In the sunniest part of Germany, autumn is glorious. Forest leaves turn copper and bronze; in the vineyards, the grapes have been harvested; days are still warm and the golden light is magical. No wonder locals and visitors love to get out and about in SouthWest Germany at this time of year. Travel blogger Susi Maier suggests 5 destinations, from ruined castles and atmospheric abbeys to a long-abandoned hotel in the Black Forest. Be warned: they may send shivers down your spine in the run up to Halloween!
Wertheim Castle: Romance in the Tauber Valley
The lovely Tauber Valley lies in the northern part of SouthWest Germany. Here, the town of Wertheim boasts cobbled streets, mysterious alleyways and half-timbered houses. Towering above all is one of Germany’s largest ruined castles. Want a perfect photo? Stand on the pedestrian bridge that arches over the Tauber River; the view takes in the ancient town hall and the towers and walls of the fortress. Even better, climb up to the castle. Explore this oh-so photogenic ruin; look down to the town below; see where the Tauber and Main Rivers meet. 90 minutes northeast of Stuttgart.
Gamburg Castle: Ghosts, coffee and cake!
Also in the Tauber Valley, Gamburg Castle is known for its ghostly legends. And for SouthWest Germany’s prettiest castle café! Sit out in the courtyard; enjoy delicious homemade cakes under the palm, lemon and olive trees. Stretch out on a sun lounger; admire the view over the valley. This castle is no ruin: it offers an armoury, a Knights' Hall and a chapel, plus rare 800-year-old murals and a Baroque garden in the moat, with unusual plants, statues and fountains. And, the fortress has been in just one family for the whole of its history! Today, descendants of the original 12th-century owners give personal tours. Particularly popular are the ghost tours, with tales of the 21 spirits that appeared back in the 19th century: perfect just before Halloween! Near Wertheim, 90 minutes northeast of Stuttgart.
Bronnbach Monastery: Ancient atmosphere; modern comforts
Yet another gem in the lower Tauber Valley, this former Cistercian abbey dates from the 12th century. The Gothic cloisters, Romanesque church and Baroque decoration are like a time machine that sweeps you back through the centuries. But there is more. After a tour, stay on to eat and drink in the beer garden and Orangerie restaurant. Even more special is staying overnight! Not in chilly monks’ cells, but in the monastery guesthouse, where the 17 rooms are simple but comfy. A visit to the monastery combines well with exploring Wertheim and Gamburg Castle. Only 90 minutes northeast of Stuttgart.
The Hotel Waldlust: Abandoned in the Black Forest
Back in the 1920s and 1930s, the imposing Hotel Waldlust in Freudenstadt was a favourite holiday spot for film stars, the rich and famous, even the crowned heads of Europe. Today, 90 minutes southwest of Stuttgart, this 120-year-old grand hotel stands abandoned. No one books in to stay – but visitors still come to join special tours led by Friends of the Waldlust. With a guide, you walk down hallways and check out bedrooms and bathrooms, the dining room and bar, even the kitchens. Many of the furnishings remain, so you can see what it looked like in its heyday. But there is no electricity, so you have to use flashlights. Spooky! Afterwards, relax in the 21st-century-comfort of the nearby Spa & Wellness Hotel Lauterbad in Freudenstadt.
Sigmaringen Castle: Perfect for Game of Thrones fans!
“Now that is a castle!” Set on a rocky outcrop, high above the River Danube and the old town of Sigmaringen, Germany’s second-largest castle looks straight out of a fairy-tale. And it is still owned by the Hohenzollern family. Learn about the royal lineage; see the luxurious quarters and gilded state rooms; admire the paintings, chandeliers and ornate furniture. And straight out of Game of Thrones is the Armoury – Europe’s largest private collection of historic arms and armour. Take photos in and around the castle; for great shots of the fortress itself, cross the Danube to the Mühlberg observation deck. Sigmaringen Castle is 90 minutes south of Stuttgart.