• Photo: Lukas Holub / Shutterstock

Berchtesgaden

Berchtesgaden is a gorgeous mountain town right on the border with Austria. From its location in a 2,300-foot-high valley, you can see Germany's second-highest mountain, the Watzmann, and embark on daylong or multiday hikes through the Alps. The nature and diversity of the forests surrounding it are unparalleled in Germany, as are its snowy winters; the small town becomes a hive of activity in high winter and high summer as tourists descend in search of sporting adventure, whether it be hiking or biking, skiing or bobsledding. Perhaps historically it's best known for its brief association as the second home of Adolf Hitler, who dreamed of his "1,000-year Reich" from the mountaintop where millions of tourists before and after him drank in only the superb beauty of the Alpine panorama, but there is much more to the town than its dark past. The historic old market town and mountain resort has great charm. An ornate palace and working salt mine make up some of the diversions in this heavenly setting.

Salt was once the basis of Berchtesgaden's wealth. In the 12th century Emperor Barbarossa gave mining rights to a Benedictine abbey that had been founded here a century earlier. The abbey was secularized early in the 19th century, when it was taken over by the Wittelsbach rulers. Salt is still important today because of all the local wellness centers. The entire area has been declared a Kurgebiet ("health resort region"), and was put on the UNESCO biosphere list.

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