The best of Bavaria and the Black Forest
From cuckoo clocks and Black Forest Cake to cascading waterfalls and enchanting medieval towns, southern Germany has all the trimmings of a top holiday spot. It’s also home to some of the most picture-perfect countryside on our radar. So, get behind the wheel as we take you on a breathtaking road trip to Bavaria and the Black Forest.
First stop is the adorable town of Triberg. Waterfalls, cuckoo clocks and lederhosen are all the rage in this neck of the Black Forest. Our first port of call is Café Schäfe, a cutesy cafe on the main drag that lays claim to the original Black Forest Cake recipe. We tuck into a generous slice of the six-layer German classic while trying our very best to ignore the kilojoule intake.
With our tummies full of cherries, cream and Kirsch, it’s time to hot foot it up the road to the House of 1000 Clocks for a good dose of German kitsch. This two-storey shop is home to an eight-metres wide, traditional, hand-carved Black Forest cuckoo clock. If that sounds too heavy for your luggage allowance, there are plenty of smaller pocket watches to choose from.
Clocks and cakes aren’t the only things that Triberg excels at. It’s also home to Germany’s highest waterfalls. We start at the bottom and make our way up the seven stages of this roaring and foaming natural wonder. There’s plenty of lookouts along the way to get snap happy. The photo opportunities keep on coming as we head an hour south to the vibrant university city of Freiburg. Thickly forested mountains make a stunning backdrop to our journey as we zoom past rolling fields of golden canola crops and traditional German farmhouses with sweeping roofs.
Freiburg has all the makings of a great university city – wine taverns, beer halls, graffiti art and loads of cycle paths. One night here doesn’t feel like long enough. After checking-in at Hotel Restaurant Schwarzwälder Hof, we head to Freiburg’s best beer garden, Hausbrauerei Feierling to refuel on pretzels and Pilsner. With our tummies satiated, it’s time for a culture hit. We look no further than the city’s most distinctive landmark, the Münster. Built between 1200 and 1530, this gothic cathedral gets our vote as one of the most striking churches in the Black Forest.
The striking theme continues as we mosey throughout the cobbled streets and uncover adorable pavement mosaics in front of many shops – a pair of scissors for a barber, a pretzel for a baker etc. A word of warning though, Freiburg is home to an unusual system of small canals that run through its heart, so watch your step or you’ll have to marry a Freiburger. All our walking is rewarded with homemade Bratwurst and pan-fried potatoes at Martin’s Brau. Don’t ask, but somehow we manage to find room for ice-cream at Eis Mariotti (Kronenstraße 9, 79100).
Day three of our Bavarian adventure takes us 176km south-east to the island town of Lindau. A gorgeous combination of snowcapped Swiss Alps and shimmering waters sets the scene of this picturesque sailing hub. Our home for the night, Hotel Lindau does not disappoint with its harbour-front location. To reward our efforts, we walk to the weekly farmers’ market for some schnapps and marinated olives (runs Wednesday and Saturday from April to October). We spend the afternoon eying off the harbour’s impressive sailing boats and peering through telescopes at Switzerland in the distance. That night, we board the Bodensee Steamboat Hohentwiel for a Dixieland jazz cruise around Lake Constance.
Next stop on our Bavarian adventure is Germany’s answer to Disneyland, King Ludwig’s famous fairytale castle, Neuschwanstein. Located in the Allgäu (about an hour and a half from Lindau), this was the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. En route to the castle, we take photos of roaming cows wearing handmade cow bells. Our mouths drop as we spot Neuschwanstein Castle in the distance. The gigantic castle in the clouds needs to be seen to be believed. Be sure to buy your ticket before you set off for the castle (entry tickets are only available at the ticket centre in the village of Hohenschwangau).
With Disneyland out of our systems, we take the Romantic Road north towards Frankfurt where we are due to fly home in four days time. Based very loosely on the old Roman route, the 400km-long Romantic Road is one of Bavaria’s biggest drawcards. Memorable stops along the way are the wineries surrounding Würzburg, the university city of Augsburg and the walled medieval towns of Nördlingen and Dinkelsbühl.
But hands down, our favourite stop along the way is Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Love it or hate it, but Christmas lives perpetually in this walled medieval town thanks to Christmas shops that open for business year-round. Walking around the city ramparts is a great way to peer over rooftops and soak up its prettiness. The tourist information office on the Market Square offers tours led by a local historian.
Fashionistas, take note. There’s no need to dress up in Bavaria. Socks with sandals and utility vests are the norm in this neck of the woods.
Best time to visit: May to September
Pack your winter woolens even if you’re heading there in summer as the weather can be unpredictable.