Years ago when I first found out about the Königssee, one of Bavaria‘s numerous lakes, and Saint Bartholomew, a pilgrimage church perched on the edge of the lake beneath the German Alps, I was awestruck. A friend summed it up more succinctly: it looked fake. He’s right. The photos of the lake, the church, the German Alps hovering overhead — it all looked too perfect, too picturesque, too ideal. Of course, I had to see it for myself. Live, up close and in person. And let me assure you: while it isn’t fake, it sure feels surreal. It’s spectacularly beautiful whether you’re looking to hike, enjoy the outdoors or simply explore.
Discovering Berchtesgadener Land
Situated just about as far south and east as you can go in Germany without ending up in Austria, the district of Berchtesgadener Land is home to a number of sights and attractions. The lake is a wonderful day trip from Munich. It’s home to a number of WWII related sites including the Dokumentationszentrum Obersalzberg — the first German museum to cover the entirety of the war — as well as the Eagles’ Nest (Kehlsteinhaus). But where the area really shines is with the outdoor activities: the Jennerbahn cable cars, ski slopes, luge and bobsled tracks. The third highest peak in Germany — the Watzmann — stands in the Berchtesgaden National Park as does the Königssee.
Exploring the Königssee
The Königssee is remarkable. The blue-green water is astonishingly clear, like glass. The Bayerische Seenschifffahrt runs an electric ferry boat service around the lake. On a day with good weather the dock is slightly organized chaos. From the dock in Schönau am Königssee, it’s roughly a half-hour ride over the calm water before you reach St. Bartholomew. On the ride to the church, the ferry pauses and one of the ferry employees plays the trumpet to demonstrate the echo of sound off the stone cliffs that surround the lake. The lake is very popular for swimming and sunbathing while the surrounding mountains are known for hiking.
St. Bartholomew Pilgrimage Church
Once you dock and disembark at the church, admittedly there isn’t much there. There’s a small building selling small souvenirs, a fish stand selling Steckerlfisch, delicious fish roasted on a stick, and a very good restaurant with a large outdoor eating area. Of course, there’s also the church itself.
The onion-shaped, red-roofed church is unbelievably small. It’s also, much to my surprise, not a fully detached building. It’s connected to another building. The church dates to 1697 with the stucco-work done by Joseph Schmidt, a Salzburg master. During the 18th century, further building was completed in the area, including a summer residence and a hunting residence. Be sure to stop in the church for a quiet moment. It’s a modest church but it seemed mostly ignored by other tourists when was there.
From the dock, past the church and the other buildings, a path leads towards the Alps. Take the trail. While there are lengthy and more difficult trails that you can hike, there’s a trail that offers a not very challenging loop through the trees, along the cliffs and then down past the edge of the lake. That hike was probably my favorite part of the entire experience. And I have to admit, visiting the Königssee was my favorite experience from the trip. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced or like will experience again anytime soon.
If you’re traveling by car, there is a large parking lot that serves a number of the attractions. For those taking public transit — as I did — buses depart the Berchtesgaden ZOB train station and are marked as to what bus number serves which attractions. However, because buses only run about once per hour or so, they can be crowded. While it’s only a short ride to Schönau am Königssee — the tiny village at the top of the Königssee from which the ferries operate — it is hilly terrain with little room for hikers. Take the bus. Once there, the town caters to tourists with inexpensive wares, souvenirs, cafes and ice cream.
Read More: 9 Great Day Trips from Munich, Germany
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