Alpenstraße – The German Alpine Road

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July 1st 2019
Published: July 1st 2019
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This blog entry could really have been three separate entries, one for each day of the Alpine Road trip, but I didn't have time to do the blog each day. Now I am in Munich winding down, so have time to put it all in this mega-entry. Hope you have time to enjoy all the pictures (there's two pages – don't miss the second page) and don't forget to watch the panoramas change at the top of the page.

Saturday 29th June

I slept quite well, with the sound of the rushing water in the valley outside being a soothing sound. At breakfast this morning they had some GF bread for me, and it was really like normal bread, and delicious. Then I headed down the road to Berchtesgaden. There was a stream of classic cars coming the other way – there was a classic car rally starting in Berchtesgaden. Everything from Maseratis to Fiats to Beetles to Mercedes. My plan was to visit the Eagle's Nest, which was Hitler's former holiday house, now a restaurant with a view. Arriving at the car park I could see it was bedlam, with about a dozen coaches disgorging passengers, and big crowds waiting for the shuttle bus. I decided I just didn't have enough time for the visit, with so much else to see, and I realised that I had planned far too long a drive for the day.

Instead I did a loop drive around the Obersalzburg area, then headed to Königssee, which is Germany's most beautiful lake, and one end of the Alpenstraße. Huge crowds again, but what a beautiful spot. I did the short walk to a lookout which gives a wonderful view of the lake – which is just stunning, but not quite in the same class as Hälstattersee – see my 2015 blog. There is a large collection of touristy shops between the lake and the car parking, and I managed to buy a gelato and a new Jack Wolfskin cap to replace the one I (of course) lost earlier in the trip.

I then headed west along the route that eventually ends back in Lindau – the German Alpine Road. I was at present heading for Reit Im Winkl, my next stop on the route. The road is amazing, at times winding up and down mountain passes, at times heading along
Zugspitze SummitZugspitze SummitZugspitze Summit

Yes, I also did climb out there
valleys with towering and rugged mountains beside. Rushing mountain streams and rivers, clear blue lakes lined with colourful umbrellas and peppered with swimmers, canoeists, little boats. A spotless blue sky and about 30 degrees of warmth – locals and tourists alike were out in force.

I ate my picnic lunch in the pretty town of Reit Im Winkl. I was really starting to realise how badly I had underestimated driving times when I had planned the trip. I decided to take a shortcut to reduce the time by about an hour, but keeping the most spectacular mountain driving and as many lakes as possible. The roads and scenery really were just extraordinary all afternoon, and I stopped a number of times for photos, where I could find a spot to pull in. There were a few traffic jams along the way. The Kesselberg Pass, and the road beside Lake Walchensee were particularly spectacular.

I arrived at my hotel, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and checked in. When I was looking to book in this area a few weeks ago, there were many full hotels and I ended up having to choose a more expensive place than I would normally. My room here has a balcony which looks out on a little lake, and behind that towers the massive granite of the Alps – in particular the massive Zugspitze - the highest peak in Germany. What an incredible view, which I am looking at as I write – wow! However, I found the reception staff at this hotel snooty and unhelpful – I guess I have crossed the line out of my social class. All the other people in hotels and restaurants I have visited in Germany have been very welcoming. This hotel was also totally unhelpful with a GF dinner – so I drove into town instead. This was actually fortuitous, as I stumbled across a huge festival going on this evening in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (which might explain the difficulty of booking a hotel). Thousands of people dressed in white, numerous food stalls, music, atmosphere. It's the Richard Strauss Festival. I spent a while mingling, but wasn't wearing white! After a stroll around Garmisch-Partenkirchen, I headed back to the hotel. The setting sun lit up the mountains like pink granite! Just extraordinary, so like many other drivers, I stopped to take some photos along the way.

Sunday 30th June

I followed instinct this morning and headed out early to take the Zugspitze cable car. As you will read later, this was a very good decision. I arrived at Elbsee, another beautiful lake, and the place where the lower cable car station is, as well as a stop on the Zugspitzebahn cog railway. This means you can do a loop, cable car one way and train the other. By arriving around 8:30am on a Sunday, it was still a bit quiet, and I was able to get parking right at the railway station. I missed the very first cable car up, but this was a good thing as it was packed with people, whereas the second trip was not crowded. The ride is extraordinary, I guess similar to the ride we did in France up the Aiguille du Midi. Zugspitze is not quite as high, being about 2670 metres. The cable car does have the longest freespan (between towers) of any cablecar in the world, at 3,213 metres. It has the highest altitude change over a single span, at 1,945 metres, and the tallest support tower of any cable car. It was an impressive ride. Unlike on Aiguille du Midi, which was -10 degrees at the top, today being a heatwave, Zugspitze was a very pleasant 15 degrees.

Lots of spacious and spectacular lookouts at the top, and the opportunity to go out onto the mountain to climb the last bit to the peak. A bit hair-raising with the ladders, hand-cable and slippery rocks, but I did it and reached the cross on top of Zugspitze. It was not easy but was well worth it. I carefully returned to the lookout and restaurant complex where all the less adventurous types were. The mountain itself is partly in Germany and partly in Austria, and the Austrian side also has a cable car to the top. So while I was up there I visited Austria – the lookouts are connected. Needless to say, the views from Zugspitze were superb in every direction, gazing out over mountain crags, snowy clefts, green valleys, pristine lakes. There were a number of mountain climbers tackling hair-raising ridge tops and snowy slopes.

To get to the train station to descend (which is underground), one takes another, short cable car down from the top complex to the glacier below. Here there were some short walks, interpretive information, of course a couple more restaurants (there were about four up top too), and a free toboggan run to try. It was fun and I had two turns. Then I boarded the train and rode back down to Elbsee. For the first 4.8km of the descent the train is underground, inside the mountain, then emerges into a pretty pine forest, with views into the distance from time to time. The temperature rose steadily as one descended, and was about 34 degrees at the bottom.

I hopped in the car and headed off to continue on the Alpine Road. Then I saw the incredible traffic jam of people trying to get to Elbsee. It was unbelievable. Cars were parked at every possible point along the road, and there was a solid jam about 2km long. All the car parking was full and everyone was being turned around. The council had closed the road further down and were turning everyone back. Walking up the road were families, some with inflatable boats, strollers, dogs, bicycles, etc. The hot weather was causing chaos, with people all trying to get to have a swim. It had been a heatwave all week, so the weekend was crazy with people trying to cool down. I'm glad I went early and was now heading the other way!

I stopped for lunch in Oberammergau, famous for its Easter Passion Play. It was hot! I found a shady spot with a breeze, right in the centre of town as it happened, and had my picnic lunch with a cold drink. Then a stroll around the town to see its religious painted murals, the Passion Theatre, and the wood carving shops. Today I had planned a much more manageable distance to travel, but the heat made me want to get to my hotel and head out for a swim, so back on the road it was. The drive along the Alpine Road is scenic all the time, ranging from the pretty to the spectacular. I checked in at my hotel near Füssen, and headed off to Lake Bannwaldsee, about 6km away, for a swim. Being later in the afternoon, a lot of people were leaving (many weekend trippers from Munich I expect), so I was able to park close to the lake, and had a cool swim.

Then I headed down the road towards Füssen, stopping to view and photograph the stunning Neuschwanstein Castle, as well as the incredibly picturesque Church of St Coloman. In Füssen it was still very hot at around 6:30pm, but I strolled around the historic town for a while, seeing the superbly ornate Basilika St Mang, and the High Castle of Füssen, which overlooks the town on one side and the river Lech on the other. Adjoining the castle is the beautiful Baumgarten park, and I arrived just as the big weekend medieval festival was packing up – I'd missed it, but you can't see everything, as they say.

Dinner was Indian and I had a talk with the restaurateur about the World Cup of Cricket. India was playing England right at that moment, and were chasing an impossible target. We both had the cricket website open on our phones! After dinner I headed back to my hotel (much more modest than last night, but also much more friendly) to enjoy the view of the setting sun lighting the mountains, and the green farms between me and them.

Monday 1st July

Not such an early start this morning, and by the time I had arrived in Hohenschwangau (only about 8km from my hotel), aka Castle Central, the crowd was starting to build up! I had already decided not to tour the castles, due to a) time, b) cost, c) so crowded, and d) saw numerous castles in France. But I did the long, steep walk up to see Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles from various viewpoints such as lookouts and the famous (and packed) Marienbrücke Bridge. No doubt that Neuschwanstein Castle does look like something from a fairytale – just amazing in design and location. After taking the obligatory dozens of photos (imagine how many photos are taken in the world each day, now that they're digital!!), and enjoying the walk down (light rain was now falling), I headed off north – leaving The Alpine Road at this point and starting on The Romantic Road!

About half an hour north I ran into sustained and very heavy rain, thunder and lightning. I decided it was useless to try more touring, and reprogrammed Google maps to take me to Munich, really just cutting about 15km from the planned tour, and staying on a different scenic route anyway. I had a rain respite and stopped for my picnic lunch by the lake Diethofersee, but had to stay in the car due to the strong wind and the light rain blowing around. I guess the cool change was arriving at last! More incredibly heavy rain from there to Munich kept the traffic slow, but I returned my rental car on time and checked in to my hotel, just 100 metres away. I am starting to hate rental car companies, which basically will just charge you something on your credit card later on, without telling you what the charge was for, and without discussion. What else do we buy where we have to just let them charge us without any explanation?

I have three nights in Munich before the flight home. Tomorrow I am going by train north to Nuremberg to see the DB Rail Museum, and more if time and stamina allow.

Additional photos below
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