Forest Fresh

A warm welcome awaits you in the Bavarian Forest but the beer is cool
A warm welcome awaits you in the Bavarian Forest but the beer is cool
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Barry Freeman prepares himself for the spectacle of Munich’s Oktoberfest with a wonderful tour of the wider region

Now, how best to prepare oneself for a visit to the world famous Oktoberfest...

A foolish proposition, truth be told. In my recent experience nothing can prepare you for the spectacle of sight, sound, taste – sheer sensation – that is Munich’s annual autumnal celebration of Bavarian life.

The best you can do, I suggest, is take a trot around this remarkable region before joining its capital’s carnival.

If nothing else you might gain a sense of what it is they celebrate each October, and why they are so wise to do so.

Some weeks, many beers ago I embarked from Munich (via Manchester, courtesy of Lufthansa) with this in mind.

Returning to that great city (Munich not Manchester) 48 hours later it was with a happy if heavy heart.

Somewhere along the way I fell a little in love with Bavaria.

Our party – myself and nine fellow gentlemen of the Press –left Munich airport shortly after 1pm to headed north, cold bottles of excellent and heady local produce already in hand.

Conurbation swiftly gave way to open fields, sprawling vistas, dark mountains on the horizon – and then we were into the trees.

How many miles we wound and climbed through the famous Bavarian Forest, on roads hemmed closely by dark dense, mysterious woodland, I could not say.

I had been this way before, as a boy, and now as then found myself distracted, eyes drawn between the trees. Imagining scenes from a hundred fairytales, any one of which could be unfolding somewhere in that cool shady wilderness right this minute...

Of course, no such things were afoot. Probably. And if a wilderness these woods are, they are one it has never been easier to explore.

The Bavarian Forest is now bisected by an incredible network of cycleways, close to 7,000km worth.

Well maintained and signposted paths along rivers and disused railway lines for the family, challenging mountain paths for the enthusiast – manna from heaven for any member of the bike fraternity.

Have you the wheels – or not, these can readily be hired – and energy I can imagine no finer place to bring both to bear (there are, I should stress, NO bears. I asked).

We rolled into Regen, a smart and lively market town in the ArberLand (County of Regen) late that afternoon.

Bang in the heart of the Nature Park – one of several set up to preserve and develop the region’s landscape and nature while supporting ecologically sound tourism – and at the edge of the National Park of the Bavarian Forest, a perfect base for exploring the wider area.

Pausing only to drop our bags in the welcoming and spotless Hotel Tagungshaus we leapt back on the bus and set out for Bodenmais, a village straight from the pages of a picturebook – which is actually anything but.

We found here, instead, a thriving rural community happy to welcome visitors rather than some prettified tourist trap.

That said, it is – it’s location in the trees, its architectutre and crafts – very VERY pretty.

Is just that this prettiness, I suspect, existed long before people began to visit.

That night we drank and dined richly at the Hotel and Restaurant Böhmhof on the edge of the village.

Well, I say richly. The food – free range deer and mushrooms, both harvested fresh from the encircling forest – certainly tasted rich, and good and succulent...

But at a shade over £12? The word ‘richly’ is misleading. And that goes for pretty much every meal I ate over the duration of my tour.

Like no Western European country of my recent experience it is easy to eat incredibly well here, opulently almost, and at prices more reasonable than seem possible.

Anyhow, that lovely deer was washed down in grand company with great local ale, schnapps, wine and Bavarian wheatbeer – and then to bed.

To sleep. Pass out. One of the two, whichever, I awoke next day in superb shape and eager to travel on.

Pausing for a fine lunch – astonishing veal chop and mountain of spätzle (a tiny tasty wheat dumpling) in the town of Zwiesel, which like Regen is ideally placed to be a base for wider exploration – we turned east, and headed straight into hot water.

Hot spring water, to be precise, and the four star Hartl Resort Hotel Fürstenhof at Bad Griesbach, near Passau.

Ashamed to say, but the combination of spätzle and the delicious local beer served us in the excellent Hotel and Restaurant Zur Waldbahn in Zwiesel, saw me sleep like a boozy meat-filled baby pretty much the whole way.

I am told it was a lengthy trek, for anyone considering tracing our steps, but trust me – a great reward waits at its conclusion.

This golf and spa location boasts no fewer than 10 courses and thermal facilities on a similar staggering scale.

The accommodation? Top quality. The food? A wide choice of restaurants, we ate traditional Bavarian cuisine, – astonishing. The hospitality, too, was second to none.

Obviously this comes at a price. Not cheap. But if you are in the area, out for a memorable holiday, any time spent in this hotel complex will live long in the memory.

I promise.

Arriving in early autumn sun (which had followed us throughout), the bulk of our party gained clubs and headed for the course.

Me? I’m with Mark Twain on the matter of golf, and within an hour I was sunk to my chin in healing water, bubbling warmly from beneath the Earth’s crust to soothe away my many ills.

And then the Finnish sauna. Continental style, of course. No bottoms allowed. Which is to say, no pants allowed.

Actual bottoms wherever you looked (I kept my head down and thought of England).

Munich, in the morning. I thought, shortly after an elderly German gent had rollocked me for strolling blithely in with no towel (to sit on).

And what have I learned?

That Bavaria is a region at ease with itself.

Happy to welcome tourists but apparently uninterested in making themselves into a tourist attraction.

Welcome to our corner of the world, they seem to say. Here is our way of life. Try it! We think you’ll like it.

I had. I did. One day, I will return to try it some more.

Next week:

How to win friends and survive Oktoberfest

Factfile:

Fly Lufthansa from Manchester Airport to various destinations. For flights and prices see

www.lufthansa.com/uk/en/

Hotel Tagungshaus Bayerischer Wald in Regen

single room - €46 pp per night, incl. buffet breakfast

double room - €37 pp per night, incl. buffet breakfast

Hotel/Restaurant Böhmhof
Bodenmais: www.boehmhof.de

Hotel/Restaurant Zur Waldbahn Zwiesel:www.zurwaldbahn.de

Hotel Fürstenhof ****

Bad Griesbach

Single room - €108 per room per night incl. varied dinner, buffet breakfast, 4.000m² spa+

double room - € 102 per room per night incl. varied dinner, buffet breakfast, 4.000m² spa+