Bavaria With a 3 Year Old: Castles and Wildflowers
I keep this photo of Tiny Traveler walking through a pasture in Bavaria on my PC desktop. The messy hair and girly sundress and the way she’s too caught up in her flower picking to care about the camera capture her personality and her age. But mostly I love it because it’s a token of one of those rare family vacation days where everything turns out the way you hoped it would (and the camera actually works).
The field is in Schwangau, a loose cluster of farm houses, grazing fields, small hotels, souvenir shops and bike baths that sit in an Alpine valley below Neuschwanstein, the fairy tale castle King Ludwig II built in the 1800s and that was the inspiration for the castles you see at the Walt Disney parks.
As soon as we had decided we would travel to Germany last summer, I knew I wanted to go to Schwangau, a place we’d first visited in 2007 while I was pregnant. I thought I wanted to return so we could wow our princess-crazed preschooler with a real and quite picturesque castle. I would probably concede that I also wanted to show her the Hotel Ruebezahl, the place where I first felt her kick me.
But as we made our way through the Bavarian countryside in the late afternoon and I took in the stoney, angular alps, the green grazing fields studded with cows, the farmhouses and small inns and the cycling tourists with their maps and backpacks, I realized that I wanted to come back because Schwangau is pretty and tranquil and kind of magical. I wanted TT to love it because I do.
The day we visited happened to be our wedding anniversary. We pulled into town later than we’d hoped after a longer drive than we’d planned on. Despite an out-of-the-way locale and both Rich and I forgetting its name, we easily found the Ruebezahl. The only room left was huge, with a muralled bathroom and a balcony overlooking farms and the castle. They offered us a break and it was our anniversary, so we splurged.
Visit the FG Hotel Guide to Bavaria
TT intuited, in the way kids do, that both the place and the evening were special, and by the time we’d settled our bags and set out to explore, she was excited. We did pretty much the same thing we had the first time around and took a stroll across the grazing meadows that make up the center of “town.” TT did what I hoped she would. She reveled in the wide open space, running through the grass, giggling and demanding that we chase her, picking flowers for our anniversary, mooing to the cows we passed.
We walked back to the hotel in the twilight,through Bavarian mountain air so light and clear it almost sparkled. Rich and I enjoyed our version of an elegant German dinner —a bottle of dry Riesling and upscale renditions of dishes like creamy, speck-studded kasespatzle. TT enjoyed her own version of a fancy dinner—plain wiener schnitzle and ice cream with M&Ms in a bowl shaped like a clown face.
After dinner we went back to our roomy room so TT could bathe (or maybe swim) in our deep soaking tub. After she went to sleep we kicked back on the balcony, finishing off the wine with a fairy tale castle lit up in the foreground and just-picked wildflowers in a glass on the dresser.
The next day we borrowed two of the hotel’s bikes and set off across the fields singing “Do Re Me” from the Sound of Music (really, how can you resist?). We took a horse-drawn wagon up to the castle, snapped the obligatory photos, took the tour —TT was fascinated by the epic murals and impressed by Ludwig’s gilded bedroom— and bought the obligatory souvenir snow globe. But that was mere icing on cake.
My vivid memories of Schwangau are not of King Ludwig and his perfect fairy tale castle, though that’s what draws thousands of tourists every summer. It’s the lush open meadows, crisp Alpine air, wild flowers, a favorite hotel we hope to return to, and a few hours on a summer evening that turned out just right.
We don’t have a Schwangau moment every day when we’re on vacation (believe me, we don’t), but the possibility stumbling onto one is why our family travels.