Have you ever had one of those unexpected travel surprises? When on a whim you decide to go check out a place and it ends up being delightfully fantastic? That is how I felt about our unplanned afternoon in Füssen, a historic town at the edge of Bavaria and the end of the Romantic Road. Settled way back in the days of the Roman rule, Füssen’s pastel-colored buildings, artful frescos, cobblestone streets, outdoor cafes and eateries, and medieval churches and castles offers enough old world charm to make any visitor fall in love with her nostalgic beauty. Located only 3.5 kilometers from Schwangau and Ludwig II’s epic castle, Neuschwanstein, Füssen is a wonderful place to visit or base your trip in Bavaria. Had we known about Füssen, we definitely would have planned on more time there.
We arrived at our hotel Landhotel Huberhof in the lush countryside outside of Schwangau mid-afternoon on a Saturday. The village was alive with Germans on holiday riding bikes, eating and drinking beer in the outdoor beer garden and taking in the fresh country air. It was a glorious Saturday afternoon in late June and we certainly didn’t want to waste it. We had already spent the morning flying to Munich from Paris and then driving an hour and a half to reach Schwangau. It was time to get out and explore our surroundings.
After unpacking our belongings, we decided to go check out the neighboring town of Füssen. My father had passed through Füssen years ago on a driving trip through the heart of Bavaria and remembered it was a neat town. We had no expectations or pre-conceived notions about what we would find. We simply knew that the town is much bigger than tiny Schwangau and thought it would be worth a visit. Little did we know, we would discover a real treasure of a city.
Füssen is less than a ten minute drive from Schwangau located just west of the Lech river that empties into the large lake, Forggensee. After we found parking and struggled with the meter (not knowing that on Saturdays parking is free), we headed on foot towards Altstadt, the Old Town and heart of Füssen. As we were walking we began to notice a few people dressed up in medieval clothing. Some men were wearing long capes and lederhosen (shorts made of leather) and the women adorned dirndls (a traditional German outfit which consists of a bodice and skirt or a pinafore dress, a low-cut blouse with short puff sleeves, full skirt and apron). At first I brushed it off and thought perhaps they worked at a tourist restaurant or theater in town that required the costume. But as we got closer into the center of town, we saw more and more people dressed in clothing from medieval times. We joyfully realized that we had come on the day of a traditional folk festival. Best of all, it was completely free.
Folk festivals occur all throughout Bavaria and many began way back in the Middle Ages continuing on even today. Füssen’s folk festival included multiple parades, marching bands, shows and all sorts of people dressed in tracht, the local costume they wore on a daily basis over 700 years ago. It was pretty cool to just walk into a live local celebration. It felt as if the entire town was there attending, sitting out at the lovely open-air restaurants and enjoying the show. We watched for a little while but I was really interested in also exploring the town itself. Unfortunately we only had a couple of hours however it gave me enough reason to want to come back again someday and stay longer. Here are some of the highlights of our afternoon in Füssen and what I liked best about this charming traditional Bavarian town.
Altstadt (Old Town)
The heart of Füssen is in Altstadt, the Old Town. Lined with quaint cobblestone streets, brightly colored, traditional Bavarian buildings graced with frescos and a couple of lovely churches and castles, Altstadt is stunning. There are plenty of places to grab an indulgent traditional German meal, a mug of beer or a decadent pastry at one of Füssen’s many bakeries. Old Town is the place to sit down, relax and watch the world go by, one of my most favorite pastimes in Europe. There are tons of beautiful shops and boutiques as well. My favorite store of was a German boutique shop filled with exquisite hand-made Cockcoo clocks, some upwards of a thousand Euros. At the top of the hour, over a hundred Cockoo clocks all went off at once and I couldn’t help but smile. They were lovely.
The Folk Festival
I looked everywhere online but could not find the exact name or any information on the folk festival we saw in Füssen. When I asked at our hotel, the owner Marcus told us it happens every year in late June. After further research I discovered that folk festivals are a huge tradition throughout Germany and each Bavarian town has their own festivals throughout the year. Oktoberfest is by far the most widely celebrated festival of all. Check out this website to learn more about upcoming festivals in Bavaria: www.bavaria.by
I was mesmerized by Füssen’s charming beauty. Most of the buildings date back to the 14th century and were constructed using timber framing which was common in that era. I can imagine the town still looks lovely on a rainy day given the brightly colored buildings.
There is no shortage of stunning frescos and decorative signs hanging off the sides of the buildings. I kept looking up and was rewarded with these beauties.
Castles and Churches
Hohes Schloss, “The High Castle”, sits majestically above Füssen beckoning visitors to check it out. Built from 1486-1505 in gothic style, the Hohes Schloss was the past summer residence of Lord Bishop of Augsburg and is a top attraction in Füssen. Sadly we did not have enough time to visit but I’ve read it is definitely a must-see when visiting Füssen.
As we walked along the narrow streets of Old Town, we rounded the corner and I saw one of the most magnificent churches imaginable. The Spitalkirche Heilig Geist was rebuilt in Rococo style from 1748-1749 after the original church was burnt down. It is a masterpiece and I’m so glad I opened up the big wood door to take a peak inside.
By five o’clock it was time to head back to Schwangau. We had a big day ahead of us. In the morning we would get up early and fight the tourist crowds to visit Neuschwanstein Castle, the reason why we came to Schwangau. With a bottle of wine in hand purchased at a local wine shop, we were on our way back down the cobblestone streets to our car. All in all, it was an excellent afternoon and I sincerely hope someday to come back and spend some more time in Füssen.
If you go:
I found this brilliant website on all things Bavaria that has information on the various cities, festivals, culture, dress and gastronomy. www.bavaria.by We stayed in the outskirts of Schwangau, however, Füssen is just as conveniently located to the area’s main tourist attractions as well. It all depends on what kind of place you are looking for.