mittenwald is everything you expect a Bavarian village to be: cute, invigorating, and incredibly scenic. The town has a long tradition of violin-making. Today, more than 30 craftsman make musical instruments here.

Mittenwald's pedestrian zone is particularly enjoyable.

Golf, tennis, boating, parasailing, horseback riding, and tennis are all available in Garmisch. So make the most of the spectacular scenery, the fresh mountain air, and charming ambience.

For dinner, try Flosserstuben in the heart of town or Riessersee a two-mile stroll from town on an emerald green lake.

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Days 12/13/14 - Munich
Leave Garmisch this morning bound for the Starbergersee, an early playground for Europe's rich and famous. One of the largest lakes in Bavaria, the Starbergersee is lined with Baroque palaces of the 18th-century aristocracy, public beaches, and docks.

Berg, on the eastern side of the lake, is where Ludwig II died under mysterious circumstances. A cross in the lake marks the spot where his body was pulled from the lake. And there's a memorial chapel on the shore.

At the top of the lake, Starnberg offers almost every water sport imaginable. Or you can take a pleasure cruise past the opulent villas and gardens surrounding the lake.

Have lunch in one of the outdoor cafés overlooking the lake and then continue onto Munich, where you can return your rental car.

Munich is everyone's favorite German city ? including the Germans who have voted it the place they'd most like to live. It's something of a dichotomy, with superb museums and raucous beer halls, gorgeous palaces and pedestrian malls, orchestras and oom pah bands.

You could spend weeks here and not see it all, so you'll need to pick and choose based on your interests. But there are several attractions no visitor should miss.

Start at the Marienplatz. This lively square is the heartbeat of the city. The Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall ) and the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) are both here. Try to time your visit so you can watch the jousting match as the Glockenspiel on the Neues Rathaus chimes 11:00AM, Noon or 5:00PM.

Marienplatz is also the central station for U-Bahn, the city's subway system. Though you'll be able to walk to most of Munich's attractions, the subway is great for less centrally located sights. You can buy single tickets or a strip ticket good for several rides.

Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church) is a brief walk from Marienplatz on Rindermarkt. The Baroque interior is lovely and there's a great view from the top of the 300-ft tower. It's a good way to get your bearings.

The Viktualienmarkt, the city's open air food market, is nearby. In addition to produce and meats, you'll find cheeses, Bavarian beers, and wines from all over Europe. If you're hungry ? or thirsty ? there's a beer garden here that sells lots of different kinds of wursts.

Back toward Marienplatz, Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) is one of Munich most famous landmarks. Its twin onion-domes spires ? each more than 300 feet tall ? have become symbols of the city. Begun in 1474, the interior of the church is refreshingly simple. There's an observation deck in one of the towers, but it's an 86 step climb just to reach the elevator.

The Residenz ? the home of Bavaria's rulers from 1385 to 1918 ? is Munich's top draw. There's lots to see here. So much so that you'd need to take both morning and afternoon tours to see it all.

The palace includes buildings in the Renaissance, Palladian, and Baroque styles. The two indisputable highlights of a visit here are the Schatzkammer (Treasury) and the dazzling, rococo Cuvillies Theater. You'll need separate tickets for both.

The Bavarian State Opera and the State Repertory Company perform in the Cuvillies Theater. If you have the chance to attend a performance while you're there, do.

Don't miss the jewell-encrusted statue of St. George Slaying the Dragon in the Schatzkammer.

The Deutsches Museum is Munich's other knock out. This museum of technology is kind of like a German Smithsonian Institution. You'll see everything from the first Mercedes Benz to the Baron von Richthofen's World War I Fokker. Allow at least half a day for this fascinating museum.

If you're in Munich on a Monday, plan to visit the Deutsches Museum then, when most of the other museums are closed.

Munich is blessed with many art galleries, the best of which ? for traditional art lovers ? is the Alte Pinakothek. In addition to the world's finest collection of German art, the museum also has world-class collections of Flemish, Dutch, Spanish and Italian masters. Botticelli, Rembrandt, da Vinci, Raphael, and Durer are all well represented.

Oktoberfest begins each year in late September. But Munich is a party town all year long. You'll miss out on much of Munich's joie de vivre if you don't visit one of its lively beer halls or beer gardens. Plan to spend at least one evening there.

Hofbrauhaus is the best known, and consequently the most touristy. Augistinerbrau, Hofbraukeller, and Altes Hackerhaus all have good atmosphere, great beer, and fewer tourists. They are especially popular on weekends.

Englischer Garten is Munich's beautiful 18th-century park. The beer garden near the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower) is huge; it seats 7,000! Hirschau Biergarten offers a more intimate experience deeper in the park. And the Aumeister along the northern perimeter is lovely.

The Garten is great for jogging or biking, and you can rent a boat and skim across the lake.

Garden lovers should visit Nymphenburg Palace, the summer palace of Bavaria's ruling Wittelsbach family. This is Germany's largest baroque palace, and at the end of you trip, it may engender a "been there, done that" response. But the 500 acre park, with its waterfalls, pagoda, ruins, lakes, fountains, and pavilions, is wonderful for strolling. If you go, be sure to visit the Amalienburg, the hunting lodge designed by Cuvillies.

For a moving experience ? and a sobering history lesson ? visit Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp. The memorial is not far from the city and can easily be reached via public transportation. You can tour the camp and visit the museum which documents the history of the Nazi's rise to power.

While you're there, the town castle and parrish church are worth exploring.

Save time in Munich for a little shopping. The pedestrian-only streets ? Neuhauserstrasse and Kaufingerstrasse ? radiating from the Marienplatz are excellent, as are Maximilianstrasse, Residenzstrasse, and Theatinerstrasse. For chic ? and funky ? boutiques, try the Schwabing district, north of the University.

Hertie, Kaufhof, and Karstadt are the leading department stores. On weekends, antique lovers should check out the flea market under the Donnersberger railway bridge. And the Viktualienmarkt is the place for food and wine.

Munich ranks right up there as one of Europe's great dining destinations. The top restaurants here rival those in Paris or Rome and they are certainly the best in the country.

If you're interested in sampling the best Munich has to offer, dress up and take buckets of money to Tantris, whose chef has been voted the best in the country; Konigshof which has wonderful views of the Karlsplatz; or A Boettner, an intimate little haven off the Marienplatz.

For a lovely meal that's less expensive, try Alois Dallmayr, who uses the freshest ingredients available anywhere; Preysing Keller for modern German cuisine; or Kafers am Odeonsplatz with its great piano bar.

With four orchestras, opera and ballet companies, and dozens of theaters, culture vultures will have a hard time choosing among the options. Often, performances take place in fantastic venues. The Jugendstil Staatstheater am Gartnerplatz and the Art Nouveau Prinzregententheater are attractions in their own right.

You can get tickets for most performances at the ticket office in the U-Bahn station at Marienplatz.

Jazz fans can usually hear live music at Jazzclub Unterfahrt at or Schwabinger Podium. In the wee hours, cafés are still popular. Try Alter Simpl, Nachtcafé, or Schumann's. And the Bayerischer Hof Night Club has an orchestra for dancing.

Unfortunately, most of Munich's cabaret offer political humor in German ? unintelligible to almost all foreigners.

If you're returning home from Frankfurt, it's a three-and-a-half hour train ride from Munich.