Germany's Palace Route
The Palace Route – the grandeur of Baden-WürttembergBaden-Württemberg is rich in palaces, castles and monasteries, living witnesses to the power and grandeur of the past. This rich heritage thrives virtually everywhere you look, with castles and monasteries on almost every hill and scattered throughout the charming villages.
The Palace Route is a 1,500-kilometre pilgrimage through south west Germany, taking you to world-renowned palaces as well as some carefully-selected hidden gems. The following road trip takes you along the finest roads in the region, a perfect combination of pure driving pleasure and unforgettable cultural highlights.
You start at the Residenzschloss Ludwigsburg, then on a further 400 or so kilometres through Hohenlohe and the Stauferland, continue over the plateau of the Schwäbische Alb and then trace the Danube to its source, at Residenzschloss Donaueschingen. If time permits, Avis thoroughly recommends that you carry on, through the Black Forest and into the Breisgau region.
It goes without saying, but any wine stops detailed on this page are for the benefit of hire car passengers ... designated drivers must confine themselves to drinking in the scenery.
Baroque splendour: Residenzschloss LudwigsburgSchloss Ludwigsburg, commissioned by Duke Eberhard Ludwig (1676–1733), is one of the largest remaining baroque structures in Europe. Exploring the Palace takes you back to a lost world, the world of courtly life and the lifestyle of an absolutist ruler. The Palace is set in the middle of an extensive park which boasts sumptuous flowers and blossoms, known as Blooming Baroque.
Yet the Palace, with its hundreds of rooms, did not quite meet the Duke’s needs: a whimsical Lustschloss and hunting lodge would need to be built as well. Schloss Favorite was thereafter born, a stone’s throw from the main palace and connected to it by an avenue, it was intended to be used by hunting parties and as a fresh and airy summer residence.
The impressive ensemble of buildings and grounds in Ludwigsburg also includes a museum of ceramics and fashion, so it would be wise to allow several hours to cover everything.
The Hohenlohe experience: Schloss Langenburg and the Deutsches AutomuseumEnjoy the 90 or so kilometre drive through the Schwäbisch Fränkischer Wald nature reserve via Öhringen and Künzelsau to Langenburg. Rising majestically from a ridge above the river Jagst, Schloss Langenburg exudes tradition so it comes as no surprise to learn it has belonged to the princely family of Hohenlohe-Langenburg since the 13th century. The castle is occupied, but still open to visitors.
The Schlossmuseum opened in 1960 and ten years later the German Car Museum started from the pit lane, or rather the renovated royal stables. Prince Kraft of Hohenlohe-Langenburg and Richard von Frankenberg, at the time a well-known motor sports journalist and racing driver, were brainstorming over a bottle of wine and thereupon decreed the castle to be the new home of the vintage car collection in the Heidelberg Car Museum, which included priceless models such as the Berliet 1906/07and Darracq 1913. “People, cars, history” is the museum motto and it has lived by this credo, for example displaying the official Mercedes 300d used by Queen Elizabeth II during her state visit in 1965 thus reliving that momentous event.
Travel tip: Schloss Weikersheim is no more than a 45-minute drive north of Schloss Langenburg. This renaissance castle with its magical baroque gardens also belonged to the Hohenlohe-Langenburg family until 1967; today it is administered by the office for State-Owned Palaces and Gardens of Baden-Württemberg.
Well-fortified in the Kocher valley: GroßcomburgThe L1045 winds along the river Kocher towards Schwäbisch Hall. The Comburg rises ahead, a former Benedictine monastery that looks more like a fortified castle. The early years, the first golden age of the monastery, produced the most precious architectural gems, Romanesque masterpieces such as the delicate arches in the hexagonal chapel, the gateway, and the interior of the Schenken Chapel.
Some of Europe’s finest art treasures can be found here, such as the golden Antepedium that adorns the altar table, one of the finest pieces of its time, or the wheel chandelier, surely among the biggest produced during the Middle Ages.
Visitors have free access to the monastery and the fortified curtain wall, enabling visitors to walk around the entire length of the wall. The Stiftskirche St. Nikolaus can only be viewed as part of a guided tour.
Hilltop ruins – the StauferlandLying on a plateau as you approach the Schwäbische Alb, the Stauferland is one of the most charming landscapes in Baden-Württemberg. This region is the ancestral home of the noble line which produced German kings and Holy Roman Emperors. The best known being Friedrich I (1122–1190) more commonly known south of the Alps as “Barbarossa” on account of his famous red beard.
One of your stops along the Staufer trail is castle Wäscherschloss. Looking out from this formidable castle you can see the Hohenstaufen, the mountain where the Staufers built their main castle. Although only ruins remain today, the spectacular views make the visit worthwhile. When you get to the town of Oberstaufen, look for the signs to the car parks and the path up the mountain.
Kloster Lorch is a gem in the nearby Rems valley. The main attraction of this monastery dating from 1102 is the Romanesque church and late-gothic tomb of the Staufers inside the basilica.
Charming half-timbered spa town: Schloss UrachTake the L1217 to Wiesensteig then the L1212 to Römerstein and you’ll soon be in Bad Urach which is renowned for its clean air. This spa town at the foot of the Schwäbische Alb is known for its waterfall. Residenzschloss Urach bears witness to the power and glory of the Dukes of Württemberg and is a reminder that this small half-timbered jewel of a town was once a capital.
The Palace is now a museum, but you can still feel the brilliance of Urach’s golden age shining within these gilded walls. Feel it in the splendour of the entrance hall with its gothic arches, then see it in the spectacular “Goldener Saal”, a renaissance ballroom of unparalleled beauty. Marvel at the intricate designs of the gilded Corinthian capitals or the wooden ceiling with its opulent decorations. Magnificent, ornate paintings, known as grotesques, were popular at the time, as were extravagant carved door frames and obelisks.
Above the banks of the Danube: Schloss SigmaringenMake your way via Münsingen to the Schwäbische Alb. Then relax and enjoy a fun drive and some stellar scenery on the K6769 as it runs through the pristine valley beside the Große Lauter river. Briefly savour your first encounter with the Danube by Zwiefaltendorf before continuing west towards the source. On a rocky outcrop rising up to 35 metres above the Danube Schloss Sigmaringen awaits you, royal residence of the Hohenzollerns and one of the most magnificent castle ensembles in southern Germany.
The castle location was obviously chosen with great care and deliberation and is as good as it gets, both from a strategic as well as aesthetic point of view. Since you can’t access the castle by bus or car, prepare for an invigorating walk up to the entrance. On arriving you can explore the castle with a guided tour.
Schloss Sigmaringen has been open to visitors for over 100 years, providing a vivid impression of aristocratic life as you stroll through more than a dozen gilded rooms and salons with ornate furniture and priceless porcelain as well as visiting the fascinating armoury.
At the source: Residenzschloss DonaueschingenThe L277 follows the meandering Danube for 50 kilometres to Tuttlingen before continuing on the B311 to the source of this mighty river. Two factors have largely shaped the destiny of this town: the first are the two source tributaries, Brigach and Breg, which meet in Donaueschingen and turn into the Danube. The second is the princely House of Fürstenberg. It was 1720 when they took up residence in this emblematic location right at the source of the Danube and ruled over one of the largest sovereign states in South West Germany.
Since the owners still live in the Palace today, access for visitors is limited to select days. The private quarters of the princely residents remain off limits, but the extensive grounds are always open to visitors, so you may enjoy a relaxing stroll after your eventful journey.
Travel tip: Through the Black Forest and into the Breisgau regionMost people agree that the trip from Titisee-Neustadt up the Feldberg mountain then onto Freiburg via Todtnau and Schauinsland is as good as it gets in Germany. You set off from Donaueschingen on the eastern flank of the Black Forest and as you approach Titisee-Neustadt, after about 30 kilometres, you catch your first glimpse of the mountains.
Passing dense forest and the pristine Titisee, take the B317 up to one of the highlights on this route, the Feldberg (1,493 metres). Take time to enjoy the views over the wooded slopes then continue to Todtnau, a stunning spot between the Feldberg and Schauinsland and part of the Bergwelt Südschwarzwald [mountain world of the southern Black Forest].
Relax and take a stroll through the picture-postcard village before steeling yourself for the challenging curves and pure driving pleasure of the L126 and L124, then continue through the impressive scenery around Schauinsland and on to Freiburg. Now within striking distance of the Alsace and the Vosge Mountains, you may briefly consider a quick run over the Grand Ballon pass. But you may decide to leave this for another day and another trip!
Recommendations for hungry and weary travellers:
- Gourmetrestaurant Alte Sonne, Ludwigsburg
- Reber’s Pflug, Hotel & Restaurant, Schwäbisch Hall
- Gasthof Wäscherschloss, Wäschenbeuren
- Biosphärenhotel Graf Eberhard, Bad Urach
- Zollerhof, Sigmaringen
- Hotel Öschberghof, Donaueschingen
- Hotel Restaurant Linde, Donaueschingen
Image credits: (1) Schloss Sigmaringen; (2) Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg; (3) Schloss langenburg; (4) Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg; (5) Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg; (6) Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg; (7) Schloss Sigmaringen/Robert Kriege; (8) Fürstlich Fürstenbergisches Archiv Donaueschingen/Ralf Brunner; (9) gato-gato-gato/flickr.com