As travel becomes more and more commonplace, there’s a sense of “out with the old, and in with the new.” Destinations are changing. The days of London, Paris, and Rome have seen their pique; even “exotic” locales like Vietnam and Thailand are becoming increasingly banal as the world gets more and more accessible. Today’s traveler is looking for roads not swamped with awkward, slow-moving tourists, boutique hotels with boutique prices, and an authentic, not-like-home experience.
Enter Germany’s Fachwerkstraße, or Framework Road. This route is a series of 98 towns going up and down the length of the country for 3,000 km, or 1,864 miles. Each bustling little spot is home to hundreds of 13th-17th century half-timbered houses and, save a few exceptions, nothing but locals. There are more castles than tour busses, more cobblestone streets than taxis, and not a single queue in sight. Throw in all the local microbrews and hand-churned gelato one can handle, and you’ve got a traveler’s – and a marketer’s – dream.
Let’s start up north near the town of Stade. While nearby Hamburg was annihilated during WWII, Stade survives as a medieval harbor town largely intact from its humble beginnings 1,200 years ago. While numbers like this will initially seem incredible, they’re quite common along this route. Almost directly south at Nienburg you’ll find a centuries-old Jewish cemetery and a for-the-ages asparagus market in May. White asparagus is practically revered in this region, and you’ll find it on every menu – and for good, delectable reason – in the late spring months.
Moving further south you have the historic spa town of Bad Essen and the beer town of Einbeck (concocting brews for 750 years). Those uber-history buffs among us may prefer going east, stopping at Salzwedel – a town complete with medieval gates, a looming 13th century tower, the remains of a castle, and the history of being a border-crossing point between East and West Germany – or Celle, home of Celle Castle, 400 fairytale half-timber houses, and a stone’s throw from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where Anne Frank and her family suffered the throes of Nazism.
If you’re more of a nature lover, you’ll find a new home on the route between the Harz Mountains and Thuringian Forest. Südharz is an obvious stop, with the largest gypsum cave of its kind, and far more books than people (the library within the Schloss Roßla puts that ratio at 10:1). Hannoversch Münden is known as the “Three River” city, and boasts 700 teetering half-timbered houses lining teeny streets along its picturesque waterways. Nearby Butzbach and Korbach make for a great day’s hike and adventure exploring the mines, too.
As the route zigs and zags southward, you’ll eventually approach the end of the line at Lake Constance. Meersburg, the town marking the southern end of the Fachwerkstraße, offers in one 180-degree view several castles lining a panoramic vista to Austria and Switzerland. For this reason, you’ll find Meersburg much more tourist-y than most other stops on the route, but a quick ferry across Bodensee will make it worth all the while.
No matter which or how many of these 98 towns you choose, you’ll embark on a path into the medieval past of our world. Parts of it are hibernating for now, but with so much to experience, these humble towns won’t lie dormant much longer.