Getting Oriented

Ask a Bavarian about the "Bavarian Alps" and he'll probably shake his head in confusion. To Bavarians "the Alps" consist of several adjoining mountain ranges spanning the Ammergau, Wetterstein, and Karwendel Alps in the west to the Chiemgauer and Berchtesgadener Alpen in the east. Each region has its die-hard fans. The constants, however, are the incredible scenery, clean air, and a sense of Bavarian Gemütlichkeit (coziness) omnipresent in every Hütte (cottage), Gasthof (guesthouse), and beer garden. The area is an outdoor recreation paradise, and almost completely lacks the high-culture institutions that dominate German urban life.

  • Werdenfelser Land and Wetterstein Mountains. Like villages lost in time, Mittenwald and Oberammergau are both famous for their half-timber houses covered in Lüftlmalerei frescoes. The entire region sits serenely in the shadow of Germany's highest point: the Zugspitze. The Wetterstein Mountains offer fantastic skiing and hiking.
  • Upper Bavarian Lake District. Bavaria's Lake District is almost undiscovered by foreign tourists but has long been a secret destination for Germans. Several fine, hidden lakes dot the area. The Chiemsee dominates the Chiemgau, with one of the most impressive German palaces and great water sports. Residents, or Chiemgauer, often wear traditional Trachten, elaborate lederhosen and dirndl dresses, as an expression of their proud cultural heritage.
  • Berchtesgadener Land. Home to the second-highest mountain peak in the country, Berchtesgaden is one of the most ruggedly beautiful regions. Hundreds of miles of hiking trails with serene Alpine cottages and the odd cow make the area a hiking and mountaineering paradise. Berchtesgaden and Bad Reichenhall are famous for the salt trade, and the salt mines provide the visitor with a unique and entertaining insight into the history and wealth of the region. The Königssee is the most photographed place in the country, and for good reason.

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