For more than 125 years, residents in the tiny German town of Oberammergau have commemorated the eve of the birth of the fairy-tale Bavarian King Ludwig II with a dramatic and fiery bonfire display, called the König-Ludwig-Feuer.
Arriving via Germany, Austria, and Slovenia earlier in the morning, we settled into our apartment, and took to the streets, while dodging raindrops and securing some goodies at one of the local supermarkets. Our whirlwind exploration took us to a café where we enjoyed Latte Macchiatos, then to St. Mark’s Church, probably one of the city’s most well-known landmarks thanks to its brilliant-colored tiled roof bearing the coat of arms of Zagreb.
Spying the elaborate dome of the Ettal Monastery for the first time, I was surprised to see such ornate architecture dramatically rising out of the countryside, juxtaposed with the area’s modest Bavarian homes. The monastery, located in the village of Ettal, is not far from the mountain village of Oberammergau, which is well-known for its Passion Play, held every ten years.
Founded in the 1300s, but completely rebuilt in the 1700s following a devastating fire, the complex features Baroque and Rococo architecture. Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian had it constructed so that it could house knights and monks. For many years, the monastery’s monks have brewed their own beer and made their own straw-colored liqueur using mountain herbs, and today it’s still possible to purchase both.
Nestled in French Basque Country, Saint-Jean-de-Luz is a fishing port and resort town just minutes away from France’s border with Spain.
When Shawn, his parents and I weren’t tempted by what was in Saint-Jean-de-Luz’s ground-level windows – most notably the tempting tarts of golden-brown known locally as Gâteaux Basques – we focused our attention upon the buildings’ upper-level windows, and their delightful flourishes.
One of the joys of exploring Germany’s Bavaria region is witnessing the people’s penchant for preserving tradition. In the village of Oberammergau, where we’ve spent much time visiting my parents, it’s not uncommon to spot an older gentleman wearing a loden green, woolen hat, with feather, during a grocery-shopping trip. On holidays, ladies often don vibrant Dirndls (dresses with poofy sleeves and aprons finished off with a pretty bow). And, during festivals, dancers of all ages take to the stage to show off their dancing skills, looked on by revelers with mugs of beer, a lively brass band, and an occasional yodeler.
Novi Sad dramatically welcomes visitors with its formidable fortress and clock tower boasting reversed hour and minute hands. Like so many strategic spots in the region, Novi Sad also has a complicated history. It’s been conquered by the Celts and Romans, Byzantines, Hungarians, Ottomans and Habsburgs. The city’s complex past is reflected in Novi Sad’s eclectic architecture, and well-illustrated by the whimsical windows featured here.
Enclosed by vineyards producing some of Bordeaux’s most esteemed wine, it’s no wonder that the village of Saint-Emilion is one of the region’s most alluring destinations. During a weekend there earlier this year, I found myself effortlessly charmed by Saint-Emilion’s graceful limestone buildings, its window-boxes brimming with beautiful blooms, its almond-flavored macarons, and elegant wine culture. By day, Shawn and I ascended the 196 steps of the village’s church-tower and explored its vineyards, and by night, we shared exemplary bottles of wine with Shawn’s parents. One night, a generous winemaker sitting at a table beside us even invited us to share a glass of one of this creations. What a way to welcome us!
Dubrovnik, Croatia’s gem on the glimmering Adriatic, is undeniably touristic. However, it is also indisputably alluring. Thanks to its rich history, immaculately-groomed limestone buildings, commanding seaside position, and formidable, 7th-century fortifications, the city attracts tourists from around the world.
Having discovered the rewards of off-season travel, Shawn and I visited the so-called ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’ one April, thrilled to discover that while Dubrovnik’s streets were still teeming with cruise ship passengers by day, we largely had the polished limestone lanes to ourselves by night. Walking by the illuminated Rector’s Palace after darkness had fallen over Dubrovnik, we sifted through details from the city’s past, most notably that it was once the Republic of Ragusa, which existed for nearly five centuries.