Bavaria and a taste of Austria

With negative Covid tests in hand, we rented a car and drove into Germany for a week of hiking up steep mountains, swimming in chilly Alpine lakes, and listening to cowbells as we ate bratwurst and drank beer on mountaintops with views of the Alps. We originally had plans to also spend time in the Appenzell region of Switzerland, but that had to be canceled once the Swiss government placed a quarantine requirement for visiting Luxembourgers.

Leaving Luxembourg, we first drove to Rothenburg ob der Tauber (literally Rothenburg over the Tauber [river]) for a couple nights to see the charming, medieval-style village. We stayed in a little AirBnb just down the street from a very commonly photographed location– some of you might recognize this image :-).

We spent our days wandering every inch of the walled city- we walked along the city walls, lounged in the Castle Gardens, dodged people without their masks in the town square, ducked into all of the tourist shops selling everything from souvenirs to full coats of armor, admired the Holy Blood altarpiece carved in the 16th century, and had dinner at a restaurant that could have been plucked right out of Middle Earth. Rothenburg was absolutely charming, and brought out the kid in me, reminding me of all those fantasy stories about knights, dragons, and castles that I read growing up.

After Rothenburg we drove the Romantic Road down through Füssen, stopping for lunch in Dinkelsbühl along the way, and finally ending in the town of Pfronten where we stayed for the remainder of the week.

On our first full day in Pfronten we drove to Neuschwanstein, the grandest of Mad King Ludwig’s castles and the inspiration for the Disney castle we all know so well. We enjoyed picture perfect views of it from Mary’s Bridge. We got there early in the morning, so we had the bridge largely to ourselves.

From Mary’s Bridge we hiked straight uphill to Tegelberg. It was a leg-killer of a hike, but it offered stunning views of the land– from castles to lakes to farmland to small towns– and very few people. The views from the top of Mount Tegel were even more stunning. On one side there was Germany and the endless farmland, and on the other side there was the expansive Austrian Alps, with mountain peaks as far as the eye can see, all cloaked in varying shares of blue. We rewarded ourselves with a couple beers on the mountaintop while we rested for the trek down the mountain (via cable car).

We spent day two primarily in the car driving between different towns and gawking at the towering mountains surrounding us, but it gave us a peak into what a truly magical part of the world we were in. We started the day by crossing the border into Austria, and hiked up to Ehrenberg Castle, just outside the city of Reutte. It’s an ancient castle that’s been occupied, built upon, and reconstructed many times over the centuries, and used to keep watch over an ancient Roman road called the Via Claudia, which was a strategic transportation route between Northern Italy and Southern Germany.

From Ehrenberg Castle we drove on to Innsbruck. Unfortunately there was construction all throughout their old town and unexpectedly large crowds, so drove on to the sweet town of Oberammergau for dinner. Oberammergau is famous for the once-every-decade performance of the Passion Play, which is telling of the story of Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. It’s been put on every decade since the 1700’s. It would have been taking place while we were there if not for cancellation due to Covid. Strolling through the town, we most enjoyed the houses painted using a special fresco technique called Lüftlmalerei, containing biblical and fairy tale scenes. You’ll notice the Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel houses below.

Day three was back to the mountains! We hopped on a cable car up to the top of Zugspitz- the highest point in Germany- and got lost gazing into the Alps. It felt like we were on top of the world. From where we were standing at over 2900 meters, we could see Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy.

After Zugspitz, we caught another cable car up to Ehrwalder Almbahn, where we hiked to Sebensee lake. It was a scorching hike in the heat with little in the way of shade, but we took our time with lots of water breaks, and were rewarded with one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen, nestled high up in the mountains and so chilly it took the breath out of you when you jumped in. We rested at the lake for a while while enjoying the fresh mountain air, beautiful views, and the music of bells from Alpine cows drinking from the lake. We topped the day off by driving back to Oberammergau for a Mexican restaurant that had been closed when we visited the previous day– while not classic Mexican food, it was well worth the drive and scratched the itch that we’ve felt since moving abroad to have good Mexican food!

The rest of the trip consisted of hiking, picnics at lakes, and soaking in the sun.

Partnach Gorge

Picnic and paddle boarding at Forgensee Lake

Hike from Haldensee Lake to Nesselwängler Edenalpe to Nesselwäng back to Haldensee

This trip gave us insight in the raw beauty of Austria– in specific the region of Tyrol and Tannheimer Tal Valley. We come from a region with mountains and wilderness, and we felt particularly drawn to this area because it reminded us of home. The mountains are a bit bigger and the language slightly different, but where there are mountains, there is home. This tops the list of trips we’ve taken since moving to Europe (at least for me).

-Neal

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