Why you should go: In the great schoolyard of the world, Bavaria’s the Prom Queen kid that everyone else is jealous of: devastatingly beautiful, impressively athletic, and cultured enough that you can introduce her to your parents. The capital, Munich, is its urban heart. Venture further and you’ll find chocolate-box villages and fairytale castles set against the snow-capped Alps. The big-hearted locals bubble with bravado and an independent spirit that draws comparisons with Texas -- it’s got the bahn-side wildflowers, too, and a healthy obsession with leather (just in lederhosen pants, not cowboy boots). And then there’s the beer, oh the sweet, sweet beer. It’s everywhere, and get this: even the airport has its own brewery.
Why you should go right now: Bavaria’s a state for all seasons, but go in late summer for balmy evenings in bustling biergartens and refreshing dips in glassy mountain lakes (Stanbergersee and Tegernsee should be top of your list). Now let’s talk festivals. Keep it classical at the month-long Wagner festival in Bayreuth in August, and in September, indulge your secret LARP fetish at Europe’s biggest medieval bonanza in Selb. Next up, Oktoberfest -- go big in Munich but don’t be fooled by name -- it actually starts in late September, and the hangover thrums well into November. Winter brings a blanket of snow over the forests and peaks, and plenty of powder for the slopes. Most magical of all is deepest, darkest December, when town squares are alive with log-cabin Christmas markets (here’s looking at you, Rothenburg) and the crisp air is filled by the smell of sweet glühwein. -- Jonathan Melmoth