This one-day drive, which starts at Bad Reichenhall, takes in a number of interesting towns, a variety of landscapes, and Ludwig II's least-known castle, on its way to Germany's largest fortress.
Perhaps you're exhausted by Salzburg overcrowded venues and feel in need of a quiet day in the country, or maybe, as we were, you're in Bad Reichenhall with a free day on your hands.
Whatever the motivation, this excursion through the southeast Bavarian countryside traverses a variety of landscapes on its way to Germany's largest fortress, to several interesting small towns, and, via boat, to Ludwig's least-known castle. The two main attractions along the route are Schloss Herrenchiemsee, on an island in the Chiemsee, and the medieval town of Burghausen with its giant fortress.
The starting point is the Bad Reichenhall rail station. (Those headquartered in Salzburg can drive the Autobahn toward Munich and take the Bad Reichenhall exit just over the border into Germany.)
Essential to the journey is a map of the area scaled at 1:150,000 or 1:200,000. We used the ADAC Maxi-Atlas (the Falk Maxi-Atlas is the same) at 1:150,000. The roundtrip is about 130 miles and, with stops for sightseeing and refreshments, plan to spend a full day.
At the rail station set your odometer to zero and turn left leaving the parking lot. Go straight at the Autobahn sign, heading toward Lofer on highway #21. At 12.3 kilometers (we are including our odometer readings but, for a variety of reasons, your route may vary from ours; thus your readings may not match those shown here) turn right and cross the Salzach River and follow the signs to Traunstein.
Shortly thereafter turn right onto highway #305, the Deutsche Alpenstrasse. As the road begins to climb note the sheer rock face on the right.
At 19 km the houses of the village of Weissbach are spread over a meadow and three kilometers beyond is Gletcher Garden, a "natural museum" of glacial erosion. There is a place to leave the car for the 15-minute walk to the garden.
Continue on #305 toward Ruhpolding and Reit im Winkl.
At 27 km is an open meadowland scattered with large farm buildings. To your right is a small lake.
At 29.9 km is a turnout offering great views of the valley. Between late October and late April snow here is a possibility. The road begins to descend.
At 32.4 km we turned right for a short auto tour of Ruhpolding, a typically well-groomed Bavarian town with many traditionally painted houses. Near the Rathaus is a model train exposition.
At 41 km we were back on the road to Reit im Winkl. This portion of the drive is quite scenic and from Seehaus to Seegätterl the road is flanked by lakes and dams.
At 61.5 bear right into Reit im Winkl, staying right toward Marquartstein. If the model train exhibit was for the kids, the town's Schnapps Museum is for adults.
As you leave Reit im Winkl the road rises and to your right will be some ski jumps. The Maserer Pass at 793 meters (2600 feet) is crossed at 67 km.
Next are three small villages; Oberwössen, Brem and Unterwössen just before Marquartstein at 77 km. You are now on the Chiemsee plain with the mountains in your rearview mirror.
At 80 km is a roundabout; go three-quarters of the way around and follow signs to Bernau. Using your map and road signs, continue on #305 under the Autobahn to Prien. At 94 km you will drive under some railroad tracks and enter Prien, there will be a large McDonalds on the left. At 95.7 km turn right and follow signs to Chiemsee.
Near the Prien/Stock Hafen (harbor) are several parking lots charging about $2.50 to park the car while you take a boat to Herrenchiemsee Castle. Allow at least 90 minutes for the roundtrip: 15 minutes on boat to the Herreninsel, a 20-minute walk to the castle, a 35-minute castle tour, 20 minutes more back to the boat, and then the 15-minute return by boat to the parking lot. You may want to add lunch and a visit to the museum (included in the approximately $7 castle tour ticket) to that schedule. The roundtrip boat ride costs about $6.50.
Herrenchiemsee, undertaken by Ludwig II after the more famous Neuschwantstein and Linderhof, was his final fling at fantasy castles. Modeled after Versailles, it was never finished and the young king spent only a week there. His building spree had emptied the Bavarian treasury and he drowned under mysterious circumstances in Lake Starnberg, south of Munich.
Back in the car, retrace your steps until you see signs to Wasserburg and Rimsting. If you've followed our route exactly, at 102.7 km you will turn right to Seebruck. On maps this is a yellow road edged in green (scenic) and runs along the lake. At 108.7 km make another right turn toward Seebruck and at 110 km, at the crest of the hill, is a fine view of the lake. Continue on, following the Traunstein and Seebruck signs. At 118.1 km, on the north end of the lake, head left to Obing and Seeon. This, too, is a yellow road and in some places is quite narrow with sharp turns. Follow the signs to Seeon and, at 122.7 km, make a right across from a large farm. Beyond the lake on the left is Kloster St Lambert.
In the center of Seeon, turn right. To know where to turn, watch for a square white sign with a wide black band which bends to the right. These are often used to guide motorists through small towns. The black band indicates the direction of the main road; it may be straight, or curve left or right.
At 124.7 km you should be on a narrow road with no centerline headed toward Altenmarkt, and at 130.6 km is highway #304 where you'll turn right. There is no sign. Cross the Alz River and note the falls on the left. At 131.1 km go left toward Trostberg. Check the map and make sure to take the road from Trostberg northeast through Kirchweidach. We made the right turn at 135.4 km and began to see signs to our destination, Burghausen.
Those who fancy putting a standard-shift European car through its paces on a quiet German country road will be right at home here. This smooth route twists, turns and dips its way through high meadows with distant views and past large, prosperous-looking farms.
At 161.1 km, enter Burghausen. Ignore the rather unattractive, commercial part of town and follow the Stadtmitte or Burg signs. Michelin gives Burghausen two stars (worth a detour) and another two stars to its castle.
The fortress, which seems to run forever along a bluff overlooking the Salzach, guards the border to Austria. Below it, by the river, is an attractive old town of three and four-story pastel houses placed along the contour of the street. Though the Green Guide says to walk up to the castle, there is an upper parking lot that will save climbing. Here's more information.
To return to Bad Reichenhall, drive southwest out of town along the Salzach toward Freilassing. Those with enough time and energy can visit Tittmoning, another medieval town with a fortress similar to Burghausen's. If you have had enough, continue along this red road, number 20, to Freilassing and straight on to Bad Reichenhall.
For a little more of the countryside, turn right off this road at Laufen and follow signs to Teisendorf. From there look for signs to Anger and Piding. Just before Anger is a high place with a wonderful view of open pastures and the mountains across the valley with Klosterburg St Peter and Paul nestled between.