The Hills Are Alive...
The great thing about arriving somewhere truly beautiful at the dead of night is that moment when you wake up in the morning and throw open the curtains. We had known we were high up in the mountains from the dark shadows on either side of our BMW, but we hadn’t expected so stunning a vertical view as the one which greeted us.
Forest-covered mountain-sides were studded with emerald-green pastures from which the last of the early-morning mist was just rolling away to reveal clear blue skies. These hills are alive with the Sound of Music – the movie was filmed just on the other side of the peaks and Salzburg is a short drive away.
As we soaked in the view later in the day, with a load of our gay friends and some canoodling straight couples in the beautiful spa’s pool, I reflected that this wasn’t what Hitler had in mind. The Intercontinental Berchtesgaden Resort is built on the site of the former Nazi holiday complex where the Führer, Bormann, Göring and Speer all had holiday homes and where other favoured party members could stay in a 150-room guest-house for the symbolic price of one Mark.
The boys from the USAF and the good old RAF bombed the whole jolly lot to smithereens in 1945. Ironically, the only building that survived unscathed was Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, a lookout which Bormann gave him for his birthday but which he rarely visited because he was scared it would get bombed (and also, I was told, because he suffered from altitude sickness and/ or a fear of heights).
The area’s history is now on display at the Obersalzberg Documentation Centre, the right-wing extremists who once made pilgrimages here have gone and if you didn’t know the history, the Berchtesgaden Resort would appear as just a luxurious hotel, set in one of Germany’s most awesome landscapes. In winter, guests can simply click on their skiis at the hotel’s entrance and skid off, don snow-shoes for hikes or head off for a romantic ride in a horse-drawn sleigh. In summer the adventurous can try paragliding, canyoning, rafting and climbing – followed, ideally, by a massage, sauna and some gourmet food.
But we wanted to see more of the area and headed off to explore Berchtesgaden National Park. It’s everything you’d expect from the Alps, picture postcard views, houses with stones on the roof and cows who actually wear bells around their necks – even when you’re just driving by you’ll catch the slightly hollow ringing sound.
We stopped at a fast-flowing mountain river, bubbling over a bed of white stones which is so crystal clear, I was told, its safe to drink the water. I scooped up a handful and found it so cool and fresh-tasting that I tipped the rest of my tepid bottle of mineral water away and filled up from the river.
Nearby is the Konigssee, advertised as the cleanest lake in Germany. It was carved out by the last ice-age and is surrounded by virtually vertical cliff faces 2,000 metres high. Its placid green waters are the perfect place for a bit of rowing and I took to the oars, remembering my nautically-minded father’s instructions – long, sweeping strokes. Our boat of four was soon storming into the lead while the rest of the European gay press corps, who were also on the trip, were left far behind. We left the boathouse and quay in the distance and eventually rounded the headland to see the red-onion dome topped St Bartholomä church, one of the most photographed sites in Germany (it’s May in you Alpine Views calendar 2010).
The peace of Konigssee is helped by the fact that only rowing-boats, pedalos and electric-motored vessels are allowed to ply its waters. I was told at the time that this rule is to preserve the drinking-quality water but I’ve since heard it was also at the request of Prince Regent Luitpold who, exactly 100 yeas ago, insisted on an electric fleet as he was worried that steam-boat noise would scare away the red deer. He preferred to scare them by shooting at them.
We had certainly worked up an appetite and, to eat in traditional Bavarian style we had to try out Holzkaefer bistro, just five minute’s drive from the hotel. The log cabin was cosy and cheerful and the waitress a cross between Heidi and Pamela Anderson (this is, of course, a reference not to endowment but to the fact that she was fluent in German and American English). Seriously though, if you’re holidaying with a straight mate and want to give them a treat, get this woman to serve them some bratwurst.
It had been an all too fleeting visit to Bavaria for us and I’m determined to go back, not least to check out the utter campery of gay King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein Castle of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fame.
We flew with Lufthansa to Munich airport before driving over to the resort. Lufthansa co-own their Munich terminal, making the journey even smoother and more efficient. See lufthansa.co.uk or call 0871 945 9747.
For the Intercontinental, see berchtesgaden.intercontinental.com or call 0049 8652 97550.
Holzkaefter bistro is at holzkaefer-berchtesgaden.com.
Tourist information for the area is available at berchtesgadener-land.com and for more general travel information to Germany, visit gaygermany.co.uk, call 020 7317 0908 or email email@example.com.
Words Tris Reid-Smith, Photo Scott Nunn