Austrian and German Alps (Part 03): Border Hopping Between Austria and Germany
From Zell am See we drove to our last home base of the trip, but not before stopping in Innsbruck, the capital of Austria’s state of Tyrol and host of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics. The streets in the old town are a pleasure to stroll, especially when you get away from the tourist crush of Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse and can appreciate the quieter side of the city. The main street is crowned at its northern end by the Goldenes Dachl (“golden roof”), a mostly underwhelming landmark built in honor of the Holy Roman Emperor and Archduke of Austria Maximilian I’s marriage in the 16th century. Just 30 seconds from the roof is the Stadtturm, a 15th-century watchtower offering commanding views of the city and its mountainous environs from 100 feet above the ground. Seeing the city among the towering mountains from this viewpoint really puts the relative size of the city versus the immense Alps into perspective!
After a quick snack (delicious pretzels from Strudel Cafe Kröll), we headed for St. Jacob’s Cathedral. Unfortunately, we couldn’t visit as there was a service in progress, so we had to appreciate it from outside. The River Inn is just on the other side of Domplatz, so we walked along it for a bit. There’s a great view of a row of typical colorful houses from across the river with a beautiful backdrop of mountains at 47.268124, 11.390830. At this point our snack was wearing off, so we sat down at Gasthof Weisses Rössl for a more substantial meal of Wiener schnitzel and grilled sausage.
And with that, we left Innsbruck and traveled just barely across the border to the picturesque German town of Mittenwald, where we’d be spending the final two nights of our trip. We stayed at Hotel Rieger, which offers basic but comfortable rooms and is conveniently located in the center of the town. Our room even had a beautiful balcony view to the Alps in the north! Obermarkt, Mittenwald’s main drag, is about as quaint and typically Alpine as it gets. We wandered down the street is disbelief at the cutesy architecture and artful paintings adorning each building’s façade and wondered if this was a real place or something out of a theme park! The Church of St. Peter and Paul is at the northern head of the street and worth a quick visit. Though the main street is indeed a beauty, our favorite part of the town was just wandering the back streets. I think we must have walked on portions of every street in that town!
We had some good meals in Mittenwald as well: lunch at Ristorante Pizzeria Amalfi da Francesco (bruschetta and ham, salami and artichoke pizza), dinner at Das Marktrestaurant (Wiener schnitzel, beef ravioli, and chocolate tart with raspberry sorbet), and dinner on our final night at Restaurant Rieger, our hotel’s restaurant (Wiener schnitzel and a mixed vegetable plate).
Mittenwald also serves as a great base for some small and scenic hikes and walks. The first we did was the Leutaschklamm gorge, which you can either drive to and walk (mostly downhill) through the platform system high above the gorge (park at 47.427690, 11.234850 just over the border in Austria) or walk to from the center of Mittenwald (the walk is easy and takes under a half hour). We enjoyed the walk along the gorge from the car park, especially in the warm light of the early morning (we recommend doing this in the early to mid-morning to avoid the crowds). The climax of the walk along the gorge is a high metal bridge spanning the gorge and affording a view up back toward from where you walked, down to the rushing waters of the river, and also down to the end of the gorge in Germany. Once we were back in Mittenwald we also took the second route and walked to the gorge from the German side—the walk is pleasant, set beside a calm river and along beautiful farm land with mountains reaching high into the sky in the background. The best part of approaching from this side was how easy it was to see the waterfall at the end of the gorge. You have to pay a small fee, but it’s worth it!
We also hiked to a small lake from the center of Mittenwald. Lautersee is only a 45-minute hike from the center of Mittenwald and offers stunning scenery, swimming, and even food and drink served from restaurants and hotels on the northern edge of the lake. There are a few different ways to get there, but we took the path starting at 47.442728, 11.256041, which begins with lots of steep switch backs but then levels out and slopes down toward the lake. The first landmark you’ll see which signals that you’ve arrived is a charming and photogenic chapel to the northeast of the lake. We walked around the lake, dipped our feet in, and hung out with the goats on the northwest hill above the lake which were stereotypically adorned with bells around their necks.
We left Mittenwald on our final day, but our flight was not until later in the afternoon, so we had time for one more stop. Neuschwanstein is one of Germany’s most famous castles, and we weren’t far from it, so off we went! We walked up the hill to Marienbrucke, the bridge offering the typical view of the castle. The bridge had been closed and under construction for months leading up to our trip, but it finally opened up just in time for us to visit! We didn’t visit the castle itself, but honestly the best part is seeing it from the outside anyway. Once we were back down in Hohenschwangau, we grabbed lunch at Restaurant Alpenrose am See (pasta with tomato in a light cream sauce and apple strudel) and took one last boat ride, this time on a rowboat around Alpsee.
We fell in love with the Alps on our first visit to Salzburg in January 2016 and this summer visit cemented the mountain range deep within our hearts. The fresh air, amazing scenery, and heartwarming culture is what makes the Alps such a potent travel destination and that certainly explains their popularity. And mark our words: this will not be our last time to the area!