We traveled to the well-known tourist destination of Garmisch-Partenkirchen this past holiday weekend and enjoyed our first time in Bavaria! In Germany, hyphenated towns actually used to be two separate entities but have since been joined and Garmisch was no exception. We found Garmisch itself to be very commercial (even had a Pizza Hut and McDonalds downtown!) but Partenkirchen still retained much of the wonderful charm of the past including beautifully painted frescos on the buildings of the main street. If you are looking for “cute” typical German shopping, this is the place to go. We found the prices to be very reasonable, even competing with some of the smaller Weinachtsmarkts that we have been to for wooden items and holiday decor. Also near the downtown shopping area is the 1936 Olympic Ski Jump area which is still used for World Cup events today each December 31st. It was fascinating to walk around and we even were able to watch a youth ski event!
We stayed in the town of Grainau, Germany which is only about a 10 minute drive from downtown Partenkirchen as well as the main skiing area and the gondola up the German side of the Zugspitze. Grainau is made of two parts – Ober and Unter and is quite the sleepy little town with many restaurants and a few stores. I highly recommend the hotel we chose – Hotel Garni Post, as it was perfect for our family with a suite and balcony room including breakfast for a very reasonable price on a holiday weekend (Valentine’s Day and for the Americans over here, Presidents Day)! The owner loves kids and the breakfast was wonderful with all the traditional German items and a nice new variety each morning. We had even booked a higher rate than we needed on booking.com for our number of people to get a bigger room and he gave us a discount, totally unnecessary since it was our mistake (and we wanted to ensure we had plenty of space for Indi’s travel crib) and such a nice thing for him to do for us!
There are many things to do in this area and quite a few center around the Zugspitze – Germany’s tallest mountain. On Saturday, the nicest day of the winter possibly at a warm 55 degrees farenheit with bright sun, we decided to take the seilbahn (gondola) up the Zugspitze to see the views of 4 countries from the top at 2950 meters (about 10,000 feet). Well… unfortunately we were not the only people with this idea so after determining it was over an hour wait for a gondola and the train was “kaput” (German for broken) we had lunch at a hotel on the Eibsee lake and discussed what to do. Well, being the thrifty (read: cheap) and adventurous people we are, and also equipped with IPhones, we found that the Austrian side offered a seilbahn up the Zugspitze to the same place and it could hold up to 750 people per hour, far more than the German side, and it was 10 Euros less expensive! So we hopped in our car and ventured back across the Austrian border (on one of the scariest roads we have taken in a while) and found ourselves an empty seilbahn and very friendly people!
Going up the seilbahn takes about ten minutes and I have to say, if you have ever seen an IMAX movie about flying over mountains… yeah, that’s about what it feels like. I was terrified, Jeff was scared and our one year old was just fine and happy the whole way, of course. As we neared the top the wind picked up and as the gondola swayed I just told myself, well at least we will make the news if this is how we go out. If you are scared of heights, I don’t recommend this activity – or take a blindfold to get up there as once you are at the top it is worth the fear.
The view from the top is magnificent, especially on a clear day. You can see four countries and the other direction can see all the way to Munich, Germany. There is a lovely restaurant at the top where you can have coffee or a full meal and there was even a German band playing while we were there!
On our way home we decided to venture about ten minutes off the main road to visit the “original” Disney castle, Neuschwanstein. This is a castle that is very popular with overseas visitors but viewed by many Europeans as King Ludwig’s folly as it really isn’t very old (late 1800’s) and didn’t really serve as much of a purpose as the other “real” castles that actually defended things.
As we drove closer, the fog grew thicker but we decided to park and walk up anyway. I can see how the place is crazy during the summer and on nice days – it was crowded with bus tours even on this rainy and foggy day! We paid our 5 Euros to park in the closest lot and walked up the hill to the castle. Now, when Rick Steves and others tell you it’s quite a walk up that takes about 40 minutes, we usually say eh- can’t be that bad and stick Indi in the Baby Bjorn and take off. Well, this was quite the hike. It is about a mile up a steep hill. Now, it is wide and paved and on non-rainy days they do offer bus service as well as there are some carriages you can pay to take but wow, it’s a hill. Unfortunately for us the view at the top of the castle was shrouded in fog, but we can say we’ve seen it and really don’t need to go back. As much as I say I’m tired of the castles we see everywhere near our home, I have a new appreciation for them as at least they are very old!
Overall, we found this area of Bavaria to be similar to where we live in Rhineland-Pfalz but just enough different to be very interesting! The German spoken was very similar to what we are used to which was a nice surprise and of course the mountains made for a spectacular backdrop to this charming area.