When I asked about my Swiss/Germany/Prague trip in another post, someone (Tom I believe) suggested to go to the Bavarian or Tyrolian Alps instead of the Swiss Alps in order to simplify and save costs. I'm curious to hear the differences how similar (or different) they really are. Any input would be greatly appreciated! We are going in Sept. and would like to hike, take in the scenery, etc. Thanks for your input!
I agree that, if you are going on to Prague, the Bavarian Alps would simplify the trip. In general, the Bavarian Alps are not as high or extensive as the Swiss Alps, but there are some areas of interest. I would suggest that you check out the Oberallgäu, specifically the area around Oberstdorf. Oberstdorf is a major ski area in the winter and very good for hiking. There is a mountain valley outside of Oberstdorf, the Kleinwalsertal, that is a part of Austria but isolated from it by mountains. I've hiked there.
To be more specific, we are planning to go to the Berner Oberland. =)
The suggestion was made because it is a long way to the Berner Oberland from Munich.
Compare the travel times:
Münich to Oberstdorf, 2.5 hours by train
Münich to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 1.5 hours by train.
Münich to Lauterbrunnen, 7.5 to 8.5 hours by train.
I have friends who lived in Germany and they loved the Allgau for hiking. Google photos of Oberstdorf and you can see what it looks like. And I have hiked at G-P and found some great and very scenic hikes there---fun ones like gorges and an easy Klettersteig (secured climbing route) across the face of the Alpspitze.
But for sheer beauty, with snowy peaks, glaciers, lakes, and waterfalls, I don't think either of the above can compare to the Berner Oberland. It's just a matter of whether you can spend enough time there to make the longer trip worthwhile.
In general, the Western Alps (the French, most of the Swiss and parts of the Italian), tend to be higher than the Eastern Alps (German, Austrian, other parts of the Italian and Slovenian). In my opinion, though, with the exception of the Mont Blanc massief on the French/Italian border, the difference isn't very appreciable for site-seeing purposes. Most of the scenery in the Swiss Alps is interchangeable with other areas, with two big exceptions. 1) The Matterhorn, when viewed from the north, really is an amazing spectacle (but just another mountain when viewed from the south). 2) I haven't seen another valley that has quite the unique features of the Lauterbrunnen valley in the Berner Oberland (although the Partnachklaam near Garmsich-Partekirchen comes close). It's a cul-de-sac with sheer cliff faces on either side, waterfalls trickling over the edges, and the two faces of the opposing mountains are much closer than you usually find in the Alps. This unique feature, which gives you amazing views on a clear day also acts as an atmospheric "funnel" and accounts for the frequent storms and fog blankets that can ruin a trip on an inflexible schedule.
The Swiss Alps have two major drawbacks. One, like the country itself, they are extremely expensive. Two, they are somewhat isolated from most of the classic tour routes through Europe. Unless you're traveling directly from Geneva or Zurich, or going from Bavaria to Burgundy, visiting the Swiss Alps often involves taking a significant, costly, and time-consuming detour. I find that many people planning their "Grand Tour" don't realize that many of the main routes going from France and Germany/Austria to Italy pass directly through the Alps.
I think one must distinguish between sightseeing and hiking.
While there are beautiful sights many places in the Alps---Bavarian, Tyrolian, or Swiss---the Bernese Oberland region is a hiker's paradise. That is not to say that other places don't offer wonderful hiking as well, just not as much of it (nor, in many cases, as challenging and full of icy peaks and glaciers).
As for the expense, there are ways around that. You just have to get off the tourist path and stay as the Swiss do, in apartments and, for shorter stays, Matratzenlager.
But it is a long journey from Münich. If you have only 3 or 4 days to spend for the hiking portion of the trip, you would get in a lot more hiking, and far less train time, if you stayed in Germany. I can suggest 3 wonderful hikes from G-P that rate up there with my favorites in Switzerland. And maybe Lee can suggest a few in the Allgau for comparison.
"While there are beautiful sights many places in the Alps---Bavarian, Tyrolian, or Swiss---the Bernese Oberland region is a hiker's paradise. That is not to say that other places don't offer wonderful hiking as well, just not as much of it (nor, in many cases, as challenging and full of icy peaks and glaciers)." I disagree there completely. Almost any well-established Alpine resort area has a huge array of hiking options for all skill levels. The hiking routes in the Lauterbrunnen valley are just the most well known on this forum.
I'm actually talking about a much larger area than the Lauterbrunnental, and many trails that have never even been mentioned on this forum, at least as far as I have seen.
Sometimes it is nice to get away from the "resorts" with their lifts and crowds.
"Best known" is not always the "best".
Thank you all so much for your input! It is so great to see everyone's point of view. No matter what, I'm sure the hiking will be great and the views breathtaking. After talking with our co-travelers last night, I think we might actually stick with the Bavarian Alps and save Switzerland for another trip when we have more time. Thank you all so much, this post was extremely helpful!
I can't say I know of any specific hiking trails in that area, but the top of the Nebelhorn, the main ski mountain in that area, is over 4000' above Oberstdorf, so just hiking to the top would be a major hike. Actually, I have stay for a week at a time in a pension just down the river from Oberstdorf, and people stay there from all over Germany, three weeks at a time, and hike. They ride the lifts up and hike down (not as easy as it sounds. Hiking down the steep ski slopes is hard on your thighs). I've done three hikes, all rather easy, in the Kleinwalsertal. There is a bus that goes up the valley to the top at Baad and stops at every little town on the way. You can get off anywhere and hike up the valley, then take the bus back down. The tourist office in Hirschegg has a map showing the trails.
Thanks, Lee. That sounds tempting enough we might have to check it out sometime.
And so Jennifer can compare and decide, I'll describe a few hikes in the Bavarian Alps, starting at G-P:
One is up the spectacular Höllentalklamm, on an engineered path through tunnels, up steps and on platforms built over the rushing torrent. You pay an entrance fee but it is well worth it. Google "Höllentalklamm photos" for picturres. At the top, you continue on to the hut about 30 minutes beyond. From there, take a very scenic trail that traverses over to Osterfelderkopf and the top of the Alpspitze cablecar for a ride down. Make sure you don't miss the last car down or you'll have to walk down about 4000 feet.
Another favorite is to ride the Alpspitze cablecar up and follow the Nordwandsteig across the face of the Alpspitze to Bernadeinsharte and from there scramble up to the summit. You can see photos of the route on this website:
But there won't be snow like that in September, which is a good thing. There is also a more vertical Klettersteig (via ferrata) to the summit, but this one requires gear (harness and carabiners, plus helmet). The one in the photos is a lot of fun without being scary.
A third hike we like, more leisurely that the others, is to walk through the Partenkirchen side of town to Wank, hike up to the top, and enjoy the sunshine while you watch paragliders take off. You can get a nice lunch up there and then ride down.
And if you do go to G-P, be sure and stop in the Dolomiti Eiscafe in the main pedestrian zone for a Spaghetti-Eis. If you like ice cream, you'll probably return every day for more.
Have fun--it'a a great place.
Wow, thanks so much!!