Following the Allgäuer Käsestrasse (Allgäu Cheese Route) is a fun way to focus a trip in this region. You can easily spend several days driving along the narrow winding roads and stopping off at local cheese-makers to taste their products. Southward from Wangen you’ll find cheese factories, large and small, in many locations, including Röthenbach, Grünenbach, Schönau, Lindenberg, Scheidegg, and Oberstaufen, as well as near Wangen itself. Continue eastward to Immenstadt, Diepolz, and Hindelang, then northward to Wertach, Waltenhofen, and Kempten (the largest city in the region), returning westward to Wangen by way of Isny.
Look for little signs that say Käserei (cheese factory), Sennerei (dairy, sometimes with a cheese factory attached), and Bergkäse or Alpenkäse (types of Allgäuer cheeses for sale). Biokäse signs mean the cheese has been made according to the strict rules that Germany requires for all food products labeled “organic.” Cheese-lovers know that these organic cheeses are often the best, with special, subtle flavors.
The walled city of Wangen is a pleasant place to stay on the western edge of the Cheese Route. Dating from the 9th century, Wangen is an historic little town filled with attractive buildings from the Romanesque to Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. Many of them have colorfully frescoed façades, as do some of the massive gate towers in the medieval city walls. Much of the Altstadt (Old Town) is a cobblestoned pedestrian zone punctuated by 16 gurgling fountains, several of them incorporating modern bronze sculptures erected in the 1980s that depict local legends and personalities (often in a humorous style). The bronze sculpture of St. Antony and his pigs, at the Saumarkt (Sow Market Square) is especially charming.
Don’t miss the Städtische Museen, a complex of eight museums housed in a series of adjoining buildings from the 16th century, with exhibits on painting, printing, mechanical musical instruments, cheese-making, and many facets of Wangen’s daily life in the past. When your feet are tired and your stomach is growling, head to the Gastwirtschaft Fidelisbäck, where you can sit indoors in the cozy Stube or outside in the small beer garden, sipping your favorite brew, eating well-prepared soups and light dishes, and sampling a selection of excellent baked goods, including the local bread specialty, Seele (“souls”).
Power-shoppers will enjoy visiting the several factory outlet stores (clothing, knitwear, shoes, fabrics, chocolates) east of Wangen, along Highway 308 toward Immenstadt, and on Highway 12 between Isny and Kempten. In the village of Missen, between these two highways, take the little road uphill to the Allgäuer Bergbauermuseum at Diepolz, an open-air museum of rural mountain life, with farmhouses, outbuildings, animals, and a very good museum store. The plain white exterior of the adjacent St. Blasius in Diepolz belies its beautiful neo-Gothic interior. Be sure to go inside.
Isny, on Highway 12 between Wangen and Kempten, is another medieval walled town with a strong sense of history. Along its narrow streets are handsome gabled houses, some with street-level arcades. Both the Catholic and Protestant churches within the walls are worth a visit, as is Schloss Isny and its art gallery of paintings and sculptures. The Museum am Mühlturm has exhibits on the city’s history from Roman to modern times, including flax processing, spinning, weaving, and other trades historically important to Isny’s economy. Today, the town is a tourist destination, a year-round health resort, and a center for cross-country skiing in winter.
On Thursday mornings, shop at the open-air food market held around Isny’s Marktplatz (Market Square) for cheeses, honey, and fruit preserves from nearby farms. Before you leave the area, stop by the Käsküche Isny (cheese factory and store) on the south edge of town for a delicious selection of locally made organic cheeses and other Allgäuer food products.
Whether you stay in a five-star hotel or a little rural village, at an isolated farmhouse or in one of the historical walled towns, the Allgäu is a good place to relax from the pressures of daily life. You can even arrange to stay at certain farms to learn the process of cheese-making. Remember that in the Allgäu you’ll never go wrong if you just smile and say “cheese.”