While we had planned on a longer trip this year, it was pared down due to circumstances beyond our control.
To start, here’s a link to the photo’s we took along the way:
A brief overview:
8pm flight from Newark, NJ to Munich
2 nights Finkenberg (Zillertal, Austria) at the Gaestehaus Bergland (www.gaestehaus-bergland.at)
2 nights La Villa (Alta Badia, Dolomites) at the Ciasa Montanara (www.montanara.it)
1 night Zell am See (Austria) at the Pension Alpenrose (www.pension-alpenrose.com)
3 nights Ramsau (Germany) at the Pension Mayringerlehen (www.mayringerlehen.de)
3:20pm flight from Munich to Newark, NJ
For the cost conscious (or in case your curious):
Flight - $462 pp
Car - $358 / cost of gas for the entire trip – 130 Euro / tolls – 30 Euro (incl. the Vignette for Austria)
No GPS rental or maps! Ok, one, just of Finkenberg to find the first hotel.
Gaestehuas Bergland - 48 Euro a night
Ciasa Montanara – 60 Euro a night
Pension Alpenrose – 62 Euro a night
Pension Mayringerlehen – 50 Euro a night
(These prices are for 2 people w/buffet breakfast included)
We booked non-stop flights directly through www.lufthansa.com and reserved a rental car through www.gemut.com. We had no issues with either. I'd like to give Lufthansa a thumbs up for not charging for checked bags (2 pp), meals or drinks (incl. alcohol and beer). The flight attendants even came around with trays offering Baileys and Cognac.
Two points I’ll get out of the way:
Concerning the weather… The first evening (day of arrival) was the only time we had any rain at all during our trip. The rest of the time we had temps in the 70’s to 80’s and anywhere from mostly overcast to crystal clear skies.
Concerning traffic… while we’ve heard horror stories about it, we never got caught up in any. On our last drive to Munich, there WAS heavy traffic, going the opposite way!
A warning before reading any further… this report isn’t filled with visits to castles, museums, etc. Our plan was to take it easy and just enjoy being where we are. What we did experience were many friendly people, terrific food, charming towns and villages and spectacular scenery.
Day 0) The flight from NJ to Munich was going well until, unfortunately, we were told there was a medical emergency on board and we needed to land in Dublin. After tending to the passenger(s), we were informed there wasn't a proper tow bar and truck available to get the plane back into position and wound up being delayed a total of 4 hours. I did however get to see three movies on the flight… Appaloosa, Night at the Museum 2 and State of Play.
We arrived at Munich airport around 2pm, picked up our car (at the airport, a small Mercedes Benz) and by 3:30pm we were headed to our first stop… the Zillertal area of Austria. After many trips to Austria’s Tirol, this area has always been overlooked by us. We had planned on stopping to see Kufstein and it’s castle on the way, but we passed on that idea due to our late arrival. The skies were mostly clear around Munich but became increasingly cloudy with an intermittent light drizzle as we approached our destination. Even though the weather wasn’t ideal, entering the Zillertal for the first time is a sight to behold (at least once we passed the large, illuminated McDonalds sign, thankfully the only one in the valley). The vividness of the steep green hillsides dotted with small alpine villages which seemingly defy gravity is simply postcard material. After driving pretty much the length of the valley (about 30 min.), we started our ascent to Finkenberg on a fairly steep, winding road and then turn onto a VERY narrow road (basically one lane for 2 way traffic with a sheer drop off!). We finally arrive at the Gaestehaus Bergland in Finkenberg around 6:30pm, where we were warmly welcomed by Mrs. Eder. She and her husband Herbert own and run the Bergland. Neither speaks English, by the way. Thankfully I speak enough German to get us by. Friendly hosts, a beautiful place in a spectacular area. What more could we ask for. After settling in for a bit, we decide we’ve driven enough and want to stay local for dinner. We agreed on the Restaurant Cafe Eberl, which we can highly recommend. After a Wiener Schnitzel and a Chicken Cordon Blue with frites accompanied by a couple of Radler beers (we normally don’t drink beer at all) we were pretty much done for the day.
Upon awakening this morning, we were just blown away by the stunning scenery from our room balcony. We haven’t seen anything this beautiful in our travels outside of the BO in Switzerland. Green meadows, towering alpine peaks everywhere we looked and the town of Mayrhofen and the valley far below. After a terrific buffet breakfast of rolls, assorted breads, jams, yogurts, cereals, meats, cheeses, hard boiled eggs and honey made by the owners (ok, their bees), we head back “down” to check out Mayrhofen, the largest town in the Zillertal. Along with being extremely picturesque, it’s small enough to wander around and see most everything in an afternoon. And that’s exactly what we did… we simply walked around, window shopped, bought a few things and spent some time at an outdoor café sipping cappuccino’s. Afterwards we headed over to Zell am Ziller to try out the “Arena Coaster”. Not really a luge ride per say, as it’s on rails, yet you still control the speed yourself. My wife took a pass on this, but I went a few times. This was more fun than the luge rides we had been on before, since I really wasn’t worried about going too fast. As I mentioned, it’s on rails. A kind of hybrid luge/roller coaster ride. We then took a walk around Zell am Ziller. Another cute Tirolean old town with cobblestone alleys bordered by the turquoise waters of the Ziller river. Being a pretty clear day, we decided to take a drive on the Zillertaler Hohenstrasse. Now here’s a very interesting road. If you like driving mountain passes (as I do!), this drive is for you. It climbs up to 2,020 meters in 48 km past beautiful meadows and high alpine pastures as you wind your way closer to the mountain tops. At some points you can see all the way down to the valley floor. We had planned on taking at least one cable car trip this day, but this road climbed so high (as was the location of the Bergland), we didn’t see the need to bother. Next, a break back at the Gaestehaus Bergland to compose ourselves (my wife needed to relax after that drive), we sit on our balcony and soak in the scenery. Honestly, we had to “pinch” ourselves, as we just couldn’t believe the views. Afterwards, we headed back to Mayrhofen for dinner. We took a seat at an outdoor table at a place called Mo’s Bar, Esscafe & Music Room and ordered a Pizza Prosciutto and a Spaghetti da Vinci (along with 2 more Radlers). I should just say now that 2 Radlers accompanied every dinner on our trip. Afterwards, we strolled around town and headed “home”.
After another wonderful breakfast, we took a walk around the “neighborhood” and found Mr. Eder tending to his garden and bees. He showed us some of his bee hives and explained to me what he was growing in his garden. Upon checking out, Mr. Eder handed my wife a jar of honey and said “gift for you” to her. If and when we get to travel again, we will certainly stay here longer. We said our auf Wiedershen’s and were on our way through the beautiful Zillertal one last time. We make a brief stop before leaving Austria in Hall in Tirol (where we’ve stayed three times) to pick up some drinks and some goodies from a bakery, plus we just wanted another look around. Just a note, we really like Hall in Tirol. Finally, back on the road, over the Brenner Pass and on to Alta Badia in the Dolomites.
Now we usually do pretty good with not getting lost (never a GPS and no maps this trip!), we (I) missed the exit on the A22 for Klausen/Chiusa/Val Gardena and wound up getting off at the next available exit… Bozen/Bolzano nord! Quite a bit out of our way. We (again I) had the brainstorm of not taking the A22 back but taking the local, winding roads via Kastelruth/Castelrotto to Val Gardena and eventually Alta Badia. Although the scenery was beautiful, the drive just seemed to go on forever. Just a heads up, as we arrived in Castlrotto, we couldn’t help but notice lots of construction going on. We eventually made our way back to Val Gardena and then it was up and over the swithbacks of the Gardena Pass (with a stop at the top for coffee and to marvel at the views). We finally arrive around 3pm. at the Ciasa Montanara in La Villa, Alta Badia (where we stayed in ’06). As I mentioned in a previous report, it’s more “hotel like” in atmosphere than other places we’ve stayed yet it’s one of our favorites anywhere. We’re shown to a large room with a balcony that has a front row view of the Dolomites! We’re sitting on the balcony and after a brief “sun-shower” of 5 minutes or so, a double rainbow appears across the Dolomite backdrop. Spectacular! Anyway, before we know it, it’s getting late and we head over to the Pasticceria Dorigo (bakery) in Corvara, get some pastries for later on tonight and then on to dinner at our favorite restaurant in the area, the Black Hill in Colfosco. Afterwards, we sit on our balcony for a while and call it a day. Told you this trip wasn’t action packed!
We awake early to another clear day. Now for breakfast at the Montanara. I don’t know what to say other than it’s the best buffet breakfast of any place we’ve ever stayed. Along with the “usuals”, there was cappuccino, tiramisu, cakes, fruit filled crumb cakes and so much more. After having breakfast here I almost feel the price of the room is thrown in for free. Today we head off towards Cortina d’Ampezzo via the Valparola and Falzarego passes. On the way, we stop a few times for some photos. No cable car rides to report on, although we did go up the Lagazuoi on our last trip. The scenery along both roads is an un-earthly experience. Bare rock towers, boulders the size of cars strewn all about... quite bleak, quite surreal and quite amazing. We decide to skip stopping in Cortina (it’s very busy there!) and take a ride over the Giau Pass. We’ve driven a lot of passes on our trips and the road heading up the Giau from Cortina was pretty unimpressive in my opinion… until we reach the summit. Wow! The jagged peaks and limestone towers are right there. Close enough to walk up to. You really feel on top of the world (I know, we’re not.) The Dolomites truly need to be seen to be appreciated, as pictures don’t do them justice. There’s a cafe/gift shop here (of course) and the parking lot is teeming with motorcycles and vintage MG’s! You never know what you’ll happen upon! We order two hot chocolates and receive the most delicious, rich and creamy hot chocolate’s we’ve ever tasted. After checking out all the MG’s and taking some photo’s, well, what goes up must come down. So down the other side we go. A much more “typical” alpine pass driving experience with all the switchbacks and much more scenic than the ascent. Back to the Montanara and then on to the LaTor in La Villa for dinner. We arrived just before 6pm and were told we were too early for dinner. So we sat outside and had a couple of… Radlers! We then went in for dinner at 6:30. Anyone still reading?
We awake to another clear morning and we’re off to Zell am See for one night (the only night we didn’t have a reservation for). Along the way we stop in a lovely little old town called Dobbiaco/Toblach at the edge of the Dolomites. We take a walk to stretch our legs and then have a couple of cappuccionos at an outdoor table at the Hotel Simpaty. We had planned on driving the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse (we did this in ’06) but changed plans and took the Felbertauernstrasse instead. While this is certainly not the Grossglockner Road, the vistas are wonderful none the less. By the way, there’s a 10 Euro toll tunnel on this road. We finally arrive in Zell am See around 2 pm. and stop at the TI to take a look at what’s available for the night. We wind up at the Pension Alpenrose, a very nice B&B just 2 blocks from the pedestrian zone and just a short walk to the lake. We’re warmly greeted by Mrs. Gruber (who also doesn’t speak English) and we’re given the keys to a small room with a small balcony. I have to say we’ve never seen a bathroom this tiny, but it’s good enough for us and we take it.
Since it’s a beautiful afternoon, we stroll the pedestrian zone and take a look in a wonderful church, the Parish Church of St. Hippolyt. When we finally reach the lakeside promenade, we discover they have electric boats for rent. Now this sounds like a good idea, so we spend the next hour out on the lake in our “own” boat. What a great way to spend some time in Zell am See. Back to the Alpenrose for a bit and then we’re off to find a place for dinner. We settle in at an outdoor table at the Hotel Lebzelter in the old town pedestrian zone. As we’re finishing dinner, a Tirolean band assembles in the square just down the block. A pretty large band comprised of at least 20 musicians. After playing 5 minutes or so, they start marching through town and wind up giving a free concert (the music of Strauss, etc.) in a band shell right on the lake. After dinner we join the crowd, take a seat and enjoy the music. A very nice way to end the day.
Another beautiful morning and we’re pleasantly surprised to find yet another excellent buffet breakfast awaiting us this morning. The Alpenrose’s breakfast room is rustic in atmosphere and very charming. After checking out, we park by the pedestrian zone and take one last look around Zell am See and briefly stroll the lakeside promenade one last time. Another day here would have been just right. We get on our way about noon heading towards Ramsau (by Berchtesgaden) and our “home away from home”… the Pension Mayringerlehen. More on this later. Along the way we stop off in the small, very quaint town of Lofer. Bad timing for us, as most everything is closed from noon to 3pm. A leisurely walk around town, a look in another beautiful church and we’re back on the road. We arrive at the Pension Mayringerlehen around 2pm and are immediately greeted by Sabine and Johann Grassl, the owners. We stayed here in Oct. ’06 and again in Oct.’07. Sabine and Johann Grassl are simply the nicest people we’ve met during our travels over the years. This happens to be our favorite place to stay anywhere (maybe even home!). Along with the fabulous scenery, terrific buffet breakfasts (which is served with cheeses made Johann), it’s central location to so many places, it is really the warmth and friendliness of Johann and Sabine Grassl that makes this place so special to us. I almost forgot to mention their goats (in the front yard), the cows, chickens, hens, the llama, the horse and guinea pigs! They run an organic farm, not a zoo, in case you’re wondering. After getting our stuff sorted out and talking with Sabine for a bit, we head off to Bad Reichenhall, 20 minutes away. Bad Reichenhall is a “spa resort” yet we just wander the pedestrian zone enjoying the late afternoon. Dinner is at our favorite in Bad Reichenhall, the Don Camillo, just behind the church in the pedestrian zone. We take a place at an outdoor table and think… it just doesn’t get much better than this. Oh, the Knoblauch (garlic) soup is fantastic!
Today we plan to visit Salzburg. You know what happens to plans sometimes… we look for parking (for over 30 minutes) but can’t find anything near the old town. We give up (we’ve been to Salzburg 3 times anyway) and head to check out Hallein. We take a walk around and head to the church “above” town. While we’re there, the only other couple in the church leaves and the giant wood and metal door slams shut. My wife goes to try to get out and tells me it’s locked! Not one to worry, I tell her to relax and I try it myself. Sure seems locked to me! I try the other doors around the church and… sure seems like we’re locked in! Now my wife begins to panic. I go back to the door we came in (which was slammed shut) and give it another try. Nope. I play with the levers and other stuff on this massive door and after about 5 minutes finally get it open. Unfortunately for you readers, that was the exciting part of this report! Dinner tonight is at the Gebirgshausl just down the road from the Mayringerlehen. Excellent! We highly recommend this place for dinner if you’re in the area.
Our last full day and thankfully it’s a beautiful one. We have no plans except to stroll around Berchtesgaden and Ramsau simply enjoying being in Germany one last day. There’s quite a bit of construction going on in Berchtesgaden in case your curious. Oh, the Franziskanerkloster is a magnificant church just above the pedestrian zone and well worth a visit. It’s now about 6pm and we’re sitting out front of the Mayringerlehen talking with Sabine Grassl. A car pulls into the lot and Sabine tells us that these people are staying a few nights and that they’re from NJ also. Ok. Two “older” women get out of the car and we introduce ourselves. Get this… one of them lives 15 minutes from us in NJ and the other lived in the same town as us up until 2 years ago (but now lives in PA), and her son is a dentist with an office that’s within walking distance from our home. What are the odds? Just a fast fact here, there’s less than 3,000 people in our entire town. We make a plan to take a group photo the next morning as we plan to drop by her son's dental office and “surprise” him with who we met when we get home. On to dinner as it’s getting late and we need to pack tonight for our trip home tomorrow. We pick the Gasthof Altes Forsthaus, which is pretty much next door. While it was pretty good, it doesn’t compare to the Gebirgshausl the night before. Oh well. We get back after 9:30pm and get to packing.
We get up early and we take the group photo at breakfast. Neither of us wants to leave. Eventually, we know we must say our goodbye’s and at 10:30am. head off towards Munich and the airport. We make one last stop before getting on the highway in Inzell (we’re procrastinating now, as we really don’t want to leave!) and then it’s clear sailing the rest of the way and we arrive at the airport just before 1pm. The flight home was on time and uneventful.
To sum things up:
We had great weather, had a chance to relax, we saw some fantastic scenery and met many friendly people.
Some of the most lasting memories come from the friendliness of all the people we meet along the way.
I think one the reasons why we enjoy our trips to Europe so much is we really get away. No phones (although we did call home 3 times with a calling card), no computers and e-mail, no newspapers, no news to watch (we usually don’t watch tv at all), nothing that reminds us of our “normal life” back home. We feel we really got “away” from everything, at least for a little while.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
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