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OFF the BEATEN TRACK
 
Füssen

King Ludwig Wilhelm II would have gotten along well with Walt Disney, but he didn't get along with his ministers and relatives, who had him diagnosed as unfit to rule Bavaria; soon after, he was found mysteriously drowned. Ludwig II's legacy consists of three castles he had built near Füssen; Neuschwanstein (which inspired Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle), Hohenschwanstein and Linderhof. Few visitors, though, realise that there is more to Füssen than the castles. It's compact centre contains a tangle of lanes of historical buildings. Check out the Hohe Schloss. There are excellent views from the top of Tegelbergbahn, reached by cable car. Nearby are the Bavarian Alps.

 
Harz Mountains

Known mostly to Germans and Scandinavians, the Harz Mountains rise picturesquely from the North German plain, a quick train ride from the tourist centres in the south. They don't have the peaks and valleys of the Alps, but they offer a great all-seasons sports getaway without some of the Alpine tackiness and tourism. The Harz area is well organised for hikers, but not to the detriment of its beauty. The area is popular for cycle touring, although pedal pushers must share some of the winding mountain roads with petrol heads, so check maps before heading off. Downhill skiiers will find the Harz Mountains relatively uninspiring, but cross-country skiing is a local passion that's shared by many visitors to the region. Travelling around on the steam trains here is also fun. Nearby are the historical towns of Goslar, Quedlinburg and Wernigerode, with their half-timbered homes and much more.

 
Leipzig

In Goethe's Faust a character named Frosch calls Leipzig 'a little Paris.' He was wrong - Leipzig is more fun. Leipzig became the 'Stadt der Helden' (City of Heroes) for its leading role in the 1989 democratic revolution. Its residents organised protests against the communist regime in May of that year; by October, they were taking to the streets by the hundreds of thousands, placing candles on the steps of Stasi headquarters (now a museum) and attending peace services at St Nicholas Church. By the time the secret police got round to pulping their files, Leipzigers were partying in the streets, and they still haven't stopped - from late winter, street-side cafes begin pouring out onto the streets, and trendy underground music clubs thud throughout the night. But it's not just a party town. Leipzig has some of the finest classical music and opera in the country - it was once home to Bach, Wagner and Mendelssohn. The Museum of Fine Arts has an excellent collection of old masters, and Leipzig's contemporary art and literature scenes are flourishing.

 
North Frisian Islands

The North Frisian Islands (as opposed to the East Frisian Islands), off the north-western coast of Germany, reward those who make the trek with sunshine, sand dunes, sea and pure air. Much of this area is a national park, protecting sensitive dune areas. Paths and boardwalks are provided for strolling. Sylt tends to be choked by wealthy spa-seekers, although it's possible to seek out places where they don't go. It's better to head for Föhr or Amrum, which are tranquil, less touristy and don't have the spa-and-sauna culture that promotes hi-jinks such as lightning dashes into the chilly North Sea. You can walk or cycle around at your leisure or take a horse ride. Further out to sea, Helgoland is a fun one or two-day excursion from the North Frisian Islands. The island was used as a submarine base in WWII and it's still possible to tour the strong bunkers and underground tunnels. There's also a scenic trail around the island.

 
Tübingen

This gentle, picturesque university town, just 35km (22mi) south of Stuttgart, is a place to wander winding cobbled alleys past half-timbered houses and old stone walls. From the heights of the Renaissance Hohentübingen Castle (now part of the university) there are fine views over the steep, red-tiled rooftops of the altstadt (old town). Today's students are the proud custodians of a rigorous liberal intellectual tradition, and can be seen in every cafe plotting earnestly to save the world. The market here is a treasure, filled with fruit and vegetables, and this is one town where some of this crisp and fresh produce might actually turn up on your plate. Also check out the nearby Rathaus and its delightful clock.


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