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The German Alps

Grandeur and Gemütlichkeit

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As the gateway to Bavaria, Germany's southernmost state, easy-going Munich sets the tone for a festive vacation. Hearty cuisine, full-bodied beer, festive celebrations, and lively marketplaces draw vacationers to this region every year. But it is the fascinating palaces, castles, monasteries, and fortresses that make the area utterly unique. Many date from Roman and Celtic times.

Retrace the steps of extravagant 19th-century King Ludwig II by boarding an historic train in picturesque Prien, which parallels Lake Chiemsee. After disembarking, cruise to the island home of the King's Herrenchiemsee Palace. Fountains and statues adorn the palace garden. Inside is a Mirror Gallery reminiscent of Versailles and a museum dedicated to the monarch. Fraueninsel, a smaller island in Lake Chiemsee, shelters a convent founded in the 8th century.

Historic castles and monasteries, palaces and fortresses are all part of the region's magic and romance.

Linderhof, another of the King's ornate castles, features a Moorish kiosk and Venus Grotto where Ludwig II once sailed, serenaded by musicians and singers of Wagnerian operas. The most famous German palace of all, Neuschwanstein, is in nearby Füssen, and its musical theater transports visitors into the King's world through a multimedia experience. Lodge overnight in Schwangau-Horn's chalet-style Hotel Rübezahl. It overlooks both Neuschwanstein castle and surrounding Alpine meadows. Wherever you roam, you'll find a clean and comfortable place to spend the night. Travelers' choices include romantic hotels, old castles, former monasteries, and cozy country inns.

On the Road

While the Autobahn network leads quickly from point to point, Bavaria's scenic roads are enjoyable for those with a bit more time to spend. The Black Forest's natural beauty ­ crystalline lakes, pine-carpeted woodlands, open valleys, and rolling farmland ­ awaits. A well-planned network of hiking trails covers thousands of acres with unforgettable vistas. And in region's traditional festivals and music events, intricate clocks and wood-carvings, scrumptious ham and swoon-inducing chocolate cake, the romance of the Black Forest is revealed.

Freiburg, with its medieval cathedral, is a good point of entry. One of the world's best-known spas, Baden-Baden, is within this region. Its attractions include a modern, luxurious bathing complex where 3rd-century Roman Emperor Caracalla once took the waters, large sauna area, sophisticated casino, opera house, race track, spacious parks, exclusive boutiques, and the pleasures of Baden-Alsatian cuisine. A few miles from the town center, this wine-growing welcomes arrivals to hillside vineyards and cozy wine pubs. Venture to nearby Stuttgart to tour the Porsche and Mercedes-Benz factories.

Those who appreciate fine jewelry are advised to detour to Pforzheim's Schmuckmuseum, which contains a dazzling collection. Several of its priceless pieces date to 3000 B.C.

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