Starting the New Year in Mittenwald

I like to finish what I started, so even though we are well into March (what?), I am still going to post this final short recap from our travels in France, Austria and Germany over the winter holidays.  After this, I plan to take a hiatus from this blog indefinitely….

We spent the last day of 2014 and the first few of 2015 based in Mittenwald, a small town in the Alps on the German side of the border.  We got tons and tons of snow there, and for the first two days the sky was so dark with snow we could not even see the mountains towering over the town until the sun finally broke through a few days later.  We spent our time in and around Mittenwald doing some amazing winter hikes: a huge hightlight for me was our freezing but beautiful New Year’s Day hike in snow that came over our knees (yet the trails had been cleared).  Here are some photos to summarize this last part of our trip:

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Germany: Black Forest and Romantic Road

Picking up where I left off, we departed La Haute Grange on Monday morning, the 22nd of December, and drove across the border to Germany. We stopped in Freiburg for a walk around the city center and our first taste of Germany, literally and figuratively (I had been to Germany just once before, over a decade earlier on short trip to Munich, and this was Andy’s first time).

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Freiburg seemed like a fun little city, with a bustling town center and nice architecture. The Christmas market was very nice, and we split a cup of gluhwein to warm up, and Andy got a sausage while I got a flammekuchen, a thin, pizza-like dish found all over this region (on the France side it is known as tarte flambée).

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Back in the car, we drove further into Germany and into the Black Forest, to arrive at our base for the next few days, the small town of Gengenbach.

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Gengenbach was picture-book adorable.  It is a small village with a medieval main street of half-timbered buildings, anchored by medieval gates to the city.

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The village center was bustling with the Christmas market.  With the sun setting in the background on our first evening there, the atmosphere was magical.

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Gengenbach claims to have the largest Advent calendar in the world, and the main event of each evening is watching that day’s window be unveiled.

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The next day, we set off for exploring the Black Forest.  We took a short train ride (I think about 30 minutes) to the village of Shiltach, another perfect little village at the base of some excellent hiking trails.

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We honestly could not get over how gorgeous this little place was, and would definitely recommend visiting.  The people were quite friendly and the tourist office sorted us out with a hiking map and advice for a short day hike.

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We made our way up out of the village and climbed into the forest.  I know this is cliche, but neither words nor photos do it justice.  We quickly were ascending trails up steep paths past impossibly tall pine trees.  The air was fresh, the trees were beautiful, and the views breathtaking.

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After ascending trails for awhile, things leveled out and we traipsed through meadows and past sun-drenched valleys and the occasional farmhouse.

Germany 1 - 10We had perfect weather and got quite warm at times.  We were surprised there was no snow, but it made for a lovely autumn-like hike and don’t worry, we had plenty of snowy hikes later in this trip.

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We covered about 11 kilometers total, and eventually found ourselves back in Shiltach.  We tried in vain to get a slice of Black Forest cake at one of the recommended tea shops in the village but no luck!  Apparently they sell out quick each day.  Lesson learned: get your cake before the hike.  I would much rather enjoy my cake after the hike than before, hmmph.  No matter, we boarded the train back to Gengenbach.  This was easily one of the highlights of the entire trip for me, and I’d love to explore more of the Black Forest.

The next morning, I awoke early for a run through and around Gengenbach, including a dash up to Jakobskapelle, a chapel overlooking the town.  It was a steep climb to the top but did not take long at all, and I was rewarded with views of the sunrise over the town.

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I rounded out the run with an out and back along the river stretching out of town.  It wasn’t always easy to work out on this trip; most of the locations we were in had some running paths, but our days were actually quite packed and I somehow got in the habit of having a lie-in until at least 7 or 8am most days.  Typically I am up by 6am, but the sun didn’t rise until 8 in most places, and while at home I would run in the dark, I was not interested in doing that in unfamiliar places.  Besides, we were on holiday.  Since we did lots of hikes and long walks most days, I figured it all worked out.

After another trip to the excellent breakfast buffet (we are really well at all of our hotels on this trip; love the European tradition of providing a true “Continental” breakfast with loads of breads, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, yogurt, muesli, and more – including champagne!) we headed deeper into Germany, driving a few hours to the small Bavarian city of Dinkelsbuhl, on the Romantic Road.  This was to be our destination for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

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Dinkelsbuhl was a very cute and very quiet city at Christmas.  We quickly learned that it shut up tight as a drum for Christmas Eve.  When we first arrived we were not terribly hungry (see above about the fabulous breakfast spreads) so we explored the town and had a coffee but no real lunch –> mistake.

As we realized that every restaurant was closing for dinner, we decided to make the best of it.  All I really wanted to do for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day was relax and take it easy, and we had a nice dinner booked in for Christmas night so we were fine with winging it.  We drove around the area, watched the sunset, and procured some snacks to have in the room for dinner.  We spent the evening back in our hotel room having assorted fruits, bread and other snacks with a bottle of Alsatian wine and movies on the iPad.  It was actually really fun.

The next morning, I got up for a peaceful Christmas day run around the old city walls, followed by breakfast at our hotel and later, a nice Christmas day walk around the village with Andy.

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We also spent some quality time reading and having tea, before heading off for our evening plans.  We first went to the city center of Nordlingen, where we watched the sun go down and the Christmas lights come up, and stopped for a pre-dinner drink at a lovely little wine bar.  Then, we moved on to the main event, dinner at Meyers Keller, which turned out to be one of the best meals of the trip; it was traditional German cuisine but done with a modern twist, in a lovely rustic farmhouse setting.  The food was excellent and while the service was a bit odd, we later gathered that this was typical German service so nothing to be concerned about.

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It was an excellent meal and a wonderful, unconventional Christmas for us.  Up next, on to Austria!