Standing on the balcony of the Neuschwannstein Castle, just outside Munich, watching another castle on a nearby hill disappear in a sudden storm of rain, wind, and fog, is easily the most stunning thing I have ever seen, and a holiday memory I’ll keep forever.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the castle is like something out of a fairytale. That’s because it is. Ludwig II based it upon the stories and mythology that fascinated him, particularly the work of Richard Wagner, the Munich-based composer, and the castle itself went on to inspire Walt Disney’s classic Sleeping Beauty.
Steeped in cultural and German history, a trek to a fairytale castle is just one of the many day trips that can be taken from Munich, the capital of Bavaria, the perfect base of operations for a week-long stay on the continent.
In many ways, Munich is the Cork of southern Germany. It’s an enjoyable city, but its real value is in how close it is to other attractions. Whether you want to explore the countryside or visit another town or city, Munich is well connected to the whole Bavarian region, as well as a number of other cities in Europe.
Many of these places might be too small to be long-term destinations in themselves, but can be experienced in a few hours by public transport from Munich.
From the Hauptbahnhof — Munich’s central railway station — travellers can hop on a train and find themselves in a new city in a matter of hours.
With so many small cities nearby, it’s the perfect starting point for daytrips.
Travellers can set out on their own, of course, but there are also a number of tour companies that will take on the burden of booking train tickets and guided tours. I opted for a trip to Salzburg (just across the border in Austria), about two hours away from Munich by train, and allowed a tour company to do the hard work.
Upon arriving, you find yourself recognising landmarks even if you’ve never been there, due to the small city’s starring role in The Sound of Music. Our tour guide took us around the city, showing us the very spots where the Von Trapp family sang and danced on screen.
Move further into the narrow city streets and the musical history gets even deeper. Salzburg was the home of Mozart, and fans can see preserved apartments and houses where he lived and worked, as well as the churches and theatres where his music would have debuted.
As such, buskers and street performers here are of a different class than the usual guitar-toting singer-songwriters, with many classically-trained instrumentalists playing the streets.
Our guide also directed us towards the modern art museum and the old fort. While these might be worth a visit themselves, they can eat up time. They are, however, worth a quick pitstop just to take in the panoramic views of the city. Both are located well above the main streets — the fort accessed by laneways and stairs and the museum by an elevator — and offer the best views of the city.
Salzburg is also heaven for chocolate lovers, with its own signature Mozartkugel chocolate balls, and the famous apricot and chocolate Sacher Torte from the Hotel Sacher.
But don’t forget about Munich itself, which has plenty to offer beyond its convenience.
On the day I arrived, I took a walking tour with the Sandeman’s group — signing up is free and you tip your guide when it’s over so they work hard to earn their pay. On one of the hottest days of the year, my group’s guide took us around showing us everything the city had to offer.
As a centrepiece of the Nazis’ rise to power, there is plenty for history buffs to see, while others might prefer the open air markets and outdoor cafes, or the stunning architecture that has developed over the centuries.
Like all German cities, its high street shopping has something to offer to anyone, at any budget. If you like beer, you’re in luck, and if you don’t — like me — you’re still in luck. Surrounded by breweries, there are plenty of local beers to sample, but it’s the atmosphere of beerhouses that makes them worth a trip.
While there are plenty of options, the Hofbräuhaus is the most famous, housed in a 16th-century building with a traditional oompah band providing the soundtrack as lederhosen and dirndl-clad waiting staff carry trays full of beer and a huge variety of local food.
There is a bit of Blarney to the Hofbräuhaus and a lot of other attractions in city — laying things on thick and heavy to satisfy tourists — but, like Cork, Munich is a charming city, with charming people, plenty of fun to be had, and just a short trip away from some of the most stunning sights in Europe.