Located in southern Bavaria near the Austria border, Berchetesgaden is home to Germany's third-largest mountain, Mount Watzmann. Watzmann-Ostwand, the highest face in the Eastern Alps, is a favored destination among rock climbers and is situated along the Königssee, a crystal-clear, deep glacial lake flanked by snow-capped mountain peaks.
And while Berchetesgaden may not be the best-known destination in the Alps, it's a hidden gem of a region that's less populated than the greater Alps -- and it's just as picturesque. Whether you're looking to get active or simply kick back in the lap of luxury, this Alpine town can satisfy your itch.
A good home base, whatever your plans, is the tranquil InterContinental Berchtesgaden Resort (Intereck 1, Berchtesgaden 83471; tel: 011/49/8652 97550; www.ichotelsgroup.com), about 1,000 meters above the sea on Eckerbichl. Needless to say, its 360-degree mountain views are hard to beat. And its nature-derived, minimalist décor -- a central open hearth, dolomite verde-accented bathrooms, and larchwood details -- blends seamlessly with the surroundings. While you're there, head to its Mountain Spa, complete with heated indoor-outdoor pools that are open year-round, an aromatic, herbal steam room, and local salt-tinged treatments.
By the time you've dropped your bags and begun to relax, you'll no doubt have skiing on the brain. While the slopes in Berchtesgaden aren't the biggest in the Alps, there's plenty to occupy beginners. Expert skiers and snowboarders also won't face the problem of over-populated slopes.
Outdoor enthusiasts should consider heading to Berchtesgaden National Park, where a cable-car journeys to the Jenner ski area (Berchtesgadner Bergbahn AG, Jennerbahnstrasse 18, D-83471 Schönau am Königssee; tel: 011/49/8652 95810; www.jennerbahn.de). Most runs are medium-grade, red runs. Of course, those who simply want to trek through the park by foot can do that, too. You'll encounter waterfalls galore along the way. Look for Germany's highest, Röthbach, which plunges a dramatic 400 meters.
Granted, skiing and hiking isn't for everyone, but that's no reason to steer clear of Berchetesgaden. The nearby Königssee is home to a bobsled, luge, and skeleton track that has hosted its share of international events. Get a taste of the action by riding the Racebob-Taxi (Graf-Arco-Straße 20, Schönau 83471; tel: 011/49/8652 976069; www.rennbob-taxi.de). The heart-thumping journey includes an experienced pilot, who takes daredevils down the 1,200-meter ice canal at the foot of the Watzman mountain. Another option while at the lake is to take an electric boat ride (Bayerische Seenschifffahrt Königssee, Seestraße 55 Berchtesgaden 83471; tel: 011/49/8652-963618; www.seenschifffahrt.de). Your guide will illustrate the mountains' echo power by playing the trumpet along the way.
History buffs will find countless things to do in Berchtesgaden, too. Among its most popular destinations is Salt Mine Berchtesgaden (Bergwerkstraße 83, Berchtesgaden 83471; tel: 011/49/8652-600220; www.salzzeitreise.de). Visitors ride down a wooden slide, glean glowing salt grottos, and cross a subterranean lake by raft. The area also is home to Eagle's Nest (Eagle's Nest Tours Berchtesgaden, Königsseer Strasse 2, Berchtesgaden 83471; tel: 011/49/8652 64971; www.eagles-nest-tours.com/EN), which chronicles the history of the region as the one-time headquarters of Hitler's Nazi government. A seasonal restaurant and museum is operated on the site today.
Of course, no trip to Berchetesgaden would be complete without sampling homey Bavarian cuisine. Go traditional and have a meal of smoked trout at Fischerstueberl (D-83471 Schönau a. Königssee, 011/49/8652 3119) or stick close to the hotel and eat salty, fresh-baked pretzels at Bayernstube Schalander (InterContinental Berchtesgaden Resort, Intereck 1, Berchtesgaden 83471; tel: 011/49/8652 97550; www.ichotelsgroup.com).
Whatever you decide to do, you can rest assured that your Alps experience -- while less harried than Switzerland -- is every bit as authentic. After all, the area was the stage for the filming of The Sound of Music.
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