At the east end of the German Alpine Road is Berchtesgaden, mostly famous as Adolph Hitler’s vacation hideaway. Though the town itself is long on vehicular traffic and visitors, and not especially appealing, the Salzach basin is a place of astonishing physical beauty. The jagged peaks of the Watzmann, the quiet, melancholy Königsee, country churches like lovely little Maria Gern set in the green hills, are the stuff of full-color travel posters. And the place has an intriguing history, most of it recent rather than ancient.
Hitler, of course, had a home here, but contrary to popular opinion it was not the famous “Eagle’s Nest” at the top of the Kehlstein, which he seldom visited. His Berghof was down the mountain, in the foothills of the Obersalzberg. Many of his high-ranking aides also had luxury homes here, all of which were connected by several kilometers of underground bunkers. These tunnels were used as air-raid shelters but were probably not, as it was once believed, planned as an “Alpine Redoubt” where Hitler, the SS and the Gestapo would make a last stand and prolong the war. By knowing where to look from a road on U.S. Army controlled property at Obersalzberg, you may be able to see fragments of the foundation of the Berghof which was leveled in 1952. The destruction was one of the conditions imposed by the U.S. Army when it returned the property to Germany. For an update on what happened at the Obersalzberg during and since the war—plus some extraordinary photos—visit www.thirdreichruins.com. Nearly all the buildings and homes associated with the Nazi presence have been, or soon will be, destroyed. But as Thirdreichruins.com author, Geoff Walden, says, “History-minded tourists will continue to visit the Obersalzberg because of what happened there from 1933-1945, regardless of the further destruction of the area sites. The history happened, it cannot be erased by removing the remains.” Your thirst for World War II history may have to be slaked by having a beer at the bar of the posh new InterContinental Hotel, built near the former site of the homes of Martin Bormann and Hermann Göring. It is still possible, however, to visit the bunkers and tunnel complex, though they are dank, cramped, dirty and there is little to see. What we do recommend for a Berchtesgaden visit is the bus and elevator ride up to the Kehlstein, an electric boat ride on the Königsee, a drive over the high, scenic Rossfeld Road, a tour of the Salt Mines, and day-trips to Salzburg, just 20-minutes away.
On gorgeous grounds five kilometers west and a little south of Berchtesgaden, in Schönau am Königsee, is the stately and staid 53-room Hotel Alpenhof, a mountain resort with exercise, wellness, beauty, and spa facilities, including indoor and outdoor pools.
Expectations fueled by the hotel’s elegant entry, with its oriental rugs thrown over gleaming marble tile floors, and light wood paneling, are not quite fulfilled by the guest rooms. Though large and comfortable, for the most part they are unimaginatively decorated with drab colors and bulky furniture.
That, however, is our only quibble. The quiet Alpenhof is an ideal spot to hideout for a week or two, far from the world’s stresses. Though you wouldn’t be turned away, this sort of hotel is geared for stays longer than a night or two. A week in the springtime in a small double room with south-facing balcony for two persons, including breakfast and dinner, is €868.
Hotel Gasthof Bergheimat
In the same area and only a five-minute walk to the Königsee, is the Bergheimat. Though it is a step down in class from the Alpenhof, everything is bright, shiny and clean in this 43-room, family-run hotel. And, considering the prices of other hotels in and around Berchtesgaden, it is a good value.
A third-floor (there is a lift) double room with toilet and shower, but no balcony, can be rented for about $110 per night. In that category we recommend Number 302, whose bed is cozily tucked under a slanted wood ceiling with skylights.
Like the Alpenhof, this is a quiet country hotel. There is no pool but in winter you can ski right to the front door.
(Editor’s Note: A favorite of many readers, the grand old Hotel Geiger, closed several years ago and has stood vacant ever since. According to the Website, during the war it was used as a recreation center for Luftwaffe officers. Rumor has it that the cost to refurbish and maintain the rambling old building precludes a profitable hotel operation on the site. Historical preservationists hope to save the structure from the wrecker’s ball.