I’m not going to lie, 2020 is off to a pretty rough start. So many uncertainties, so many canceled plans (birthday trips, baby showers, visits with loved ones), so many unanswered questions and with that, so much…. (dare I say?) disappointment. We were really hoping to take a month-long trip to Europe after Will graduates with his Ph.D. But I really don’t even know if that’s going to be possible now. But. There’s hope. Because this won’t be forever. For everything, there is a season. And in this season of home, I’m living vicariously through past adventures. Today’s visit – the ultimate weekend in Bavaria!
WARNING: This post is over 2,700 words (I did say “ultimate”)…
Bavaria is Germany’s southeasternmost state. It is the largest state by land area, making up about 1/5 of Germany. Bavaria has such a developed culture because it’s been around for a long time. It dates all the way back to the Iron Ages (500 BC to 332 BC). They were known as the Kingdom of Bavaria from 1806 to 1918. When the German monarchy was abolished after World War I, it became the Free State of Bavaria. Finally, in 1949, it became a state under the Federal Republic of Germany.
Bavarians are very proud of their heritage and rich culture. Have you ever had a friend from Texas? If asked, they’ll tell you they’re a Texan before they’re an American. Talking to someone from Bavaria is kind of like that. (Side note: Friday Night Lights made me seriously wish I was from Texas – Texas Forever.)
But Bavarians have very good reason to be proud. It’s incredible. The people. The food. The landscapes. Bavarian scenery changes faster than the seasons in the Carolinas (and that’s pretty fast). You’ll go from mountains to plains to valleys to lakes and beaches and back again, all within the span of 50 miles. Their culture is so influential that many “German” things you’ve heard of actually are Bavarian:
Tracht (traditional clothing) like lederhosen and dirndls
BMW – Bayerische Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Works)
Weisswurst (white sausage), brezels (pretzels), and spätzle (a type of pasta)
And of course, you absolutely can’t talk about Bavaria without BEER! First and foremost, they do it right. They sell it by the liter. And bottles are a full pint, not a measly 12 oz. like here in the States. And it is SO much cleaner and fresh-tasting thanks to the Bavarian Beer Purity Law. The Reinheitgebot (“purity order”) of 1516 allowed only four ingredients in the making of beer: hops, malt, yeast, and water. It actually wasn’t until 1906 that the rest of Germany adopted this law.
Bavarians also get credit for Oktoberfest, which started here in 1810. Crown Prince Ludwig was getting married so they threw a 14-day party to celebrate. Talk about a wedding budget! The festival was such a hit, they made it into an annual thing. I mean, sure, why not when you sell 1.98MILLION GALLONS of beer each year. That’s over 1.1 million pints a day!! Today, 6 million people from all around the world come to Munich in the fall to gather in the traditional blue and white checked beer tents.
A very important phrase to know here: Prost! It’s how you say cheers! According to Bavarian legend, when you cheers someone: you’ll clink glasses, drink, and then you must maintain eye contact. If you break eye contact, you’re cursed with seven years of bad “…relations…” Beer drinking is a serious event over there! Beer is even cheaper than water!
Today, Oktoberfest and Bavaria are emulated all over the world. Towns like Frankenmuth in Michigan, Helen in Georgia, and Leavenworth in Washington all try to replicate the Bavarian charm. Still though, there’s no place in the world quite like Bavaria!
Ready to explore? Buckle up, we’re road tripping through Bavaria!
Your Road Trip Itinerary
Let me first start by saying: THIS IS TOO MUCH TO DO IN ONE WEEKEND. There, you’ve been warned. Now you can’t blame me for being exhausted if you try to cram this all into one “ultimate weekend in Bavaria”. Each of these places, especially the castles, I could’ve stayed MUCH longer. And I definitely plan on going back. Actually, I’d LOVE to see some of these castles during the winter in the snow. All the heart eyes.
The summer after we graduated from college, Will (my now-husband) had an internship in Ingolstadt. This was our home base for the summer. Ingolstadt is about 50 miles (82 km) north of Munich and was a great central location for exploring central Germany. It’s a medieval city that is home to the Kreuztor, the Danube River, and even the Illuminati. There’s plenty of things in Ingolstadt to keep you busy.
We rented a car (trying to operate a GPS in a different language is HARD) and hit the road! To get to our first destination, it took about 2 hours by car (110 mi/177 km).
Okay, so, road trip, woohoo! Our first stop in our ultimate weekend in Bavaria was the fancy-schmancy summer mountain home of King Ludwig II. If you haven’t heard of the Mad King (and no, not King Aerys II), he lived quite the life. He spent an exoooorbitant amount of money on quite a few castles, got himself way into debt, and may or may not have been murdered?
Anyways. Linderhof Palace was King Ludwig’s retreat from the outside world. The smallest of his castles, having only 10 rooms, it was the only one he ever saw completed. King Ludwig was fascinated by the French monarchy and this palace’s design heavily reflects this.
Unfortunately, we didn’t plan our visit far enough ahead. And we went in July. Tourist season. Which means other people who planned well got to go tour the caste. We did not. But! Still well worth a visit, the grounds are INCREDIBLE. Lush gardens, magnificent mountain scenery, and impeccable attention to symmetry make for an overall pretty great afternoon.
Then we jumped back in the car, drove about 45 minutes (26 mi/42 km) to our destination for the night.
We stayed Friday night here at Pension Bavaria, a cute alpine chalet-style inn. A breakfast of traditional German breads, meats, and cheeses was served in a room with BREATHTAKING views of the Alps.
In the States, when you ask for a porter (I love a good dark beer!) you may have a choice of Great Lakes Brewing, Founders, or Bell’s. In Germany, there’s just one regional brewery. When ordering a Dunkel, there’s just one option. (P.S. don’t ask for a Dunkel in July – dark beer is only a wintertime thing!) The closer you are to a brewery, the better the beer. Mittenwald has its own brewery that’s been owned by the same family since 1864.
Okay, confession time: I speak zero German. None. Nein (that’s all I got). So here’s the thing: if ever you order anything at a restaurant and the waitress looks at you like you have lobsters crawling out of your ears, ASK MORE QUESTIONS! Don’t insist you know what you’re talking about. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with a cheese pizza topped with a TON of pepperoncini peppers instead of the pepperoni pizza you thought you were ordering. (Salami. You want salami on your pizza. You’re welcome!)
We really only stayed in Mittenwald as a brief stopover and missed the historic town center until we were on our way out. Like I said, we tried to cram too much into our ultimate weekend road trip in Bavaria. Mittenwald is famous for making violins, violas (holla – I played one year in the sixth grade!), and cellos. There’s even a museum to commemorate. Driving through the town, many of their buildings are painted with scenes of town life. Had we known better, we would’ve at least stayed long enough to take a stroll through the town.
We started out the morning with a quick 20-minute trip (10 mi/16km) down the road to the Olympic Skiing Stadium. This was used in the 1936 winter Olympics, the first time alpine skiing was a competitive event! Nearby the village is Partnach Gorge.
Long ago, the Partnach River carved a 262-feet (80 m) deep chasm into the rock. Known for its clear, blue-green waters and spectacular hiking trails, Partnach Gorge is over 2,300-feet (700 m) long. Unfortunately, we did not plan our visit very well here either…
A parking lot is available paid to a machine for €0,50 per 30 minutes. We did not research this in advance and only had €1,00 in change, therefore we only had one hour to explore. Also, we were unaware that from the parking lot to the entrance to the gorge, it’s about a 25- to 30-minute walk. We also didn’t know you can take a horse-drawn carriage! So basically, we walked the trail to the entrance and back, not having enough time or change to actually get into the gorge. Which was definitely a disappointment.
But. Still a nice walk, still incredibly beautiful, still a scenic trip along the river through the mountain. Don’t do like we did. Don’t cram everything in one ultimate weekend through Bavaria. PLAN AHEAD. And plan on spending more time here! Admission to the gorge is €6,00 per adult. Wheelchairs and strollers are not allowed due to the nature of the trails.
We left here by mid-morning and made our way toward some straight-up fairytale destinations!
Okay, so. We hopped back in the car and plugged in our next destination: the village of Hohenschwangau. GPS says it’ll take about an hour, a total of about 40 miles (64 km). We’re driving through the incredible mountain scenery. All of a sudden, I get a text. It said, “Welcome to Austria!” I looked at Will and said….”uhhhh, so, we’ve left the country…” Evidently, the shortest route to our next destination was through Austria, not through southern Germany!
I was so surprised that there was no indication that we were leaving the country. No border patrols. No checkpoints. Not even so much as a sign! The Schengen Agreement is a treaty signed in 1985 by many European countries to establish open borders. This treaty didn’t actually come into play until ten years later but has since made traveling through Europe a breeze. Once you’re in these countries (known as the “Schengen Area”), you’re in.
So meanwhile, we’re driving around the base of the Austrian Alps and it’s just indescribably beautiful. The crystal blue waters of the Lech River are to our right the whole drive. Suddenly, we rounded a corner, looked to our left, and saw the whole of the Alps looming up above the ski resort town of Ehrwald. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Village of Hohenschwangau
No trip to Germany would be complete without seeing at least a FEW castles (and we saw a good many!). And no weekend in Bavaria would be “ultimate” without them. So naturally, we headed to one of the most famous castles in the WORLD: Schloss Neuschwanstein. Neuschwanstein Castle is in the village of Hohenschwangau and was built as King Ludwig II’s swan song (he was known as the Swan King – see what I did there?!). This was the castle Walt Disney based his park castles on. He built it as a sanctuary for him to enjoy the arts away from state affairs. Unfortunately, he died before it was ever fully completed. To this day, the Throne Room doesn’t even have a throne installed! Seven weeks after Ludwig’s death, the castle was opened to the public as a way to try and recuperate the massive amounts of debt he left behind.
In the same village, on another hilltop sits Schloss Hohenschwangau, King Ludwig’s childhood home. His father, King Maximillian II, had this castle rebuilt to match the castle’s rich history of the legendary Knights of Schwangau. When you grow up in a medieval castle dripping with fairytale influences, it’s hard NOT to be a bit obsessed yourself later in life.
Word to the wise: if you do not do well with Disney World crowd levels, DO NOT VISIT IN JULY. If you like to fly by the seat of your pants (like us) and don’t have time to make reservations (like us), DO NOT VISIT IN JULY. Don’t do it. You’ll thank me later. Tickets WILL be SOLD OUT and you will NOT be able to tour the castles.
The grounds and surrounding hiking trails of both castles are free to walk about as you please. You can also take a walk around the nearby lake, Alpsee. Any of these trails offer incredible views of the castles and surrounding mountains. After spending the afternoon roaming about, we got back on the road and headed to our final destination of the trip.
We got into Lindau late Saturday afternoon after a 1-hour and 20-minute drive (65 mi/104 km) on what just so happened to be the day of their biggest festival, Lindauer Kinderfest. This essentially translated to a big block party with lots of beer tents. The historic Old Town of Lindau is on an island in the middle of Bodensee (Lake Constance) and faces both Austria and Switzerland. Buildings with colorfully painted facades line Maximilianstraße, the main pedestrian street through the island. We took a walk down here, stopped off at a beach through a little alleyway for a swim, and ended up down at the harbor. There’s a ton of history packed in here in only 0.26 square miles (km2). Saturday night there were fireworks at the harbor for the celebration.
We spent Sunday just exploring the Old Town and stopped at a cafe for a cup of coffee and a danish. Sundays are usually pretty quiet in Europe and this was a nice way to wind down from our weekend of adventure. We then started our 2-and-a-half-hour trip home (158 mi/255 km) to conclude THE ultimate weekend in Bavaria.
What We Wished We’d Known
Whew! I did call this the “ultimate weekend in Bavaria…” So, as I said, this was ENTIRELY too much to pack into just one weekend. And we didn’t even do half of the things we had planned to because of the time crunch.
If we were to do it again, I might stretch this trip out over the course of a full week. And probably not go in the middle of July, unless I spent far longer planning out tours. And I would definitely try and avoid ANY castle visits on a weekend if during the summer.
I would have also have liked to add a visit to Schloss Herrenchiemsee, the fourth of King Ludwig II’s castles. This lesser-known (and therefore less crowded!) castle was modeled after the Palace of Versailles after the king’s visit in 1874. I would add the visit in between Ingolstadt (a one hour and 45-minute drive) and Linderhof Palace (also a one hour and 45-minute drive). This would add about an hour extra driving time and about 82 miles (132 km) to your total.
My revised Ultimate “Weekend” in Bavaria Itinerary:
First Day: Explore Ingolstadt: visit World War I Museum, Medical Museum, or bike along the Danube River Second Day: Head to Herrenchiemsee, tour the castle; take the evening to explore Mittenwald Third Day: Head to Linderhof Palaceand take the tour/ explore the grounds; head to Olympic Village/ Partnach Gorge and spend the afternoon hiking; return to Mittenwald Fourth Day: Drive to the village of Hohenschwangau, tour both castles, spend the afternoon hiking the trails around the castles and the lake, spend the night in the village Fifth Day: Travel to Lindau, walk around the historic Old Town Sixth Day: Walk down Lindau’s main street, visit shops and cafes, walk around the harbor, swim in the lake Seventh Day: Take the morning to relax and decompress in Lindau; head back to Ingolstadt (Munich airport is just a short train or bus ride away) Total Driving Distance: 495 miles (797 km)
I’m a sucker for a good snowfall. I grew up in the south and I was 21 years old before I saw snow deeper than half a foot. I also would LOVE to go back in December around Christmas to visit the snow-covered castles and the legendary German Christmas markets (of which I hear Lindau has an excellent one!). What about you? Any future Bavarian plans? Any major stops I missed? Let me know in the comments!