The German Alpine Road
The German Alpine Road
When a driving route has a name, as a rule, it becomes instantly transformed from ordinary to extraordinary. This couldn’t be more true of The German Alpine Road. After all, it’s a worthy recipient, particularly as this is the oldest touring route in Germany!
The dramatic 450km route begins at Lake Constance before winding through the incredible scenery of the German Alps, ending at the breathtaking Lake Königsee.
Suddenly we feel the urge to take to the road and see for ourselves exactly why such an honour was bestowed. If nothing else, usually, it’s very clever marketing from the local tourist board!
Lake Constance – The German Alpine Road
Otherwise known as Bodensee, Lake Constance lies on the border of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. At 46 miles long and 9 miles wide, it certainly offers more than just a day trip.
We’d arrived at the German town of Lindau, soon realising this historic town was actually an island! By the way, as usual we’d arrived in the height of Summer, consequently it was packed.
The whole area was beautiful, so to begin with, we set about finding a place to park for the night. Along the lakeside we found a selection of private Stellplatz, in other words, motorhome parking areas. They all offered lovely grassy pitches and some had toilet facilities as well.
After finding a suitable place to stop, we got the bikes out and cycled off back into Lindau itself. The weather was on top form, scorching in-fact, incidentally, Germany does get very hot at times.
Lindau and The Lido – The German Alpine Road
Lindau offers plenty of interesting nooks and crannies for the average tourist. Especially noticeable were the Gothic-style historic buildings, providing plenty of shade too. Very welcoming, as we ate ice cream amongst the coach loads of day-trippers.
A walk down towards the old harbour gave a lovely outlook across the water. Here, the large marble Lion of Bavaria guards the town whilst opposite stands a mighty lighthouse. Both the views of the Alps and the backdrop of the lake setting bring an irresistible charm.
Not to be missed was a rather interesting interlude at the local lido. I always love a good swim, no more so than when a pool location was as good as this. Situated alongside the clear lake itself, this mix of inviting swimming pools and grassy sunbathing areas was just too tempting.
Car Ferry to Konstanz
Before leaving Lindau, we couldn’t resist a ferry ride across Lake Constance from neighbouring Meersburg. Arriving at the largest town on the lake, Constance or Konstanz in German.
Typically, we’d decided to take the car ferry, consequently, taking with us the motorhome! This wasn’t out of fear of having to walk everywhere, but incase we loved it and wanted to stay the night!
As it turned out, in our opinion Constance wasn’t that great. It lacked a certain something, especially the vibrant lakeside vista’s of the opposite shores from where we’d come.
After a walk around the centre, followed by a meal alongside the harbour, it was time for the ferry back to Lindau. Fortunately, it hadn’t cost the Earth, in addition frequent crossings, every 10 minutes, meant we didn’t have to wait!
We Begin The German Alpine Road
Climbing the winding roads on our ascent out of Lindau, the scenery and the landscapes began to change.
The German Alpine Road skirts the border of Austria, especially close is this first section. Surrounding us lay the mountains of the Allgäu as well as Vorarlberg, soon the outlook became simply beautiful.
Alpine meadows, quaint log cabins and the finest cattle lay before us, the sounds of cattle bells ringing out through the open window.
When the sun is shining and warmth blows through the air, simply said, there is no better place to be. Somehow, the mountains bring more solitude than the sea, generally, we always feel at home in the hills.
Lake Views and Hairpin Bends
You often know you’re on a good driving route by the number of hairpin bends it involves! Before long, we’d begun to turn the wheels along the best of the bendy bits – to be exact, 106 of them!
The Oberjoch pass, used to be a trading route over the Alps. Incredibly, that was in the 17th century, when horses were the only mode of transport. Back then, salt was one of the main commodities.
Don’t worry, the road is a little different now, thanks to the construction of a wider, less steep new route. The views of Alpsee lake made a welcome change as we drove on thinking of times past.
Remarkably, some mountains in the Alps still have salt mines open to the public. There’s a really good one just outside of Salzburg, where on a different trip, we slid down huge slides inside massive caverns – completely crazy but fun!
Fairytale Castles On The German Alpine Road
The next section of the route led us towards Füssen, a delightful town surrounded by lakes and mountains.
It’s well worth a stop to explore the historic centre, as well as the fact that it’s the highest town in Bavaria. Towering above the River Lech, the old centre is dominated by the palace, once home to the Lord Bishops of Augsburg.
A short drive away from Füssen is the best fairytale castle ever built! Of course, this is Neuschwanstein, the famed Disney castle, where Walt and his wife got their idea for the subsequent famous icon of film.
Alongside Neuschwanstein sits another incredible castle, Hohenschwangau. These amazing palaces dominate the landscape and are quite simply astonishing. Both were home to the Mad King Ludwig II.
We’d already visited during our tour of The Romatic Road, unsurprisingly, they are both outstanding. Furthermore, you won’t see another like it, so be sure to get there early and take a tour!
Clouds form and rain falls heavy
So far, the weather had been on our side. Only breaking for the odd thunder storm, otherwise, the sun had shone with intensity. Unfortunately that was soon to change, as thick clouds descended and the heaven’s opened.
Our views across the mountain ranges disappeared beneath a thick low cloud. What should have been a scenic drive through the panoramic vista of the Ammergau Alps and onwards to Karwendal resembled pea soup!
This whole region should have been glorious. Instead, as we drove towards the most well known resort in the Bavarian Alps, the rain just seemed to get heavier and the clouds thicker.
Olympics and Garmisch Partenkirchen
If you see a place in glorious sunshine, you’ll always remember it in a better light. In contrast, when it’s wet and dull even the most scenic locations can look somewhat dreary.
As we approached the Winter sport hub of Garmisch Partenkirchen, the appeal just wasn’t happening. What should have been surroundings of the biggest mountain peaks in Germany, were hidden in a thick, wet foggy haze.
This resort has an amazing sporting history. Home to the 1936 Winter Olympics and various high profile events thereafter. It’s also the gateway to Germany’s highest mountain, The Zugspitze.
We had planned to take the mountain railway followed by a cable car up to the 9720ft summit. Instead, we pulled up at a Stellplatz at the base of the Wannbank cable car and put the kettle on.
Outdoor Paradise and Motorhome Parking
This whole region across the alps is superb for hiking, biking and just about any other outdoor pursuit. Stopping along the route, could have you exploring on foot at every opportunity, there’s an abundance of marked trails to suit all abilities.
At Garmisch-Partenkirchen everything you need is available. From stocking up on extra kit or sourcing maps and hiking guides. It’s a perfect place for any preparation before hitting the hills.
Motorhome parking or Stellplatz are really excellent throughout Germany. The Alpine Road is no exception, particularly good are some of the private Stellplatz available, some of which will have basic facilities such as a shower and toilet.
If you want more than a Stellplatz, there’s a brilliant selection of campsites too. Above all, no matter which you choose, the location will often be really scenic.
More Lakes and Rain
As the rain continued to fall so did our drive along the German Alpine Road. Leaving the mighty Zügspite mountain behind in the cloud, the route now led us out towards Tölzer Land.
This area should have offered glorious lake side picnic spots at Lake Walchensee but all we could see was mist!
A mecca for water sports enthusiasts, in good weather, this would have been dreamy! One section of the route has 14 bends over a 6 mile distance, perhaps no surprise it used to hold a car race in the early 1900’s.
The route wind’s on through alps alongside is Austria and the Tyrol region. For us, the thick mist was still with us, such a shame for this incredibly beautiful route.
Reaching Lake Chiemsee
Thank goodness as the signs for Lake Chiemsee came into view, the skies were clearing.
Chiemsee is fairly close to the Autobahn, as a result, it’s one of those places that we pass quite often. We’ve always thought it slightly disappointing compared to many other lakes. Probably, it’s a little too big for our liking, after all this is the largest lake in Bavaria.
Nonetheless, if you haven’t been it’s worth a visit. At 80 sq km, there’s plenty of it to see. In addition to numerous water activities on offer, there’s lots of little towns and villages to explore.
After a lakeside picnic it was time for us to continue on our route. Soon we’d be reaching the most interesting region of all but first there were some amazing views coming our way.
Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s Alpine Base
The scenery grew ever more beautiful as our route climbed the mountain passes of the German alps. This whole region is regrettably often overlooked by us British, yet it’s mesmerising and breathtaking.
Providing everything you need from an alpine trip, the German Alpine Road is the icing on the cake. Utlimately, it’s the mountain activities on offer that attract many visitors. But for us, this section of the route brought the most incredible historical element.
After finding a private Stellplatz for the night above the town, we settled in amongst the owner’s gracious cattle. There’s nothing like mixing with the locals, especially when it involves cows and goats!
Berchtesgaden is stunningly beautiful, possibly one reason why Hitler chose to have his 2nd headquarters to Berlin located here. The Nazi connection of WWII is very much remembered in an incredibly poignant musuem. We were able to park here the following morning before spending a few hours immersed in the symbolic history element.
It’s set amongst the location of Hitler’s Berghof, his home during his time spent here, subsequently bombed by the Allies following the liberation. Many other buildings of the SS are still standing, it’s quite unbelievable to be surrounded by what was such an horrific seat of power.
The Eagle’s Nest
Another fascinating piece from historic events was yet to come. The Eagle’s Nest was actually built as a gift for Hitler for his 50th birthday. Nestled on top of Mt Khelstein, at over 6000 ft high, this was no easy construction project. Not only that, but a 4 mile long road was also needed to lead up the mountain side, quite amazing in itself. To top off the feat of engineering, not content with a road, they built a brass-lined lift inside the mountain!
The Eagle’s Nest is now a restaurant, to reach it you have to take an organised bus tour, we booked our tickets and settled in for the ride. The tour bus dropped us off at the entrance to a 400 ft long tunnel, carved into the mountain side and leading us to the brass lift. How strange this felt, to be following in the footsteps of one of the most evil dictators in modern history. Another 400ft inside the mountain, this time in a vertical direction and we emerged into the busy foyer of the Eagle’s Nest itself.
The Rain Clouds Descend
Just as we ventured out into the mountain air to take in the views around the Eagle’s Nest, the cloud came in and the rain began.
Our mobile phone’s pinged “welcome to Austria”, a reminder of how close we were to the border and Salzburg. Unfortunately the rain spoiled the views, barely a mountain in sight, our only outlook being thick grey clouds.
In fine weather, this place would be phenomenal.However, the location along with the surreal facts surrounding the construction and subsequent use was spellbinding.
The best thing about Berchtesgaden is the complete variation it offers. One minute you can be in the depths of WWII history, the next you can be gliding in a boat along the most beautiful green lake imaginable. This would be our next stop, as we headed to the end of the road on the valley floor, before reaching the fabulous Lake Königssee.
There was a large grassy parking area just before we reached Königssee itself, so we found a spot and parked the campervan. It’s a lovely little village, if not, a bit touristy, due to numerous souvenir shops and inevitable coach trips. Nonetheless, there’s no mistaking the beauty here, especially as we approached the large paved walkways leading to the water’s edge.
From here, we took a boat trip across the lake, taking in the scenery, which became more visible as the clouds lifted slightly. The main attraction is the Church of St.Bartholomew, a pilgrimage site but a pretty building at that.
The boat dropped us off at the far end of the lake, here you’re able to walk around and soak up the scenery before catching a boat back at your leisure.
Bad Reichenhall and A dip in the Spa
After a gorgeous afternoon lazing around on the water, the time had come to move on. Winding our way back through the Berchtesgaden, soon a tempting Therme caught our eye.
Bad Reichenhall is set amongst the glorious Alps of the Berchtesgadener Land, in addition there’s also salt! The brine and minerals from salt found inside the mountains is piped direction into the thermal water’s of the Rupertus Therme.
This is where we chose to relax for the evening, soaking in the natural outdoor mineral pools, under the night sky, surrounded by the Alps. Simply stunning and when the steamy mist of the outdoor pools got too much, all we had to do was switch to some indoor bathing, such difficult choices sometimes!
Best of all, as usual at these natural thermal spa’s found throughout Bavaria, there’s also a Stellplatz or dedicated overnight motorhome parking! Now you really can’t get better than that!
The German Weather
We may have had a mixed bag of weather on this trip but don’t be down-hearted! Despite having returned a few times to Bavaria, experiencing some pretty wet weather along the way. In actual fact, we’ve had some really hot weather too. The chances are, if you’re on the road for a few weeks, the weather in Summer, should bring a mix of intense heat followed by spells of heavy rain.
We’ve visited between May and August and overall have been blessed with some fabulous hot and sunny weather. Good enough to keep us retuning to Germany and the incredibly beautiful regions it has to offer us motorhome travelers.