The Traveling Family: Southern Germany
The word “Germany” evokes visions of humongous beer steins, speed limitless Autobahns and sausages in most people. They think of Berlin and Munich, maybe Frankfurt and Heidelberg and girls in tight Dirndls. But there is much more to Germany than these cliché ideas: southern Germany and the adjacent areas in Switzerland and Austria offer beautiful landscape, charming towns and a host of activities for the whole family. Whether you are outdoor enthusiasts, delight in sightseeing or enjoy a nice day on the lake – there is something for everybody.
To the south and west of Munich lies the “Allgäu”. A lovely, slow-paced area of rolling hills and small towns it offers ample opportunity for walks, hikes or bike rides, and in summer, swims in one of the many small lakes. Many farmers in the area cater to the mostly German tourist by renting out rooms or vacation apartments on their properties. These places are affordable and perfect for a long weekend with the whole family: cats, dogs, sheep, goats, chickens, cows and sometimes horses provide hours of entertainment for the little ones while the adults can enjoy the famous Bavarian beer. For a less rustic but still affordable stay check into one of the many Bed & Breakfast type places called “Pension”.
The most well-known attraction in the region is Schwanstein Castle, the fairy-tale Castle King Ludwig II built in the 19th Century. The Castle offers guided tours which can be tedious for kids but the uphill walk to the castle is still worth the effort: from the terrace you can enjoy a look at the breathtaking architecture and the even more breathtaking views into the Allgäu to the north and the Alps which raise steeply in the south. Schwanstein is a major tourist attraction and always busy so go in the off-season if you can.
Traveling west from the Allgäu you will soon find yourself at the shores of Lake Constance (“Bodensee”). Germany, Switzerland, and Austria share the lake, with Austria having the smallest, easternmost part around the town of Bregenz. Bregenz is famous for its floating stage where opera performances are held in summer. The Bregenz Festival featured prominently in the Bond movie “Quantum of Solace”.
Lake Constance offers many free beaches, boats and ferries crisscross its waters, kayaks, motorboats and as of late stand-up paddleboards are everywhere. Along the lake, you will find towns that go back to medieval times with beautiful buildings and impressive churches.
The biggest town, Konstanz, is a major local hub and a favorite spot for Swiss shoppers. The bustling restaurant, bar and Café scene and young but prestigious university are set against the backdrop of a city that goes back to Roman times.
From Lake Constance, the Swiss Alps are in close proximity. A favorite for the whole family is a gondola ride to the top of the Säntis mountain near the town of St. Gallen which offers a spectacular 360-degree panorama. For the little engineers and budding scientist in the family, the Technorama (near Winterthur) offers hands-on exhibits, amazing chemistry and physics demonstrations and even a lab to perform experiments.
This list of attractions only scratches the surface of all the things you can do, see, and experience in this beautiful part of the world. If you want to experience real Germany outside the clichés (but with the beer and sausages) – this is the place to go.
Tina Baumgartner lives in California but is a native of Konstanz. She frequently visits the area and spent the 2014/2015 school year there with her family on a sabbatical. She is also the author of the website Sabbaticalplanner.com, a resource for families with kids to plan long-term travel.
Related: 10 Reasons to Take an Unpaid or Paid Sabbatical