Where Heather travelled in 2010

As one year ends and another begins, I review my travelling year at Heather on her travels and highlight the places I’ve visited and things I’ve enjoyed. What’s on my New Year list? Seeing some more of Scandanavia, back to visit my sister on Zakynthos, some explorations of northern Egypt with a friend who’s in Alexandria (avoiding pyramids at all costs), hunting out more hidden corners of England and any other interesting opportunities that come my way. Here’s what I enjoyed in 2010;

January brings a stay at the Mandarin Oriental and tea at Kensington Palace

January and February are the dreary months weatherwise in England but there’s still plenty to enjoy in London, where many museums and galleries are free and indoor attractions come into their own. I was brought up in London often popping back to visit my parents, and I spent a delightful weekend with my daughter at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Hyde Park, where we were treated like princesses, ate Princess Diana’s favourite crab cakes and went shopping at Top Shop on Oxford street, that favourite of teenagers. A little later in the month and I was back in London to meet a friend, when we spent the day at Kensington Palace, admiring Princess Diana’s frocks, encountering a former palace resident, the Countess of Marlbrough and treating ourselves to afternoon tea at the Orangery.

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To Kensington Palace and tea at the Orangery
A suite for a princess at the Mandarin Oriental – video
Affordable Luxuries at the Mandarin Oriental
Weekend at the Mandarin Oriental – podcast

Entrance at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London

Entrance at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London

February – and we’re nearly snowed in at our Welsh country cottage in the Brecon Beacons

In a contrast to city life we got a breath of fresh air in February in the half term holidays when we found a cosy Welsh cottage in the Brecon Beacons. My thoughts of spring sunshine and daffodils were lost in a fall of snow that almost threatened to maroon us half way up the mountain, even though the fields around Crickhowell at the bottom of the valley were still grassy green. The children loved our snowy break with walks along the quarry tracks on the slopes above our cottage, making snow angels and sliding in the snow down the steep hillside.

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A snowy break at Laswern Fawr holiday in the Brecon Beacons, Wales

Snowy sheep at Laswern Fawr cottage, Nr Crickhowell, Brecon Beacons, Wales

Snowy sheep at Laswern Fawr cottage, Nr Crickhowell, Brecon Beacons, Wales

March – and we take a creative break in Manchester

You may think that Manchester is all about nightlife, football and shopping, but I discovered Manchester’s arty side on a weekend break hosted by Creative Tourist, staying at the stylish, modern MacDonald Hotel, Manchester. We observed Manchester’s industrial past proudly on display and buzzed around on the new Metrolink that took us out to Salford Quay to seek out the pictures of LS Lowry, Manchester’s favourite son and the moving Don McCullin Images of War exhibition at the Imperial War museum just opposite. We completed our whistlestop exploration of Manchester’s museum scene with a close up of the Mona Lisa, naked as you’ve never seen her before (well without her varnish anyway). Before we left we just managed to fit in a Sunday morning stroll around the Northern Quarter, all vintage and street-art. I’m looking forward to being back in Manchester in March for Travel Bloggers Unite.

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Up close with the Mona Lisa at MOSI in Manchester
Getting to know LS Lowry at The Lowry in Manchester
Shaped by war – Don McCullin at the Imperial War Museum in Manchester

The Lowry Arts Centre in Manchester

The Lowry Arts Centre in Manchester

April when we stay at a Cotswold Country Inn and take a dip in the Roman Baths

A weekend break in the country drew us out of Bristol again with a promise of picture perfect pale stone Cotswold loveliness. The Kings Head Inn at Bledington, proved charmingly English, set on a village green complete with babbling brook and quacking ducks, with views over the fields from our bedroom window. We tramped across the muddy fields to Stow on the Wold for tea, but returned in time to have supper by the open fire in the bar. Later that month I was in Bath, showing my daughter’s French exchange friend all the tourist sites, including some I’d never seen such as the Roman Baths which are a must see for any visitor. Sometimes you have to be a tourist in your own back yard.

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Cotswold country charm at the Kings Head Inn at Bledington – Video
Fancy a dip at the Roman Baths at Bath?

The Roman Baths in Bath

The Roman Baths in Bath

May – and we seek the sun on the Greek island of Zakynthos

In May I finally got the sunshine I was longing for in our annual visit to my sister who runs the Windmill Studios Hotel and Windmill Bay Hotel in Argassi with her Greek husband Denis. We’d seen plenty of things over the 20 years we’ve been going but still managed to find a few we hadn’t tried yet, like the a visit to the Monastery of St Denis, the island’s patron saint, with a quick stop to photograph the famous Smuggler’s cove at Navagio. We also loved the day we spent on a boat trip around Laganas bay, known for it’s loggerhead turtles. We didn’t spot any turtles this time but we had a great time jumping off the boat and swimming in sea caves in the refreshing turquoise water.

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Visiting St Denis Monastery on Zakynthos – in Greece
13 Zante – my Greek island holiday – podcast
A turtle spotting boat trip on Zante – in Greece

In Zante town harbour, Zakynthos, Greece

In Zante town harbour, Zakynthos, Greece

June and we’re going underground into Churchill’s London war-rooms

I was back in London with my son to visit my parents and we spent an afternoon visiting the Churchill war rooms, near Horseguard’s Parade. It was a facinating glimpse of the war operations conducted here by Churchill in his secret underground bunker, with offices and sleeping quarters for Churchill and large numbers of his war staff, and war maps and telephones still laid out, as well as a museum devoted to Churchill’s life. This is a London attraction that deserves to be better known, especially for those interested in history, and could be combined with a visit to nearby Buckingham Palace, St James Park and Horseguards Parade.

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Into Churchill’s underground bunker – Churchill war rooms in London

Churchill War Rooms in London

Churchill War Rooms in London

July – we make a pilgrimage to Altötting and see the passion play at Oberammergau

July was a special month as we took a trip to Bavaria in Southern Germany, to see the famous Passion play at Oberammergau. The Passion Play only takes place every 10 years and has been performed by the residents of the Bavarian Town since 1632, when they made a vow to perform a passion play if the village was spared the plague that was then ravaging Germany. The play is performed in a modern auditorium, with an extremely professional production of choral singing telling the dramatic story of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. Afterwards we were also able to wander around the town itself to see the painted houses and wood carvings against the backdrop of stunning Alpine scenery. We also stayed for a couple of days in the pilgrimage town of Altötting, where we saw the small shrine of the Black Madonna in the town square, as well as the many other beautiful churches in the town, and hired bikes to seek out the badesee or local swimming lake.

Read the articles

12 Oberammergau Passion Play and Altötting in Bavaria – Podcast
A pilgrimage to see the Black Madonna at Altötting in Germany
Painted houses and wood carving at Oberammergau – in Bavaria, Germany

Pilatus House in Oberammergau in Bavaria, Germany

Pilatus House in Oberammergau in Bavaria, Germany

July in Malaga – seafood on the beach on the Costa del Sol

Later in July I flew to the south of Spain to stay with a friend at Benelmadena near Malaga on the Costa Del Sol. This is a region of Spain that’s full of British expats and beloved of the English package holiday makers as well as many Spanish families on holiday, and as a consequence the coastline has been highly developed in recent years. We spent our time eating seafood in the many beach restaurants known as Chiringuitos and escaped for a day into the hills behind Marbella to visit the pretty village of Ojén, one of the many Pueblos Blancos or white hill villages that you can visit in Andalucia.

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A visit to Ojén – the Pueblos Blancos of Andalucia
Gaudi glitz at the Puerto Marina – Benalmadena, Spain
Seafood on the beach at the Chiringuito in Spain

Sardine barbeque on the beach at Fuengirola

Sardine barbeque on the beach at Fuengirola

August – and we head for Hungary for a family holiday in Budapest and Lake Balaton

For our family holiday we headed for Hungary, spending a couple of days in Budapest before driving to Lake Balaton, a large freshwater lake that’s a very popular holiday destination for Hungarians and Germans. In Budapest we drove out to Memento park to see enormous statues that had been preserved from Budapest’s communist era, climbed up to the Fisherman’s bastion and went for a swim on Margaret Island. On the Southern shores of Lake Balaton, we based ourself at the friendly Hullam Hostel in Révfülöp and visited the castle at Sigliget, the palace at Keszthely and floated among the water lilies in the thermal lake at Heviz, as well as taking a ferry trip across the lake to the busier resorts on the southern shore.

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Thermal springs and rubber rings at Hévíz – in Hungary
The Festetics Palace and the marzipan museum at Keszthely – in Hungary
Memento park – Icons of Budapest’s communist past

At Memento Park near Budapest

At Memento Park near Budapest

September – far a walking break in the French Alps  on the Tour de Mont Blanc

As the summer holidays finished I took an early September break with my friend Julia to walk in the mountains above Chamonix on the Tour de Mont Blanc Trail. This long distance circular path normally takes 12 days to walk through the mountains of Switzerland, France and Italy around the Mont Blanc mountain range, but we did a cut down mini-version in 3 days. We hiked up above the Chamonix valley, staying in basic mountain huts, with amazing views of Mont Blanc on the opposite side of the valley, visiting the glacial Lac Blanc and the ice cave in the Mer de glace at Montenvers. We enjoyed the experience so much that we’re already planning to go back in 2011 to walk another section of the Tour de Mont Blanc trail.

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Inside the glacier – at the Mer de Glace above Chamonix
Video diary – walking the Tour de Mont Blanc path above Chamonix
Day 3 on the Tour de Mont Blanc – Flégère to Lac Blanc

At the start of our walk in Les Houches on the Tour de Mont Blanc

At the start of our walk in Les Houches on the Tour de Mont Blanc

October – family fun in northern France, near Paris

At October half term we took a family break in Northern France with Eurocamp, staying at La Croix du Vieux Pont parc at Berny Riviere. We stayed in a mobile home on this parc that has plenty to keep families busy with an indoor swimming pool, boating and fishing on the lake, cycling and a bar and restaurant on site. We used the parc as a base from which to explore northern France, with a day trip to Paris for the obligitory climb up the Eiffel Tower, a visit to Disneyland Paris and time to explore some of the First World War battlefields such as the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge that mark this region of France.

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Our supercalifragilistic day at the Magical kingdom of Disneyland Paris
The Eiffel Tower – Icon of Paris or tourist trap?
Visiting the Canadian War memorial at Vimy Ridge, France

Halloween in Frontierland at Disneyland, Paris

Halloween in Frontierland at Disneyland, Paris

November and I link up with other travel bloggers at TBEX in Copenhagen

In November I was off to Copenhagen to attend the Travel Blog Exchange or TBEX conference in Copenhagen staying in the cosy Avenue Hotel. The conference was held in the amazing Wallmans Cirkus, an old circus building that now hosts a dinner and caberet show in the evening but was used for the conference activities in the day. I was a speaker at the event on Using images effectively for your blog, and enjoyed other highlights such as the  SEO skit, listening to other speakers, special events such as the tour of the Georg Jensen Silver Workshops and eating in some great restaurants. I didn’t spend as much time as I’d like seeing Copenhagen itself, so I’m hoping to get back again some time in 2011 to explore the city more thoroughly.

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Burning the midnight oil – my TBEX Copenhagen diary
TBEX Copenhagen – what were the highlights for you?
Cosy up in Copenhagen at Avenue Hotel

Heather presenting at TBEX

Heather presenting at TBEX

December – it’s Christmas!

I took a breather from travelling in December and spent the time getting into the Christmas spirit, buying presents, hanging the Christmas decorations from around the world, and generally preparing for our typically British festivities with turkey and all the trimmings. I hope you also had a very happy Christmas and here’s looking forward to more exciting travels for us all in 2011.

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Join me for a traditional English Christmas dinner
A terribly British Christmas
A very Happy Christmas from Heather on her travels

Trifle and Christmas pudding

Trifle and Christmas pudding

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12 Oberammergau Passion Play and Altötting in Bavaria – Podcast

In Podcast 12 in my travel podcast series, I talk about visiting the Oberammergau Passion Play in Bavaria, Germany and also visiting the pilgrimage town of Altötting that’s known for the shrine of the Black Madonna where many miracles are believed to have taken place. You’ll hear about  our walk around Altötting with many stories and anecdotes about the religious sites there and our afternoon cycling to the swimming lake or badesee. I’ll tell you about the painted houses of Oberammergau and wood carvings, with useful information for attending the Passion Play and my impressions of the play performance with background music from the Passion Play.

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Jesus enters Jerusalem Oberammergau Passion Play

Jesus enters Jerusalem Oberammergau Passion Play

  • We started our short visit to Bavaria in the town of Altötting, where we had a tour of the town with a local guide who really brought the place to life with his many stories and anecdotes.
  • Altötting is best known as a pilgrimage town for the Shrine of the Black Madonna situated in the Chapel of Mercy on the main town square. The dark interior of the shrine and small dark statue of the Madonna and child are richly embellished with silver ornaments and the caskets containing the hearts of the Kings of Bavaria, as well as solid silver statues in front of the altar which have a story behind them.
  • On our tour around Altötting we visited the church of Phillip and Jacob with the famous Tod von Eding clock with a statue of the grim reaper and the church of the patron saint of the town, St Conrad, and the water fountain outside his church where the water is thought to be holy as it flows over a relic of the saint’s finger bone.
  • We heard about the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1980 and how he came to plant the linden tree outside the church.
  • We also hired bikes at the local bike shop in Altötting and cycled along the path beside the River Inn as far as the badesee or swimming lake near Passau.
Pilate condemns Jesus Oberammergau Passion Play

Pilate condemns Jesus Oberammergau Passion Play

  • The passion play at Oberammergau dates back to 1632 when plague was sweeping through Germany and the villagers made a vow that if they were spared, they would perform a passion play every 10 years.
  • The play is a community effort and to participate, all the actors and musicians must be either born in the village or have lived for 20 years in the village.
  • We found that everything was very well organised in the village for visitors and you buy a package of play ticket, meals and accommodation, with free shuttle buses to take you around the area.
  • We found that the town of Oberammergau itself is an attractive place to visit, and even in the years when the play is not being held is well worth a visit, with painted houses and is also known for it’s wood carving.
Way of the Cross Oberammergau Passion Play

Way of the Cross Oberammergau Passion Play

  • The play is performed in a large theatre which seats 4500 people and is open at one end with a view of the hills behind and although the audience are under cover, the cast and stage are open to the elements.
  • I was impressed by the crowd scenes with around 200 cast members on stage at a time, including young children and animals, making a striking scene.
  • The play starts with Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey and continues with scenes from his life which were broken up by orchestral and choral music and with ‘living tableaux’ scenes from the old testament.
  • The first half of the play lasts for 2.5 hours starting at 2.30pm in the afternoon with a break of 3 hours for dinner before the start of the second half.
  • The second half was more dramatic than the first with the trial of Jesus and his walk with the cross, culminating with the crucifixion scene. The darkness falling also added to the atmosphere and again the crowd scenes especially during the trial of Jesus really made you a sense of what it would have been like to be there.
  • The play ends with the scene of Mary Magdalene in the garden discovering the cloth that Jesus’ body was wrapped in and Jesus comes forward and shows himself with the candles and torches really adding to the atmosphere.
  • If you want to see the passion play, this year’s season will end in October 2010 and the next performance will be in 2020, as the play is only held every 10 years, so your best opportunity would be to check with specialist tour operators, whether they have any spaces left on organised tours.
Oberammergau Passion Play Theatre

Oberammergau Passion Play Theatre

If you enjoyed this travel podcast please check out my other podcasts in my Travel Podcast Archive

Visitor Resources for Altötting

While in Altötting we stayed in Hotel Zur Post, a pleasant and traditional family run hotel right on the main square.
Visit the Altötting official tourism website
Visit the Jerusalem Panorama in Altötting website
Information on the walking and cycling tours around Altötting

Visitor Resources for Oberammergau

Visit the Official Oberammergau Passion Play Passionsspiele website
Visit the Oberammergau official tourism website
We took our tour to Oberammergau with Pax Travel who organise holidays to many other pilgrimage destinations.
Looking for a hotel in Oberammergau? Compare prices and book at Hotels Combined

Photo Credits: Passionplay photos are copyright of the Oberammergau Passionplay website and photo of theatre interior by Heather Cowper

More articles about Oberammergau and Altötting

A pilgrimage to see the Black Madonna at Altötting in Germany
Tips for seeing the Oberammergau Passion Play
Painted houses and wood carving at Oberammergau – in Bavaria, Germany

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heatheronhertravels' Germany - Oberammergau in Bavaria photoset heatheronhertravels’ Germany – Oberammergau in Bavaria photoset

 

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A pilgrimage to see the Black Madonna at Altötting in Germany

August 4, 2010 by  
Filed under Bavaria, Europe, Germany, Leisure, Sightseeing

During our visit to Bavaria to see the Oberammergau Passion Play we spent a couple of nights at the pilgrimage town of Altötting, an hour or so’s drive east of Munich. I’ve heard that the town is the German equivalent of Lourdes in its importance as a site of pilgrimage, and over the three days of Pentecost 30,000 people converge on the town for a candle-lit procession around the town square. Altötting was somewhat quieter during our stay and was a very pleasant, picturesque and relaxing place to stay for a couple of days.

Chapel of Mercy at Altötting in Germany

Chapel of Mercy at Altötting in Germany

After our flight into Munich we arrived by coach at our Hotel Zur Post, Altötting, right on the main square and had the rest of the day free to try some Bavarian specialities for lunch in the cafes around the square, followed by a wander round to get our bearings. We didn’t spend too much time that afternoon looking around the many churches as we knew that we would be having a guided walking tour of the town on the next morning.

The heart of the town is the small Chapel of Mercy at one end of the town square, housing the shrine to the Black Madonna, with a small black statue of the Madonna and baby Jesus, clothed in richly embroidered robes. The Black Madonna is believed to have granted many miracles, the legend apparently originating in the 15th century when a young child who had drowned nearby was brought before the altar by his desperate mother, whose prayers to the Madonna were answered and the child was revived.

There is an ambulatory or covered walkway around the exterior of the chapel where every inch of the walls and roof are covered by small pictures depicting the miracles experienced by those who have offered their prayers there, all with the phrase Maria Hat Geholfen (Maria has helped) You can even see a collection of crutches and leg braces that have been discarded by those who have been cured of their ailments. There are also wooden crosses available in the covered walkway of the chapel and the custom is for the faithful to carry a cross three times around the perimeter while praying to the Madonna for forgiveness from their sins.

The Chapel of Mercy at Altötting,  Germany

The Chapel of Mercy at Altötting, Germany

The Chapel of Mercy at Altötting, Germany

The Chapel of Mercy at Altötting, Germany

The interior of the chapel is painted black, the colour once created from the soot of the many candles but the colour is now perpetuated in the painted walls. In front of the altar are a couple of large solid silver statues – the one on the right was commissioned by Emperor Karl Albrechy after his son recovered from a fatal illness, using 41 pounds of silver, the same weight as his son.

Black Madonna at Altötting in Bavaria

Black Madonna at Altötting in Bavaria

Opposite kneels the silver statue of Saint Conrad of Parzham who was the sexton of the St Anna’s Capuchin monastery and is buried in St Conrad’s church.Within the inner part of the shrine, the dark walls are covered by silver ornaments and from the ceiling hang silver caskets, containing the hearts of the Kings of Bavaria from the Wittlesbach dynasty, starting with Elector Maxmillian I, interred here after their death. For this reason and because of the geographical position and religious significance of the town, Altötting was called the ‘Heart of Bavaria’ by Pope Benedict XVI, who was born nearby in the town of Marktl and has a close connection to Altötting.

After starting our tour beside the shrine, we followed our guide around the many churches of the town that have been built over the centuries to house all the pilgrims coming there. I was reminded how worthwhile it can be to hire a local guide as we were regaled with little stories and anecdotes that brought the town to life for us. After the 30 years war ended in 1670 the townspeople decided to make the current large open square. We learned how there were originally plans to build a larger dome over the small chapel, with the foundations marked out by the hedges around the chapel, but the money ran out so the chapel was left unchanged and a larger church later built in 1876 alongside the chapel.

Tod von Eding clock at Altötting, Germany

Tod von Eding clock at Altötting, Germany

Our guide pointed out the metal cockerel on top of the steeple, placed there to remind of what Jesus had said to Peter that ‘before the cock crows you will have betrayed me three times’. If you wish to light a candle, you do so at the small kiosk near the front of the chapel as candles are not allowed inside for fear of fire.

We visited the church of  St Phillip and Jacob where our guide pointed out that the ornate and brightly coloured statues of the saints were not made of plaster, but traditionally carved from wood and then coloured with a lacquered finish. At the back of the church was the much photographed Tod von Eding clock with the statue of the Grim Reaper on top, swinging slowly from side to side.

It was put there to remind everyone of the number of people who had died from plague and during the 30 year war (1618-1648) and as an altar boy, it was our guide’s responsibility to wind up the dropping movement that powered the clock before it was converted to electricity. In the basilica we paused in front of a group of small photos of men from the town who had been killed during the second world war, and our guide told us how he had six brothers, three of whom had been killed in the war – ‘Crazy War’ was all he said.

St Conrad's Water fountain Altötting

St Conrad's Water fountain Altötting

I particularly liked the interior of the church of St Conrad, part of the monastery where Saint Conrad of Parzham was a Capuchin friar. He died in 1894 and was beatified in 1934.  In contrast to the other ornate churches this one was much more simple and in the base of the altar, the remains of the saint were interred in a life size metal statue, with his skull on display. We could see the small room where the Saint had slept as a doorkeeper at the church. Outside was a water fountain coming from a statue of the Saint and as we wondered at the steady stream of people coming to fill their water bottles, we were told that the water was considered holy, as it flowed over the fingerbone, in a casket, of the saint himself.

Just outside the church of St Conrad, our guide pointed out a small tree, now known as the Pope’s Linden tree, which was planted by Pope John Paul II on his visit to Altötting in 1980. Our guide told us how there was originally no time in the schedule for the Pope to stop outside the church and ‘throw a couple of shovels of mud’ over the tree, but how he had found someone who spoke Polish to have a quiet word with the Pope who had agreed to stop and plant the tree. As the guide showed us a photo of him meeting the pope and the rosary that he had been given by Pope John Paul II, a number of people instinctively reached out to touch the blessed rosary that had been touched by the Pope.

St Conrad's church in Altötting, Germany

St Conrad's church in Altötting, Germany

The Panorama at Altötting, Germany

The Panorama at Altötting, Germany

And so, with many other little interesting stories our tour passed around all the many churches of Altötting. At the end of our tour, we took an optional visit to the Jerusalem Panorama at Altötting. This panoramic painting on the curved walls of the large, dome shaped room, depicted the city of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’s death with different scenes from the Crucifixion around the walls. As you stood in the centre, as if looking from a viewpoint at the countryside around, the audio-guide told the story of the scenes being viewed. The Panorama art form became very popular in the 19th century but this example, painted by Professor Gebhard Fugel in 1903  is one of the few remaining in Europe, and made an interesting addition to our pilgrimage tour of the town.

There are a number of walking and cycling trails through the area surrounding Altötting,  including the Benedict Route which takes cyclists 248 km around towns that are significant from the Pope Benedict XVI’s childhood and youth. The town would also be well worth visiting in the Advent and Christmas period with a Christmas market on the chapel square and many advent concerts in the churches.

Visitor Resources for Altötting

While in Altötting we stayed in Hotel Zur Post, a pleasant and traditional family run hotel right on the main square.
Looking for a hotel in Altotting? Compare prices and book at Hotels Combined
Visit the Altötting official tourism website
Visit the Jerusalem Panorama in Altötting website
Information on the walking and cycling tours around Altötting

Photo credits: All by Heather Cowper except photo of the interior of the Chapel of Mercy from the Altötting official tourism website

Other places you’ll enjoy in Bavaria

A cycle and cool lake swim in the badesee- in Bavaria, Germany
A Comfortable Bavarian Gasthaus at Hotel Zur Post in Altötting
Tips for seeing the Oberammergau Passion Play

www.flickr.com 

 

heatheronhertravels' Germany - Altötting in Bavaria photoset heatheronhertravels’ Germany – Altötting in Bavaria photoset

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home

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