Photo Credits: Arthur F. Selbach
Germany is dotted with plenty of UNESCO sites, attesting to the rich culture that has prevailed since the Middle Ages. The region of Bavaria is exceptionally rich in history, especially when it comes to World Heritage sites and plentiful fairytale castles. The UNESCO towns of Füssen and Bamberg – both on either ends of Bavaria – are some fine examples of what’s on offer.
FÜSSEN: OF CASTLES AND MOUNTAINS
The colourful country town of Füssen is situated at the southern end of the Romantic Road. Its location on the edge of the Alps is framed by a landscape of idyllic lakes and imposing peaks rising up to 2,000m – making Bavaria’s highest town an ideal starting point for trips to the nearby royal castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, or the famous Wieskirche.
The town’s 700 year history has left behind plenty of monuments and relics. Füssen’s historical Old Town towers over the banks of the River Lech, where the High Castle, the Baroque abbey of St. Mang and myriad mosaic rooftops are set against the picturesque green countryside.
In the winding streets and alleyways of the medieval Old Town, the Gothic gabled roofs of tall patrician houses rub shoulders with the remains of the old city walls and Baroque and Rococo churches. The High Castle over-looking the town was once the summer residence of the prince-bishops of Augsburg; their former residential chambers now house an excellent art gallery, a branch of the great Bavarian State Picture Collection.
Directly beneath the castle stands the magnificent Baroque buildings of the former Benedictine abbey of St. Mang. Here are splendid Baroque halls and a museum with an interesting collection of historic violins.
During the Baroque era, Füssen was one of the leading centres of Germany’s violin making industry; in the 18th century, it had 80 violin makers whose instruments were sought after all over Europe. Today, the town has workshops making top-quality violins, and also stages an annual programme of live music including the “Kaisersaalkonzerte” held each summer in St. Mang.
Füssen’s biggest attractions are probably its castles: Neuschwanstein – King Ludwig II’s personal refuge that’s now recognised as the mother of all castles in Europe – and his childhood palace, Hohenschwangau, famous for its extraordinary murals.
Füssen is also a meeting point for some of the most famous long-distance hiking trails in southern Germany, including the King Ludwig Trail from Starnberg to Füssen, the Romantic Road Hiking Trail, the new long-distance Wandertrilogie Allgäu (opening in July this year), and the Lechweg, the region’s newest trail.
Following the route of one of the last riverine wilderness regions in Western Europe, the Lechweg is an easy, long-distance ramble over 125km of alpine terrain which can be broken into 6-8 stages.
Starting in Austria’s Vorarlberg Province, the route runs over the Lech Valley-Reutte before reaching Füssen. Highlights include Holzgau’s Baroque houses, as well as a soaring 200m suspension bridge over the spectacular Hoehenbachschlucht gorge. Along the way, you’ll see classic meadows of mountain flowers, and marmots. Crossing into Germany, there are views of both Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein castles, and finally Lech Falls and Füssen.
After a long day’s hike, you can head to a Kneipp (hydrotherapy) spa which is famous in Bavaria for a recuperating bathing cure. Füssen is a recognised Kneipp spa.
BAMBERG: THE BEER TRAIL
Situated in northern Bavaria just off the junction of the Regnitz and Main rivers is Bamberg – a town inundated in vibrant history in its medieval streets and rich architecture, spread over a series of seven hills each crowned with a church.
Named a UNESCO heritage site in 1993 for its excellently preserved Baroque architecture, compared to most German cities, Bamberg was left largely untouched during WWII. Thus it still retains its charming medieval atmosphere including Byzantine-style domes, cathedrals and ancient streets.
The town is partitioned into three distinctive zones: the hills of old Bergstadt, with churches on every cobblestone street and historic residences like the Old Court (home of the town’s former ruler, the Prince-Bishop); the island of Inselstadt which sits in the heart of town and is known for its market street vibe; and Theuerstadt in Gärtnerstadt with its medieval setting of market gardens, old houses and vineyards.
Laid out according to traditions of the time in the shape of a cross, the town’s original 4 corners were marked by its historic churches (St. Gangolf, St. Jacob, St. Michael and St. Stephen), with their beautifully adorned interiors, while Bamberg’s most famous ecclesiastical monument is the imperial cathedral of St. Peter and St. George, which houses the tombs of Pope Clemence II (the only papal grave in Germany), and Emperor Henry II, along with the famous Bamberger Reiter, a statue of a mysterious medieval horseman.
Within this dramatically cultural landscape also lies other scenic attractions like the enchanting Rose Garden and the Old Town Hall, which sits in the centre of River Regnitz.
Bamberg’s other pull lies in the fact that it has 9 famous breweries, which makes it a paradise for any beer lover.
Called Rauchbier in German, Bamberg’s famous “smoked” beer is the town’s speciality. Not surprisingly, most of the local beer in the region is traditionally brewed, meaning Bamberg has more than 50 types of artisanal beers like lager, smoke beer and many others; all of these can be enjoyed in the dozens of historic beer gardens, beer halls and gasthofs across town.
There’s a variety of brewery tours available; there’s the option of taking a bicycle tour that will have you weaving through the medieval landscape as you visit breweries; or take a cultural tour that also visits some of Bamberg’s ecclesiastical gems before hitting the many local breweries.