World-leading car-town it may be, but STUTTGART is certainly no Birmingham or Detroit. Instead the capital of Baden-Württemberg is surprisingly small (its population is only 600,000), laid-back and leafy, with its multitude of parks and idyllic setting in the palm of a valley – where vineyards thrive – shaping it more than the presence of industrial giants.
The town – and its name – has its origins in a stud farm: a "Stutengarten" was established here in 950 AD and a black stallion still graces the city's heraldic crest. It developed as a trade centre and in 1311 became the seat of the Württemberg family. However, the city only really took control of the region once Napoleon made Württemberg a kingdom and Stuttgart its capital in 1805. Eighty years later Daimler and Karl Benz mapped out Stuttgart's future as a motor city.
The town's industrial prowess was duly punished during World War II, when bombs rained on the Altstadt, resulting in a town that today feels rather bereft of history, though there is high culture aplenty in its heavyweight museums, particularly the Staatsgalerie's art collections and in the archeological treasures of the Landesmuseum Württemberg. Nevertheless, you're not likely to spend much time in its centre: many of its main sights, most notably the excellentMercedes-Benz-Museum and Porsche Museum, are in the suburbs, along with the city's parks, which contain a series of set-piece attractions, including Schloss Solitude and a good zoo – all reachable on the excellent public transport system. There's good hiking among vineyards here too, and wine buffs will want to sample some regional treats in Stuttgart's celebrated Weinstuben, or wine bars.
Despite the wine, Stuttgart tends, somewhat unfairly, to have a reputation as being a bit dull. Certainly don't arrive expecting the nightlife of Munich, Berlin, Hamburg or Cologne, but there's plenty going on. Things become lively in April, during the three-week Stuttgarter Frühlingsfest which salutes spring with beer and grilled sausages galore; in August when the open-air Sommerfest takes over the Schlossplatz with live music and grilled food; and the Stuttgarter Weindorf later in the month. Stuttgart also plays host to Germany's largest Christmas Market in December, but the town's really big event in town is the late September, sixteen-day-long Cannstatter Volksfest, the sizeable local equivalent to Munich's Oktoberfest, but as yet undiscovered by invading armies of tourist boozers.