All the images that foreigners think most typically Bavarian accumulate in profusion in the region south of Munich, where “Mad” King Ludwig’s palaces preside over dramatically scenic alpine settings. Here, onion-domed church towers rise above brilliant green meadows, impossibly blue lakes fringe dark forests and the sparkling snow-capped peaks of the Bavarian Alps define the southern horizon. Villages are tourist-brochure quaint, while traditional Tracht is by no means the fancy dress it can sometimes seem in Munich. Politically and socially, this is Bavaria at its most Catholic and conservative, though sheer numbers of visitors nowadays add a certain cosmopolitan sheen, particularly to major resorts such as Füssen or Garmisch-Partenkirchen – Germany’s highest, and most famous ski centre.
Eastern Bavaria could scarcely be more different: in place of a wall of mountains, it is defined by one of the great cultural and trading thoroughfares of Central Europe, the River Danube. Consequently its ancient cities – notably the perfectly preserved, former imperial free city of Regensburg and the prince-bishopric of Passau – bear the legacy of Rome and the influence of Italy with considerable grace, while even relatively modest towns such as Straubing and Landshut preserve architectural wonders from their distant golden ages. Only along its eastern boundary with the Czech Republic do natural wonders again triumph over cultural richness, in the vast, relatively sparsely populated forests of the Bayerischer Wald (Bavarian Forest).
Getting around the region is remarkably easy: Regensburg, Passau, Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the Berchtesgadener Land are all linked into the Autobahn network, while train services connect Munich with the major towns and reach into the Alps as far as Füssen, Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Berchtesgaden. Where train services end, buses take over, with services linking at least the most important tourist sites relatively frequently.