The Essential Guide to the Bavarian Alps

Snowcapped mountains piercing the sky, Alpine lakes lapping against sun-drenched shores, and a range of outdoor activities to get your heart pumping—it’s no wonder the Bavarian Alps continue to draw curious travelers from all over the world. No matter the season, the iconic region displays nature at its best. In summer, Alpine valleys blossom with a verdant array of flora that encircles traditional villages and emerald lakes. In the colder months, waterfalls freeze, lakes frost over, and blankets of snow cover mountainsides, forming a winter wonderland befitting any fairy tale.

In Elmau 2, 82493 Krün, Germany
Schloss Elmau, set at the foot of the craggy German Alps, has a fascinating past. A German theologian opened the hotel in 1916 as a place for visitors to commune with nature while attending religious lectures, public readings, and classical music concerts. In the aftermath of World War II, he lost the property to the U.S. Army, but it was eventually returned to his family. Then in 2005, a fire swept through the original Schloss (castle), causing severe damage, and the owners saw the disaster as an opportunity to rebuild and add another, all-suite hotel on the property to serve as a cultural gathering place. Today, Schloss Elmau still hosts music and literary events—more than 170 each year—and, impressively, served as the site of the G7 Summit in 2015.

Impeccably furnished in shades of soft red, cream, and gold, the 162 rooms are elegant yet understated so as not to distract from the sweeping views of the meadows and mountains beyond. Families will appreciate the larger rooms in the new building, but couples may enjoy soaking up the grand feeling of the original property. The real attraction here, however, is the spas. There are six in all, including one for families, with a large indoor pool and five different types of saunas; the adults-only Badehaus, with three pools, saunas, a yoga center, a beauty salon, and relaxation rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows and open fireplaces; and the Shantigiri spa, featuring separate pools and facilities for adults, families, and “ladies.” Another spa is set on 40 acres with a stream. Once you’re sufficiently blissed out, there are 10 restaurants to choose from, including the Michelin-starred Luce d’Oro.
Untere Bachgasse 8, 93047 Regensburg, Germany
The Hotel Orphée, in the medieval city of Regensburg, oozes 19th-century French glamour. Centrally located to Regensburg’s cobblestone streets, local shops, restaurants, and small squares, it’s decorated in a Baroque palazzo style. Each large, reasonably priced room is styled differently, but nearly all feature antiques and four-poster beds. Also on-site is the Orphée Restaurant, a French bistro that’s been in operation since 1896. Surrounded by its authentic wood wainscotting, tin ceiling, old French posters, and overall patina, you’ll feel transported to a distinctly different era—a time when sitting in a small café, drinking wine and watching passersby, could be the grand plan of your day. Note: In the summer, the narrow streets surrounding the hotel get very noisy, so if you’re a light sleeper, this may not be the place for you.
Kemnater Str. 2, 87600 Kaufbeuren, Germany
Adlerkeller has a glowing reputation throughout the Bavarian Alps for both its delicious traditional cuisine and welcoming atmosphere that lures diners back again and again. Indeed, the lovely owners of this Kaufbeuren-based restaurant take pride in making diners feel like part of the family, rounding out their experience with well-prepared steaks, spareribs, and homemade soups. In good weather, they open their outdoor patio, where summer revelers can swill the night away with fine German beer.
Kehlsteinhaus, 83471 Berchtesgaden, Germany
Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat, the Eagle’s Nest combines haunting history with stunning panoramic views. Located high in the Bavarian Alps, this famous Third Reich construction was bought for the former German Führer as a 50th-birthday present. Today, the spot (also known as Kehlsteinhaus) is open to the public. After a bus journey to the base of the Eagle’s Nest, visitors walk through a long tunnel and make a final 406-foot ascent in an elevator embedded into the mountainside. Once inside the building, don’t miss the Italian marble fireplace—a present from Benito Mussolini. Also note that weather conditions may cause the Eagle’s Nest to close at certain times of year, so summer is your best bet to visit.
Alpseestraße 30, 87645 Schwangau, Germany
You know you’re in the Bavarian Alps when a majestic, fairy tale–like castle appears in the distance, perched atop a rugged peak. Thanks to King Ludwig II and his obsession with 19th-century Romanticism, this mountainous area is home to a wide array of beautiful castles. While Neuschwanstein is the most famous, Hohenschwangau actually served as King Ludwig’s home and is now open for tours of its ornate banquet halls and charming dressing rooms, as well as the king’s bedroom.
Königssee, 83471 Schönau am Königssee, Germany
No matter the time of year you visit, Lake Königssee always inspires awe. Summer means shimmering water in shades of emerald and sage green, while winter brings a cold, misty atmosphere with otherworldly light. Take a boat ride along the pristine fjord, past rugged cliffs and the Baroque-style St. Bartholomew’s Church. When your guide plays his trumpet, listen for the magical echo from the mountains.
Neuschwansteinstraße 20, 87645 Schwangau, Germany
The most famous castle in Germany—and one of the best known in Europe—Neuschwanstein is renowned not just for its fairy-tale architecture (which directly inspired the Disney Castle) but also for its creator, “mad” King Ludwig II. Begun in 1868, it wasn’t completed until four years after Ludwig’s death, in 1892, but was very advanced for its time, with larger-than-usual windows, central heating, an elevator, telephones, and indoor plumbing. However, it’s the castle’s mountaintop setting and soaring towers that really impress. When visiting, be sure to check out the paintings inspired by the operas of Richard Wagner—Ludwig’s friend and the person to whom he dedicated the castle. Also take in the stellar views from the Marienbrücke, and if you want to visit in style, consider a horse-drawn carriage ride back to your car. There’s a restaurant on-site, but plenty of cheaper options are in the town below.
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