A land of cuckoo clocks, fairytales, and a festive cheer unlike no other in the world, Bavaria is arguably one of the world’s best places to visit at Christmas. A few weeks ago we took a trip to under-the-radar Regensburg, a university city hailed as the best preserved medieval city in Germany. Although it’s an under-the-radar travel destination it’s actually the best preserved medieval city in Germany and towards the end of November and all of Decemeber, the city – just like the rest of Bavaria – turns into a truly magical place. Here’s why we think everyone should visit Bavaria at least once during the Christmas Season….
The German’s have their own version of Hygge going on
You’ve now probably all heard of the Danish lifestyle craze that roughly translates into a feeling of comfort, contentment and coziness. Well, you may or may not know that Germany has its own version going on – Gemütlichkeit – and Gemütlichkeit is especially evident in the run-up to Christmas. A little more traditional than its Scandi cousins, Gemütlichkeit is all about Glühwein, Advent markets, Christmas trees dripping with wood-carved decorations, stollen cake, inviting bars and restaurants illuminated by a warm glow of candlelight and hundreds of twinkling lights adorning colourful historic buildings – pretty much of everyone’s idea of a Christmas heaven!
The Bavarian Forest
The Bavarian Forest is the oldest national park in Germany and nature has been allowed a free rein in this unspoilt highland region, 95 percent of which is covered by forest. If you head there, be prepared to be enchanted just like I was! During the winter months, there’s nothing more idyllic or otherworldly than this beautiful untouched forest where the soft, thick snow carpets the ground and weighs heavy on the towering fir’s branches. Even if you don’t snowshoe or ski then make sure your car has donned its winter tires and then just take a journey down there and gaze in wonderment at the snowy winter wonderland that awaits you.
The storybook historic towns and villages
Due to the irresistible lure of modernisation sadly much of what is known as ‘traditional Europe’ has been slowly swept away and the Europe of your dreams is now much harder to find. Although not in Bavaria. Every time I visit this region it’s obvious that historic heritage and cultural traditions are extremely important – here pristinely preserved medieval towns go about their peaceful, time-warped business. From fairytale castles, colourful traffic-free towns filled with beautiful half-timbered buildings to unspoiled dense forests of black fir trees, this is the region to visit for your fix of unspoiled ‘old-world European charm’ that has become such a rarity these days.
The Christmas Markets…of course
Christmas in Europe is always very special but there’s nothing quite as magical as a Bavarian Christmas market. In Regensburg, the city is filled with no less than four different markets and two of the best are held in the illuminated Beer Gardens by the Danube River and in the flame torch-lined the grounds of a stately castle. A feast for all the senses – traditional stalls sell delicately hand-crafted Christmas decorations surrounded by a sea of hundreds of twinkling lights, smoke from open campfires billows into the frosty darkness, the aroma of caramelised almonds permeates the air and the regal sounds of bugles signal the start and end of the Christmassy shenanigans. Perfection.
The wooden Christmas decorations – made the Bavarian way
The Christmas decorations which are sold everywhere throughout Bavaria deserve a special mention of their own. Every year tourists flock Bavaria just to gaze at their handmade Christmas decorations alone. Forgot tinsel and tacky plastic decorations, these ornaments are truly exquisite and range from handcrafted angels to painstakingly elaborate nativity scenes, and are made from the famed local Bavarian wood. For bargains head for the Christmas markets or to really splurge head to an independent store in the Old Town of any Bavarian city.
Their unique outlook on life
Bavaria is a gloriously quirky place and I will always love this region’s amazingly unique outlook on life. With clear links to its colourful, folksy past this is the place where flamboyant ledhosen-clad locals sup on gigantic steins of beer accompanied by jolly Oompah music. My favourite quirky Bavarian tradition? The Krampus, a half-goat, half-demon and Santa Claus’ evil alter ego, who punishes bad children at Christmas time. This legend has even inspired annual Krampus walks, where people don masks and furry costumes and run about the streets scaring everybody witless. So if you are in Bavaria on December 6th be sure to witness the action firsthand. Yikes!
Words by Becky, video and photographs by Gary Nunn.