We have been extremely lucky in our travels because we have found perfect bases — places from where you can explore treasures around the area that at the same time give you great rest and recreation. Usually, it is the availability of properties in our timeshare companies that dictate the location of our bases. Luckily, they are experts at where those should be.
When we needed a location in Germany to cut down the long train trip between Innsbruck, Austria, and Paris, we were presented with only one option: the small town of Oberstaufen in the Bavarian state of southern Germany. I remember wishing, “Oh why can’t it be Munich or Berlin, instead?” But let me tell you how extremely lucky that choice turned out to be for an unplanned week of adventure in Europe.
Outstanding Rest And Recreation
Oberstaufen is known for being an area for health and wellness. Where we stayed, a Mondi-Holiday Hotel, is part of a frequently awarded European resort and spa chain. Our “chalet” was a one-bedroom unit that felt very much like home; so we even shopped at the local grocer to sometimes cook hot meals.
The Wellness Center was huge. We loved our fitness routines, spa therapies (with our choice of dry, infrared sauna, steam, or dampfbad — German for “steam bath”), and swims and soaks at the heated pools and tubs. We could have played table tennis, billiards, and bowling if we had more time. And we loved the exclusive Italian restaurant onsite for nourishment of both body and soul, as it overlooked the pretty valley below.
Diverse Recreation Options
This town is a haven for hikers and bikers in summer and skiers and tobogganers in winter. Only 2,595 feet in average elevation, the unique topography features undulating hills that create bowls of lush greenery dotted with clusters of homes. There are good golf courses and tennis facilities, too. And the mountains and lakes of the Allgau region of Germany present many more options nearby.
The Downtown Area
More than 7,000 residents and seasonal tourists are served by a small walkable downtown area. You can find specialty shops, museums, and spas. There is a community swim and spa aquarium. But what I loved most was the pretty yellow and white St. Peter and Paul Church around which are small restaurants where people would gather and gaze at their beloved church.
Well Connected To The Rest Of Europe
Thankfully, the town is connected to the rest of Europe via a good-sized bus depot as well as a small and functional train station. From this wonderful base, we took trips to three off-the-beaten-path towns in Switzerland, Lichtenstein, and Germany. There were three other destinations we could have added: Zurich, less than 3 hours away; Munich, 2 hours; and the magical Neuschwanstein Castle, less than an hour. We should have stayed for 2 weeks.
Pro Tip: One of the loveliest spots from which to view the idyllic town is at the charming town cemetery.
Meeting Exceptional People
An unexpected reason led us to a more complete exploration of the area. You see, when we returned from a day trip, we missed the bus going back to our resort. We got stranded for over an hour, and were stressed and hungry. A concerned German couple volunteered to read every German poster to find us alternative routes but to no avail. Still, it will be hard to forget their kindness.
The following day, we took the bus to Steibis, the village where the golf courses are located, up another hill across from the Oberstaufen downtown area. Locals also told us to make it a point to go look at the upscale Golf and Wellness Resort Hotel Ludwig Royal. Wow! Its façade is outstanding with diverse and artsy windows, each one a unique work of art.
As we were admiring the European RVs parked at the Wonmobile (RV) Park beside the hotel, guess whom we saw at the condominium building across the street, loading their Jaguar with their luggage? It was the same kind couple at the bus depot! It turned out they owned a unit there. They invited us in for drinks.
Amid my husband’s broken German, the German husband’s broken English, and both ladies’ inability to converse except through hands, we had a jolly afternoon. Before they left for home, they invited us to visit them at their other residence in Uberlingen, Germany, just 2 hours away by train.
Pro Tip: Steibis is surrounded by mountains and is just 18 kilometers (11 miles) from the pretty Grosser Alpsee Lake, the largest natural lake in the Allgau region.
Great Day Trips From Oberstaufen
The next day we boarded the train to Uberlingen. We are so glad we did not pass up the opportunity because the city is on the northern shore of Lake Constance, known locally as Bodensee. The grand lake of Europe is 63 kilometers (40 miles) long, bordering four countries: Germany, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, and Austria. With a population of 22,000, the city is the second largest in the Bodensee district. It has become a popular summer destination and haven for European retirees.
After a hearty brunch of German favorites on the open deck of their lovely maisonette overlooking the lake, they walked us through the City Garden, past the hot springs, and up to the gazebo, where we had a great view of the city and the lake. Continuing on to the oldest section of town, they showed us parts of the Old Wall that protected the city when the Swedish invaded. Much had been spared, we learned, because of treaties.
Then we went back to get the husband’s other Jaguar. He drove us up a hill to the beautiful Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, situated among lovely vineyards. With more than an hour left, he also took us up another hill to Meersburg Castle, the oldest inhabited fortress in Germany, whose construction started in pre-medieval times (630 A.D.), around which a “medieval town” had grown. From both these vantage points we witnessed even more beautiful views of the Bodensee.
Pro Tip: Fed by the Rhine River, Bodensee Lake has two parts: Upper and Lower Bodensee. The cycling path around both is 260 kilometers (160 miles).
St. Gallen, Switzerland
Another 2-hour train ride took us to St. Gallen, Switzerland, close to the German-Swiss border. Walking from the station to the old town, we stumbled upon a few blocks that were all carpeted in red. It was called the Red Square, not quite the same as the one in Moscow though. My husband photographed this retired “model” beside a red car, on a red bench, and going up some red stairs.
At the Tourist Information Center in the Old Town Center, we were told that there are 111 exquisite balconies that adorn the buildings around this city of over 75,000. We quickly looked outside and spotted — and photographed — six of them. But their main suggestion was to spend the most time at the Abbey of St. Gall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Abbey’s Cathedral is downright gorgeous with its two tall towers, but it is the Abbey Library that took our breath away. It was like we were back in pre-medieval times, when books were treated like gold. The ceiling is one of a kind; not just painted, but a three-dimensional work of art. The shelves are of heavy wood and open up to reveal more secret compartments behind. And the lovely old floor had to be protected by soft cloth booties we were obligated to wear.
Pro Tip: The statue of St. Gallen stands in the Abbey Square. St. Gallen was from Ireland, a cultural and spiritual leader in the 900s credited with spreading his church’s influence into what was considered the “heathen” Germany of the time.
We were even happier that Lichtenstein was only two and a half hours away, first by train to Feldkirch, Austria and then by Bus 11 to the capital, Vaduz. The city population is just 6,000; in fact, the whole country’s population is only 37,000, making it the sixth smallest country in the world.
Despite being one of the very few capital cities in the world without an airport or railway station, Vaduz has a lively Old Town Square with a walkable pedestrian area from the cathedral just before the small but gorgeous parliament building on one end and the Rathaus (City Hall) at the other. The whole walk is lined with interesting modern sculptures that will capture your fancy, including my favorite, the giant ladies’ strappy high-heeled shoes. The Vaduz Castle looks over the entire country and is home to a young prince, but we ran out of time to hike up there.
Pro Tip: We had a great meal at a favorite restaurant of locals, New Castle on Aeulestrasse 22, the road that runs parallel to the Old Town Square walkway.
Oberstaufen was a perfect base for an unplanned European adventure. Not only did we have restorative rest and relaxation; we also got to see lovely places not on the usual itinerary of tourists. But the best reason is that we met people with whom language barriers did not present the tiniest hindrance to a good friendship.