The Glass Route – the forests of the Oberpfalz and BavariaEastern Bavaria has been a major glassmaking centre for around 700 years. Here, in the forests of the Oberpfalz and Bavaria, time seems to stand still … yet it’s where high-tech manufacturing meets traditional craftsmanship and you’ll be amazed when you visit the showrooms and outlets around the region.
This is the home of world-class manufacturers, such as F.X. Nachtmann, Zwiesel Kristallglas, Poschinger and Spiegelau; plus dozens of smaller producers who are just as committed to quality and technology, and entire villages or areas influenced by this wonderful material.
Next up is the Glass Route which passes through areas of authentic and unspoilt natural beauty where rare animals such as mink and brown bears still live. The Bavarian Forest has long been the stuff of legends, being compared to a mighty sea with wave upon wave of trees, mountains rich in lore and dense with beech, spruce and pine, hidden lakes, bubbling brooks, cool and crystal-clear, majestic gorges and the hills, shaped smooth and round by the last Ice Age.
It goes without saying, but any wine stops detailed on this page are for the benefit of hire car passengers ... designated drivers must confine themselves to drinking in the scenery.
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Medieval towns and elegant lead crystal: The Oberpfalz regionThis road trip is around 250 kilometres so before you head off why not soak up the authentic, laid back atmosphere of Weiden? Take a relaxing stroll through the charming old town and grab a quick bite in one of the pretty cafés dotted around the market square.
Leaving Weiden behind, the first stop on this leg is nearby Neustadt an der Waldnaab. The Stadtmuseum is a highlight; the glass pieces on display here give a close-up impression of the skills of the local glassmakers and cutters. A lot of lead crystal is produced in Neustadt and is made with quartz sand, potash and red lead. It’s used for ornamental glass pieces, or as imitation gems.
The local firm of F.X. Nachtmann has a sparkling reputation as one of the best in the business. Visit their factory shop, which showcases the world-class product quality and elegant designs.
Dragons and glassmakers: Furth im Wald and ArnbruckTake the St2395 from Neustadt to the nearby Czech border, then head south, where the route continues to hug the border. Continue through this remote forested area for about 80 kilometres, past the little towns of Georgenberg, Schönsee und Waldmünchen, before arriving in Furth im Wald, the self-proclaimed City of Dragons.
Furth hosts the annual “Slaying of the Dragon”, the oldest traditional folk event in Germany which culminates in the demise of the unfortunate beast. After all this excitement, relax and admire the peaceful and charming scenery as you follow the St2326 via Arrach to Glasdorf Arnbruck. What started out in the 1970s as the sale of glassware from a modest farmhouse has now become a veritable magnet for visitors: every year, hundreds of thousands of people come to see the glass gardens and sculptures, studios, galleries and factories with glassmaking demonstrations.
Where forest and glassmaking meet: St. Englmar und BodenmaisDriving through the Bavarian Forest and seeing its beauty from ground level is an amazing experience, but how about seeing it from above? After the testing drive along winding roads through forests and over mountains, stretch your legs and walk the wooden frame pathway above the trees, the Treetop Trail in St. Englmar.
You are now just half an hour away from the highest mountain in the Bavarian Forest, the Große Arber. Bodenmais is a little town at the foot of the mountain and a million crystal and glass lovers make the pilgrimage there every year. The Joska Glasparadies is 70 sq. kilometres of paradise: walk through a world of glass of all shapes and sizes and watch live demonstrations of the regional glassmaking craft. It also boasts the biggest selection of Weizen beer glasses and the biggest glass Christmas tree ornament in the world.
Pyramids in the Bavarian Forest: ZwieselZwiesel is the beating heart of Germany’s glass-making culture. This is symbolised dramatically by the world’s biggest glass pyramid, ten metres high and made of 93,665 crystal glasses.
Yes, glass is big here and the biggest name in town is Zwiesel Kristallglas AG, a key global player who erected the glass pyramid outside the factory shop. The shop has a huge selection of top-quality glass products for the home, and at 11am every day a glassmaker explains the techniques of blowing and finishing glass by hand. The manufacturing process is also demonstrated in the factory sales area.
There are a number of other attractions in Zwiesel that are related to glass and well worth a visit, such as the remarkable glass chapel (made from 131 glass bricks), the Zwiesel sculpture trail (where local artists exhibit their work) and, last but not least, the Theresienthal Glass Museum, housed inside the romantic little Theresienthal castle museum.
Walking in the glass garden: FrauenauOverlooking Frauenau is the second-highest mountain in the Bavarian Forest, the Rachel. Lying in the shadow of the mountain, Frauenau has become an important stop on the Glass Route. Maybe that’s because here glass is not just seen as a functional object, but a medium through which artists and poets can express themselves.
Erwin Eisch was a pioneer from Frauenau who brought the studio movement to Germany, taking glassmaking out of the big factories and into the studio. You can admire the results of his efforts in the Glass Garden and the Frauenau Glass Museum which is unrivalled anywhere in the world. Enjoying the status of a Bavarian State Museum, it documents the vibrant history of glassmaking in the region and serves as a gallery for modern glass art.
Make sure you also visit the Poschinger glass works where you can browse the company shop or take a factory tour.
Travel tip: from the Bavarian Forest national park to the river DanubeTake the St2132 from Frauenau through the Klingenbrunner Forest to Spiegelau, home of the Spiegelau glass works. You are now in the middle of the Bavarian Forest national park, a verdant, densely forested area and intact environment supporting wildlife such as wolves and bears.
Test your driving skills on the beautiful 35-kilometre stretch across the hills and valleys to Neuschönau (where you can walk on another wooden treetop trail) and then on to the district capital of Freyung.
The stellar scenery continues to delight on the next 50 kilometres through Waldkirchen. Enjoy the curves on the winding road to Hautzenberg and on to the mighty Danube at the gates of Passau, the picturesque town framed by three rivers.
Passau: the Venice of BavariaPassau is where no less than three rivers meet: Danube, Inn and Ilz. The strong influence of Italian architecture in the town makes the “Venice of Bavaria” a cultural highlight and a fitting end to the Glass Route.
Explore the narrow lanes to find the architectural gems of the old town, stuck on a peninsula between the cathedral and the Veste Oberhaus fortress. Glass enthusiasts can keep on theme with a visit to the amazing collection in the Glasmuseum. Swiss dramatist Friedrich Dürrenmatt was one such enthusiast, dubbing the museum with 30,000 pieces from across Europe the “world’s most beautiful glass house”. The priceless masterpieces on display here range from the baroque to the modern period.
End your trip on theme and enjoy stellar views of Passau with a cruise on the Danube Crystal Ship, which is decorated with literally millions of stones made by crystal manufacturer Swarovski.
Recommendations for hungry and weary travellers
- Bräuwirt, Weiden (ale house)
- Angerhof, Sport- und Wellnesshotel in St. Englmar
- Glashotel Zwiesel
- Zur Waldbahn, Zwiesel, Restaurant & Hotel
- Romantisches Wellnesshotel St. Florian, Frauenau
- Landgasthaus Schuster (Gourmet), Freyung
- Hotel Wilder Mann, Passau
Image credits in chronological order:
(1) Glasmuseum Frauenau; (2) Glasmuseum Theresienthal; (3) Tourist-Information Furth im Wald; (4) Stephan Moder; (5) Zwiesel Kristallglas AG; (6) Stephan Moder; (7) Tourismusbüro Waldkirchen; (8) Grebennikov Verlag