A Trip to Bavarian Wunderland
Outwardly at least, no region in Germany is tethered more tightly to tradition than Bavaria. Bratwursts, ham hocks and pretzels still get served up to the merry strains of oompah bands. Alpine mountains still hulk over villages of timber-framed buildings and chattering taverns. Dirndl-wearing waitresses are no rarity. Add the twinkling lights and gingerbread houses of the Christmas season, and the air of nostalgia only becomes stronger.
Yet at the same time Bavaria is also one of the undisputed dynamos of the national economy, with Munich in particular a hotbed of technology, finance and engineering. It’s sharp, savvy and certainly not averse to splashing out on eye-wateringly priced designer goods. The region as a whole, with its blend of cosmopolitan consumerism and age-warmed customs – not to mention the rumpled folds of the countryside – makes for fascinating car hire road trip in Germany.
Start in: Munich
The phrase “laptop und lederhosen” is never more apt than when applied to Bavaria’s hugely enjoyable capital city. BMW and Siemens share a skyline with gothic halls and medieval towers. Conceptual artworks occupy gallery space just as naturally as the canvases of the Old Masters. And while superstar-laden football team FC Bayern München might have international trophies and a spacecraft-like mega bowl on the urban outskirts, the city remains just as well known for the old-style revelries of its now 200-year-old Oktoberfest.
The phrase “laptop und lederhosen” is never more apt than when applied to Bavaria’s hugely enjoyable capital city.
Somehow, these juxtapositions rarely jar. This is the second most visited city in the country, with only Berlin drawing more tourists. The ups and downs of its history can be readily explored – nothing is shied away from – but contemporary visitors to Munich will also find an energised metropolis as groomed and gregarious as any in Europe.
The heart of the city, centered on Marienplatz and the toweringly decorative Town Hall, comes alive in a special way at Christmas. There’s a buzzing traditional market on the square, of course, complete with candles, carols and kletzenbrot fruit bread, but the surrounding streets are no less involved. Take a look at the dedicated nativity-scene market on Neustrasse, or head further afield to the 20-plus other festive markets that spring up when winter arrives.
Drive to: Augsburg
Augsburg sits just an hour’s drive from Munich, and the journey between the two takes you from one proud historical city to another. As the third largest settlement in Bavaria, Augsburg is no small-town pit stop, particularly when you consider it was a self-ruling city for half a millennium. In the Middle Ages, it became one of the wealthiest centres in Europe. This all translates into some seriously weighty architecture, notably in the form of its Renaissance centrepieces.
The two banking families at the core of Augsburg’s medieval prosperity – the Welsers and the Fuggers – might sound like Roald Dahl baddies, but the legacy of the city’s riches has been very real. Its Christmas market is some 500 years old, making it one of the first in Germany, and it adds an extra layer of enchantment to an already handsome Old Town. The market has become famed for the musical performances that take place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening, during which 24 windows of the City Hall are filled with winged “angels”.
On a somewhat incongruous – but very Bavarian – note, Augsburg has also forged a reputation for its extensive, beat-heavy nightlife scene. Not your Tasse tee (Cup of tea)? No problem. One thing that never changes is the city’s location on the famous Romantic Road driving route, which travels south through various picturesque towns and villages until it reaches Füssen.
End up in: Füssen
So close to Austria that you could yodel and be heard across the border, dashing Füssen makes for a fitting last stop on the Romantic Road. The Bavarian Alps cluster around it like ranks of snow-capped guardians, and the most celebrated nearby sight – the turreted, crag-topping Neuschwanstein Castle, built by “Mad” King Ludwig II – might have come straight from the brush of a fairy tale artist.
The Bavarian Alps cluster around it like ranks of snow-capped guardians…
Füssen itself continues in much the same vein. Its Old Town is peppered with baroque abbey buildings and gothic rooftops. Among it all, there are some great cake-and-coffee spots to be found – and for visitors with a hearty appetite, some good Bavarian schnitzel to be had too. Naturally there’s a Christmas market, held in a monastery courtyard.
All this, however, faces stiff competition for attention from the pull of the landscape itself. Over winter, the air is pure, the woods are snowy and the peaks seem vast and unconquerable. The area has a network of hiking trails and mountain chalets, and there’s the chance to ski, too – a cable-car gives direct access to the top of a long red run. If that sounds too tame, you can even try hurtling downhill on a night-time toboggan. Travelling fast with Avis Car Hire in a traditional land? It doesn’t get much more Bavarian than that.