After an amazing ten days in London and Paris with my mom, sister, and niece, it was hard to say goodbye. We had a magical, unforgettable trip together with three generations but it was time to move on to Part II of our European trip. My daughter Sophia and I boarded a short flight to Munich where we would be meeting up with my son Max and my father to continue our journey through Southern Germany and on to Austria for the next 12 days. The trip was bittersweet as it was planned over a year ago with the intention that my husband Paul would fly with Max and meet us in Munich. It would be our first family trip to Europe. A trip I had dreamed about since the day they were born.
As often happens in life, there were a few unpleasant bumps along the road. Unfortunately a few months before the trip, Paul threw out his back and traveling anywhere was out of the question. We had everything planned and booked. Thankfully my father was able to take his place and despite the disappointment that Paul couldn’t come, there was a silver lining. My dad would be able to spend twelve unexpected yet priceless days with his daughter and his grandchildren.
When we originally planned the trip over a year ago, Paul and I thought hard about where we wanted to go for our children’s first European trip. We wanted to make sure it was memorable and fun for the whole family yet most of all for the kids. Too many big cities and museums would tire them out and we all love being outside in nature. After much consideration of all the amazing places we could visit, we chose Austria as it offered the perfect mix of hiking, mountains, history and castles for our family to enjoy. If we were going to Austria, there was no doubt we would have to show our kids the very spot above Neuschwanstein where Paul proposed to me 19 years ago. It was right on the way to Austria from Munich.
The Romantic Road
In the summer of 1999, Paul and I took a ten-day trip to Germany and followed part of the touristy yet picturesque Romantische StaBe known as the “Romantic Road”. We had been dating for four years and it was our second European trip together as a couple. The Romantic Road was created in the 1950s by the German government along an old medieval trade route. The scenic route travels 350 kilometers between Würzburg to Füssen in Southern Germany passing through numerous postcard-worthy medieval villages, tiny Bavarian towns and fairytale castles. It remains one of the most popular drives in Germany and has helped boost tourism in many of the small towns lining the route.
When we did it in 1999, we began the Romantic Road in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a stunning medieval walled city and followed it all the way south to Schwangau where the real romance began and Paul asked me to marry him. Despite times where the Romantic Road was perhaps not so romantic and filled with trucks and traffic, it of course was a magical journey for us especially ending our trip in the achingly beautiful town of Schwangau. Schwangau even had the castle that was the inspiration behind Cinderella’s castle in Disneyland towering above the lush, verdant countryside. What could be more romantic?
Arriving in Schwangau
Sophia and I met my dad and Max at the Munich airport a little before noon and after a quick bite to eat, we were off to Schwangau in our big, bright red minivan. As we headed towards the mountains, I thought back to how I was feeling 19 years ago on this very drive to Schwangau, when Paul and I were in our late twenties, in love and at the beginning of our lives together. I recalled the priest at our wedding saying how important it was to enjoy each and every day as life will pass us by in the blink of an eye. Before we knew it, we would be having a family and our lives would revolve around changing diapers to nap times to soccer games and homework. Then in another blink of an eye, the kids would be off to college and beginning a life of their own. At the young age of 28, it was hard to think that far ahead yet almost two decades later I realize how true his words are and how precious our time together is as a family. I was going to embrace this special time with my children even if we missed Paul.
Schwangau is roughly 107 kilometers southwest of Munich in the heart of the Bavarian Alps bordering Austria. The village is strategically located at the foot of the Ammer mountains and is surrounded by brilliant blue lakes and luminous countryside. The area is so nostalgically beautiful it is where Ludwig II built his most famous fairytale castle, Schloss Neuschwanstein, in the 19th century atop 11th century fortifications left behind by the Romans. Schwangau’s rural heritage is still present today with many farms and pastures surrounding the outskirts of town where visitors can find lovely 600-year-old farmhouses, colorful cottage gardens and traditional Bavarian hotels to enjoy and experience the countryside. Besides the main tourist attractions of Neuschwanstein and Schloss Hohenschwangau, the area offers hiking, biking, swimming, sailing and even parasailing off the top of Mount Tegelberg. There is plenty to keep you busy or simply you can just relax.
When I planned this trip way back in January, I knew that finding the right accommodations for our family was important. I did my usual searching on Expedia and occasionally cross-referencing my findings with TripAdvisor. Since we were staying in small towns and villages, it meant we could stay at local, family run hotels which I love for so many reasons. Staying local not only helps support the communities in which you visit, it also has a priceless value of promoting cross-cultural understanding and friendship. I often find that these local stays are the richest parts of my travels so I do my best to support sustainable travel and book local.
There were tons of local places to choose from in and around Schwangau (I don’t think I saw one chain hotel) and we found the perfect place for our stay at the lovely, family run Landhotel Huberholf located just outside Schwangau in the village of Brunnen. I honestly must confess that when I originally booked the family suite at the hotel, I had no idea that it was actually in the heart of the Bavarian countryside. I simply knew that the hotel offered a two bedroom apartment with a spacious living area, kitchen and deck at an affordable price. You can imagine my complete joy at discovering that our lovely hotel was surrounded by a pasture filled with horses and grazing cows! It was absolutely wonderful! The neighboring village of Waltenhofen is only a ten minute walk away so we could walk to local eateries and enjoy fresh farm to table meals. Our hotel also had an amazing menu of delightful German fare and I loved having a huge savory pot of cheese soup one evening with my schnitzel.
When we pulled into the parking lot, the outdoor beer garden was filled with families enjoying a mug of beer while their children ate homemade apple strudel hot out of the oven. A group of Germans in vintage cars pulled into the lot as we were unloading the luggage from our red manual Ford minivan and took one look at us and asked how on earth we found this little place in the heart of the German countryside? Luck was all I could say. We met the owner, Marcus, who took over the hotel from his in-laws. Marcus and his family live in the 500-year-old half of the hotel which used to be a farmhouse back in the days. The rest of the building has been converted into lovely, airy apartments.
After we unpacked, I sat outside on the deck and had a glass of red wine as the sun began to dip below the horizon. I could hear the melodic buzz of the cicadas as I inhaled the fresh farm air. I laughed at the thought that it smelled like cow and that is wasn’t an unpleasant smell yet an earthy one that made me feel more connected than ever to this place. I felt at peace.
For the next three days, we were the only tourists at the hotel and enjoyed being surrounded by the locals. We were within walking distance to the lake, Forggensee, as well as walking and biking trails and other local German restaurants. I’d often go exploring the villages on foot in the early evenings before dinner where I discovered a couple beautiful churches and also a pony farm down the street. Sophia loved going on a pony ride out in the countryside.
The highlight of the trip was of course our visit to Neuschwanstein which warrants its own post. Would it be the same as I’d remembered? How would it feel to be standing back on the spot where my life changed 19 years ago when Paul proposed? You will have to wait and see.
If you go
I found this fantastic website all about the Romanic Road that is definitely worth checking out and getting advice on how to make the journey. www.romanticroadgermany.com
Lodging: We loved the charming Hotel Huberhof and its delightful food. We had a family suite with two rooms and a spacious family room, kitchen and nice porch overlooking the horses and pasture outside. There are tons of walking and biking trails and you are only a block from the lake as well. The owner is very hospitable and what I loved best is there were really no tourists, only Germans, so a real local feel. www.hotel-huberhof.com