Bavaria & Berchtesgaden
We decided to spend a long summer weekend in Bavaria, rented a car (VW Golf which seemed all too apropos) and hit the road for Berchtesgaden. If you’re looking for a non-tropical honeymoon that’s beautiful in a completely different way and shrouded in dark history, this is the vacation for you!
If you look really closely, that’s Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at the top of the mountain.
I had visited Munich and a nearby resort called Chiemsee years before but the magic of this land had long faded from my memory and as J&I descended into the lush valley of Berchtesgaden, we looked at each other with dropping jaws. Pictures honestly do this land no justice. I had to keep closing and re-opening my eyes to convince myself it was all real – it seriously felt like we were in a dream.
After checking into our hotel, we walked to the town center of Berchtesgaden to explore. I was really taken with one of the antique shops along the main road – how killer are those oryx horns?
A big reason we chose to visit Berchtesgaden (like most tourists who come) was because of its dark and stormy past. Adolf Hitler fell in love with the small and charming mountain town and built his sprawling Berghof vacation mansion in the Bavarian Alps of Obersalzberg, a small town overlooking Berchtesgaden. He spent more time there during WWII than anywhere else and it became one of his private Nazi headquarters. His influence is felt throughout the area and his sister, Paula Hitler, is buried in the town’s cemetery. To protect the grave from vandalism, her name was changed on the headstone years ago.
Our second day, we drove over to the Dokumentation Center in Obersalzberg and caught a bus up the mountain to visit Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest or Kehlsteinhaus. The history of this structure is pretty fascinating and sad (many lost their lives during the construction phase) – you can read more about it here.
After lunch at the Eagle’s Nest, we drove over to Hotel Zum Türken to explore the underground bunkers beneath the hotel. During WWII, the hotel served as a headquarters for the SS and the bunkers below connected to next-door neighbor Hitler’s residence, the Berghof. The bunkers were intended to be used as an escape route. To call these bunkers creepy would be an understatement – they were so eerie that when J would say something, I would jump because I was so on edge. The lighting is poor, the floors are wet, the walls damp and then there’s the historical reason for their existence – you basically feel like you’re in a horror movie and something bad is about to happen any second. To make it worse, these bunkers aren’t very well known so there are very few tourists that visit. We encountered one other family while we were touring them – one!
To counter-balance our heavy WWII-soaked day, we decided to drive to nearby Lake Königssee the next day for some light-hearted hiking. It’s one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever visited. I don’t think my eyes ever fully adjusted to the beauty around me that day – it was just too much. The glassy green water, the rolling fog, the majestic mountains, the quaint Bavarian boathouses … it just never felt real!
We took an electric wooden boat all the way to end of Lake Königssee and our captain treated us to a little show halfway there. He turned the boat off, grabbed a shiny horn and played a melody toward the surrounding mountains. Due to how sheer the mountains are, we heard the melody repeated seven times back. It was magical. Oh, and there are waterfalls like the one above dotting the lake. After the third, the captain quit pointing them out.
In the middle of the lake is a lovely little island home to beautiful St. Bartholomew’s church. The crimson onion domes are striking against the emerald water and it was so relaxing to walk around the island. There’s a fishery and a few other buildings.
We continued with our boat ride and took it to the very last stop as we had heard it was worth it to come here and take a hike over to the next lake. A short way into our hike, we discovered this too-adorable-for-words restaurant. I seriously expected a gnome to peek out from behind that tree and greet us – it was nuts. Seriously, some Hollywood director needs to film a fairytale right here.
J found a hiking stick and we were off … soon we came upon this:
It’s hard to see because the water was sooooo still and is reflecting the mountains perfectly but this lake was like a prettier, more glassy version of the Lake Königssee. J&I sat on the bank and just soaked it all in. If you look really closely, you’ll spot a tiny house in the green valley – there was a person blowing a horn over there and just like on the lake, we could hear it repeat again and again and again. It was amazing.
At this point we were starving so we turned around to go back to that super-cute restaurant. I wish we had thought to bring snacks with us because I would have loved to keep exploring this beautiful land … maybe next time!
I’m so glad we squeezed the town of Ramsau into our already-packed itinerary. This view is one of the most-photographed scenes in Bavaria (above) and I have to say, it’s so much more magical in person. I felt like we may stumble across Julie Andrews twirling around at any minute! We actually were super close to where The Sound of Music was filmed.
So we were headed back to our hotel when I spotted signs for Wimbachklamm and I most definitely let out a squeal. I had seen a travel brochure about the Wimbachklamm and screamed at J to turn and find a parking spot. He may have thought I was having a heart attack, I’m not sure, but the main thing is he turned and found a spot to park and then we were off on another hike to see the most incredible waterfall of our lives. We walked along the babbling brook and I was already obsessed. The water was sooooo clean and clear. After paying a small fee, we hiked uphill a bit more and then we were treated to bliss …
I again have to say these photos do nothing for this waterfall. It was so much better in person and was such a fabulous way to (surprise) end our Bavarian vacation.
That night, we walked back into Berchtesgaden and explored a bit more, ending the day at the Hofbrauhaus with a perfect view of the Eagle’s Nest.
Top Tips for Berchtesgaden and Bavaria:
– Stay local. I would highly recommend staying in or around Berchtesgaden if you’re interested in doing the things I highlighted in this post. I loved the hotel we stayed in – it was peaceful and resort-like and a short walk to the center of Berchtesgaden. We stayed at the Alpenhotel Weiherbach, Weiherbachweg 8, Berchtesgaden, 83471.
– Hotel Zum Türken. I already told you about the fascinatingly creepy bunkers beneath this hotel but what I didn’t mention is that you can still spend the night in this hotel! It’s still run by the original family – you have to visit the site and either call or e-mail to reserve a room. I definitely think this would be an incredible experience.
– Nazi history. If you’re curious about any of it, do your research before going and know what’s where and what you want to see. This area is brimming with stories and I think it’s a shame to go and miss it. If anything, at least visit the Dokumentation Center in Obersalzburg – it’s a great museum educating visitors on the history of the area. It’s also where you can catch a bus (or hike) up to the Eagle’s Nest.
– Hof Brauhaus Berchtesgaden. The food couldn’t be more German so get in the spirit and Prost!
– Lake Königssee. If you make it to Berchtesgaden, you may as well save an afternoon for a visit to the lake … you’ll be glad you did. Make sure you take a boat to the last stop and then take the hike over to the next lake. So worth it.
– Waterfalls. If you see yellow signs ending in Klamm, it’s most likely a beautiful hidden waterfall. I hadn’t planned on us visiting one but I loved that we spontaneously saw the sign and followed it to what was one of our favorite discoveries on the trip.
– Churches. They dot the land and they are gorgeous. Visit a few or at least take photos.
– Surrounding cities and sites. Munich and Salzburg are both very close to Bavaria. I had been to both years before so we skipped them this time around but they’re certainly worth a day trip or more. On a much darker note, Dachau Concentration Camp is right outside of Munich and is an illuminating experience. I visited it when I was in high school and I still vividly remember my visit.
– Undiscovered Berchtesgaden. This site contains some great English language guides for getting the most out of visits to the area including Berchtesgaden town center, the Eagle’s Nest, Lake Königssee and the Salt Mine (a place I so wish I had visited – it looks amazing!). They all contain step-by-step virtual tours and help you discover the stories that usually get lost in translation.
Photography by Sarah Darcy of Classic Bride blog.