Willkommen to Part 2 of my Germany travel diary. Missed Part 1? Check it out here.
This chunk of the diary covers our travels between the Rhine’s wine country and Passau, where we left for our Viking River Cruise.
German Wine Route
My father-in-law is big into wine, so when I put together our itinerary for this trip I made sure to include the German Wine Route, which is an impromptu driving path through the farms and vineyards of Southwest Germany. While I found lots of people talking about how great wine country is in this area of Germany online, I found less practical information, so our first stop was at the House of the German Wine Route to grab a map and some information on where to stop.
The route winds through wine towns and historic sites. As we discovered throughout the day, the historic sites are far less interesting than the wine towns. The best one we saw was probably Limburg Abbey–the ruined building you see above–which was beautiful but looked to be more of a site for weddings and parties than a true historic preserve.
After hitting a few landmarks we decided to stop for lunch in Bad Durkheim, a small town in which you can find the largest wine barrel in the world. The barrel was a bit touristy, but with some quick research we found an authentic German restaurant for lunch. We entered its dark interior to find only German locals dining there–always a good sign.
For lunch I split a taste of three german favorites with Curtis, and I discovered one of my favorite German dishes of all time: leberknödel, which is essentially a liver meat loaf. It’s what you see covered in onions above. I never thought liver and onions would be so good. I’d order it again in a heartbeat!
Full and happy, we continued down the route and lost count of how many wineries we hit. The small towns on the route are full of them, and you can easily just pull up, pop in, sample a few wines, and head out with a few more-than-reasonably-priced bottles in your hands. We bought as much as we could hope to fit in our suitcases for the trip home.
Most of the wineries had baskets of brown bread available as palate cleansers. I decidedly ate more than I needed to clean my palate. The bread in Germany was so good it gives French bread a run for its money–especially the hearty brown bread from this region.
At our last winery of the day, we were greeted by the laziest lab I’ve ever met. He napped throughout our tasting, but perked up right at the end when his owner told him it was dinner time.
One thing to note–we stopped at Castle Hambacher, which I had read good things about online and heard good things about at the House of the German Wine Route. It was a total letdown. They charge an steep price for entry and the castle has been modernized to be essentially a glorified conference center. If you’re ever on the Wine Route, skip it.
Our day of winery visits left us thoroughly tuckered out–especially Curtis who ended up driving us through rush hour traffic at the end of the day. We were glad to put our feet up when we arrived at hotel for the night–and what a hotel it was! We decided we’d like to spend the night in a castle, so we got two rooms at Castle Hornberg, a partially ruined castle turned into a hotel and restaurant.
I quite liked the window seat…
…which had quite the view.
The weather was so brilliant we were able to eat in the castle’s courtyard.
After we ordered they surprised us with a tasty amuse bouche.
And of course I couldn’t resist the cream of asparagus soup as an appetizer.
The sun set over the castle as we chatted, sipped, and dined. It was a beautiful night.
My dinner was an outstanding combination of asparagus, cream sauce, and scallops. I would order it again in a heartbeat.
It was fully dark by the time we finished eating and visiting, and I laughed at the faces the castle made at us.
One thing to note–Hornberg is actually an old castle, and the rooms, while delightfully historic, were a bit uncomfortably hot in the summer. Hornberg has rooms both in the actual castle and in a detached building next to the castle. We’ve stayed in both (this was our second visit to Hornberg) and I’d recommend the rooms in the detached building in the summer, as they were a bit more modern and less warm. In the cooler months, I suspect the castle rooms would be perfect.
|tank||–||Banana Republic (similar)|
The Castle Road runs along the north side of Bavaria and is so dense with castles that you can often look out the window of one castle on the route and see the next one perched on the next hilltop over. We decided to drive along this charming road on our way to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, where we’d be staying the coming night.
We began our castle tour by visiting the castle ruin of Weibertreu. It’s a gorgeous set of ruins on a hilltop. The hike up the hill is quite steep, but very pretty–it’s lined with flowers and vineyards.
I felt like I was in real-life Skyrim walking around these ruins.
Standing with the ruined wall of the old keep, which must have been quite impressive in its heyday.
After hiking up to the ruin, we drove along the route looking at pretty castles from the windows. We stopped at Hohenlohe Freilandmuseum, an open air re-enactment of pre-industrial German life, but found it ultimately disappointing. We had visited a similar museum in Ireland and enjoyed it, but there wasn’t much happening on the Wednesday morning we visited, so we cut our losses and got to our next destination early.
I had read that Neuenstein Castle was stunning–the kind of castle that feels like a Disney movie has sprung into real life. We arrived early, chatted with the guide who told us he’d be happy to do an English tour during the next time slot for us if no other German groups showed. We crossed our fingers and headed to the nearby kebap house for lunch. Kebaps are basically gyros and they’re ultra popular in Germany. We each ordered one and quickly realized why they’re so popular. I highly recommend giving a kebap house a try for lunch if you’re ever in Germany.
After our lunch, we went back to the castle and were happy to hear that no German groups had arrived. We waited for our tour to start in the castle’s enormouse courtyard.
Every detail was ornate, even the door knockers.
As our guide let us in, he informed us that in addition to being the guide, he is actually the castle’s caretaker and has been living there with his wife for many years. The castle’s only inhabitants include the guide, his wife, and the prince and princess who still live there. The tour was one of the best experiences we had on the trip. The castle was full of hundreds of years worth of artifacts of every kind, and the caretaker knew the history of each item down to the last detail. I’d never seen such an impressive collection.
For example, the helmet you see above was worn during a medieval battle in the 14th century by the castle’s prince at that time. The guns that line the wall–and there was a whole enormous chamber full of them–are hundrds of years old, many of them used in actual combat.
The castle wasn’t just full of military artifacts, it also housed fabulous artwork and household items dating back centuries. The above is made out of ivory.
And here it is in more detail.
The castle plays host to concerts from time to time in the great hall. Just check out all of those hunting trophies!
Actual medieval greaves/gauntlets/whatever the technical term for these is.
This is a lockable chest from the middle ages.
One of the more interesting artifacts the castle museum houses is a shoe of Catherine the Great’s, who was from Germany and who visited and stayed in the castle.
The tour ended in the old medieval kitchen, which was an enormous chamber on the ground floor with a huge fireplace in the center. The walls were totally blackened with soot–it was very atmospheric.
I can’t recommend a tour of Neuenstein Castle enough. It was a highlight of our trip.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
We rolled into Rothenburg ob der Tauber surprisingly easily, given its narrow medieval streets, and checked into Romantik Hotel Markusturm which was cheery and bustling with guests.
After a brief nap we headed out in search of some pre-dinner beers. We followed Rick Steve’s recommendation here and landed a solid table in the peaceful beer garden at Gasthof Goldener Greifen.
We liked the place so much we decided to stay for dinner. I had enjoyed leberknödel so much that I decided to order the dumpling soup version of it. Tasty, but not as good as the real thing.
Curtis ordered the schweinehaxen with potato dumplings–his go-to German dish. More on this in a bit.
After dinner we meandered over to the main square for the much-recommended Night Watchman’s tour. It was bustling with tourists of all nationalities when we got there.
The Night Watchman experience is a one-man Monty-Python-esque walking tour through Rothenburg. The guide gives all the grisley details of medieval life in the city. It was highly entertaining–definitely a must-do if you stay overnight in Rothenburg
The Watchman led us around the city and out one of the gates, and asked us to envision what it must have been like when troops stormed the city hundreds of years ago. He explained that Rothenburg was one of the largest cities in Germany until the late middle ages, when the plague decimated its population. It never recovered, but because it remained an out-of-the-way village it was preserved throughout the years and now remains one of the most realistic and complete medieval cities still in existance.
At the end of his tour, the Watchman implored us to “walk the walls or go to Hell,” Hell being a bar he liked down the street. We took the later option and orderd three different rieslings to sample.
Still energetic, we made our way to to Gastehaus am Klosterhof and shared one more bottle in their cozy, dark interior.
Confession: I didn’t actually try one of these local specialties, Schneebälle, because Rick Steves said they taste like bland pie crust. But the window displays of them were quite pretty, I thought.
After a hearty German breakfast at our hotel, we made our way out into Rothenburg to do some shopping and exploring.
I had been excited about this day for a while because we were headed to the Deutsches Weihnachtsmuseum and store–a whole Museum dedicated to Christmas!
The Christmas Museum was really was quite spectacular. It takes you on a journey from the beginning of Christmas to modern day, and features all manner of ornaments, including those that were in vogue many years ago, like zeppelin ornaments…
…Soviet Union ornaments…
…even Nazi ornaments.
They also had lots of other historical decorations, including these gorgeous intricate wooden molds for wax and plaster ornaments.
Afterward, I spent a solid chunk of time poking around the enormous Christmas store and walked away with a few gifts I was quite pleased with.
Eager to soak in everything Rothenburg had to offer, we took the Watchman’s advise and walked the wall. It was a bit tough for my 6’2″ husband, though–he was constantly having to duck in order to avoid the wooden beams holding up the roof. People really were shorter back then.
There’s Curtis and I, off in the distance.
After our walk it was time to say goodbye to Rothenburg and make our way south to Munich.
Munich – Hofbrau Haus
We arrived in Munich late in the afternoon and quickly stashed our bags in our rooms before heading downtown. We stayed at Hotel Uhland, which is west of downtown, fairly near the park where Oktoberfest takes place. I’m sure it’s a madhouse in October, but in late spring is was delightfully quiet and charming. We definitely enjoyed our stay there.
Curtis and I had been to Munich before, so we knew exactly where we wanted to go: the Hofbrauhaus. The Hofbrauhaus is a magical experience–it’s the largest beer hall in the world and it feels like it. The giant tables are always full of Germans and tourists, and servers lugging armfuls of liter mugs make their way past vendors selling pretzels as big as your head. Many of the tables are owned by local groups, who often show up in traditional attire like this gentleman who is actually taking his own personal stein out of its locker. We watched him from our table and ordered up a round of liter-sized beers.
The mugs are literally so large I had to lift mine with two hands when it was full.
Copious beer and perhaps a pretzel or two were enjoyed.
Munich – Haxnbauer
Time to talk about schweinehaxen–roasted pork knuckle–which is my husband’s favorite German dish. He discovered it on our first trip to Germany years ago. He ordered it early on in the trip, and liked it so much he had it for dinner practically every night after that. I had read that Haxnbauer is the best place to get schweinehaxen in Munich, so we had to give it a try.
Walking up, we were greeted with a window display of the restaurants offerings.
|earrings||–||Kenneth Jay Lane|
More beers were ordered as well as a schweinehaxen for each of us.
The local appetizer included sliced ham, bread with cream cheese and chives, and thinly sliced radish. I really liked the spiralized radish–I might have to steal that idea.
The verdict? This was the best schweinehaxen I’d ever sampled. I ate every last morsel, it was so delicious.
We finished the meal with flambéd apple fritters and worked the meal off with a nice long walk home, where we collapsed into bed.
Munich – Residenz
The next day was museum day. We hit the Residenz, Munich’s palace, in the morning. I didn’t take many pictures because the palace is simply too amazing to really capture in a photograph. The level of opulence there is really impressive. I did particularly like the Treasury, with its impressive collection of jewels.
For lunch we strolled over to Restaurant Pfistermühle, just a few blocks from the palace, and I ordered the cheese plate and a glass of white.
My companions went the German route and ordered up plates of sausages and kraut.
Munich – Alte Pinotek
We worked off our lunch at the Alte Pinakothek, Munich’s historical art museum. Here are just a few pictures of the paintings I particularly liked.
Munich – Beer Gardens
We decided to try the other beer gardens in town to relax after our long day of museuming. We walked from the Alte Pinakothek to the Augustiner beer garden–the largest oudoor beer garden in the world–and stopped on the way at Löwenbräu’s beer garden.
It’s hard to describe what Augustiner’s beer garden felt like. Imagine a giant park, and then fill that park with picnic tables and beer and pretzel vendors and you’ll have an idea of how massive it was. We grabbed some beers from the enormous serving area and managed to snag ourselves a table where we could watch the world go by.
Eventually we made our way through the food line–it felt very cafeteria-esque–and filled up a tray with all kinds of sausages, pretzels, and the like. We nibbled away and watched the sun set.
On a bathroom trip, I spied the way they bus tables–literally by filling up a tractor with mugs and driving them over to the conveyor-belt washing apparatus. The scale of the place was just enormous.
The party showed no signs of slowing down as the night waned on. Eventually we slipped back to our hotel, sleepy with beer but happy all the same.
Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles
We were up early for our final full day in Munich, as we had plans to drive down to the Valley of the Kings. King Ludwig and his father both built extravagent castles in the foothills of the Alps, and they’re a tourist mecca. King Ludwig’s is the larger of the two, and you can see it in the distance in the picture above. Apparently it inspired Disney when they built Cinderella’s Castle. I see the resemblance.
They sort of annoyingly force you to arrive quite early for your tours, so we whiled away the hour we had to kill poking around the small palace gardens. We toured Hohenschwangau first, which was just a summer home for the royal family–a pretty nice one, if you ask me–and then made our way to Neuschwanstein.
No photos were allowed on the tour, but we did get to snap panoramas from the balconies. The landscape was just gorgeous–I can’t image waking up in a gorgeous palace to a view like that everyday.
On our way back to Munich we stopped at Andechs Monastery–an old German favorite. They’ve been brewing beer there for hundreds of years, and it’s fantastic. We all agreed it was the best beer we’d had on the trip. Sipping away in their beer garden was a fantastic way to end our trip through Bavaria.
And of course we had to sample the schweinehaxen, though I thought the pretzel with camembert cheese dip was even better, as is evidenced by the fact that I ate it before I even thought to take a photo.
I doubt this will be our last visit to Bavaria. It’s hard to have a bad time in such a gorgeous place with great food and excellent beer.