It’s been a while since we traveled. Between moving to a new house (more on that later) and being without internet for over a month, planning a vacation to another country wasn’t in the realm of possibilities for most of April and May. We were still able to manage a mini-vacation over Memorial Day weekend to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a charming little Bavarian town nestled deep in the Alps at the southernmost tip of Germany. There is a spectacular resort for military families on the small base there, and we scored a room with a view.
With no specific plan in mind for what we wanted to see/do while we were there, we relied on the multitude of informational brochures from the hotel and read up on everything from beer tastings to hiking to shopping to castle hikes. We picked things that we thought would be relaxing, fun, and cheap–and we did pretty good.
Just down the road from Garmisch, the village of Ettal holds the smallest of three palaces built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. You can’t go inside without a tour group, but the tickets were inexpensive (€8.50/person) and English tours run frequently. You can also walk around the palace grounds and admire the perfectly manicured lawns free of charge. The rooms inside the palace are superbly preserved and hold most of the original furniture and decorations, which, to my pleasure, were largely peacock-themed. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside. Not everyone abides by this rule, but it’s respectful to put the camera away for just 30 minutes and enjoy the beauty through your eyes only.
There are also a few shops and a cafe near the visitor’s center. It’s a great place to have a warm piece of Apfelstrudel and a cold beer. Or, you know, just relax. Whatever.
As hesitant as we were to sign up for a group tour with a bunch of thirsty Americans, we decided at the last minute to give it a shot. After paying a hefty $40 per person, We departed in a couple vans from the hotel and took a nice 25-30 minute drive to Murnau. Upon arrival at Griesbräu Brewery, we were warmly greeted by an older gentleman wearing traditional Trachten (lederhosen, plaid shirt, hat, the works). His name was Wolfgang, and he was the Brewmeister and sole taster of all the beer. Over the course of a few hours, we were given an in-depth class on how all types of Bavarian beer are brewed (with only 3 ingredients, by the way) and sampled several of them. We were served an unfiltered Helles, a Hefeweißen, a dunkel, and a special seasonal smoked beer called Dragon’s Blood which, in my opinion, tasted like liquid bacon. It was sensational.
Then there was the Bierlikor. Ohhhhhh the Bierlikor. It’s essentially highly alcoholic warm butterscotch with whipped cream on top. And yes, it’s every bit as good as it sounds. We each got a generous shot of the concoction–and Wolfgang had several. This man has the greatest job in Germany.
If you’ve ever been on a brewery tour in the US, you know that you only get about a thimble of beer for each taste. Not in Germany. All of our samples were at least 0.2 L, sometimes more. And, Wolfgang didn’t really like the sight of empty glasses, so he made sure to keep them full. 40 bucks was a pretty good deal after all!
At the end of our tour, we ate a delicious dinner that was served cafeteria-style (it sounds janky but it was actually quite nice) and were given a written test to assess our knowledge of Bavarian beer making. Wolfgang graded the tests as we ate our dinner and afterwards presented each of us with “Bavarian Brewmaster” certificates with a kiss on the cheek and a grip-and-grin for the camera. I’m not sure how legit these certificates are, but we won’t waste time speculating…
So guys, I finally learned how it’s pronounced: Noy-schvon-shtine. Does this make sense? I heard a few Bavarian ladies chatting about it, and that’s undoubtedly how they were saying it. I’m going to guess that since they’re legit Bavarians, they’re saying it the correct way… right?
We were bad tourists and didn’t plan for this one. It was only a 50 minute drive, so we went in the morning on a whim not really knowing what to expect. I knew what it looked like from pictures, but to be completely honest, it doesn’t seem as magical in person. It is more ominous and imposing than anything else. Still beautiful and intriguing, of course, but it’s one of those awkward situations where the vision in your head (mostly based on tourism photos and post cards) is way different than what you actually see in person. It also sneaks up on you when you least expect it. We were driving down the road and all of a sudden, boom, there it was on our left.
I hate to say it, but our experience was less than desirable. We arrived at 10 in the morning hoping to buy tickets and enter the castle. Must to our dismay, there was a sign at the ticket booth announcing there was no entry to the castle until 4 pm. We didn’t want to wait around for 6 hours and burn up our whole day, so we opted out. Plan ahead, people! Secure a tour and know what time it is so you don’t disappoint yourself like we did.
Walking up to the castle is free, of course, so we still did that. It’s a pretty difficult walk up a long hill, and the estimated walking time for an “average” person is 45 minutes. We made it in 20, but were sweating profusely by the end of it. Luckily there is a Biergarten at the crest of the hill, so you have a chance to cool off with a nice cold one. God bless Germany.
St. Coloman Church
At the foot of the mountain where Neuschwanstein is perched is a large open field. It’s mostly farmland and grazing pastures. Plopped right in the middle of it all is the most quaint, picture-perfect Bavarian church.
I made Lee pull the car over just so I could take a picture of it. These are the moments I love the most: stumbling upon unexpected beauty on my way to things that I think are better. I love being wrong sometimes.
Partnachlamm (Partnach Gorge)
If you’re looking for a unique outdoor adventure, this is the place to be. Parking is located near the Olympic ski jump, which is pretty awesome. From there, it’s about a 20-minute walk to the start of the trail. The hiking path winds through the deep ravine next to the rushing ice-cold bright blue glacial water. It’s drippy and cold, even on an 85-degree day, but the hike isn’t too long and it’s very easy.
The water is so blue, it kind of reminded me of juice.
We walked for about 30 minutes (leisurely pace) before the trail opened up to a riverbank. From there, we followed the trail upwards to the top of the gorge. Not a particularly easy hike, especially on a hot day, but the pasture it led to was something out of a fairytale.
Boating on the Eibsee
One thing I was dead-set was getting out on a lake. We read the brochures for the different lakes in the area, and decided the Eibsee was our best bet for some leisurely boating. We were right! However, to our disappointment, there were only pedal-boats and rowboats available–no canoes or kayaks. We got stuck with a pedal boat that had a slide attached to it (it’s meant for kids, obviously). And yes, Lee used it.
For an hour we pedaled around the lake, admiring the incredible view of Zugspitze. The water is a bright emerald green color, especially noticeable in the shallows around the islands. The 85-degree sunny day, emerald water, and snow capped mountains made the experience a weird yet wonderful combination of tropical and alpine. This place is a gem.
Shopping and Dining
There are countless antique shops and Biergartens lining the streets of Garmisch, and you really could spend a whole day exploring what the town has to offer. We looked at dozens of Cuckoo clocks (but bought none) and ate as much Bavarian food as our stomachs could handle. The restaurant we loved the most was Mohrenplatz, where I ordered a trout filet and Lee devoured Schweinebraten while enjoying a live accordion performance in the warm evening air.
St. Martin’s church is also a must-see. The interior is accented with yellow, pink and gold and is romantic and reverent all at the same time. You can also access the balcony–something I’ve never been able to do in any other church.
The weather was unseasonably warm, but I much prefer that to the rainy gloom that has plagued us all spring. It was perfect for working up a sweat on a hike and then cooling down with a delicious wheaty Hefeweißen.
In fact, I think I’ll go have one now.