1. It’s like getting to board a medieval time machine.
Take walking down the winding streets of Esslingen, for example. Your feet start to ache as they grasp the perfectly-placed cobblestones that line the ground. The wind is perfectly at your back as you meander through the maze of 800-year-old half-timbered houses until you stumble upon the town square, where there’s a lingering scent of strawberries and onions hanging in the air.
Turns out, the wind is perfectly at your back because the streets were designed to carry the stench of medieval life far, far away. The cobblestones that hurt your feet were state-of-the-art technology hundreds of years ago, and in the wooden braces of the half-timbered houses, you can see notes of fire and vestiges of plaster, yet they’re still standing proud and strong. Locals are called “onions” because of the famous onion market, and it’s hard to tell if you’re in “then” or “now.” With as little as that, the past melts into present-day, blurring the lines between reality and…vacation.
2. You take a panoramic shot that includes not one but two castles, one sea, and two countries off in the distance.
Meersburg has that highly Instagrammable opp, and its beauty is rivaled by many small towns along Germany’s Fachwerkstrasse, or Framework Road. As you explore these forgotten little boomtowns, you’ll be snapping photos of towers, medieval town gates, castles, alleyways, monasteries, quaint European cafes, and, of course, the inevitable boot of beer. Pair it with some white asparagus to maintain your aura of sophistication.
3. It gets you far, far from the cliche tourist traps.
Where Wikipedia leaves off, adventure begins. If you look up ‘Bietigheim-Bissingen,’ you’re going to learn that there’s an old gate and a town hall, a few famous people were born there, and that it’s accessible by train. Not much else.
What you won’t learn by relying on Wiki is that it’s a town for abstract art lovers, as curious cows and colorful famous faces line streets and apartment buildings. You won’t know that you would be able to experience the red currant pie or the melodies of one of the biggest secret music festivals in the area (just ask Earth Wind & Fire). You won’t understand the concept of “stone rich” or dive head-first into the paintings of the Hornmoldhaus. You won’t see the vineyards or be part of the hustle and bustle of wine harvesting season.
Shhh. Don’t tell Wikipedia — it’s better off a secret.
4. It’s highly sensual.
As you cross the double gate into Pfullendorf, your feet cross onto stony, storied streets and your ears follow the whistle of the wind flowing through open alleyways and over town walls. It’s a crystal ball where robbers, peasants, and nobles roam about the rolling hills of the town, enjoying man’s first taste of lager (Kronehaus), and enjoying life in a Free Imperial City. This life isn’t so hard to imagine as you step into the 13th-century houses and wander the dozens of staircases that can be found throughout this town, allowing you to meander outside of old storehouses, former hospitals, and homes of the Hapsburg elite until you dart into the dungeon at Felsenkeller for dinner and a cocktail. The smell of roasted ham encased in fresh sourdough is savory enough to awaken a dragon from its slumber, and your appetite is no different.
5. It’s a hedonist’s paradise.
Going off the beaten path often means saving a little money, but it also can mean splurging on unique, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Biberach is a prime example of life on the hedonistic side: between the locals all walking around with ice cream in hand (probably from Cafe Kolesch) and the last natural tannery on Earth, you’ll have your tastebuds sated and your skin covered in the finest leather that exists in the world today. Just make sure you save a bundle of Euro for dinner at Goldener Rebstock. If you accidentally ring the bell at your table there, that means you’re buying rounds for your entire party, and that often means “friends” at nearby tables.
6. It hasn’t been done by your friends.
You know countless people who have danced til dawn in Berlin. But how many people do you know that have circled the Blautopf? Had a wine tasting along the Bodensee? Stepped into a mixture of dirt and codfish oil? Wandered 16th-century painted houses? Tasted Mautaschen like it was meant to be tasted? Toured ancient cellars full of sparkling wine?
Yeah. That’s what I thought.
7. It’s got you covered morning, noon, and night.
Though you won’t find lines forming outside of noisy beer halls in these small towns, you will find that your hours slip away too quickly and before you’ve gotten your fill. Wake up in Blaubeuren at the Hotel Ochsen, take your time with an in-house cappuccino and pastry of your liking, and set off for the day. Roam the cobbled streets of this small town until you run into the mill set in front of the Blautopf, a pristine blue limestone pool that serves as a meeting point for lovers and a natural mirror on a clear, still day, where water seems to touch the sky. Once you’ve got your fill of mythical mermaids and hues of turquoise, wander over to the nearby abbey for a taste of the 11th century. Nearly everything is intact, from the altar to the bath houses. When you’re done checking out the Gothic and Baroque architecture, a few more blocks will lead you to the Museum of Prehistory, which is holding onto the Venus from Hohle Fels, the oldest statuette of a female made by humankind. There’s no shortage of things to do before you end your night sniffing vats of stewing liqueurs and tasting sweet and tangy schnapps at Brennerei Rossle.
All these things to do and not one line waited in.
8. It’s revitalizing. Reinvigorating. Recalibrating even.
A vacation that’s too exotic often ends up stressful. The language barrier means you’re stuck eating something gray and vaguely meat-esque, your hands are constantly checking and double-checking your back pockets, and you spend half of your itinerary jet-lagged. When you get home, you need a week to recuperate.
But small-town Germany? You don’t need to stay at a five-star spa to feel the stress pouring out of your muscles — one leisurely breakfast at the Hotel Lowen spent gazing on the town square, watching the passersby, and listening to the old wood floors creak underneath your feet — between bites of fresh yogurt and homemade jams, of course — can clear any mind. Or maybe it’s a simple exchange buying flowers at the market in Schorndorf from the English-speaking woman who reminds you of grandma. Or maybe still it’s taking in the hues of the Blautopf for an entire afternoon. It’s simple, but its effects are grand.
9. These towns hold actual fairy tales that deserve exploring.
Germany’s Fachwerkstrasse is a series of 98 towns that form a network to the past where princes loved princesses, where kings and queens ruled, where families sat by fires in large, timber houses, their entire lives encompassed in the streets of one small city. Each town is the page of a storybook completing the tale of what life would’ve been like for each of us had we had the privilege or the curse of living hundreds of years ago. The towns are not riddled by loud tourists marring the ambience of the moment or queue upon queue of a day ruined by the sheer existence of others. They are simply unassuming spots that still thankfully exist, asking nothing but to be kept as an ode to things they’ve seen.
[Note: Jacqueline was a guest of Tourism Germany.]