By Ginger Warder
More Than Two Million Swans Sold in Ruhpolding
Our tour began in Ruhpolding, one of Europe’s most popular year-round resorts located near the Austrian border (45 kilometers from Salzburg), and in the purple section of the Via Alpina, an international trail through the Alps that traverses eight countries. Ruhpolding is known as a wellness resort, and also as the home of the Biathlon World Cup.
Our guide, Herbert Ringsgwandl, a former competitive skier, welcomed us with a lunch at a historic restaurant in an old farmhouse called “Windbeutelgräfin”. I had my favorite Bavarian meal, Schweinebraten (pork roast) with a large helping of kanoodle (dumplings), but dessert was the real show-stopper.
Herr Jochen Grill, the owner, is out to break McDonald’s sales record, but he’s going to do it with his world-famous “swans”. Elaborate, multi-layered profiteroles stuffed with ice cream are shaped like swans, and each comes with a paper bird that tells you which number swan you have received.
To walk off our huge lunch, Rupert took us on a tour of the resort’s leisure complex which includes Germany’s first indoor wave pool, a spa complex, tennis and golf facilities, hiking and biking trails, a Nordic walking center (recreational walking with ski poles which is hugely popular in Europe), and an outdoor amphitheatre for special concerts and programs.
Accommodations range from upscale hotels to private houses, with prices to fit any budget. We stayed at a charming traditional chalet-style hotel called The Steinbach within walking distance of the small village, which has about 7300 permanent residents.
During our free time in the afternoon, I strolled up and down the main street, browsing in the grocery store and gift shops, stopping for a cold mug at one of the outdoor beer gardens.
That evening was a real “knee-slapper” (literally) as Rupert took us for a tour of the Wood Cutter’s Museum, followed by a private dinner in one of the log cabins with entertainment by a troupe of musicians and folk dancers.
Vertical Vacation: Ascending Mount Rauschberg
The next morning we headed up to the peak of Mount Rauschberg by cable car (15 Euros roundtrip) for a stunning panoramic view of the Alps. This is part of the German Alpine Road whose 450 km trail passes by 25 castles and 21 lakes, with incredible panoramic mountain views every step of the way.
Our cable car was packed with locals and their dogs (who don’t seem to mind hanging from a box in the sky) and several paragliders who had to stick their gear out of the window to get it onboard. These folks are truly nuts… they walk off the top of mountains like this 1671-metre behemoth without a thought!
Lake Chiemsee and King Ludwig’s Palace
Begun in 1873 and modeled after Versailles, Herren-Chiemsee has its own hall of mirrors, but only 20 rooms of Ludwig’s over-the-top palace were completed before his death two years later. (You may know that Ludwig was the creator of Neuschwanstein Castle, the inspiration for Disney’s famous turrets).
Ludwig was the original Bavarian “home-o-sexual” (double entendre intended… there has always been speculation about his sexual orientation, his long relationship with Richard Wagner, and his mysterious death). A priceless Meissen chandelier that Ludwig commissioned for his dining room is unique, as the King insisted that the plans and molds be destroyed so it would be the only one of its kind.
After touring the palace, we boated back to the main marina at Lake Chiemsee and had a lovely outdoor dinner on the terrace of the Hotel Luitpold. It was a relaxing end to a wonderful day, watching the steamers and sightseeing boats returning to dock while the sun set on the lake.
Hiking to the Alm
The sound of cow bells ebbed and flowed with the breeze, as we hiked for two hours up the gently curving hill to the Roethelmoos Alm. Rolling green meadows with grazing cows, crates of rabbits and a miniature pony surrounded the small mountain hut which is well known for its cheese-making.
The picnic tables in the front and to the side were filled with hikers like ourselves, breaking for a mid-morning snack of Brotzeit, platters of homemade butter, cheeses, pickles, breads and the tasty German ham called speck.
Bad Reichenhall, the BürgerBräu and Berchtesgaden
I found it creepy to tour the underground bunkers that once were lavishly furnished apartments for Hitler’s top aides. The mustached maniac had created this hollowed-out mountain fortress as a last bastion of defense, and it was even creepier to ride the elevator up to the Eagles' Nest, knowing that he had once ridden in that same conveyance.
Built by Martin Bormann as a 50th birthday gift for Hitler, the Eagles' Nest was a teahouse for diplomats, and a private sunbathing terrace for Eva Braun, but was rarely enjoyed by Adolf, who was afraid of heights.
A Bed and Breakfast and Brewery
After a hearty dinner of potato soup, wiener schnitzel, and of course, a sample of the local brews, Werner invited us to join him at the village Oktoberfest tent.
An eight-piece band played for regionally-costumed folk dancers and giant steins of cold beer washed down huge pretzels and wursts.
Ausgang and I are already planning our next trip to his homeland, this time to enjoy the spirit of Christmas at the Bavarian village Christmas markets. Make a platter of Brotzeit, grab a cold one, and start planning your visit to one of the most beautiful sections of the German Alps… Pröst!
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