#1 Mariazell to Hieflau: Austria

Necessary maps: Die Generalkarte #2 Austria

This beautiful, peaceful route, from the pilgrimage town of Mariazell (about 65 km south of the Vienna-Salzburg Autobahn, exit St. Pölten), along the Salza river southwest to Hieflau, is through some of Austria's most uninhabited countryside. Before setting out, fill your gas tank and purchase food and drink for a picnic lunch. There are few restaurants along the way, but several lovely spots for picnics. Including stops for sight-seeing, figure about three hours.

The countryside is quietly spectacular. The road runs beneath limestone cliffs eroded into extraordinary formations and the ravine slopes are covered with green conifers and deciduous foliage that make this drive especially lovely in the fall. In places where the valley widens, the farms and grazing cattle seem like set pieces, perfectly placed on the broad meadow. The river runs so clear that, if you look closely, you will be able to see fish swimming from your moving car.

The few villages that comprise civilization along this road, such Weischelboden, Wildalpen, Palfau and Grossreifling are tiny and very quiet.

Our recommendation is to overnight at Mariazell, where a Benedictine priory was founded in 1157 and Pope John Paul II said Mass on September 13, 1983. The town attracts pilgrims who come to pray for the indulgence of the Madonna of Mariazell. Inside the Basilica see the striking Chapel of Miracles and the Schatzkammer (Treasury) with its collection of the votive offerings of hundreds of years of pilgrims, from simple drawings by children to heirlooms of great value.

Simple, inexpensive rooms are available at Gasthof Zum Alten Brauhaus, just off the town square, no more than a couple of hundred yards from the church.

Gasthof Zum Alten Brauhaus 5 Weiner Straße, 8630 Mariazell, tel. 03882/2523.

#2 Füssen to Mittenwald: Germany

Necessary Maps: ADAC #15

Traffic on the German Alpine Road in Southern Bavaria is heavy at all times, but especially in summer. Here is a route from Füssen east to the charming town of Mittenwald via the most deserted of country lanes. Füssen is the town nearest Bavaria's famed Royal Castles and Mittenwald is known for its violin-makers. Along the way is one of Germany's most renowned churches, the Wieskirche ("church in the meadows"), a Rococo masterpiece.

You may want to start from Seeg, a village 14 kilometers northwest of Füssen, and its friendly and inexpensive little Pension Heim. From Seeg, first go east to Rosshaupten then on gray and yellow roads to Lechbruck and on to Steingaden. Just south of Steingaden, from red road #17, get on the gray road to Litzau and the Wieskirche. This part is very tricky, the signs are mostly for hikers. Follow the ones pointing to the Wieskirche. After visiting the church—30 to 45 minutes—return to the gravel road and continue southeast to Unternogg and Altenau. This is true backroads travel, more trail than highway. There are many places to stop for a picnic in the woods.

Upon reaching the red road go left toward Saulgrub and then right on the yellow road to Bad Kohlgrub. Before Murnau turn right and south toward Grafensschau and on to Eschenlohe. From there you must go south on the major highway through Garmisch-Partenkirchen then east and finally south, taking the yellow road at Klais into Mittenwald.

It's easy to become confused, and you may have to stop often to consult the map, but this drive is worth it.

Post-Hotel Obermarkt 9, D-8102 Mittenwald, telephone 08823/1094, fax 08823/1096.

Pension Heim Aufmberg 8, Seeg D-87637, tel. 08364/258, fax 08364/1051

#3 Marktheidenfeld to Coburg: Germany

Necessary maps: Die Generalkarte #16-#14 for Germany, or ADAC Karte #9-#10.

The scenery on this drive is pleasant and restful rather than spectacular. On it you will cross the Main River on a little ferry, visit a pilgrimage church in a meadow, encounter interesting medieval towns, pass by Franconian vineyards, see few tour buses and enjoy some of Germany's prettiest farm country.

Begin at Marktheidenfeld, just north of the Autobahn between Aschaffenburg and Würzburg where are found the excellent Hotel Anker and its Weinhaus Anker, a wonderful restaurant. In Coburg, 47 kilometers north of Bamberg, you might overnight in the country at the moderately-priced Schloss Neuhof. The hotel is actually in Neu Neershof, six km east of town. Coburg itself is worth at least a day's sight-seeing.

Head north from Marktheidenfeld to Karbach and Zellingen, through Birkenfeld and Billingshausen. At Zellingen, go through the tower gate and cross the Main. From there go to Retzstadt (where there is a wine festival each July) and Gramschatz.

Then it's Hausen and St. Huburtus-Verein, a pilgrimage church and an Augustinian Monastery. Then on to Fährbrück, Opferbaum, Schwanfeld and the interesting wine town of Wipfeld (great stone house and barn). Next, cross the Main again, this time by ferry (1 DM).

Go on to Lindach, Kolitzheim and Herlheim. Next is Alitzheim and then along the edge of the Steigerwald Naturpark to Knetzgau and north to Hassfurt, another interesting town. Continue north to Hofheim then east and a little south to Ebern, once a walled city and full of half-timbered buildings. From here use the map to pick your own route into Coburg. One way is via Sesslach, yet another picturesque town with narrow cobbled streets and a fine stone church.

Hotel Anker Obertorstrasse 6, Marktheidenfeld, D-97828, tel. 09391/60040, fax 09391/600477

Schloss Neuhof, Neuhofer Strasse 10, Neu Neershof-Coburg, D-96450, tel. 09563/2051, fax 09563/2107

#4 Bern to Brienz: Switzerland

Necessary maps: Die Generalkarte #2 Switzerland

The obvious and quickest way from Bern to Brienz is via the Autobahn along the south shores of the Thunersee and the Brienzersee through Interlaken. Our route, however, goes through the Emme Valley and into the Bernese Oberland by way of the Glaubenbelen Pass. On it you'll see picturesque farm villages of the Emmental and finish with a wonderfully scenic and panoramic mountain pass road.

Actually, we began at Worb and its excellent and moderately-priced Gasthof zum Löwen. From there proceed via Zäzwil to Langnau, a prosperous Emmentaler farming town and site of a simple country hotel offering good value, the Landgasthof Hirschen. The kitchen is better than average and you may want to stop for lunch. Then continue on to Schüpfheim and turn south onto the yellow road over the pass (make sure it is open) to Giswil. Once down the mountain at Giswil you can elect to turn right to Brienz or go left to Lucerne.

Gasthof zum Löwen Engisteinstrasse 3, Worb bei Bern CH-3076, tel. 031/83 23 03, fax 031/839 58 77.

Landgasthof Hirschen Langnau CH-3550, tel. 035/21517, fax 035/25623.

#5 Innsbruck to Switzerland: Austria/Switzerland

Necessary maps: Die Generalkarte # 8 for Austria and Die Generalkarte #1 and #3 for Switzerland.

Motorists traveling west across Austria and into Switzerland will encounter heavy traffic if they choose the traditional Arlberg Tunnel route and then Bludenz and Feldkirch. A much more scenic way into the country—though it will take a bit more time unless your ultimate destination is southern Switzerland—is to turn south at Landeck on red road #315. Just north of Nauders at the Italian border, veer right and a little west on red road #27, entering Switzerland at Schalkl. Then follow the signs towards Zernez. staying on #27, passing through Scuol.

At Susch, you can choose to continue on south to such destinations as St. Moritz, Pontresina and Lugano, or go northwest over the beautiful Flüelapass to Davos and on to Zürich.

May 1995