Greetings from outer space and the king’s hideaway, city strolls and mountain paths as well as rivers, lakes and canals. And everything else you need to know. Text: Markus Stein
Stroll through the Allgäu and Bavarian Swabia
Fresh air, green mountains, blue lakes. Holidays in the Allgäu involve time spent in beautiful scenery. Here you can get a sense of primal energy. For example, at the foot of the Balderschwang Yew. This seven-metre high tree is said to be over 1,500 years old: it witnessed the fall of the Roman empire and the Migration Period. You just want to hug it! But that’s impossible, given that it has a diameter of over eight metres… This is a tree as gnarled and original as the entire region!
Landscapes: Whales and foghorn
Walkers can explore the various natural spaces in over 50 different stages - in one go or bit by bit with the Allgäu Trilogy of Walks, which offers three themed routes. The “Wiesengänger” passes through green hills and offers wonderful views of the distant Alps in fine weather. This trail starts and finishes in Marktoberdorf. Walkers can discover glacial formations such as drumlins (whale-shaped hills), ancient moraines, moorland and much more besides.
The “Wasserläufer” traverses the foothills of the Alps, full of rivers, waterfalls and lakes, including the Lech, Lake Alpsee and the Scheidegger waterfall.
The higher mountain country is crossed by the “Himmelsstürmer”, which encompasses peaks such as the Alpspitz in Nesselwang, the Grünten near Burgberg and the Nebelhorn, or “foghorn”, near Oberstdorf. And when you run out of steam, mountain railways such as the Hörnerbahn in Bolsterlang or the Hochgratbahn in Oberstaufen make the ascent much easier to manage.
Geological highlight: Mega rods from outer space
A flat crater amidst the hilly landscape of Bavarian Swabia: the Nördlinger Ries is an all-round phenomenon and the result of a violent cosmic encounter: 15 million years ago, a mighty meteorite crashed down from the sky and created a perfectly circular crater in the earth’s crust. Diameter: 25 kilometres!
The meteorite hit the ground at 70,000 km/h
Today the depression is overgrown with lush vegetation. Information panels provide details of the geological features of the crater and how it formed, as does the Ries Crater Museum.
Further south, alluvial forests grow in the floodplains of the Danube valley. Along the banks of the river you can take a closer look at the flora and fauna of this area from the viewing and bird observation towers. The towers on Lake Mooswaldsee, on the eastern Danube wetlands and on Gundelfinger Moos, for example, make an excellent destination for a gentle walk.
City life: Dancing puppets!
A number of towns and cities have grown up along the Danube, such as Neu-Ulm on the western border of Bavaria, Donauwörth with its historical Reichsstraße, which once joined Nuremberg and Augsburg, the Altstadtinsel Ried and various museums. Or Dillingen, with its castle, churches and basilicas and Höchstädt with its proud Renaissance palace. In the southwest, on Lake Constance, the Bavarian lion stands guard at the entrance to the harbour of Lindau, whose charming old town is located on an island.
Augsburg has 500 bridges, more than Venice!
One urban highlight is Augsburg on the rivers Lech and Wertach. Founded by the Romans over 2,000 years ago, nowadays Augsburg is a fascinating city which has plenty to offer. Highlights: the towering Rathaus, Renaissance fountains adorned with figures, the Schaezlerpalais with its Rococo ballroom and art collection, the famous Fuggerei social housing complex and much more besides.
In 2019 the city’s water management system with its canals and waterworks was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And not forgetting the endearing Augsburger Puppenkiste (Marionette Theatre).
Medieval dreams: old cities and a royal fantasy
Kempten, the most important town in the Allgäu, also dates back to Roman times. The 18th century Princely Abbey is a truly splendid building. In Kaufbeuren, a stroll through the historic old town takes visitors past town houses and ancient towers and walls.
The old towns of Memmingen and Mindelheim exude medieval flair. Marktoberdorf offers an attractive balance between nature and town life. Sonthofen, on the northern edge of the Allgäu Alps, is the heart and hub of the Upper Allgäu. Füssen, on Lake Forggensee, is overshadowed by Neuschwanstein Castle, the realisation of the medieval dream and spectacular hideaway of Ludwig II. Ottobeuren is famous for its remarkable work of art, the Baroque Benedictine Abbey.
Good customs: let the sparks fly!
The people in Allgäu/Bavarian Swabia are deeply attached to their customs and traditions. This begins early in the year, as they drive winter out with the “Winteraustreiben”. After Epiphany, young people in the villages collect old Christmas trees.
On the first Sunday of Lent, the dry wood is heaped up on a large meadow outside the village. The “Funkenhex”, a straw figure, is placed on top. On one particular Sunday, named “Funkensonntag”, the residents gather and set light to the pile. The festivities are enhanced by the special fritters known as “Funkenküchle”.
Now the women go fishing too
The Memminger Ach river used to drive mill wheels and also served as a drain. Once a year the water was drained off to clean the river of flotsam. The men of the town would pull all the fish out of the river. Today, the Memminger Fischertag is a popular summer festival: people meet up the evening before.
The main festivities are held on Saturday: at eight o’clock, a gun salute is the signal for the men to leap into the Ach with their nets to pull out all the fish. In August 2020, the local court finally ruled that women could join in the fishing.
Cattle and horned devils
Other local events include the Viehscheid in the Allgäu, when thousands of cattle return to their stalls from their summer pastures in the mountains - festival tents are put up for the onlookers - and the Klausentreiben on 5 and 6 December. This involves young lads clad in fur and leather and sporting antlers or ox horns, who make an unholy racket by yelling, sounding bells and rattling chains. Originally they were chasing out the night spirits, now they turn on passers by and spectators… The biggest “Klausen” group is based in Sonthofen.
The big cheese!
So much tradition works up an appetite. In the Allgäu, those hunger pangs are soothed with cheese. The secret behind the aromatic mountain cheese lies in the succulent herbs that grow in the Allgäu’s mountain pastures and form the summer diet of the local cows.
Without a doubt, the main use of cheese is in the regional speciality of Allgäuer Kässpatzen, whose recipe varies from family to family. Hungry mouths will also delight in Kemptener Krautkrapfen (egg noodles, home-made cabbage, butter and bacon), Tänzelfest Supp’n from Kaufbeuren (soup with potatoes, belly pork and sausages), Memminger Zuckerbrot (a type of plaited bread) and Allgäuer Nonnenfürzle (a fried pastry). And naturally the Augsburger Zwetschgendatschi - a plum cake with a thin yeast base.
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