500 kilometres on back roads from Nördlingen to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. A decelerating road trip with fluffy sheep, star cuisine and Bavarian Ayurveda. Text and photos: Thomas Linkel
Road Trip from Nördlingen to Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Stefanie Regel leans on the shepherd's shovel. Dog Aischa sits attentively next to her. The scent of dry earth and spicy juniper wafts across the heathland in the Nördlinger Ries. Both watch the flock of Merino land sheep moving across the meadow, twitching and chewing. Then she takes two newborn lambs out of the trailer to lure the mother in for her first suckling. The scenery is calm and peaceful. Almost positively enraptured.
Sheep Get People Talking
"You won't believe how many people ask if they can join us for a bit, or just pour their hearts out to me like that," Stefanie tells me. This leisurely way of moving, of moving slowly in nature, calms not only them, but also other people. The sheep are not only landscape keepers who ensure biodiversity in the Nördlinger Ries. They are also emblematic of a slower rhythm of life that many long for.
Star Restaurant as a Living Room
Guests of Michelin-starred chef and Bavaria Insider Jockl Kaiser can also relax and feel good. "We want our pub to be like a living room where people can relax, talk and spend time together," he says and sits down with us for a few minutes. His wife Evelin is laughing with guests at the next table while filling red wine into glasses. In one corner, a family is celebrating a birthday. Next to them, a young couple flirts over black pudding, gröschtl and cabbage rolls.
Evelin and Jockl see their restaurant "Meyers Keller" in Nördlingen as a meeting place for exchanging ideas: they organise culinary matinees and readings. Of course, the focus is then also on the food. From the lightly iced cucumber soup to chervil root gnocchi, from huchen with chocolate and salty cherry to the dessert of chocolate mousse, mole and porcini mushroom, the kitchen conjures up a superbly coordinated variety of flavours on the plates.
Town in the Meteorite Crater
The earliest finds that point to a settlement in the Nördlinger Ries, which was formed by a meteorite impact, are about 75,000 years old. Nördlingen was first mentioned in a document in 898 AD, and from the 13th century onwards it developed into an important trading centre. A fortification wall was built on which the city can still be completely circumnavigated today.
In the early morning, the atmosphere in the Old Town is particularly romantic. Cyclists rumble over the cobblestones past the building that has been in continuous use as the town hall since 1382. A pair of storks clatter from the roof of the mighty bread and dance house, and around the corner, tax officials sit in a house with crooked half-timbering.
Towering above it all is the 90-metre-high tower of the Protestant parish church of St. George, which locals just call Daniel and which has been the home of Tilly the cat for years. The 350 steps including the Türmerstübchen are her hunting ground. From the top, the view stretches over the maze of alleys, pointed gables and the city wall into the Nördlinger Ries.
Castles, Palaces and Sissi
From Nördlingen, we cruise along country roads to Harburg Castle, built in the 12th century high above the Wörnitz valley, and stop for lunch in the vineyards of "Hotel Schloss Leitheim". The former summer residence of Cistercian abbots functions quite mundanely as a chic hotel. From the castle, the view extends into the expanse of the Danube floodplains; a few kilometres further east, the lighter-coloured Lech water flows into the dark green waters of the Danube.
Between wheat fields and copses, a large stag's antlers hang above the entrance to Unterwittelsbach Castle near Aichach. The astonishingly simple estate, which the Wittelsbach family used as a summer retreat, is perfectly reflected in the moat. That the later Austrian Empress Elisabeth aka Sissi really did go to the village inn to play the zither with her father Duke Max as a child may only be local legend – but it is certainly a romantic thought.
Augsburg's Fugger: Medieval Visionaries
Almost too (socially) romantic to be true, but nevertheless real, is the story of the Fuggerei. The self-contained ensemble with alleys, front gardens and the yellow-painted apartment buildings is the oldest social housing estate in the world. Founded in 1521 by Jakob Fugger to help the needy, it still offers one hundred and fifty people affordable housing and living space in the middle of the city: the annual rent is 88 cents plus three prayers a day. We grab a cool Maß in the beer garden, watch the squirrels clinging to the overgrown façades, and forget about our own rent.
A summer thunderstorm is brewing as we step through the archway of the Fuggerei back into "real" life. A few corners further on, it starts to pour down. Umbrellas are stretched open, large drops of water dance on the cobblestones in front of the late-Renaissance town hall.
When the haunting is over, rays of sunlight break through the clouds and bathe the façades of the town houses in Maximilianstraße in warm light. A delicate rainbow arches over the town hall and the Perlach Tower.
Along the Lech into the Alpine Foothills
We leave Augsburg and head south along the Lech river, pass Landsberg and Schongau and reach the foothills of the Alps near Murnau. Cows graze in the meadows, onion-domed church towers peak over hilltops, the density of geraniums on balconies increases. Small sailing dinghies sail on the Staffelsee, the mountains of the Wetterstein range forming the background.
'Blue Rider' in Murnau
There is a holiday feeling between Murnau's Obermarkt and Untermarkt. The ice cream parlours are busy, children in sun hats splash around at fountains, sun-tanned hikers clatter over the pavement with their sticks.
Over an espresso, we take in the scenery in the shade of the colourfully painted house facades and strike up a conversation with Stefanie from the next table. Emanuel von Seidl, together with his artist friends from the "Blaue Reiter" (Blue Rider), designed the façades so colourfully, she says. Stefanie Speermann lives and works as an artist in the Villa Riedwies designed by Seidl.
On a wooded ridge between Staffelsee and Murnauer Moos, Stefanie exhibits her own works and those of artist friends. Hidden between undergrowth, wolves painted with acrylic gaze after us. Chairs almost the size of a house stand next to a circus tent for cultural events.
On the lawn in front of the villa lie the wings for a wire-mesh Pegasus several metres high. It stands for freedom of thought, imagination and creativity, Stefanie explains. It reminds her of the feeling of weightlessness when galloping. And then we help her give wings to the Pegasus.
Through the Murnauer Moos
It doesn't take much imagination to picture what it's like in the Murnauer Moos off the beaten track: usually pretty wet. It is close from Stefanie to the boardwalk, which runs through parts of Europe's largest alpine fringe moor and leads through the nature reserve between bubbling spring funnels, flowering wet meadows and cotton grass. At a small refuge we take a break and watch hovering, almost transparent dragonflies before we start our last stretch.
Bayurvida? Bavarian Ayurveda
Balcony geraniums, Lüftlmalerei (a form of mural art) and holidaymakers from all over the world determine the picture in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 25 kilometres away. International and at the same time regional food is cooked at the "Staudacher Hof". Chef Sascha Horst is looking for a Bavarian equivalent for all 146 herbs in Ayurvedic cuisine. He has already found 36 of them and uses them to prepare culinary classics such as roast pork.
"We call it 'Bayurvida'," Sascha explains. "It's not about doing without, but about triggering a detoxifying effect with regional products based on Ayurveda. So what's the point of turmeric if nettles can do the same? But he is not a dogmatist, ultimately it should taste good, says Sascha, before serving turmeric potato salad with fenugreek and chives for dinner.
Partnachklamm Gorge: Highlight at Sunrise
It is still dark when we take the steep serpentine path up to the "Eckbauer" mountain inn. Somewhere below us, the water rushes through the rocky narrows of the Partnachklamm gorge. After two hours of climbing, the mountain forest clears to reveal the scenic highlight of our 500-kilometre tour across Bavaria. In front of us, the Reintal valley turns off in the direction of the Zugspitze massif. A few thin clouds hang in front of the rock towers of the Wetterstein mountains. A few breaths later, the first rays of sunlight make the peaks glow. Arrived!