Planning our European winter holiday began with an impulse parka purchase. At the time we had no idea it would be our last big trip before our daughter was born, or before covid 19 changed everything. And while It’s difficult for me to think of an instance where I wish I hadn’t taken a trip, I can honestly say that this one really felt like a trip of a lifetime.
The entire road trip spanned two weeks, three countries, four castles, three cathedrals, five Christmas markets,
five McDonald’s, one palace, one casino, one spa, and a little over 1,000 miles. And like our decision to have a destination wedding, it’s become one of those things we look back on with so much fondness and appreciation for having done it the way we did.
We arrived in Munich first thing in the morning after a red-eye flight, and since our itinerary began with a visit to Schloss Nymphenburg, we were thrilled to find this little bakery next door.
Schloss Nymphenburg, or Nymphenburg Palace, is a Baroque palace located in in Bavaria, Munich’s western district in southern Germany. It was also the birthplace of King Ludwig II, defiantly a top contender if I could have dinner with any historical figure.
One of the most memorable moments of our entire trip took place the morning after we arrived in Schwangau, like something straight out of a fairytale. My husband and I got up way before sunrise (thanks to a combination of jetlag and a slight sunrise miscalculation), so I could photograph the castle during blue hour and without the crowds. This is not for the feint of heart by the way. It’s quite a trek through the Black Forest up to Marienbrücke, the bridge that overlooks the famous views of Neuschwanstein, and the town of Schwangau is incredibly dark at night. In fact, the only source of light were the stars in the night sky and the castles themselves, which are illuminated at night, and set the stage for what was about to happen next.
Walking through the silent streets of Schwangau, the glowing castles set against the backdrop of an indigo winter sky, suddenly a shooting star stretched from behind our heads and across the sky, falling behind Hohenschwangau Castle in front of us. I cannot exaggerate enough how long the tail of the star hung in the sky. I wonder if you can make more than one wish on a falling star, because I made three. It was a moment in time when the world truly stood still, and we felt like the only two people in it.
We stayed at Villa Ludwig Suite Hotel, which is nestled just at the edge of town, mostly because Villa Ludwig offers guests spectacular views of Schloss Neuschwanstein. They also manage guests tour arrangements for both castles on your behalf.
The Alpsee Lake
After hiking through the Black Forest in the pitch dark, only to find access to Marienbrücke closed, we arrived back at Alpsee Lake just in time to catch the sunrise.
The first of two castles tours, Hohenschwangau Castle was residence to the Bavarian Knights up until the 16th century, when it was restored in its original Gothic style by King Ludwig II’s father, for use as a holiday hunting lodge. Neither tour allows photography.
I still marvel at the idea of living here. The views are among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and the architecture is inspired. King Ludwig II was a visionary, to say the least. A tour of Schloss Neuschwanstein is an absolute must if you’re in Germany, and since the tour changes regularly, it’s worth doing more than once. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.
We ate here twice. This restaurant was conveniently located at our hotel, but didn’t feel like hotel dining at all. I really delighted in enjoying authentic French creme brûlée while watching a couple of lovers necking outside the window (not in a creepy way, it just all felt very French).
It was cold and dreary during out time in Colmar, and Little Venice wasn’t nearly as colorful in the gloom as you’d see in the spring. This little patisserie and their pain au chocolat was the best part. I ate six between Strasbourg and Baden-Baden. No regrets.
A gorgeous hotel in located in the heart of Strasbourg with beautiful suites, beautiful dining room and beautiful breakfast. Because I was struggling with morning sickness, we stayed at the hotel for most of the day and did most of our exploring in the evening.
Christkindelsmarik in Strasbourg was our first Christmas market experience and possibly my favorite. It also ranks as one of my top three date nights of all time. The best way I can think to describe it is like walking into a Hallmark Chanel Christmas Special. Puffy coats and mittens, holiday decor, the ambiance, the smell of spices and mulled wine hanging in the air… so, so Christmasy. And so romantic.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
We arrived after dark in Rothenburg, just as it began to snow. And let me tell you, this little town is a fairytale. If you’re a fan of the Headspace App’s sleepcasts, “Snowville” always makes me think of our time in Rothenburg. We have plans to go back soon to enjoy the holidays here again with our daughter. It was that magical.
This little hotel has so much character, and decorated for the holiday, it was dreamy. The staff was so helpful and welcoming, and breakfast was wonderful… except for the part where poached fish and morning sickness threatened to collide, but I’m so glad I snapped this photo since its one of the more memorable moments of our trip (for me anyways).
A historic night time tour of Rothenburg’s nightwatchman’s rounds. We recommend getting cozy with some cocoa and enjoying this really fun experience.
This hotel could not have been more conveniently located, the Christkindlesmarkt was right next door. And, by far, it had the very best parking situation of all the hotels we’ve visited in Europe.
Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt was one of our two very favorite Christmas markets. We found beautiful jewelry, incredibly realistic sculpted chocolates, Christmas ornaments and a German Sausage Burger that was out-of-this-world delicious.
We didn’t drive off a cliff in Salzburg, but we may have come close. It’s important to remember when traveling that not everything will go according to plan, and those are the experiences that usually make for the best stories anyways.
A beautiful historic estate with a tragic history, with the most spectacular dining room and breakfast we have ever experienced. I would actually recommend visiting in the spring or summer because the gardens at that time would be spectacular, and you could really enjoy the grounds and complimentary bicycles. I will say, it is not conveniently located to any restaurants however.
This restaurant wasn’t on our original itinerary, but to date, it’s the best Italian food we’ve ever had. And we found in Austria, go figure.
Located in St. Peter’s abby complex, this is the oldest restaurant in Europe dating back to 803. They offer special events during the holidays including a Mozart Concert and dining experience that was the climax of our European Holiday.