Our last morning in Salzburg over breakfast I had originally planned for us to go on a toboggan run, but I realized the few places I had bookmarked would not be open for another day, so we made a last-minute change of plans. After packing up the car, we said goodbye to Salzburg and headed to a town we were all excited about—Berchtesgaden. This city was not originally even on my radar when planning the trip with my parents, but when I first showed the map of the places I was thinking about to my dad, he pointed to Berchtesgaden and said he thought he remembered going there. It turns out, when he was five, his parents took him and my aunt there for Christmas, and they went sledding! When I first researched it, I found out Berchtesgaden has a bit of a dark past, as Hitler loved the beauty of Berchtesgaden so much, he built his summer home there. Yikes. The Allies destroyed almost all of his luxurious retreat to dissuade future neo-Nazis pilgrimages. Don’t let this horrendous blip in history dissuade you from visiting the beauty that has been in Berchtesgaden long before humans—the Alps and Lake Königssee.
Lake Konigsee is a mere 40 minute drive from Salzburg. We arrived early, catching the 10:30 am ferry to St. Bartholomä. The 35-minute ride on the ferry offers the most gorgeous views of the towering mountains surrounding the lake. During our ride, a guide told us about the history of the Lake and some statistics. Towards the middle of our ride our guide took out his bugle, opened the doors of the ferry, and played it out towards the mountains, showcasing how beautifully the mountains echoed his playing right back to him.
When we arrived at St. Bartholomä, we walked my mom to the nearest café, where she cozied up with a cappuccino and a book after a walk around the surrounding area. My dad, Bryan, and I hiked off towards the mountains in hopes of seeing the Ice Chapel (Eiskappelle), a cave of ice formed by snow melts from the mountains. Our hike started with a walk through an Alpine forest. After crossing a river and passing a small abandoned church, our climb up began. 30 minutes later, we arrived at a sign notifying us the end of public trail maintenance. We noticed immediately the trail shrunk in width as a lot of fresh snow had fallen. As we ventured further, the trail disappeared, and we were merely following the footsteps of those brave fools who had ventured out blindly before us. We reached a giant boulder with 2-foot long icicles adorning one entire side. About 5 other people were huddled there, and once couple told us the trail to the Ice Chapel was completely blocked off. We noticed there were some footsteps still going beyond the boulder, so Bryan and I went as far as the footsteps went. Along the way, we heard a rolling thunder and looked up to see a small avalanche way high up in the mountains beside us. Luckily it stopped shortly after it started, but I can only imagine how loud a big avalanche would be! Where the footsteps ended, all that was around us was a foot or two blanket of snow covering a field of rocks and a stream we could hear flowing nearby which we would have to cross to get to the Ice Chapel. Uncomfortable with the possibility of making a misstep and falling into the stream, we headed back to where my dad was waiting. We munched on some snacks while the clouds lifted for a brief period revealing the full mountaintops above us, took in the beautiful majesty of the mountains, and headed back. After crossing the river by the abandoned church again, we decided to take a different path back. The path led us to the Lake, and we walked along it noticing the striking blueness of the space ahead. It was as if a giant blue filter covered the entire landscape ahead.
When we reached the café we were all starving, so we decided to have lunch there. Mom raved about the trout there, which we learned came from the only fisherman allowed to fish in the lake. I had a trio of different flavors of knodels, which was delicious! Bryan had a German comfort classic— käsespätzle (basically their version of Mac ‘n Cheese with spätzle instead of elbow noodles). We caught the ferry back and ventured to our next Home Stay about 10 minutes outside of Berchtesgaden.
Our next Home Stay was not nearly as nice as our apartment in Salzburg. It was fairly clean, but older and very basic. Our host did not receive us nor leave any check-in instructions for me, so I had to ask her child who was running around outside for her phone number to make sure we checked into the right apartment. After calling her, we dropped our stuff into the spacious, but super cold apartment. We immediately turned all the heaters on full blast, but it wouldn’t be comfortably warm until the next evening. After settling in, we ventured out to Berchtesgaden’s city center to have dinner at their Christmas Market. After spotting a stand with a veggie doner, Bryan and I were sold on our dinner. Dad and Mom each got a sausage at another stand, and we met up at the entrance. We then explored the pedestrian streets lined with stalls. We meandered, and I got some gluhwein to sip on. Berchtesgaden was a smaller market, and it had some unique crafts, but not as many as Hellbrunn did in Salzburg. We did enjoy the donkey though in the kid’s corner haha.
The next day we had some fun followed by some relaxation. The fun began with some intense tobogganing. We drove to Ramsau to check out Hirscheckblitz, a 1.4 mile long toboggan run which is a curvy run that drops 1312 feet in elevation from start to finish! We rented toboggans, which looked like the classic railed sleds. An employee put our toboggans on our chairlifts and we rode for about 20 minutes up the mountain! At the top, we cautiously dragged our toboggans to the start, sat down, and pushed forward. Whoa! This was the most intense sledding I’d ever done! With steep slopes, sharp curves, and a narrow path that hung over the cliff edges, one wrong lean and you could fall off the side of the mountain. But wow, what a blast we had! I fell over a few times, spun out, and got plenty of snow up my pant leg, but by the end of the run I had the steering down and couldn’t wait to do it again! It took all of us about 30 minutes to get down the mountain. My dad and Bryan came down just as enthused as I was for the next run and a little surprised by how much more difficult it was than we had originally thought. I was nervous what my mom would say when she came down, but she said she was ready to go again! We all did it a second time with a bit more control and speed. Bryan, Dad, and I went a third time, but with more people having gone on the runs it was way bumpier and more difficult to steer on, we were ready to call it quits.
Rosy cheeked and with frozen fingers and toes, we all happily jumped into our rental car and cranked up the heat to de-thaw. We drove to the town and had lunch at Bräustüberl, along with some beers. We arrived about 10 minutes before the kitchen was to stop taking orders, so we all had to order very quickly. We enjoyed our meals though, and the beers tasted extra refreshing after our morning of sledding. We ended the day on a relaxing note by visiting the Watzmann Thermal Spa. The spa is huge and very family friendly, but the large draw is the Brine Area, a large pool of warm salt water using salt from the nearby mines. The pool was outside and had various jets set up and even a waterfall you could stand underneath of a deep tissue shoulder massage. Beyond the salt area, there was another salted heated pool indoors, as well as a large family area with a water slide that timed you and a lazy river-esque area where the current was quite strong. They also had a lap pool and several different themed saunas, from one where the walls were decorated with salt blocks, to one with a relaxing essential oil scent, and even one with hanging lounge chairs! It was a relaxing and fun way to end the day. We had our last dinner at a traditional Bavarian restaurant, which had some great food, including a salad I think my Dad would have been happy to have just about every other day. Back at our Home Stay, which was finally warm, we packed up, shared one last beer and card game together.
The next day, we drove back to Munich airport. It was a tearful goodbye, as we are not sure when we’ll see my parents again on this trip. We had a blast together exploring Bavaria though, and I am so grateful for the time we did have together. It was a few magical days that truly put me into the holiday spirit!