I used this weekend to explore SE Bavaria, an area that I hadn't yet visited. First up, the only one of Germany's "Big Three" Alpine resorts I had yet to visit, Berchtesgaden. As I expected, beautiful Alpine location. But of the Big Three, I think I like the town of Berchtesgaden the least. It is quite nice, but it just doesn't have as much of that Bavarian Gemütlichkeit that Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Oberstdorf ooze. I'm not sure how many buildings in town date from the period of the Third Reich, but it almost feels as if the main part of the town was built in a Bavarian style filtered through Nazi tastes. Also, the town core sits up on the side of the hill, a not quite easy from the train station and too far to walk from most of the trail heads. On the plus side, if you want to purchase some Tracht (traditional Bavarian clothing), I think Berchtesgaden can probably claim the highest per capita of Dirndl shops I've seen. Many of them looked cheap, but there's also more than a few high-end boutiques. Believe it or not, not all Lederhosen or Dirndls are created equally... I stayed at the Alpenhotel Kronprinz. Although I wouldn't rate it as budget, it was a pretty good value. I've stayed in similar quality Alpine hotels for much more. Breakfast spread was excellent, dinner was good but nothing too amazing. Disadvantage- located up a steep hill from the downtown area. (cont.)
(cont.) The main intention of the trip was to take a good hike up a mountain. I picked Jenner. I wanted to try one of the higher peaks, but there was rain forecast, and Jenner had the advantage of gondola access for a quick escape if it started to rain. Turns out, it didn't start to rain until I made it back to my car. Took me about 3 hours to reach the summit, which offers a nice view of Königsee and some of the higher surrounding peaks. Completely non-technical hike, anyone in decent physical condition could manage. No snow on top of Jenner, but many of the surrounding mountains still have a substatial covering. Slightly below the summit (where the ski lift terminates), there's the usual mountain restaurant. The food always tastes delicious after a vigourous ascent! Next, on to check out Königsee. I had wanted to stay in a hotel in Schönau am Königsee, thinking a room with a lake view would be nice, but the only vacancies were more than I was willing to pay. That proved a blessing of fortune, because the main pedestrian strip in Schönau reminds me of a Bavarian version of Main Street USA in Disneyworld. Nothing but cheap restaurants, trinket and cheap Dirndl shops. Not quite the peaceful little lake front I had envisioned. Took the boat ride out to St. Bartholomä's monastery. Yes, it's one of those iconic images of Bavaria, but there's not much to see and do there. Just the small church, a restaurant/beer garden, a stand to buy fresh lake trout and another trinket shop. Probably would have been more rewarding to reach it via the long hike, but by this point, it was late in the day, cold and raining. Still, the boat ride was nice enough. And, one of the attendants on the boat gives a nice demonstration of the echo effect off the fjord walls by playing a trumpet duet with his own echo. (cont.)
So, that was Berchtesgaden. I enjoyed it, but I don't think it will displace Lech, Flumserberg or Oberstdorf as one of my "go-to" Alpine resorts. It's too far away from where I live and not tempting enough to draw me back for repeat visits. Plus, the ski infrastructure there appears much smaller than some of the better resorts I've visited. I did not visit Kehlsteinhaus (incorrectly referred to as "The Eagle's Nest" in English), although I could see it from my hotel and from my hike up Jenner. Reason? As I mentioned earlier, my main reason for taking this quick trip was an invigorating Alpine hike. Given the choice of mountains in the area, Kehlstein didn't look like the most interesting option, as only a small area extends above the Alpine level. On the way home today, I made two stops. First was Chiemsee to check out Ludwig II's Versailles-replica on the Herreninsel. From the docks in the town of Prien, I took the boat out to the island. Speaking of Prien, there's an old Eisenbahn that shuttles visitors from the town's Bahnhof to the lakefront. With the Alps visible in the distance, Chiemsee is quite beautiful, if not quite as stunning as the Bodensee further to the west. I've never visited Versailles, so I can't really compare it to Ludwig's smaller homage. Only a portion of the interior was ever completed, but oh my, talk about extravagant! And if I thought Ludwig was an oddball previously, this Schloss only added to that impression. The entire building is more or less a shrine to Louis XIV of France. I knew Ludwig was obsessed with Wagner, but I didn't know he had such a Louis XIV fetish as well. The tour ends in an unfinished entrance stairway, which I actually thought was rather interesting, because it shows the elborate brick and wooden frame that underlies the extravagant exterior facades. (cont.)
A museum dedicated to Ludwig occupies a large portion of the unfinished rooms on the first floor. Although I was reasonably familar with the king's life previously, I still learned quite a bit more about the guy. One of the video exhibits shows Neuschwanstein as it would have looked if completed, as well as the barely started Burg Falkenstein project, and a scale model of the huge Richard Wagner opera house he wanted to build in Munich. And then... I got it. In the political sense, Ludwig may have been a lousy king. However, how many other monarchs can claim such an impressive cultural legacy? In addition to his well-known building projects, including the one that's become a virtual shorthand symbol of Germany itself, some of Wagner's masterpieces would likely never have been finished had Ludwig not rescued him from political and financial ruin. Compare Ludwig's legacy to, for example, that of his near-contemporary Wilhelm II of Prussia... I can only wonder, had Ludwig not been deposed and died early, what else would he have left the world? (cont)
Due to time constraints, I didn't visit the monastery on Herreninsel, take the boat to Frauneninsel, or explore any of the other points of interest on or around Chiemsee. Except... Finally, I wanted to visit nearby Rosenheim. There's not much about it in any English-language guidebooks, but there's a particular reason I had an interest in this Alpine hinterland city. It's the setting for one of my favorite German TV shows, Die Rosenheim Cops. I admit, it isn't the most sophisticated show on TV, but few programs can boast such an attractive setting. Verdict? Very nice town, although not quite as cozy as the TV show makes it seem. More attractive than probably 99% of cities in the US, but probably not something a traveler from North America needs to go out of their way to see. Verdicts? Berchtesgaden- see it for the Third Reich connection or if you're visiting nearby Salzburg, otherwise, get your Bavarian Alpine thrills in Garmisch-Partenkirchen or Oberstdorf. Chiemsee is worth a visit, particular Ludwig's Herrenchiemsee. Rosenhiem is attractive, but not special enough to warrant a visit for most travelers. And one final note. I've written before about the horrors of driving the A8 Autobahn from Karksruhe to Stuttgart and on to Ulm. This was my first experience driving the portion of it from Munich to Salzburg... and it's almost as bad. Road construction seemingly every few miles, which only needs one accident to generate a massive Stau. Oh well. At least the view of the Alps is nice while sitting in glacially frozen traffic.
Thanks, Tom, for posting your review. The timing is perfect, as my wife and I will be spending three nights at Ramsau bei Berchestgaden the first week in August. I have been to Salzburg three times before, so we will only spend a few hours there the first day, then the rest of the time exploring the area around B. It is great to get a first-hand report on the region just before we head there. I want to visit the Nazi documentation center and but may skip the ride to the top of Kelheim. You make the Mount Jenner gondola sound like a better value. The Koenigsee boat ride and St. Bartholomae are still high on my list, but I will bear in mind your mixed feelings about them. I have been to Garmisch-Part. and will see how Berchestgadenland compares. Maybe Ramsau will offer a different perspective than you found in B. Your description makes Chiemsee seem attractive. But I am wondering if that would be overkill for us, since our visit will be between longer stays in Vienna and Munich, with palace tours in those cities.
If you ride the two ski lifts up to the restaurant near the summit of Jenner, you can hike about 5 minutes further up the mountain to a viewing platform where you can clearly see St. Bartholomä. Perhaps use that as your gauge on whether or not you want to take the boat ride out to the monastery. After visiting the palaces in Munich and Vienna, I can see how Herrenchiemsee might be overkill. Still, the setting of the lake is quite attractive.