Discover the surprisingly romantic possibilities of a Bavarian coach trip

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Countryside surrounding Lermoos

WHEN you read the words ‘coach trip’, is a romantic break for a young couple the first thing to come to mind? Probably not, and I don’t blame you. For me, they had always conjured images of frustratedly waiting behind pensioners as they inch their way onto a bus and heat-induced bickering thanks to the Channel 4 programme of the same name. And there is no greater passion killer than being surrounded by the elderly.

This, arguing aside, isn’t an entirely incorrect stereotype. With their ease of travel and their laid-back pace it’s no wonder that coach trips are so popular with the older generation, and may put off younger travellers who want more freedom to explore.

My (now ex) boyfriend and I wanted to go to Austria, but found that travelling there by aeroplane and taking a train to our desired destinations (some of which were in Germany) would be too expensive and time-consuming. Our best bet was to travel by road, but the fact that neither of us could drive proved problematic.

We looked into coach tours and found that Crusader’s eight day Royal Bavaria and Austrian Tyrol package would give us the kind of holiday we wanted. It was time to throw our preconceptions out the window, fasten our seatbelts and get ready for our two day coach journey to Austria.

I thought that the idea of coach trips being subject to an elderly swarm might be an exaggeration, but the age gap between ourselves and the rest of the passengers as soon as we boarded the coach. With the exception of two women who were there with older relatives, mine and my boyfriend’s combined age was still at least twenty years younger than that of the other passengers- driver included. We awkwardly took our seats on the coach. The sleeping man in front of us looked like he’d just conked it.

It’s a common assumption that on this kind of holiday you have to spend every waking moment with your coach comrades, singing songs from The Sound of Music along the way. In reality, you are given free reign when you arrive at a day trip destination; although, working to a tight coach schedule limits your exploration time. We did take breakfast and dinner at the hotel with the other passengers, and if we had wanted to be the unsociable young ‘uns sitting in the corner we would have found it difficult. Our fellow holiday-makers were really friendly and we soon made friends, despite the age difference.

The journey to Austria took two days, and it was on the second day that we began to lose the will to continue. We dozed in and out of consciousness and joints ached, either in sympathy with our elderly comrades or because we had been sitting with our backs against our chairs for hours. Worst of all, DS batteries ran out. I wondered why we hadn’t chosen a holiday that involved an aeroplane. Long journeys are much improved by beautiful view, and Germany and Austria certainly aren’t short of those, with their miles of pine forest, vast turquoise lakes and huge, snow-capped mountains- both brilliant and terrifying- clouds rising out of the peaks like smoke.

Our destination, Hotel Edelweiss, is a four star hotel in the small Tyrolean town of Lermoos. Austria, with it’s mountains, fields of wildflowers and pepper-scented pine forests, is the perfect setting for stories of magic and adventure, and it’s not hard to imagine why writers of fairy tales were held sway by its enchanting landscape.

If walking isn’t your thing, Hotel Edelweiss has a swimming pool, wellness centre and evening entertainment (although, this is mainly watching elderly couples do the waltz) to make up for the lack of attractions in town. With the coach tour breakfast and dinner were included complete with mountain views, and the buffets had plenty of food. We waddled back to our hotel room every evening completely stuffed and watched some terrible Austrian soaps.

Neuschwanstein
Neuschwanstein

A few of the excursions were included in the price of the holiday, such as the castles, Oberammergau and Mount Sölden. Others, like Innsbruck, the cruise down the Rhine, the Oberammergau train (which was cancelled) and Mount Zugspitze (also cancelled) were optional and required payment on the coach. However, not all prices were included on the itinerary before the holiday so I was unsure how much money to bring.

During our stay we crossed the border and visited two German castles, Neuschwanstein and Linderhof. These belonged to ‘mad’ Ludwig II in the nineteenth century, and are both impressive feats of imagination and excess. Enviably nicknamed the ‘Fairy Tale King’, and having never grown out of his fascination with lands of make-believe, Ludwig commissioned three castles to act as stages for his imagination.  

He was a great admirer of the compositions of Richard Wagner, and the two shared a love of the heroic epic that was the basis of much of Wagner’s work. Ludwig aimed to recreate the grand, mythical world of Wagner’s music in his castles.

This was most evident in Neuschwanstein, the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle. With its majestic turrets and classic medieval styling it looks far older than its 120 years, showing Ludwig’s connection with a romantic and fantastical past. Like a castle in the clouds, it overlooks the many gift shops from its dreamy, hilltop location. Ludwig employed theatrical painter Christian Jank to design the castle, the interior of which was only one third completed due to the king’s mysterious and premature death. The completed were done in lavish, gaudy detail, and at such a cost that eventually bankrupt the king. Walls are richly adorned with Renaissance-style paintings and tapestries, showing heroic feats and legendary events, and repeated motifs such as dragons stretched across walls and woodland scenes, and intricate wooden carvings that took years to complete

Linderhof, Ludwig’s smaller palace, looks like a miniature version of Versailles, but is no less decadent. With the construction of this castle, Ludwig aimed to pay homage to the eighteenth-century French royalty whom he so admired. He was particularly enamored by Louis XIV, who was known as the ‘Sun King’. Linderhof is radiant, and the dominant, overbearing use of gold leaf throughout the palace is a testament to Louis and the idea of kingship he represented: one appointed by divine right.

Ludwig, as a direct parallel to Louis, considered himself the ‘Moon King’. Despite his showy castles appearing to be an invitation for the rest of the world to go and admire them Ludwig shied away from the public and lived a solitary life in his own opulent dream world. The theatrical nature of his castles came to represent more than his love of opera and fantasy- they were a façade, a compensation for the wealth and power he was losing as his reign came to an end; he was a paper version of the king he wanted to be. I was drawn to the castles as a fairy tale fan, but left haunted by the dreams and sadness of the man behind them.

Another excursion was to the German town of Oberammergau, home to the world-famous Passion Play. This small town, which boasts traditional German architecture, is also known for its lüftlmalerei, which are the paintings on the buildings. Many of these are of a religious nature, whilst others demonstrate Germany’s involvement in fairy tale literature, giving the houses the appearance of having been papered using the pages of a Victorian children’s book. One house was painted with scenes from Little Red Riding Hood, a version of which was penned by German folk tale collectors, the Grimm brothers, whilst another depicted Little Suck-a-Thumb, who has his thumbs cut off in the grisly cautionary rhyme by Heinrich Hoffmann. These images are celebrations of childish wonder, as are the handmade toys in the woodwork shops. Oberammergau has many shops filled to the ceiling with hand-carved and painted ornaments, wall hangings and other decorations, which are sure to delight visitors of all ages. Many of these are of a religious significance, whilst others are traditional German figures; there are even Christmas decorations available all year round.

It was July, and Christmas decorations weren’t the the only things that seemed out of season. We came across snow when we took a trip to Mount Sölden, a popular skiing destination in the winter.

This excursion was a bit of a shock to the system after the warm weather we had been enjoying, and I made the mistake of wearing sandals when I tried to climb the glacier (my feet got very cold!). We didn’t spend much time on the mountain, and there wasn’t an awful amount to see, but had we more time we would have been able to take a ski lift higher to the summit.

Innsbruck
Innsbruck

Our final full-day excursion was to the Austrian city of Innsbruck, a bustling shopping destination set against the backdrop of the mountains. There are many old-fashioned shopping alleys, lined with cafes and selling everything from souvenirs to designer clothes and traditional Austrian costumes.  We were given several hours to explore, but unfortunately we weren’t really told by the coach driver what there was to see there, and by the time we discovered that there was a ticket we could buy that allowed us to visit six of the city’s museums, it was too late to see them all. The museum we did see, the Ferdinandeum State Museum, included a curious mixture of contemporary, experimental art with classic, religious art.

The next day we started our two day journey back home, with a short cruise down the Rhine river on the way.

Germany and Austria are beautiful countries, steeped in magic, beautiful scenery and vibrant culture- perfect for fans of fairy tales and those who enjoy walking. The coach trip was a great introduction to the countries, as neither of us had been before. If I was to go again, I would to drive myself, so I’d have more freedom to explore and be less limited by a coach schedule. We had an excursion every day, and we had to wake up early for each, so it’s not a holiday for those who are prone to oversleeping!

As for a romantic getaway, fairy tales are all about romance, right? Coach trips are not the sort of holiday that people take in large groups, so they are popular with (elderly) couples or pairs of friends. It’s always nice to be able to speak to other passengers, but there are plenty of opportinities for alone time- just make sure your partner isn’t the kind of person who will get on your nerves when you’re sat next to them on a coach for two days!