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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tour: My Bavarian Christmas Market Tour From Stresa

Sono tornata! I'm back!

I never cease to be amazed at the variety of places that can be reached easily by car from Stresa. And this past week has brought this feeling right back to me, as I've been on a wonderful car trip, a loop starting from and returning to Stresa. In this trip, in which the longest driving segment was about five hours, but most were only two or three, I saw the following places:

Bolzano, Italy
 Bolzano was about three hours from Stresa. It is the capital city of the South Tyrol province in the far northeastern corner of Italy. All is bilingual in German and Italian, but German was spoken first in most places. Beautiful historic city center, closed to autos, and seemingly closed to motorbikes and scooters as well. I haven't seen this many bicycles outside of Amsterdam. Bolzano has been right at the top of the list of quality-of-living Italian cities, along with Bologna, for some years. There is also an interesting museum housing Otzi, the 5,000-year-old frozen iceman. Bolzano is a very doable day trip from Stresa. The food and beers are German. I ate goulash. 

Bolzano's Christmas market in Piazza Walther near the beautiful tiled-roof cathedral.

Bolzano, surrounded by Tyrolean mountains.
(   continued....   )


Kitzbuhel, Austria
About two hours north of Bolzano is Kitzbuhel, Austria. It is a medieval town, now a renowned ski resort. Many of the buildings date from the 1200s, 1300s, 1400s, and proudly wear their dates painted onto their facades. It is absolutely picture postcard pretty in Kitzbuhel and was a perfect place to stop for a walk and a lunch. Directly driven from Stresa it would take around 4 1/2 hours.

Kitzbuhel's symbol and town square.

'Icicles' hang from these Kitzbuhel windows. It was chilly, but not this cold.  :-)

Salzburg, Austria
Directly from Stresa it would take around 5 1/2 hours to drive to Salzburg. Not a day trip for sure, but again, so easy to reach, and a beautiful drive through and over the Alps. The old center of Salzburg, like that of Bolzano, is closed to cars. Both cities have built very efficient parking garages underground and as close to the centers as possible. Also like Bolzano, Salzburg has many buildings dating from the 1200s and before. Our hotel was 700 years old. We ate at St. Peter Stiftskellar, which is the oldest restaurant in Europe, dating from 803. I ate weinersnitchel in these Salzburg days. And goulash.

Just before the snow started to fall in Salzburg.

Eating at the 1200-year-old restaurant St. Peter Stiftskeller, originally a monastery.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
A late addition to our car trip was this famous castle in Bavaria. Less than three hours from Salzburg. We arrived here and were able to take both castle tours, as well as the carriage ride up the hill and a leisurely walk back down, all before the sun set. While the castle was busy enough during the day due to tour buses arriving from other places, at night the town was empty and quiet, as this is the low season. We had the town and the hotel pretty much to ourselves. And awoke to about six inches of snow covering castle, horses, and cars. Fascinating story behind the castle, and I'm very glad to have seen it.

Two castles in one afternoon...

...And the next morning a fairy tale view.

Vaduz, Liechtenstein
Well, why not? Stopping in Liechtenstein broke up the longest leg of the car trip, the 5 1/2 hours back to Stresa. It was just about halfway, making it about a three-hour, and definitely doable day trip from Stresa, should you be so inclined. Very interesting little principality, a mix of old and new. They use the Swiss franc, but took euros as well. Reaching Vaduz from Stresa takes one through Locarno and Bellinzona in Switzerland, and then through steep Alpine passes.

Liechtenstein's castle overlooks the center of Vaduz.

So that's where I've just been. All from Stresa. Very different places, although all German-themed this time. But within a five-hour radius I saw Italy, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland. Not too shabby...

And I didn't mention that the main purpose of this tour was to visit the Christmas markets in each of these cities. We did, and to my surprise each was different and beautiful in its own way. Wonderful atmosphere throughout, mulled wine and warm pretzels everywhere, and although the markets were busy on the weekends, this is still considered low season, which made for less crowds in restaurants and attractions. All in all, I would call it a perfect time to go.



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