Arriving in Frankfurt, Germany a few days before May 1st this year and my goal was to make my way to the Bavarian countryside. While other European countries might be a bit disconcerting when it comes to driving, Germany is a breeze. The roadways are easy to navigate and the little picturesque towns are more than welcoming.
So what else, but a lovely Hyundai Elantra might do in this country of fast driving and great scenery?
For Hyundai lovers the 2014 Hyundai Elantra has a number of changes that include a bit of a facelift as well as a sportier trim level added with sport-tuned suspension. There are also some impressive new techno options included as well.
As usual this compact sedan gives you a big bang for the buck like all Hyundai's tend to do, but better still is the long warranty coverage attached to the brand.
Competition for the 2014 Hyundai Elantra includes the 2014 Ford Focus, Mazda 3 and the Honda Civic, all worthy adversaries, but Hyundai keeps up with the pack running alongside these other sedans front and center.
Available in three trims, the Elantra offers the SE, Limited and Sport to choose from depending on your needs.
The standard SE has 15-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, power accessories, cruise control, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, 60/40-split folding rear seats and audio components like six speakers and a CD player, satellite radio and USB/iPod interface.
On the SE you can also choose the optional Preferred Package adding 16-inch wheels, automatic headlights, and audio connect with voice controls, a touchscreen audio interface, rearview camera and heated front seats.
On the higher end Limited its all the Preferred Package goodies standard and additional 17-inch wheels, fog lights, LED accent and taillights, turn signal on the mirrors, leather upholstery, a six-way power driver seat, heated rear seats and Blue Link.
The Sport trim includes most of the features from the Limited trim with the exception of heated rear seats and Blue Link, but add to this trim the more powerful engine, a sunroof and keyless ignition/entry.
The 2014 Hyundai Elantra offers a smooth ride and inside it couldn't be more comfortable with a chic design and well placed knobs and dials along with a center stack that fits into the design without overpowering it. The elements throughout integrate sturdy plastic and the Limited luxury feel will appeal to the driver looking for style, comfort and higher-end technological options. The touchscreen is 4.3-inches as the norm and creates an environment of ease in driving since everything is at your fingertips as needed.
Roomy too, the new Elantra styling gives headroom top consideration for the driver and passenger, in the back seat it is a bit more limited, but legroom gets high marks even if headroom in the back is a bit more of a challenge for the taller passenger.
Of course, the real impression comes from behind the wheel and in this the 2014 Hyundai Elantra will not disappoint and with 31 miles per gallon combined you can't go wrong and even better, the Sport trim addition just took the entire Elantra family up a notch. The quieter ride in the 2014 coupled with an overall ease of driving puts this new upgraded Elantra design at the front of the class.
As your drive the Hyundai around the countryside, make your first stop the city of Wurzburg where I was told that I would be staying for the night in a lovely property overlooking a wine vineyard.
My story in addition to getting the scoop on the Maypole celebration happening a few days after my arrival was to also taste the local Bavarian wines and stay at a variety of sightseeing hotels and castles that dot this region's countryside.
And so, tucked away on a hilly street in Wurzburg my first night of bliss was in Hotel Schloss Steinberg. To describe this hotel it is fair to say it offers a touch of history and a vibe of old world charm, but to my surprise I found out the property was quite new, nevertheless looking like an ancient fortress.
Even so, there are plenty of old and ancient stops in Wurzburg, so for the history buff head to the Wurzburg Residence, which is a UNESCO site. There is also the old town with its cathedral and Marketplatz as well as a variety of additional features that make this city a winning stop for a few nights.
Wurzburg actually dates back to the year 1000 B.C. when a Celtic stronghold was built atop the Marienberg hill and in fact, the Marienberg Fortress is the landmark of the city built in 704 and in the 13th century a castle was built here as well.
The city is actually the gateway to the country's Romantic Road and nothing is more romantic than finding oneself in the vineyard overlooking the city and enjoying a fine glass of wine, which is what I found myself doing on day number two of my German sojourn arriving promptly at 9:30 a.m. to begin my tasting at Weingut am stein. The winery and vineyard is at the base of the Würzburger Stein and covers 20 hectares with Silvaner, Pinot and Riesling as well as newer varieties Rieslaner, Müller-Thurgau and Scheurebe. The winery is situated on the side of the most famous Franconian vineyard and the restaurant on the premises is called Reisers, a topnotch affair with chef Bernhard Reiser at the helm and offering interesting new gastronomic options consisting of bold, yet uncomplicated dishes that feature local fare.
For a second evening I made my way to Burg Rabenstein, an amazing fortress of a castle sitting high on a stony fortress looking into the Valley of Ailsbach. You can feel the spirit of the ancestors living here with a history of the castle that begins around 1188 and even more interesting is the countless times the castle has been destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries.
For dinner and drinks sitting in front of the old fireplace in the Fireplace Lounge, the heart of the castle, and the experience takes you back to an era of the area's history when all the world revolved around this stone castle fortress.
Nearby the castle an old cave, called Sophie's Cave, is a virtual underground palace and in the summertime they hold concerts inside among the timeless stalagtites and stalagmites hanging, each forming for over a thousand years. Inside the cave too there are the remains of the one the world's most complete cave-bear skeletons still in existence.
Next stop; I was finally just a day away from the May 1st celebration and the raising of the Maypole. For that I headed to Tegemsee and a lovely little boutique hotel the Relais Chalet Wilhelmy in Bad Wiessee.
On May 1st I was taken to a nearby town where the Maypole began being raised at around 10:00 a.m. and concluded several hours later with many of the town folks wearing traditional Bavarian clothes.
May 1st in Bavaria is officially known as Maypole Day and it is when villages around the area get together to celebrate with maypoles designed with ribbons and wreaths and topped off with the traditional dark beer called "Maibock" being served for the occasion. Basically, beginning spring in the villages, the tree that is used is a pine tree and while not practiced as a pagan ritual anymore, this celebration dates back to the 13th century. As I was watching the maypole celebration I noticed that the men were using smaller trees to hoist the pine that has been stripped of the bark, and along with a lot of manpower, slowly the pole is raised. At the top, the crown jewel, a wreath from which sausages, bacon, wine and schnapps bottles are often hung.
Indeed, while the pagan aspect of the tradition has been lost over the years for those who do not understand it, the camaraderie is still very strong in this part of the Germany.
Finally, my last night was spent in the lovely town of Munich, where 24 hours is certainly not enough to see and do it all. However, highlights include the walking tour and it is the best way to get acclimated to the city quickly. The Marienplatz Square is a great place to begin a tour and a must see is the Church of Our Lady, a gothic cathedral and parish church situated right in the middle of the city's shopping area.
A trip to Bavaria for the celebrations held year round is the perfect vacation, but if you can find the time come May 1st, a Maypole experience is one you won't forget.
For more information on traveling to Germany visit www.germany.travel/en.