In a six-day, south-to-north drive up Germany's eastern side we find the independent auto traveler with no advance reservations can sleep and eat well for under $100 per night per person.
By Bob Bestor
The plan was to drive without hurry from the Bodensee to Dresden, and along the way find good hotels with good restaurants at good prices, mainly in small towns. The further plan, with no advance reservations, was to spend no more than $100 per person/per night for bed, breakfast, and dinner at these better than average hotels. Here's how it turned out:
Tuesday: Hotel Adler, Bad Wurzach
From our rented apartment in Hohfluh, near the Brünig Pass between Interlaken and Lucerne, we rolled our suitcases half a block to the bus stop, from there to connect 15 minutes later to the 10:57am train at the Brünig-Hasliberg station. With a single change in Zürich we were in Lindau just after 3pm. A brief taxi ride got us to the local Avis office where the gum-chewing, smooth-talking agent urged us toward a BMW 118 as if it were a Rolls Royce. "This is all we have at the moment, sir," he responded to my observation that our reservation was for an intermediate car and the 118 is a compact. Avis Lindau is in a former gas station and a quick scan of the lot indicated Mr. Slick might just be telling the truth, there didn't seem to be any larger vehicles. I dismissed the thought of calling Auto Europe's toll-free-from-Europe helpline. I knew from past experience they would have leveraged a bigger car out of Avis - provided one was available in Lindau - or switched us to Europcar, but that would take time and we were running out of daylight. We could exchange cars a few days later when we met our friends in Leipzig. For now, the little Beamer would have to do.
Previously, using our U.S. cell phone (99 cents per minute with Cingular's overseas roaming) and the Michelin Red Guide for Germany, we had made a reservation from the train at the 18-room Hotel Adler in Bad Wurzach, 58 km north of Lindau. The Adler gets both Bib Gourmand ("good food at moderate prices") and Bib Hotel ("good accommodations at moderate prices") ratings from Michelin.
The Beamer's excellent and easy-to-use GPS guided us to the Adler's front door in the center of the village. A friendly but preoccupied man, who we later deduced to be the owner-chef, handed us a room key and pointed toward the stairs—all four flights.
The Adler's pride is obviously its sleek, wood-paneled, halogen-lit dining room with snowy tablecloths and gleaming crystal. As to what comes out of the kitchen, "Good food at moderate prices" nails it. Though a nearby table of 30-something French speakers were turning up their noses and sending back dishes, those served to us testified to careful, skillful, and creative preparation. Our man in Bad Wurzach can cook. Triangles of tasty baked Saibling (a kind of lake trout) rested on a bed of housemade noodles with leeks. An intensely flavorful reduction sauce raised the stakes on a juicy pork chop Iberico (imported from the Iberian peninsula), and a side of creamy polenta was swirled with bits of truffle. Main dishes range from about $14 to $17. A crisp mixed salad cost a mere $3.8 and half a liter of local Spätburgunder was $9. A shared boat of vanilla ice cream came generously doused with a lovely hot, sweet/sour raspberry sauce.
The double room was $78 and the dinner, without beverages, $45, for a total of about $166, well under our $200 limit.
Though the room was in need of new carpeting and there is no elevator, the Adler's accommodations offer good value. The restaurant, however, is the real attraction.
Bad Wurzach is best reached by car as the nearest rail station is 20 minutes by bus.
- Contact: Hotel Adler Schloss Strasse 8, Bad Wurzach, D-88410, tel. +49/07564/93030, fax 930340
- Daily Rates: Singles $47, doubles $78 Longer stays/weekends are discounted.
- Rating: Quality 10/20, Value 15/20
- Restaurant: Quality 17/20, Value 18/20
Wednesday: Landhaus Tanner, Waging am See
Again using Michelin, we ferreted out another "double-Bibber," this one in the town of Waging am See- the "See" being the Chiemsee, east and a little south of Munich. We dawdled along backroads and took five hours from Bad Wurzach instead of the three it would have had we used the Autobahn.
Unmistakably Bavarian, the Landhaus Tanner sits in a meadow on the edge of town and, at three stories tall, looks bigger than its seven guestrooms would suggest. The welcome was warm and we were soon ensconced in a lovely corner room (Number Seven) with slanting beamed ceilings, blonde wood trim, and separate sitting area with couch and easy chair upholstered in bright, primary colors. There is a balcony and a large, well-lit, all-tile bathroom featuring a spacious, glassed-in shower. Some hotels would call this a junior suite and at $88 it's a great bargain.
The high-ceilinged dining room glows with modern Bavarian charm. There are plank floors, light wood paneling, banquets lined with checkerboard padding and pillows, and the usual country knickknacks. Franz Tanner, the young chef-major domo, is apparently building a following. Nearly every table was occupied on this Wednesday night, mostly by a stylish under-50 crowd.
Though the food fell short of the previous night's creative excellence, dinner was a pleasant and satisfying experience. The dishes were straightforward and familiar but well prepared. Rich, buttery calves liver (E16) served over chard, with bite-size chunks of sautéed leeks and au gratin potatoes, and first-rate rack of medium-rare, herb-crusted lamb ($24) were all stellar. Without beverages (two of which were big glasses of a wonderfully intense Spätburgunder, $7.2) the dinner came to $53, making our room, dinner, breakfast total about $190. Breakfast, by the way, was a superb layout that included eggs to order.
We put Landhaus Tanner in the "find" category. It is suitable for longer stays and would make a convenient and comfortable east Bavarian headquarters. Waging is directly on the Chiemsee. Salzburg, Berchtesgaden and Bad Reichenhall are all within a 40 minute drive, as are a dozen golf courses. Munich is less than two hours by rail, and Salzburg about 50 minutes, both via Traunstein.
- Daily Rates: Singles $65-75, doubles $85-95, apartments (breakfast not included) $78-93
- Rating: Quality 16/20, Value 18/20
- Restaurant: Quality 15/20, Value 16/20
Thursday: Hotel Säumerhof, Grafenau
At breakfast, the decision was made to veer northeast into the Bayerischerwald (Bavarian Forest) near the Czech border. First, however, came a two-hour stop for a walk around Burghausen, a charming town on the Salzach river straight north of Salzburg, but still in Germany. Looming above the town is Burghausen fortress which runs along a bluff for half a mile, the longest citadel in all Europe. Perhaps its off-the-beaten-track location explains why the town attracts so few English-speaking visitors.
Then it was north across the Danube, mostly over backroads, into the Bayrischerwald to our destination, Grafenau, and the Hotel Säumerhof.
Located in a residential neighborhood, the 10-room Säumerhof is undoubtedly a product of the hit and miss 50s-60s-70s post-war construction period - and not much has been done since. It is not an attractive building. Inside, however, an urbane, well-dressed, 60-ish, woman extended a friendly welcome, then personally escorted us to a two-room suite - obviously an upgrade from the double room we had reserved by phone earlier in the day. Later, she would graciously bring us dinner in the rather formal dining room. Our room/suite, a throwback to the 70s in style and furnishings, came equipped with more than we needed for our one-night stay, including a stereo with a rack of CDs. The TV, however, had no English channels.
Except for one other couple, we were alone at dinner in the eerily silent, carpeted dining room. But they were soon gone and we were left to whisper alone among the potted shrubbery. Fortunately, our host Frau Endl (Herr Endl is the cook), was talkative and accommodating. For example, she recommended a specific German red wine but when we said only a half bottle, she opened a full one and charged us half price. And, even though Vanilla Eis mit Schokolade isn't on the menu, she had Herr Endl melt a bar of chocolate to pour over ice cream. Delicious.
Unfortunately, your reviewers didn't see eye to eye on the food. There was no argument about the amuse-bouche, a generous dollop of subtly smoked trout mousse on a bed of marinated beetroot. It was a clear winner, no argument. Same for small bowls of leek soup liberally laced with butter and thick cream. But Liz's venison-sautéed pink strips served on a slightly sweet green peppercorn sauce -lacked the characteristic "wild" taste she prefers. On the other hand, my filet of Zander (pike-perch) at E17 was the best single plate of food in a four-week trip. A three-quarter inch high triangle of the meaty Zander was likely first sautéed, finished in the oven, and then served perfectly moist on a bed of handmade, squid-in-its-ink pasta. Under a sprightly dressing of white wine, vermouth, fresh lemon juice, and chopped shallots, the dish flirted with greatness.
Breakfast (excellent: eggs to order, fresh orange juice) in the dining room bolstered our surmise that we may have been the hotel's only guests.
Without beverages, dinner was $62 and the room cost $83 for a total of $145 or about $196.
Epilogue: With its 2007 Red Guide, Michelin cruelly withdrew Säumerhof's "Bib Gourmand" designation. That may be less about the food (Michelin's decision had already been made at the time of our visit in December) and more a reflection of the hotel's general need for refurbishment. All is clean and tidy, and we were certainly well cared for, but there is a distinct air of faded glory. While the physical aspects of this hotel are only adequate, the more important "people" component is well above average. We recommend it -especially the Filet vom Zander.
- Contact: Hotel Säumerhof, Steinberg 32, D-94481 Grafenau, tel. +49/085 52/40 899-0. Grafenau is not serviced by rail.
- Daily Rates: Singles $38-50, doubles $59-100. A four-night package includes room, breakfast and four, three- course dinners for $219 per person.
- Rating: Quality 10/20, Value 14/20
- Restaurant: Quality 15/20, Value 16/20
Friday: Hotel Lindenmühle, Bad Berneck
The journey north continued. We settled on the town of Bad Berneck, 15 km north of Bayreuth, and its 29-room Hotel Lindenmühle, a Michelin "Bib Hotel." First, though, was a stop in Bodenmais, at the foot of the Grosser Arber, the Bayerischerwald's highest point (4,777 feet). Daytrips to Prague leave the town center at 7:30am and include lunch for $28. Bodenmais is famous for its crystal and glassware, but our interest was to determine if the Hotel Adam-Bräu is still recommendable. The Adam is a Brauereigasthof, a hotel that also brews beer. Probably the best-known establishment in this category is the Brauereigasthof Aying, in the town of Aying east of Munich.
Bad Berneck follows the Weisser Main river as it winds through a steep ravine. At the end of the town's main street sits the three-star, Hotel Hartls Lindenmühle, in a handsome, four-story, dull red building with white shuttered windows. Multicolored floor tiles in the open, airy reception area belie the stiffer, more traditional exterior. Among the advantages bestowed by buildings of this vintage are wide hallways and the high ceiling we found in our spacious double room. The hotel's free wireless Internet access provided a chance to catch up on emails.
Gastronomically, the Lindenmühle was a step down in both price and quality from the cuisine of the past three nights. After being assured by the front desk that reservations were not needed, we were lucky to get the last table on a busy, noisy night. At $11.50, a juicy, fig-stuffed chicken breast on basil noodles, accompanied by crisp, flavorful sautéed vegetables - carrots, fennel and zucchini, took top honors. Less successful was a rather flat tasting Barbarie (Moscovy, female) duck breast ($16) with tiny gnocchi in tomato sauce. A fine local Franconian beer, Zwickl, was delivered in a ceramic mug.
With dinner at $37, sans beverages, and the room at $84, the total of $163 was well under our $200 per day goal.
While we wouldn't recommend making a special journey, or even a detour, the Lindemühle is a better than adequate option if one happens to be in the region. The food was acceptable, the service friendly and helpful, and room Number 103 above average. Though the shower was a hand-held device over the tub, with just a partial glass panel to keep the splash under control, there were compensations; wireless Internet and a TV with a large screen.
- Daily Rates: Singles $59-69, doubles $89-99
- Rating: Quality 12/20, Value 15/20
- Restaurant: Quality 11/20, Value 14/20
Saturday: Jagdhaus Waldidyll, Hartenstein
This day's drive took us through some of the most depressed areas of the former East Germany. Along the Czech border, inhabitants of towns such as Klingenthal are poorly dressed and seem undernourished. Though nearly all the main roads seem to have been resurfaced, most dwellings are shabby and many derelict buildings remain. In one village, we visited a sad little Christmas market where booths selling pajamas and bras hung them as decorations.
Our destination, however, was an upscale oasis in this desert of high unemployment. The Romantik Hotel Jagdhaus Waldidyll, in the countryside, near Hartenstein (about 20 miles southwest of Chemnitz) attracted us with its Michelin "Bib Gourmand" and "Red" (pleasant hotel) designations. Unfortunately, except for two suites at $159 each, it was fully booked. Nonetheless, we decided to live a little. After all, the $200 thing was only a guideline.
A former hunting lodge, the building was converted a few years ago-obviously at huge expense - into a 28-room hotel. The forest setting, steep, gabled roof, and stone façade lend Waldidyll a fairy-tale atmosphere. The impressive structure is approached via a long private driveway, putting one in mind of an exclusive country estate. But five-star it is not, so we carried our own luggage up the stone stairway to reception where we were welcomed pleasantly and efficiently but with little warmth. An elevator took us to the top floor and the rather small suite, Number 301. Regardless of size, these were the most opulent accommodations of the trip-fine, smooth bed linens, top-quality sofa and chairs, and a marble-tiled bathroom with gold swans spouting water into the huge tub.
When making our room reservation by phone we had inquired about dinner and the availability of a table. No problem. So promptly at 8pm we stepped through a door marked "Restaurant" into a wonderfully inviting space of richly-paneled walls and huge, gleaming carriage lanterns-but no empty tables. Our presence immediately attracted puzzled looks from the wait-staff. Something was amiss. Seconds later, a frazzled, embarrassed front desk functionary rushed through the door behind us and quickly directed us to a kind of overflow dining room. A meeting room, in fact. The menu prices were the same, however. Not a big deal, we came for the food.
For a time it seemed we might be in for a good, perhaps even memorable, dinner. Alas, what we were in for was little more than heavy, highly-salted beer hall fare eaten with expensive flatware on fine china and linens. The lone redeeming dish was Oma's Kartoffelsuppe ($3.5), a hearty, creamy, intense, smoky, marvel made remarkable by a liberal infusion of tiny, only-in-Germany, Bratwurst slices. The soup was preceded by an insufficiently tossed, multi-lettuce salad ($16 for two) heavy with pumpkin seed oil and oil-soaked croûtons. Between courses toast rounds were spread with salty, bacony Schmalz. We should have quit right there. By the time the main courses arrived, the needle on the rich-heavy-salty meter was well into the red zone. An attempt to revisit my extraordinary Zanderfilet experience of two nights ago was a mistake. The Waldidyll version ($17.50) was leaden, oily and, above all, salty. Erzgebirgische Rinderoulade in Schalottensosse ($13), stuffed with artichoke hearts (there were also artichoke hearts in the Zanderfilet dish, hmmm), had all the flair of Tuesday night pot roast. And did I mention salt? Accompanying Apfel Rotkohl was tasty enough but hardly imaginative. Like parakeets in a mine, hotels and restaurants transmit distinct signals when things aren't right. The salad, obviously done in a hurried, slap-dash manner, was an early warning, but the clincher came at end of the meal. You've seen those tiny, crisp, rolled-up waffles stuck into ice cream desserts? Waldidyll's were dead stale, almost doughy. Quality control is clearly a concept with which the kitchen is not familiar.
Without beverages, we paid $52. The suite ($159) brought the total for room, breakfast (in the main dining room, finally), and dinner to $286, well beyond the $200 goal.
I hesitate to heavily criticize Waldidyll based on a single overnight. Still, a lot of parakeets died: the cool reception, no help with luggage (the hotel does refer to itself as four-star), the table reservation mix-up ("yes, sir, we'd love to have you join us for dinner but the only seating available is in our XYZ room"), and, of course, the miserable dinner.
This is a gorgeous property, and perhaps we caught it on a bad day. However, those little waffle things indicate otherwise.
- Daily Prices: Singles $80-92, doubles $112-132, suites $153-195
- Rating: Quality 14/20, Value 14/20
- Restaurant: Quality 7/20, Value 7/20
Sunday: Martha Hospiz, Dresden
Anxious to get the Waldidyll in our rearview mirror, we raced through breakfast and pointed the Beamer toward Seiffen, a town that lives on the manufacture and sale of Christmas decorations. From the car, we phoned for a room at Dresden's Hotel Martha Hospiz, $110.
Nearing Seiffen, it became clear we were not alone in wanting to visit the former East Germany's Christmas mecca. In fact, far from the village center, polizei diverted traffic down a side road where one paid $4 to park about a mile from town. We joined a thick stream of bundled-up pedestrians trudging along the roadside into a stiff, icy breeze. The wind pelted us with shards of ice dislodged from tree limbs above. We had all chosen to visit on the Sunday morning of the first weekend of the Seiffen Christmas Market. Streets and shops were packed. In one of several small factories we saw nutcracker soldiers being painted by hand and women carefully carving little wooden Christmas trees. Candle-arches, the principal item for sale throughout the town, were priced from a few euros to more than $8,000. A band played and dozens of booths along the meandering main street hawked Glühwein, wurst, and, of course, Christmas decorations. On a warmer day a visit to the Toy Museum and the Erzgebirge Open Air Museum would have been in order, but given the chilly wind, and the sameness of the merchandise, an hour was enough.
Martians couldn't have attracted more curious glances than we did during a quick lunch stop at a small gasthof on the road to Dresden. Deep in the former East Germany, English-speaking tourists are still a novelty.
The GPS did its stuff again and before sundown the Beamer was parked in a lot ($5 per day for hotel guests) half a block from Martha Hospiz, a comfortable, friendly, urban hotel on the north bank of the Elbe, in a neighborhood of good shops and restaurants, about a 15-minute walk from the center.
Since Martha Hospiz has no restaurant, it technically doesn't belong in this story. However, we're pairing it with a simple trattoria, about two blocks from the hotel. Initial impressions of Casa Grecolatino (Königstrasse 9, tel. +49/0351/8033123) are likely to trigger thoughts of "chain" and "pizza." For sure, it serves pizza, and certainly it is chain-like, with young, inexperienced servers, a youthful clientèle, gaudy décor, and a warren of dining rooms. But Scaloppine Limone ($13.5) and Spaghetti Carbonara ($7.8) were simply delicious, the kind of pasta dishes one hopes for but seldom finds. This is not fine dining, just good food. Salad, pasta, and dessert for two cost $32.3. Add a hotel bill of $110 and our breakfast, dinner, and hotel total was $192.
- Daily Prices: Singles $77-90, doubles $113-121
- Rating: Quality 14/20, Value 16/20
Over six days and six nights, we ate well and slept in rooms that ranged from good to excellent. The only real disappointment was the food at Waldidyll. The best overall meal was Hotel Adler in Bad Wurzach, the best dinner atmosphere at Landhaus Tanner, and, of course, I shall never forget the Zanderfilet at Säumerhof in Grafenau. The best room was at Waldidyll, but if I had to choose one of the six hotels for a weeklong stay, it would be the Landhaus Tanner. If I had to dine in one of the six restaurants every night for a week, it would be the Adler.
In addition to the six-night total of $1,193 for room, dinner, and breakfast we drove some 750 kilometers and spent about $95 on gas. Only once did we have to pay to park, and that was $5 in Dresden. Lunch for us is a light meal, so figure another $125 there. The quantity of wine and beer consumed is privileged information, but jot down another $30 per day for beverages, including tea, coffee, mineral water, and sodas. The total cost for a pleasant, unhurried, sojourn through the German countryside was about $1600. Of course, it can be done much less expensively; but remember, except for the last night in Dresden, we ate in restaurants that take themselves very seriously. And there are many hotels in these same towns where perfectly acceptable accommodations, with private bath facilities, are available in the $45 to $65 range.