When I began planning my trip to southern Germany, there was one crucial experience that I needed to make sure I had: I wanted to feel like Maria von Trapp in the opening scene of The Sound of Music.
Yes, that’s right. I wanted to see rolling hills speckled with wildflowers, set against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks and clear blue skies. I wanted scenery so gorgeous that I would be inclined to go sprinting through the hills, twirling in circles with my arms outstretched and my dress blowing in the wind.
And you better believe that I found it.
After hours of scouring Bavarian guidebooks and skimming European travel websites, I came across the name of a place that I knew would have exactly what I was looking for: Berchtesgadener Land.
Berchtesgadner Land is a small district located in the far southeastern corner of Germany, touching the Austrian border. The alpine terrain is home to rugged mountains, thick forests, crystal clear lakes, sprawling fields, and charming villages. This was the Germany I was determined to see.
After spending a few relaxing days in Garmisch, I hopped back into my rental car and set off for Berchtesgaden, one of the “major” towns in the district (i.e. population 7700). I drove down a narrow strip of the Autobahn, past tiny towns, towering mountains, dark woods, and painted farmhouses.
I had booked a room at the only hostel in Berchtesgaden, which was described as being “above the Burger King.” When I arrived in Berchtesgaden, lo and behold, the very first sight to meet my eyes was the Burger King sign. I pulled into the parking lot, looked around, and headed inside.
As promised, the hostel was literally above the Burger King, and it was the restaurant manager who checked me in and showed me to my room. Despite the potential sketchiness of staying in a Burger King hostel, it was actually incredibly clean, spacious, quiet, and comfortable, and each of the rooms had a number of huge windows that looked out into the town.
I opened the windows to peek outside, and a cool rush of mountain air blew into the room. It was the definition of “heavenly.”
I stashed my belongings and headed out to explore the little alpine town that would serve as my temporary home over the next few days.
And guys, IT WAS INCREDIBLE.
Despite being early July, the sky was cloudy, the air was chilly and there was a steady breeze, which was an extremely welcome change from the high temperatures and intense sunshine I had experienced in Munich and Fussen.
Strangely, there was hardly anyone around, so I walked along the river in total silence. I honestly couldn’t believe how picturesque every last detail of this little town was, from the ultra green hills to the aquamarine river, and from the half-timbered “gasthauses” to the Baroque church towers in the distance.
Aside from the stunning views, there wasn’t really much going on down by the river, and based on the skyline it seemed like the center of town was likely at the top of an intimidatingly steep hill.
Let me tell you, going up that hill was a cardio workout in and of itself! I huffed and puffed my way to the top, thankful for the crisp air and plenty of shade, even though I was starting to shiver. As I power-walked my way up the slope, I noticed a bell tower not too far away on my left. I switched course and headed toward it.
Holy cow, was that ever a good idea! My detour led me to THE most amazing cemetery I have ever seen.
If you think that hanging around in cemeteries is weird, we prooobally can’t be friends…kidding…sort of…but actually not…
Truly though, this cemetery totally highlighted a unique cultural difference between Germany (or at least Bavaria) and the United States. Someone was clearly putting a LOT of time, effort, and money into maintaining these grave sites and making them absolutely beautiful and peaceful.
In fact, this cemetery was the polar opposite of “creepy”–it was whimsical, festive, and relaxing. I would absolutely love it if the United States adopted this method of paying respects to loved ones who had passed away.
As much as I would have actually enjoyed it, I couldn’t hang around in the cemetery all night. It was beginning to get late, and I still wanted to check out more of the town.
Instead of continuing up towards the town center itself, I followed another path up an even steeper hill. I had read online somewhere that you could walk all the way up the hill overlooking town, which would reward you with sweeping panoramic views.
Boy, did it ever.
I didn’t see a soul on my walk up the hill (are you sensing a theme here?) and I was decidedly alone when I reached the top, too. The views were amazing, and I may or may not have had a mini Maria von Trapp moment as I took it all in.
It was so peaceful that I decided to take a seat right there in the grass, and soak it all in in silence.
For a loooong time.
It was one of those moments of solo travel that I’ve come to really treasure. Sure, it can get lonely traveling alone and having no one to share these kind of moments with, but at other times, it honestly seems right to have some of these truly special memories all to yourself.
To feel true happiness and contentment in the presence of no one but yourself is an incredible thing, and it’s something that I’m learning to never take for granted.
After I had thoroughly appreciated my solitude, I began my descent down the other side of the hill. I made a friend along the way, and I may or may not have coerced him into joining me in an impromptu photo shoot.
…But I mean, he was a great model.
As glorious as this first day in Berchtesgaden was, my true Sound of Music moment wouldn’t occur until the following day, in Berchtesgaden National Park.
Lake Konigssee just might be one of THE most magical places I’ve ever visited. I arrived at the boat dock at 8:15am, in order to beat the summer tourist crowds. Even so, the boat was totally full by the time it departed at 8:30, mostly with hardcore-looking hikers with bandannas and pants that unzipped into shorts.
Me? I was decked out in a frilly pink dress with flip flops, naturally.
But while Lake Konigssee (and Berchestgaden National Park as a whole) is a great place for hiking, it’s a great place for doing other things as well. It’s a great place for taking pictures, having a picnic, reading a book, or laying in the grass and watching the clouds go by. To put it simply, it’s a pretty damn great place to do just about anything.
In short, Lake Konigssee was just about as stunning as a place could be. There are only two main stops at the lake, and I spent several hours just wandering about at the farthest stop, called Salet.
I was as happy as a clam, and if there were any guesthouses or hotels on the lake (there aren’t) I probably would have stayed here forever. Honestly, I think Miss Maria herself would have been stunned to silence by this place.
When I purchased my electric boat ticket for Lake Konigssee, I opted for the combination boat & cable car pass. So when I arrived back at the boat dock in the early afternoon, I made my way over to the Jennerbahn cable car station.
The cars were fairly small, big enough for only two people, and there was magically no line. So, I handed off my ticket, hopped into one of the cars, and enjoyed the ride up the mountain.
It was a slow ride, with increasingly scenic views as my car climbed higher and higher. I passed over groups of brown cows lazily grazing on the grassy mountainside several times during my ascent.
The Jennerbahn has two stops: the midway point, and the very top. I skipped the halfway point and rode directly to the top. When I stepped out of the car, the air was noticeably cooler, but when mixed with the clear skies and strong sun, the temperature was absolutely perfect.
There’s a little buffet-style restaurant at the top, with a wide open porch and red-checkered picnic tables. The deck overlooks the national park, and in case you hadn’t already guessed: the views were KILLER.
This, my friends, was exactly what I had been searching for. The mountains were steep and jagged, but softened by the gently sloping green hills that were dotted with wildflowers. The sky was clear and blue, aside from a few fluffy white clouds. It was sunny with a cool breeze, and I had just stuffed my face with some deliciously filling German food.
It. Was. Glorious.
I could go on and on about the scenery, probably forever. But, I think these pictures say it much more gracefully than I ever could:
It’s safe to say that I left Berchtesgaden humming all of the tunes from The Sound of Music and feeling overjoyed with my time spent there. It was one of those places that I really connected with, and was the ultimate grand finale to my Bavarian road trip.
Have you ever heard of Berchtesgaden? What’s one of the prettiest mountain towns you’ve ever traveled to?