Thursday, June 30, 2011

Study Tour to Bavaria with German Tourist Board May 18-24, 2011

post by Randie Rosenberg

Need an antidote for jet lag? Try a brisk walk around a pristine lake in the foothills of the Alps, followed by a hot mud bath.

Ahhhh, the heavy hot goo (“Magic of the Alps”), like a thick chocolate pudding, suspends your body in a wooden tub. A copper coil hose with cold water running through it is placed on your heart to keep you from over-heating. I’ve never felt anything like it, and couldn’t resist squeezing my fingers and toes and slowly moving my arms and legs just to revel in the odd sensation. When my time was up, I was hosed off, dipped in a tub of warm water, then wrapped in sheets and placed on an ergonomic bed with my feet elevated for 15 minutes of silence. I was out like a light.

Welcome to the spa and wellness region of Germany. Visitors come to escape the stress of everyday life, enjoy the outdoors, relive history and indulge in fresh cuisine. In-house physicians and therapists are the norm for spa hotels here.

Bad Bayersoien, with its famous mud from highland spruce bogs was our first stop on a whirlwind tour of southeastern Bavaria. The Parkhotel Bayersoien overlooks a small lake at the edge of the village; a pastoral setting where guests enjoy custom-designed health and wellness programs, cooking classes, relaxation and great food. I like the language in their brochure: “…everyone can relax; you just have to invite yourself to do so.” I’m invited!

The physician owners of this establishment have ties to South Africa as evidenced, in part, by the African Lounge restaurant where we enjoyed a multi-course culinary safari with a seemingly endless variety of wines. The highlights for me: hot pumpkin soup and cool papaya soup, ostrich medallions wrapped in bacon served with a ginger pudding, springbok in a coriander chili sauce. We were off to an awesome start!

On our ride to Fuessen the next morning we asked the van driver to stop for photo ops if we should come upon any. How about a Baroque church in the midst of a field? Sure!

Out of nowhere appeared this amazing church

A bit later, as the autobahn veered toward Fuessen, we caught our first scent of dairy land. The healthy aroma of cows would waft on the breeze over the next days in the pastoral beauty of the Allgeau region of Bavaria. Then, eyes left, and there, hanging on the side of the mountain was Neuschwanstein Castle. What a sight. Walt Disney was impressed and so was I!

View of Neuschwanstein Castle from Tegel Mtn. lift
Fuessen’s Roman era and medieval history came to life during a walking tour with a dirndl-clad tour guide. A trading center since the Romans built the route from Venice to Belgium, Fuessen was fought for in many ancient wars, but was unscathed in the 20th century’s two World Wars. Exploring the old walled town, one can well imagine medieval life in this bustling village. And then there is nearby Schwangau, Hohenschwangau, Neuschanstein and all the lore of King Ludwig II. The Bavarians love him and swear he was not crazy…just a dreamer ahead of his time. I believe them.

We inspected two in-town hotels: Hotel Sonne, modern with dramatic themed rooms and period costumes decorating the public areas, friendly staff and convenient location. Hotel Hirsch across the street has a more Bavarian feel with its own beer garden and roof terrace. The spacious rooms here are named for historical figures, each with a different design.

After visiting the monastery St. Mang, which houses the Museum of Fuessen showcasing the history of lute-making, the monk’s library and more, we enjoyed lunch at Restaurant Ritterstub’n. This was my first cheese spaetzel experience and I loved it. Served with pork medallions and a fried apple dessert. As I understand it, spaetzel is made by grating pasta dough into boiling water. When baked (or fried?) with cheese, you get a dish similar to macaroni and cheese. And as with macaroni and cheese, some make it better than others. Order it at Ritterstub’n. It was the best I had on the trip. Others in our group had salmon and raved.

Our hotel for the night was the Hotel am Hopfensee. The Hopfensee is a lake about 5 miles from Fuessen. The name of the town is Hopfen am See. See means lake in German, am means on. Hopfen on the lake. Hotel on Hopfen Lake. I’m beginning to catch on, sort of. This hotel was remodeled at the end of 2010. It is Eurosleek throughout. Rooms are functional, no bathroom amenities except a packet of shower gel and a hairdryer. Nice spa area with a genuine Turkish Bath downstairs. The food, once again, was very good. The restaurant has window walls with full view of the lake. Dinner was sponsored by the Fuessen Tourist Board and was generous in selections and portions. I began to notice that most menus in Bavaria offer three regional fish: salmon, trout and “pike perch”. Not to belabor food, but OMG the dessert! Crispy, dense pancake-like pieces sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar served with a chunky baked apple sauce on the side. Funnel cake meets apple brown Betty? Yumm.

On Saturday we rode the cabin railway (a funicular) up Tegel mountain for panoramic views of castles, foothills and valley. There’s a launch pad for hang gliding and hiking paths.

Hang gliding ramp, Tegel Mountain. No, I didn’t.

The Sommer Hotel, just a 5-minute walk from Fuessen on the edge of the Forggensee, is a family-run resort with friendly, helpful staff. I would recommend this spot for a spa resort experience. They have indoor and outdoor pools, bike rentals (electric and regular), great spa facilities and a big boat to take guests on a lake tour. Just make sure the lake is full. Unlike other lakes in the area, the Forggensee is man-made and shallow at the Fuessen end. It usually fills completely with snow melt and rainfall by early June.

On to Oberstdorf, nestled among the highest peaks of the Allgeau Alps and home to Germany’s longest downhill ski slope. This is a tourist town for skiiers in the winter, hikers in the warmer weather and health and wellness enthusiasts year-round. The treatment area at Schuele’s Health Resort is labyrinthine. Some of what is offered: The Kneipp cure (featuring hot & cold alternating baths), fit & vital cure, healing climate cure, cardio-vascular check-up, massage and beauty treatments and much more.

Hey, Bossy, thanks for the cheese.

We toured the Erdinger Arena where ski jump competitions are held, taking a lift up the slope then an elevator to the spot where the ski jumpers start their flight. It was dizzy-high. Those guys are adrenaline junkies. You cannot see where your body will land. It looks as though you’d jump and land on the village roof tops. Wow!

Dinner at Michelin-rated Maximilian’s Restaurant. This was the very best food and service of the trip. Staff is friendly and speaks English. A sampling: Paprika soup (vaguely cheesy, but light), crème brulee-style foie gras with pearls of port jelly, venison with elderberry dumplings, curd thistle ravioli. Need I say more?

Sunday and we’re off to Oberstaufen, home of the Schroth treatment, a nutrition/exercise program aimed at improving metabolism and circulation. This is a pretty town with an impressive church in the center surrounded by shops and restaurants. Cross country skiing is big in the winter, hiking and biking in the hills in the summer; plenty of options for the exercise piece of the equation. We stayed at the Concordia Wellness & Spa hotel on the edge of town and enjoyed a floral therapeutic bath followed by a full body massage. With an hour to spare before dinner, back in my room I “rested my eyes” for a moment and woke from a dead sleep 45 minutes later. So relaxed.

A bike ride through the hills on Monday afforded some of the sweetest views with cows and goats and mountains beyond. The well-maintained roads and paths were a joy to negotiate with the multi-speed bikes provided by the Hotel Algaeu Sonne.

The Algaeu Sonne is the only 5-star hotel we visited. We sampled the spa treatments had an impressive lunch before heading back to Munich for our last night.
Rhubarb ice cream, tart, sauce and candied strip

I admit I have overlooked Germany as a destination. No more. I will recommend Bavaria to young couples (of any age) looking for the active outdoors, small groups of couples with golf and sightseeing on their list, anyone seeking a spa getaway, food and beer lovers, and history buffs. Come prepared with a few German phrases to get you started as English is not commonplace.

Even the goats wear bells!

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