Gems of Europe: Germany

The fairytale castles of Baden-Wuerttemberg

By: By Susan E. James; Sidebars by Michael Lowe

Ideal Itineraries

Romantic Rhine: Avalon Waterways offers a tour that begins in Amsterdam and ends in Basel, with Heidelberg as one of its main highlights. Here, clients will spend an entire day in Germany’s oldest university town, home to the ruins of a red sandstone castle looming over the city and one of Baden-Wuerttemberg’s most notable cities. As it drifts down the Rhine, the river cruise will also stop at Cologne, Koblenz, Strasbourg and Breisach during its eight-day itinerary. The cruise departs on Oct. 25 and on Nov. 1, and pricing varies from $1,989 to $2,089 per person. 

German Christmas Break: Clients can spend their holidays touring Germany this winter with Albatross Travel After arriving in Frankfurt, travelers will stay in the Black Forest village of Waldau for the next six nights, enjoying a rare immersion experience in Baden-Wuerttemberg during the Christmas holiday. Day trips include stops to notable Baden-Wuerttemberg hot spots, including Stuttgart, Freiberg, Heidelberg and the Rhine region to explore its famous Christmas Markets. Christmas is spent relaxing, eating in clients’ new home away from home. The tour runs from Dec. 21 to 28, and rates start at $3,199 per person, based on double occupancy. 

The Best of Germany: Gindroz & Company, a custom tour operator, can assist you in tailoring the ideal German itinerary for your client, allowing them to choose their own destinations and their own medium of ground travel, whether by car, train or taxi. A sample itinerary described on its Web site includes wine tours, castles and the Christmas markets of Baden-Wuerttemberg. Dates and pricing vary. 

Wines of Germany: As the third-largest wine-producing region in Germany, Baden-Wuerttemberg has become a world-class wine destination. The Vintage Series takes full advantage of the area’s red wine production in its Wines of Germany tour, which begins in Baden-Baden with walks through wine cellars, tours of castles and, of course, wine tasting. While in the area, the tour stops in Heidelberg and continues to Eltville in the Rhine Valley and Bernkastel in the Moselle Valley for two more wine hot spots. Dates and pricing vary. 

Calendar of Events

Now-Nov. 1: World Stars of Photography. Photography from the prize winner of the Hasselblad Foundation, often recognized as the "Nobel Prize of Photography," will be exhibited at the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museum along with past award winners. Graciela Iturbide from Mexico City is the 2008 award recipient. 

Now-Nov. 2: World’s Largest Pumpkin Exhibition. Boasting the world’s largest pumpkin exhibition, the town of Ludwigsburg will utilize its Bluhendes Barock Park to display more than 450 kinds of pumpkins from around the world. Just in time for All Hallow’s Eve, pumpkins will be available for both viewing and buying pleasures. 

Nov. 5-Nov. 9: 17th Annual Jazz Festival. For five days, the town of Aalen welcomes the tunes of international jazz greats. Concerts will take place among different town locations and will feature artists such as Randy Newman and David Sanborn. Spontaneous jam sessions are all but guaranteed. 

Nov. 6 - Nov. 16: 57th International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg. This two-city film festival whittles some 2,500 feature film applicants down to a select 35, showing audiences the best of the best from around the world. 

Nov. 22 – Nov. 30: Winter Ludwigsburg Schloss Festival. The International Baden-Wuerttemberg festival is a celebration of concerts, musical theater, drama, dance and performance held at Ludwigsburg palace, the palace gardens and Schloss Monrepos. 

Nov. 24 - Dec. 23: Christmas Markets. During late November through December, Christmas Markets dominate the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. Scents of cinnamon and bratwurst fill the air as Christmas music floats among illuminated alley ways. Although each town celebrates the same holiday, each market has its own personality. In Stuttgart, clients will find one of the oldest and largest markets in Europe, with more than 200 stalls and a backdrop of old medieval castles. In Karlsruhe, a fairy-tale-themed market is home to jugglers, jesters and tellers of fairy tales among the 130 traditional market stalls. And in Ulm, with a gothic cathedral piercing the sky, 100 wooden stalls fill the square with goods from glass blowers, glass paintings and local delicacies. 

Dec. 2 - Dec. 7: ChocolArt 2008. This annual chocolate festival returns to Tubingen and celebrates everything cocoa. Besides devouring chocolate, activities also include chocolate-making sessions, chocolate decorating and theatrical performances. 

Jan 6. – Feb 24: Alemannic Carnival. Also known as Fastnacht, during this time, towns and villages will begin celebrating this pre-Ash Wednesday festival with costumes, late night revelries and floating down town creeks in wooden barrels. 

New & Noteworthy

Car Crazy in Stuttgart
Baden-Wuerttemberg’s capital city, Stuttgart, has been deemed "The Cradle of the Automobile" because both the motorbike and four-wheel automobile were invented there by Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz. To this day, Stuttgart continues to produce Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Maybach automobiles. Stuttgart is also home to the Mercedes-Benz Museum and this December, it will be home to the brand-new $78.5 million Porsche Museum, which has been under construction since October 2005. 

Cuckoo for Baden-Wuerttemberg
The Baden-Wuerttemberg State Tourist Board makes it easy for agents to educate themselves about the Southwest German region with its unique online training program, Cuckoo Training. The course takes agents through 10 different learning chapters that cover everything from Culture & Castles to Wellness & Spa. There’s an added incentive for becoming a specialist, too: The top 3 percent of all certified agents will receive a free fam trip to Baden-Wuerttemberg. 

Local Favorites

The German Clock Museum
The German Clock Museum features a 150-year-old collection of the famed Black Forest clocks and is located in the heart of the Black Forest region itself. The collection was started in 1852 by the director of a clock-making school and has since grown to house more than 8,000 items. 

The Islands of Lake Constance
Lake Constance is home to two islands — Mainau Island and Island Reichenau — that serve as examples of natural beauty and history.

Mainau Island is a model of environmental excellence and is best known for its expansive, vibrant gardents. Frequent tours take visitors around the island, which features a garden of more than 20,000 flowers, a terraced landscape complete with water displays and the 18th-century Castle of the Teutonic Order.

On the Island of Reichenau, clients will get an up-close and personal view of the religious, artistic and intellectual influences of the Benedictine abbeys from the early Middle Ages and founded as early as 724. The UNESCO World Heritage Site also offers impressive wall paintings to be found inside the island’s churches of St. Mary and Marcus, St. Peter and St. Paul.

Monastery Maulbronn
The 12th-century Monastery Maulbronn is one of Baden-Wuerttemberg’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and one of the best preserved medieval monasteries north of the Alps. Its extensive water-management system and Cistercian influence makes the abbey notable for history buffs and eco-enthusiasts alike. 

Hotel Packages

Hotel Heidelberg
The Magic Moments at the Heidelberg package includes two nights in a Bavarian-style room, daily breakfast buffet, a glass of sparkling wine per person and a four-course meal accompanied by a bottle of wine on your chosen night. The offer is valid through Dec. 1 and rates begin at $363 per person, based on double occupancy. 

Steigenberger Hotel Group
The Discover Baden-Baden package at the Steigenberger offers a four-night stay with breakfasts and dinners, a welcome drink and unlimited use of the hotel’s leisure and wellness spa area, including Finnish saunas, hydro-massage showers and beauty treatments. Offer is valid from Nov. 1 through Mar. 31. Rates begin at $676 per person, based on double occupancy. 

Freiberg InterCity Hotel
The Black Forest town of Freiberg offers its Above the Roofs of Freiberg package through InterCity Hotel. This two-night stay includes a breakfast buffet, free use of local transportation anywhere in the city and a free trip to the local mountain, Schausinland, on the oldest cabin shuttle in Germany to experience a panoramic view of this three-country region. The offer is valid through the end of this year and rates begin at $250 per person, based on double occupancy. 

Destination Resources

Altes Schloss 

Baden-Wurttemberg Tourism 

Berg Hohenzollern 

German National Tourist Board 

Heidelberger Schloss 

Schloss Sigmaringen 

Wuerttemberg State Museum 

Gems of Europe

Gems of Europe CoverPlease visit our Guides & Brochures page to browse a full version of our Gems of Europe supplement.

More than any other country in Europe, Germany is a country of castles. They dominate hilltops, sprawl beside lakes and brood over great river valleys. Some hundreds of castles are located in Baden-Wuerttemberg, a picturesque state in the country’s southwest corner that is slightly larger than the state of Maryland. From the Sleeping Beauty fantasy of Berg Hohenzollern and the sinister, walled treasure chest of Schloss Sigmaringen to the haunted ruins of Heidelberger Schloss and historic arcades of Altes Schloss, Baden-Wuerttemberg offers a thousand years’ worth of history in a cornucopia of castles.

Berg Hohenzollern was home to Germany’s royal Hohenzollern family. // (c) Berg Hohenzollern
Berg Hohenzollern was home to Germany’s royal Hohenzollern family. 

The Altes Schloss, or Old Castle, in the heart of the state’s capital, Stuttgart, was built in 950 to protect the valuable stud farm that gives Stuttgart its name. In the 16th century, the counts of Baden-Wuerttemberg converted the castle’s grim, medieval interior into that of an Italian Renaissance palace. The Romanesque towers and arcaded interior loggias suffered partial destruction in World War II but were restored in 1969. Now, as the home of the Wuerttemberg State Museum, the castle houses an eclectic collection of superb medieval limewood sculptures by such outstanding artists as Veit Stoss and Tilman Riemenschneider, together with Roman and early German relics.

On the rainy spring day I visited Altes Schloss, I seemed to have the museum all to myself. The cavernous rooms, with their life-sized religious statues, faces frozen in pain or ecstasy, were eerie, but the most haunting part of the castle was the chapel crypt housing the life-sized effigies of Baden-Wuerttemberg’s King Charles I and his wife, the Russian Grand Duchess Olga, who died in 1892. Gifted and beautiful, Olga was condemned by politics to marry a man who didn’t like women and, even lying in effigy beside her husband, her head seems to turn slightly away.

Some 30 miles south of Stuttgart is one of the most beautiful of Baden-Wuerttemberg’s castles, Berg Hohenzollern. Perched on a mountaintop, it floated out of the mist like a romantic mirage as our car approached. Founded in the 11th century and rebuilt in the 19th, it is the ancestral seat of Germany’s former rulers, the Hohenzollern family. Their royal crown is kept here in a tower all its own. Wandering around, I found an entire room dedicated to the pomp and circumstance of the Hohenzollern family tree. Reminiscent of the Black family tree in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," all walls were drawn with family names and armorials, boasting dynastic connections blessed by ornate painted angels. The oldest part of the castle, St. Michael’s Chapel, is a Gothic gem whose stone walls are colored by reflected light from medieval stained glass. The later rooms, with flamboyant decorations, neo-Gothic ceilings and brilliant wall coverings, are the flourishes of an ambitious family who rose to power and lost it on the battlefields of World War I.

Another 11th-century Hohenzollern stronghold, less than 20 miles to the southeast, is Schloss Sigmaringen. As one of the largest castles in Germany still owned by its original family, it has 300 lavishly decorated rooms — 20 of which are open to visitors — and two noteworthy collections. More than 3,000 pieces of arms and armor crowd the dark tunnels of the castle’s armory and there is something sinister about running the gauntlet of narrow walkways among them. The collection shares wall space with dozens of animal heads, horns and stuffed trophies, giving me an idea of what 19th-century Hohenzollerns did for entertainment. One of the most beautiful rooms in the castle was the Portuguese Gallery, with its splendid collection of Renaissance tapestries designed by Flemish artist Pieter van Aelst in 1520. The castle is a warren of architectural styles and treasures, from vast Venetian mirrors reflecting frescoed ceilings to brightly colored Chinese vases beneath crystal chandeliers. Five hundred years of family portraits stare down from the walls, and in the crimson brocaded Royal Room, I noticed a small painting of Henrietta Maria, 16th-century Queen of England, dressed in white silk. She seemed to gaze curiously out at visitors as if wondering why she — or we — were there.

Henrietta Maria’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth of Bohemia, is the ghost at the feast at Heidelberg’s great 13th-century castle, located about 45 miles northeast of Stuttgart. The daughter of James I of England, Elizabeth was 17 when she married Elector Frederick V of the Palatine in 1613 and moved into Heidelberger Schloss. Enchanted with his beautiful young wife, Frederick ordered the creation of the English gardens, once called "the 8th wonder of the world." Unfortunately, the gardens were destroyed with much of the castle over the years, but the extensive remains have enchanted visitors like Goethe, Victor Hugo and Mark Twain. While drinking a beer or a coffee in a student cafe at the foot of castle hill, beside the clustering swans in the Neckar River, it’s easy to see why the history and romance of the shattered ruins still attract visitors today.