As I sat on the patio of an Alpine hotel in Southern Germany, wine glass in hand, listening to church bells echo off the mountains, I felt there was no better—or more peaceful—place to be. Whether you’re seeking relaxation or adventure, the Bavarian Alps are a wonderful destination in any season.
My husband and I took a side trip to Upper Bavaria this spring, when visiting friends in the Czech Republic. We visited Grainau (GRINE-ow) and Garmisch-Partenkirchen (GAR-mish PAR-tin-kirk-en), resort towns at the foot of Germany’s tallest mountain, the Zugspitze. On the map it’s roughly 60 miles south of Munich and 115 miles west of Salzburg. If you’re visiting Germany’s popular Neuschwanstein Castle, you’re less than 30 miles away.
In warm weather, the area is perfect for mountain climbing or casual hiking, kayaking across alpine lakes, or relaxing in the spa facilities of what Europeans refer to as a “wellness hotel.” In winter months, you can enjoy world-class skiing and snowboarding, candlelight snowshoeing, and more. In every season you get postcard-perfect Alpine meadows, mountain views, and chalet-style architecture. Dining and lodging options are abundant.
WHERE TO GO
Bavarian Tourism Site: An overview of the region.
Grainau: A village at the base of the Zugspitze, southwest of the larger and more well-known resorts of Garmisch and Partenkirchen. If you like things just a little quieter, this is the place to be. You can park your car at your hotel and easily manage the picturesque town by foot. While smaller than the neighboring towns, it doesn’t lack for places to stay, eat, or things to do.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen: Sister towns with everything you’d expect from high-end resort areas in a beautiful and historic Bavarian setting.
WHERE TO STAY
Wellness hotels: These are hotels with spa facilities, designed to meet the après-exercise needs of skiers, hikers, or any vacationer looking to soothe tired muscles. Typically they offer a pool, multiple saunas of different heat intensities, a whirlpool, a steam room, and a plunge pool or cold shower to bring your temperature back down. Most also offer a variety of massage and body treatments.
Staying at a wellness hotel is the way to a perfectly balanced day: get your physical activity in a stunning setting, hit the wellness area in the late afternoon, enjoy a big dinner right at your resort, and you’re ready to go again the next morning. While I was concerned that I’d want to leave the premises of our wellness hotel to dine elsewhere, I found I was relieved not to—having to only walk downstairs to dine made my tired legs (and the rest of me) very happy.
Hotel Alpenhof: We loved this traditional family-run hotel in Grainau, which has wellness facilities and a lovely wood-paneled restaurant with mountain views. If you choose the half-board option both breakfast and dinner are included. Each day you’ll be seated at “your table” and served by friendly wait staff who quickly become familiar with your needs. (After the first meal they remembered I definitely needed coffee but my husband did not; that we needed an English-language menu; and that we were likely very, very thirsty.) The restaurant served tasty Bavarian food that was much lighter than the fare I expected; vegetarian options are also available. Be sure to ask for a room facing the mountains.
Schloss-Elmau Retreat: Luxury hotel where the 2015 G7 Summit was held in May.
Eibsee Hotel: The only hotel on the shores of a clear and quiet Alpine lake. Includes a restaurant and wellness facilities.
Lake Eibsee: A wooded mountain lake at the foothills of the Zugspitze. Take an easy two-hour hike around or rent a bike. Rent a canoe or hire a boat to take you for a private ride. We sat at the restaurant on the water’s edge and had a pretzel, weisswurst, and a radler—the German equivalent of a sports drink, aka beer mixed with carbonated lemonade, juice, or soda.
Zugspitze: The tallest mountain in Germany is almost 3,000 meters high. Give yourself a full day to enjoy the round-trip adventure. Depending on your starting point, you buy a single ticket and take a combination of bus, cogwheel train, and soaring cable car to get to the top the easy way. Along the route are places to eat, rest in a lounge chair, and gaze at the sights, and take photos—many, many photos.
• Warm-weather activities:
• Cold-weather activities
• Getting to the top: It took a fair amount of web-surfing for me to understand exactly how I’d be getting to the top of the mountain. This site explains it best.
Mount Wank: First of all, it’s pronounced vonk. We knew we wouldn’t be hiking the Zugspitze; climbing the Wank was more our style. Challenging but doable at 1,780 meters, the Wank has well-signed trails; we hiked up and took the Wankbahn lift back down. If hiking is not your thing, you can ride the Wankbahn all or part of the way. A mountain restaurant and sun terrace await you at the top. There’s paragliding, too.
• Warm-weather activities
• Cold-weather activities:
Neuschwanstein Castle: The oft-photographed castle built by King Ludwig II makes for an easy day trip.
Walchensee and Kochelsee: Driving back to the Czech Republic we opted to take the alpenstrasse, Germany’s Alpine touring road, instead of jumping onto the autobahn. Our extremely curvy and scenic path took us between two beautiful lakes: Walchensee and Kochelsee. The fact that we had to drive slowly to manage the 14 turns and steep incline gave us plenty of time to enjoy the view. This is a spot on our to-do list for next time.
• Walchensee stage of the German Alpine Road:
By Therese Maring —a writer, traveler, and friend of European Market.