One of the most efficient ways for visitors to take in the breadth and depth of SouthWest Germany’s breath taking castles in one vacation is by driving. Winding through beautiful countryside from north to south, the driving routes are enjoyable, not too onerous, and are lined with delicious restaurants and charming hotels along the way.
Taking in the castles and gardens of Baden-Württemberg is going back in time to experience worlds of glorious art, architecture, collections of porcelain, tapestries, statuary and acres of elaborate gardens. The Staatliche Schlösser & Gärten (SSG), the state heritage preservation agency for the state of Baden-Württemberg, or SouthWest Germany, preserves, protects, develops and maintains 60 historic monuments, including famous places such as Heidelberg Palace in the north but also lesser known gems, such as Weikersheim Palace in the northeast, or the luxurious Salem Monastery and Palace on the Lake Constance in the south.
As these beautiful castles and gardens span the state of SouthWest Germany in all directions, driving is one of the best ways to get to many of them in one week’s vacation and to allow enough time to book a special tour, linger over a garden, eat a meal in one of the castle restaurants, or enjoy one of the many festivals and concerts and exhibitions. Every year, the Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten renews its programming and adds new and unusual guided tours. It might be a stroll escorted by a lady or gentleman in historical dress, applying all their charms and acting skills in transporting you back to their epoch; or it might be a gourmet tour, during which experiencing history is combined with a culinary extra; or, yet again, it might be a “behind the scenes” program, a children’s event or a walk by candlelight. On October 8, the Erlebnistag im Kloster (A Day in the Monastery) will open the doors to the lives of monks and monasteries.
Three possible routes for enjoying the depth and breadth of SouthWest Germany’s castles and gardens offer different landscapes and points of view and take only about three to five days each to enjoy at a leisurely pace.
The first goes from north to south starting in Heidelberg and moving along the western side of state not far from the Rhine and the border with France through the Black Forest to Lake Constance. The second also starts in Heidelberg and follows the same road until it diverges after Bruchsal on the asparagus trail to take in the famous Maulbronn Monastery (where Maultaschen were invented!), the sepulchral castle in the wine hills of Stuttgart and heads east to the Swabian Alb and the Wiblingen Monastery near Ulm where Einstein was born. The third route also starts in the north but this time at the Palace of Weickersheim, famous for the dwarf gallery in the garden, the mirror cabinet and extraordinary gardens, and heads south through the gentle hills of the Hohenlohe region, known for its sustainable farming and fruit trees, to the immense baroque palace of Ludwigsburg outside of Stuttgart and on to the Wiblingen Monastery, a baroque masterpiece from the 11th century with an extraordinary rococco library.
The first route starts with the charming city of Heidelberg where the castle’s famous façade and ruins leave much for the imagination to build upon and the newly opened restaurant with one Michelin star offers dining under the stars overlooking the city, the university and the Neckar River. Just twenty minutes from Heidelberg, the exquisite and lesser known summer palace of Schwetzingen, in the heart of the asparagus country, offers one of the finest examples of baroque gardens with straightaways, allees, rows of trees, a natural outdoor theatre, an indoor theater, and delicious food in the castle’s orangerie restaurant. Only 30 minutes further is the palace of Bruchsal, the former home of the prince bishops, where they have re-opened the bel etage complete with 38 original tapestries and over 300 pieces of furniture and art from before WWII. Afterwards, Rastatt Residential Palace, one of the largest baroque castles with original baroque interiors, including an extraordinary ancestral portrait gallery and the largest collection of porcelain. Plenty of events throughout the year beckon visitors and families continually to this beautiful spot. This route has three more stops, including the Alpirsbach Monastery and former boys’ school, in the Black Forest, the ruins of Hohentwiel Fortress, and Meersburg Castle on shores of Lake Constance in the charming town of Meersburg, a jewel of medieval architecture.
The second route diverges after Bruchsal to take in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Maulbronn, one of Europe’s best preserved medieval complexes. The monastery’s many buildings are enclosed by medieval walls and towers. Architectural highlights include the Romanesque monastery church, the Gothic cloister, and the fountain house. The next stop, Ludwigsburg Residential Palace, is one of the largest Baroque buildings in Europe to survive in its original condition unscathed by wars and tumult. Sumptuous interiors, a theater, a variety of tours and museums, including the Ceramics Museum, the Fashion Museum showcasing clothing from the 18th to 20th, and rare and valuable furniture and accessories make this a great visit for all ages.
Last, but not least, the third route starts in the northeast at Palace Weickersheim. Set in the scenic landscape of the Tauber valley, Weikersheim Palace (Schloss Weikersheim) lies at the heart of the small town of Weikersheim. With its beautiful garden, the palace embodies the Renaissance ideal of a country estate.The richly decorated Rittersaal (knights’ hall) dating from 1600 is a highlight of Renaissance architecture, and its vast paneled ceiling, with its colorful hunting scenes, is famous. After Weickersheim, comes the beautiful baroque castle of Ludwigsburg and Solitude Castle. Built on a superb vantage point at the edge of Stuttgart, Solitude Palace offers a magnificent view across the Württemberg lowlands toward Ludwigsburg in the north. The interior of the palace radiates splendor and is designed in the late Rococo and early Neoclassical styles. Nearby the sepulchral chapel on Württemberg hill (Grabkapelle auf dem Württemberg ) was erected by King Wilhelm I in memory of his beloved wife Katharina, who died at a young age. Offering spectacular views over Stuttgart, this monument to eternal love is considered Baden-Württemberg’s most romantic spot. The route winds down lovely countryside through the Swabian Alb and, like Route 2, ends at the Monastery of Wiblingen.
What many people may not realize is that these beautiful castles and gardens are available for meetings and special events, birthdays and celebrations. Visitors can celebrate their birthday in style in a palace, or host their wedding party in a majestic ballroom.These palaces and gardens, ruins and monasteries are exquisite locations for meetings, incentives, conferences and events – or even a film shoot. You can spend a romantic holiday driving and visiting the castles and gardens at a leisurely pace and start planning when to return for the big celebration in your life!