(This post is totally focused on the SW of Germany… apologies to readers in other regions!)
Have guests coming? There is no reason to trek all the way to Neuschwanstein to see a castle; there is plenty to be seen within a two-hour drive of Stuttgart. Having spent a weekend enjoying some of the sights near my adopted hometown, I thought I’d share a few ideas for where to take your parents when they finally come for a visit. My apologies to readers not living in the lovely southwestern corner of this country, but perhaps this short list will serve as impetus to make a trip to Schwabenland? I have focused here on the region of the Swabian Alps, an ancient range locally known as the Schwäbische Alb (not, in German, to be confused with the alps, die Alpen, as they are two very different regions)
Burg Hohenzollern is a lovely castle perched on the top of a symmetric hill. The view of the castle while approaching already makes you excited to see the inside. Tours are available daily in both German and English (although the English tour might only be once per day – check the website). I highly recommend parking in the lot, for which you pay a small fee, and then, if you and your guests are fit enough, walking up the stairs to the castle. The forest is lovely and the walk helps you earn your treat at the kiosk within the castle walls. Once inside, both chapels are viewable without paying for the tour. There is a kiosk with junk food and a restaurant and gift shop. The tour is worthwhile, although I will admit that the first two rooms are my favorite. I have done this walk and tour countless times and I still enjoy taking guests to see Hohenzollern.
Burg Hohenneuffen is a castle ruin that is also worth a visit. In summer, there are typically events held within the walls of the ruin, I have seen it completely packed for bands and fairs, and as always in Germany, these are accompanied by a Biergarten with plenty of refreshments after the steep climb to the castle.
Our entertainment this weekend resembled an underground castle, at the Nebelhöhlen (not to be confused with Nebenhöhlen,which are sinuses…). Nebelhöhle translates as fog cave, but there was no trace of mist. We took our kids, who had no problem navigating the 140 steps down and up again, and they carried flashlights to peer into the dark corners and crevices. The rock formations were fascinating. As always, there is a Biergarten and a restaurant on site, with the additional bonus of a great playground.
Blaubeuren is another popular tourist destination, home to the spring “Blautopf” and a numerous caves. It is a town geared toward tourists with museums, tours, a train (on wheels), and so on. I must admit that I tend to have an aversion to crowds, and this place gets crowded. We ended up avoiding the springs and heading up for a hike in the hills instead, which offered fresh air and rewarding views. Either way, an interesting destination.
For those who like to hike or mountain bike, the endless trails through the Schwäbische Alb (and up and down its steep ascents) are the perfect way to get away from town and into nature without having to drive very far. The options here are too numerous to list – I highly recommend stopping at a local bookstore and picking up a trail guide. You can also find them on Amazon. Guides are available for hiking, biking, destinations with caves or castles, and even for families with babies or small children.
This post was so specific to the region, I feel a little bit guilty. On the other hand, I have met so many Americans here who take every single visitor to Neuschwanstein, without even knowing about the great sightseeing on offer in the area! For those of you from or visiting other areas of Germany, let us know in the comments: where do you take your guests? What are your favorite destinations outside of town?