The Austrian and German Alps (Part 02): Deeper Into the Alps We Go
Before arriving at our second home base of the trip after leaving Salzburg, we stopped off in the mountainous southeastern corner of Germany that juts out into Austria. Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus in German), originally built as a retreat for Adolf Hitler, is now a tourism complex and restaurant set over a mile high atop one of Hoher Goll’s sub-peaks on the edge of the Alps. Private vehicles are not allowed on the road to the top, so we parked the car bought a ticket for a ride on the efficient bus system. It gets very busy here, so plan accordingly and try your best to do this early in the morning. As if the views from the bus ride aren’t enough, the panoramic sights at the top are jaw-dropping. We took a seat up by some of the hiking paths and took in the direct line of sight to Salzburg’s castle (you really have to strain your eyes to see it!) on one side and to the majestic Konigssee on the other. After exploring some of the hiking paths and grabbing a quick lunch at the outdoor restaurant, we took the zig-zagging walking path down to the bus stop. Most people will take the elevator the 400-foot vertical distance from the bus stop and the top, which is fair on the way up, but the views (and lack of crowds) from the path are well worth the walk down!
It was not in our original plans to visit Konigssee, but it just looked so good from Eagle’s Nest and is only a 20-minute drive away. We walked up the main drag of the town named after the lake (or was the lake named after the town!?), which is set on the northernmost cove. It’s a very touristy place, but also very charming in a kitschy way. We rented a rowboat and set off into one of the most spectacularly beautiful settings we’ve ever seen. There was something magical about this place, especially with the mid-afternoon sun casting a warm glow to the deep green waters. We rowed as far as we could, which afforded us a very faint view of St. Bartholomew’s Church, and then made our way back, taking many photos throughout. We recharged with some gelato by the water and then got back in the car with our sights set on our final destination of the day.
Zell am See, a glitzy Alpine town set along the Zeller See deep in the Alps, was our home base for the next two nights. Our room in the Seehof Hotel was basic but comfortable (certainly a downgrade after our surprise suite upgrade in Salzburg!) and offered balcony views to the lake (and also to the annoyingly loud trains that run right through the lakefront of the town). Kirchgasse, the main drag by the lake, and the side streets shooting off of it are a pleasure to stroll, and Stadtplatz, the town center, is a pretty little square perfect for people watching. The church nearby (Heiliger Hippolyt) is worth a visit as well. We also enjoying walking the Esplanade right along the lakefront and through Elisabeth Park on our first evening. Keeping with the boat-on-a-lake theme of our trip, we rented a little electric boat from a kiosk in Stadtpark and took it for a spin!
We took a break from Austrian and German food while in Zell am See, enjoying chicken wok and spaghetti carbonara from Brasserie Traube, salami pizza from Pizzeria Giuseppe, and coconut vegetable curry and shrimp avocado from Hotel Seehof’s restaurant (Rico still drank Spezi every chance he could though!).
If you’re visiting Zell am See and have a car, driving the Grossglockner High Alpine Road is a must. The 35€ toll is a steep price to pay, but it’s worth it. We drove from the northern entrance near Zell am See down to the roundabout at 47.062927, 12.817729 and westward to the Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Haus, where you can appreciate Austria’ highest peak and its massive glacier from up close. The views were incredible and luckily there are plenty of areas to pull off the road and appreciate them. It probably took us 3 – 4 hours to do the drive from Zell am See to the Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Haus and back to Zell am See. Be sure to do this drive, as we did, early in the morning (check the official website for opening times, which change through the year) to avoid the crush of visitors in the late morning and early afternoon. Being stuck behind all that traffic makes the drive a lot less fun.
The next day we left Zell am See for the last leg of trip, just over the German border to the fairytale town of Mittenwald. Stay tuned!