Climbers on summit of Mount Zugspitze in Bavarian Alps, Germany

Hohenschwangau Castle in Bavaria, Germany. (Jupiterimages)

What to do in Bavaria

Bavaria is enchanting. The region is a real-life fairytale setting of snow-capped peaks, wildflower-laced meadows, lakes, and dense woods cut with crystal streams. Round a curve in a twisting mountain road that opens onto a clearing, and the towers of a distant castle float above the trees. In summer, hike, mountain bike, and kayak through this pastoral countryside and in winter go cross-country and downhill skiing.

One of Bavaria's most magnificent castles is about three miles from the town of Füssen. Neuschwanstein, with its narrow turrets, and pale gray fortress-like walls, bears a strong resemblance to Cinderella's castle. That's because legend has it that Walt Disney based his Magic Kingdom's dream-like palace on Ludwig II's elaborate castle. Young girls enamored with Disney's princesses will immediately recognize the resemblance, appreciating Neuschwanstein even if they have to climb hundreds of stairs during a visit to the huge structure. Although Neuschwanstein was in construction for 17 years, only part of the interior was complete when Ludwig died in 1886. Highlights include the gilded throne room, and the elaborate carved panels and paintings in the dining room. Nearby Hohenschwangau Castle was constructed between 1832 and 1836, and served as Ludwig's childhood home.

With Linderhof Castle, Ludwig tried to emulate the French Rococo style of Versailles. There are fountains in the garden as well as a Moorish style kiosk, complete with an ornate peacock-themed throne, a place for Ludwig to get away from it all. Take a boat ride on nearby Lake Forggensee or pedal down the 20-mile bike path surrounding it.

The Berchtesgadener region in southeastern Bavaria offers superb alpine hiking in summer and great skiing in winter. Berchtesgaden National Park hosts guided hikes and a good trail system so you can go on your own, too. Ride the Jenner cable car to the mountain's summit for spectacular vistas and Alpine trails. At 2,000 feet, the park's Lake Königssee is Germany's highest lake, where you can take a bout tour that stops at a scenic waterfall. In Berchtesgaden, you can also go underground to explore the Alte Saline salt mine to discover how salt was extracted from salt water.

Lake Chiemsee, between the towns of Rosenheim and Salzburg, is another popular hiking destination and a place to windsurf. You can ride a ferry to the lake's islands, where Ludwig II built yet another castle, Neues Schloss.

Tip: If your family likes car rides, drive the scenic Deutsche Alpenstrasse (German Alpine Road). The 300-mile route stretches from Berchtesgaden to Lindau—of course, you don't have to do all of it.

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