Romantic Road, Germany

Taking a drive down Romantic Road has been on my travel bucket list for years and years. What is Romantic Road, you ask? Romantic Road is a picturesque route in southern Germany that winds past many medieval villages and quintessential German sights (think castles, churches, enchanted forests). The road starts in Munich and ends near the famous Neuschwanstein Castle, at the foothills of the Alps. My mom and I looked into doing the drive almost 9 years ago when she came to visit me at university in England, but we ultimately passed as flights to Munich were too expensive by the time we actually got around to booking. Little did I know that – fast forward a decade – I would be dating Kai who calls Munich home! We’ve been to Munich a few times now for various family events, and Oktoberfest twice (when you have a German boyfriend, it’s just what you do ;) but we never really had a chance to venture too far outside of the city.However, this past August Kai’s step-dad was turning 70, so we planned a long weekend in Munich for the celebration, followed by a two-day adventure down Romantic Road! I really wanted to visit Neuschwanstein Castle, and so we booked one night at Landhaus Kössel, which was right by the castle. I love flying into Bavaria, because as the plane lands there are red roof villages dotted all around, with high steeples poking out amongst the rooftops and rolling hills. It’s a beautiful sight.Kai and I got into Munich late on a Friday evening. We had a low-key dinner at the house, followed by an early night’s sleep so we could enjoy a full day in Munich on Saturday. And boy, am I glad we got up early for that adventure! It had been weeks since I’d seen such glorious sun, and I have to say, I think I prefer Munich’s summer weather to Amsterdam’s! The weather for our entire trip hovered in the mid-80’s, which was perfect for enjoying various outdoor activities. We rented bikes near the English Garden, and spent a good hour cycling around, admiring the sun bathers and surfers.Yes – there is a surfing wave in the middle of Munich. Eisbach Wave is a naturally occurring phenomena on the Isar River. Akin to a FlowRider, Eisbach produces a continual wave where surfing enthusiasts can hop in and try their luck. There’s usually a line to jump in, and a crowd of onlookers gathered around.We stopped to admire the talented surfers for a short while, before cycling back into the park, stopping for a coffee refreshment along the way.Next on our list was beer in the sun. We cycled over to the Chinesischer Turm beer garden (which is located in the English Gardens) which is known for being the second largest beer garden in Munich. The beer garden can seat 7,000 people, and if you’re lucky, there will be a live band plating from the tower. Can you see them there below?All around the garden are food and drink stalls, where you can pick up a huge mug of beer, a sausage, pretzel, or other Bavarian specialty.We started with huge pints of beer . . . Followed by pretzels . . .
And finally a whole roast chicken with salad, which we killedAfterwards, we cycled over to Kai’s old university, and he walked me around campus. Which was, like all things in Bavaria, very, very pretty.Finally, we abandoned our bikes and wandered back towards the metro – it was time for a 70’s birthday rock and roll celebration!The next day (despite a slight hangover!) Kai and I hopped in the car and started the drive from Munich to Fussen, where our hotel was. Our first stop on the drive was Landsberg am Lech, a pastel-colored city about 65 kilometers west of Munich. We parked in the Old Town, and as it was fairly early on a Sunday morning, we had the town to ourselves (side note: we got a parking ticket because we didn’t realize it was pay to park – so find the parking meters if you decide to park downtown, folks!)I was immediately OBSESSED with this town. Literally, it was prettier than Amsterdam, Paris, and Munich combined.I just couldn’t get over how pristine and welcoming everything looked in the sunshine. It was a true fairytale town.How darling would it be to sip coffee at this cafe (above) all morning long?However, we were not in search of (just) coffee that day.
Or stunning fountains, although they were abundant.We were on the lookout for kaiserschmarrn, a fluffy, shredded pancake, typically served in Bavaria with raisins and apple sauce.
Which we found at an adorable cafe in the sun, after a short hunt. We both ordered hot coffees, and a big plate of kaiserschmarrn to share.
Kaiserschmarrn translates into english as ’emperor’s mess’, and was named after Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, who loved his shredded pancakes!
After filling our bellies with some messy king ;) we wandered around in the sun, snapping photos and enjoying the lovely scenery.I was a bit bummed we didn’t think to visit on a week day, when the shops would surely be open and the village a bit more bustling – almost everything is closed in Europe on Sundays, except cafes and restaurants, and sometimes a few shops in the more touristy parts of town.I want to try to re-create this stunning terrace at home – I would love to have a leafy covered balcony filled with clay pots and a small wooden table.And perhaps even a little ‘beer garden’ sign ;)I could have spent all day there, but as we still had another hour to go until Fussen, we decided to hit the road so we could still enjoy our afternoon a bit closer to the Alps.
What happened next was pretty unexpected, but reminded us of a key travel lesson. We got to our hotel, checked in (Landhaus Kössel – adorable hotel below!) relaxed for an hour or so, and then changed into hiking clothes to go on a 2-3 hour hike.We’d spent a lot of time in the car, and were both eager to stretch our legs, especially after drinking and eating a lot of heavy German food the night before (not to mention shredded pancakes!) We picked out a trail that was pretty close to Neuschwanstein, with the intention of having a few cheeky castle views before our hike. We’d also head that the lines to get into to castle could be killer (literally 1-2 hours long) so we decided to pop by the castle on our way to enquire about tickets for the following morning. Note that we are both wearing hiking clothes and have little day packs for the trek. When we got into the ticket office, we were shocked to find NO line. We walked right up to the front and the lady told us that end of day Sunday tended to be the slowest time all week, while Monday morning, our anticipated visiting time, was by far one of the worst. There was an english tour leaving in an hour and a half, and so very impromptu, Kai and I bought tickets to see the castle! Honestly, I felt pretty lame walking through such a magnificent architectural marvel while in spandex, sneakers, and a sweatshirt, but honestly, sometimes it’s best just to go with the flow when traveling!We hiked up to the castle in the most manic weather – seriously it rained and the sky was a brilliant blue within the same 15 minute walk . . .  . . . and as we had some time to kill, we treated ourselves to a little snack at a very touristy restaurant along the way :)It’s highly recommended to get slightly buzzed before any castle tour ;)Before heading in for our tour, we wandered around outside, where you can find some brilliant views of the castle from the top of the hill. If you plan to go to Neuschwanstein, I recommend heading up for your tour at least an hour in advance, so you have enough time to walk up the steep hill as well as check out the grounds around the outside of the castle. This, my friends, was the money shot:We then ventured back to the castle for our tour time.You’re unfortunately not allowed to take photos within the castle, but I did take several snaps facing out.The story of the castle is actually quite sad. In the 19th century, German castles were all the rage. In the middle ages, castles had overlooked all of the major villages in Germany, but over time, they became deprecated and abandoned, too costly to keep up. In the 19th century, there was a renewed interest in these architectural gems, with many castles being restored, or built anew. Neuschwanstein was commissioned by Ludwig II, otherwise known as the Mad King. In his lifetime, Ludwig II saw the construction of many castles, perhaps the two most notable being Hohenschwangau Castle, which was inhabited by Ludwig’s parents, and Neuschwanstein, which was intended to be the fairy tale home of Ludwig himself. The project was a manifestation of Ludwig’s romantic fantasies, largely based on the operas of Richard Wagner (such as Tristan and Isolde).Even in the 19th century, the design of the castle was considered kitsch and highly over the top, with soaring towers and grand designs. Throughout the construction of the castle, Ludwig became more and more disillusioned – he built a grand ballroom with the intention of never inviting another soul into his home. The grand castle would be for Ludwig’s enjoyment only – a grand background to his greatest fantasies. Ludwig ran his kingdom into debt over the construction of the castle, threatening to commit suicide when his loan requests were eventually denied. In the end, Ludwig lived in the magnificent palace for a mere 11 days before his mysterious death – he was found in Lake Starnberg in the late 1880’s. His death was ruled a suicide, however the official autopsy report indicated that no water was found in his lungs.The castle was immense, beautiful, and lonely, having learned the sad story behind its birth. That said, the castle now draws millions of visitors from all over the world, and within 10 years of the king’s death, the castle was paid off entirely by entrance fees. While Ludwig had never intended to share his stunning masterpiece with the public, it can now be toured year round.From the high turrets, we could also see Hohenschwangau, Ludwig’s parents castle.The views were breathtaking, and we understood why Ludwig had chosen that very perch for his magnificent home.We climbed down from the castle in a drizzle, back towards the parking lot. From the car, we had a great view of Hohenschwangau Castle, which we unfortunately didn’t have enough time to visit.Looking back at these photos, I can’t believe how much Kai and I crammed into one day, but the adventure only got better. Having totally missed out on a hike (to be fair, we did climb all the way up to the castle!) we decided to find a beach to watch the sunset. On our way, we drove past a herd of baby cows, and I begged Kai to pull over so we could go say hi! To my great pleasure, these were very friendly baby cows, and after one little ‘hello’, the whole gang rushed over to the fence to meet me!Adorable cow overload! I loved meeting all of these new German cow friends, and when I turned around to pop back to the car, I realized I could see the castle perched high on the mountain above me. These cows have the best view in all of Germany!After that, Kai and I went to find our own view, and cuddled down by one of the many lakes in the region and watch the sun set :)We got back to our hotel as the sky was burning a furious red, and changed quickly for dinner.It was 9pm and we were lucky to have found a place nearby that was still serving food, as it seems everyone in the area retires quite early. We caught the kitchen right before it closed at Restaurant Maucher’s, where we shared a potato soup, spaetzle (cheesy German potato noodles!) and a salad with fresh seafood.The next day, we packed up our bags, checked out of the hotel, and then walked down to the lake in hopes of finding a bike rental!We lucked out, as there was a ski and bike rental shop a 5 minute walk from the hotel (here, if you’re interested). Armed with trusty his and her rides, we cruised around Hopfensee, a beautiful lake at the foothills of the Alps. The area around Neuschwanstein is said to be the home of many Disney fairytales. The castle itself inspired Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom, with the Disney castle and Neuschwanstein looking nearly identical.I was also taken aback by how similar the lush forest mosaics in the castle’s Singer’s Hall looked compared those depicted in Disney movies, such as Snow White and Bambi. In fact, the two are almost indistinguishable, with adorable forest critters and tall bucks making a proud appearance in both.And if the mosaics in Neuschwanstein inspired Walt Disney’s forests, it was certainly the woodland surrounding Neuschwanstein that inspired the castle’s art. Tall trees loom over the pine and moss covered ground, with small, dancing shadows playing underneath. At one point, we even cycled past small wooden gnome carvings, and were certain we’d somehow landed in Show White.Along our cycle, we found an adorable mini golf course, so we decided to take a break, grab an ice cream, and try our luck. I’m pretty sure I won in the end, despite having some pretty fierce competition ;)We ate our final meal in Fussen looking out over the lake we had just cycled all around. Every so often, a swan boat would float past, making the scenery extra dreamy.After our lunch, we hopped in the car for the drive back to Munich.Without any stops, the drive back was just under two hours, which was great to discover, because next time we’re in Munich, we most definitely have to come back to the Swan King’s home.

xx Ali


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