The land of beer will melt your heart in Germany’s winter wonderland. Words by David Whitley
Kodak moment: Germany is Christmas Market Ground Zero – but some are much better than others. Nuremberg’s wins on prettiness – all wooden stalls, glühwein and cobbled streets – while Dresden’s Striezelmarkt is the oldest, having run since 1434. It also has a reputation for attracting good quality crafts. Blown glass, Meissen pottery and indigo prints are amongst the specialities rather than the usual identikit tat that infests lesser markets.
Brag moment: Ski resort town Garmisch-Partenkirchen clears 110 kilometres of walking trails around Mt Zugspitze, making for idyllic winter walks through snowy forest landscapes and past cute log cabins. As most visitors have come with skiing in mind, hikers don’t have to go far to have the landscapes pretty much to themselves.
Only in winter: Munich’s beerhalls are more convivial when drinkers have to squash up on communal benches inside, rather than sprawling around the beer gardens. Meanwhile, nearby Neuschwanstein Castle – the classic Disney-esque fairytale castle in the Bavarian Alps – has far fewer tour buses outside and a photogenic sprinkling of snow.
Rugrats: Also in the Alps, the teen-thrilling tours of the 496-year-old Berchtesgaden Salt Mine involve rafting on an underground lake, novelty trains and slides, plus staggering subterranean salt chambers.
Trains: The English version of Deutsche Bahn’s site does a superb job of collating most European train timetables.
Car hire: Most continental car hire agreements allow you to cross borders, but not leave the car in another country. A superb starting point for cheap deals is Car Rentals. Road rules (speed limits, having to carry breathalysers or snow tyres etc) annoyingly vary between countries.
Accommodation: Local booking engines – such as Late Rooms or Venere – often have better deals and more choice than more globalised competitors. Hostelworld is excellent for B&Bs and guesthouses. Also look for sales from big hotel chains such as Accor and IHG during the (quieter) winter months.
Flights: The Christmas and New Year period is the most expensive time of year for flights from Australia to Europe, but prices drop substantially in mid-January. Occasionally spectacular deals can be found if you’re prepared to fly on Christmas Day itself.