Samstag, 30. Juni 2018

Wochenende. Hit the autobahn, head for the hills.

‘So why aren't we doing things at the weekend?’ 

This question one Saturday morning, just as I’m quietly munching my way through another slice of home-made organic bread laced with honey from Poland, catches me slightly off balance. Yet Bea says it in exactly the same tone of voice as if she were casually asking me to pass the butter. 

Truth told, we’d not been particularly overactive for a while. Unless of course you count ferrying your offspring around to friends’ houses and entertaining said persons at home. All that in between trips to the local swimming pool and short detours to Hoppla. I never really liked that shop anyway. I guess our leisure life had become pretty much like most people's: routine, repetitive and predictable. I hesitate to use the word ‘uneventful’, because we live quite busy lives. But you get my drift. Point is, if we were to break the mould we needed to get up and give ourselves a push. 

Funnily enough we both had exactly the same idea. Within moments I had pulled a map off the shelf and Bea was busy googling something like ‘Alpine hikes Bavaria’. To watch us so ardently immersed in this activity you might be forgiven for thinking we were planning to fly off to some far-flung corner of the world. We don’t speak for almost quarter of an hour until Bea suddenly looks up from her i-pad and announces ‘That’s it. Next weekend we’re going to the Alps.’ She then says the name of a place I’d never heard of and goes off to make a cup of coffee. 

We live a mere ninety-minute drive away from the Alps – the foothills, or Voralpen – at least, but I can count the number of times we visit them each year on just one or two fingers. By living on the northern side of Munich we’ve long kidded ourselves that the mountains are too far away for just a day trip. In reality, having reached Munich in less than an hour, we're already half way up the hills. Well, almost.  The Alps are actually so close to Munich that they creep up on you, springing into view long before you join the Salzburg autobahn that tenaciously snakes round the Bavarian capital. Several years ago Bea and I flew over Munich in a four-seater Cessna 150. One moment we were passing over the Marienkirche, Munich’s landmark church. I bent down to adjust my seatbelt and when I looked up again we were already cruising over the snow-sprinkled Alps. 

Hurtling down the autobahn with Munich straight ahead of us, we’re seeing these snow-capped mountains again. Towering majestically on the horizon, this jaw-dropping alpine scenery reminds me how lucky we are to have first-class hiking and ski regions almost at our doorstep. All of a sudden, taking a 240-km round day trip to the Alps feels just like a short hop, or Katznsprung as the Bavarians say. 

The walk we’ve chosen starts and ends at Fischbachau, a pre-alpine village crammed with picture-book houses decorated with so-called ‘Lüftlmalerei’. These colourful frescos depicting traditional local fairy tales or religious scenes are found on many homes in Upper Bavaria. One such brightly painted building particularly catches our attention. Splashed over its facade is a life-sized painting of a harp player. But it’s no normal harp player. This one’s straddling a Harley Davidson. We’re just gawping at this slightly unusual fresco when the owner suddenly appears through the side gate. My instinctive reaction is to apologise and quietly move on. But before I can do so the man is beckoning us over:

'Wo kimmd ihr ha, wo gäd ihr hi?’

Where are you from, where are you going to he wants to know. We say we’re doing the Leitzachtaler Bergblick. It’s a 13.5-km round trip along the River Leitzach, over meadows and through woods. And it’ll take us right back to where we parked our car, just opposite the eleventh-century Friedenskirche Maria Schutz, the oldest church in the valley. What’s unusual about our conversation though is how talkative this man is. When you first meet Bavarians they’re usually quite reserved, weighing their words at tortoise pace, as if preferring to size you up first. This Bavarian is quite different. Soon he’s even telling Tildy and her friend Simona jokes. ‘Why do Red Indians do this?’ he quizzes them, holding both hands flat above his eyes, as if scanning the horizon. The girls look baffled. ‘Because if they did this,’ he reveals, hands cupped over his eyes, ‘they wouldn’t see anything!’


The thermometer’s gently nudging 20 degrees – just the right temperature for a decent mid-summer walk. Any cooler up in the mountains and we’d need jackets; any warmer and we’d probably be sweating. Yet dipping our fingers into the River Leitzach we get a shock. The water’s ice cold. No great surprise really – the source lies 200 meters high in the Alps. We stop for sandwiches and coffee at a splish-splashy waterfall, the crystal-clear water glistening in the morning sunshine, as it tumbles over the rocks. 'Papa schwimm!’ the girls chant in unison, daring me to strip off and plunge into the glacial water. I’m a hardened swimmer, and usually the last one to say nein danke to a nice fresh dip. But there’s no way I’m leaping into this water. It must be a good 12 degrees cool. 

Nice pic. Pity no pralines.

Crossing a bridge which leads us away from the river, we enter a small village. Every single half-timbered cottage with its identical-looking flower-box-filled balconies looks like something straight off a Milka chocolate box. One quaint little house has a sign on the garden gate warning ‘Vorsicht, bissiger Hund.' I scour the grounds sceptically. Not a single sign of a vicious dog anywhere. Either it doesn’t exist (Germans often put up such signs just to scare off curious passersby) or it’s having a midday nap.

"Free-roaming dog. If dog comes, lie on the ground and wait for help. If no help comes, good luck."

Just past the village we spot a cherry tree leaning over the pathway. Its aching branches are so heavily laden they’re literally touching the ground, almost to breaking point. The fruit is squelchy, juicy, overripe, and absolutely divine. We hastily fill our sandwich boxes, cramming in as much as we can. 

Continuing the hike with slightly stained hands we suddenly spot, dotted around a meadow just above the path, a group of wooden sun loungers. Each curvy chair is wide enough for two or three persons. It’s the sort of seating that wouldn’t be amiss in the relaxation room of an exclusive wellness centre. I’ve seen this before in Bavaria. Expensive furniture dumped in the middle of nowhere, freely available to anybody who happens to pass by and fancy a rest. ‘Wouldn’t it be lovely to have one of these at home in the garden,’ sighs Bea, flopping onto one such model. It would. Actually they’re so cosy it’s very tempting to simply stay put and just cancel the rest of the walk. But then reality kicks in. We’ve still got another half dozen kilometers to go. 


These final six kilometres easily feel twice as long. Soon the kids are showing signs of fatigue. Fending off relentless pleas to carry Matilda piggyback, we suddenly pass a small chapel. A snow-haired man has just locked up the building and is pocketing the keys. ‘Servus,’ I say, in typical Bavarian greeting style. I ask him for directions to the nearest Wirtshaus and, pointing to the tired kids, enquire how much further to Fischbachau. ‘Ooch, gar net so weit’ – not far at all – he says, gesturing across the fields towards a group of buildings clustered around an onion-shaped church spire. He also recommends a local hostelry which does good food. But before I can say Danke he’s jumped into a car, pulling up alongside us. ‘I’ll drop them off at the car park,’ he offers in local dialect, beckoning the kids to climb in as he revs up the engine. Simona’s mother manages to hop in too. Only just in the nick of time though. She hasn’t closed the passenger door when the vehicle’s already speeding off down the lane. 

‘Uuuh, have we just done the right thing?’ questions Bea, as we continue the walk on our own. A pang of doubt suddenly crosses my mind too. Standing sentinel by the chapel gate just a moment ago, the man had looked so trustworthy. ‘Oh, they’ll be there at the carpark, you’ll see,’ I say, seeking to reassure her. Sure enough, arriving back where we’d started out five hours earlier, Magdalena and the girls are waiting for us safe and sound. 

Well almost. 

Having tenaciously trecked almost a dozen kilometers of undulating pre-mountain track, Simona is suddenly hobbling around on one leg. Larking around on a bench in the carpark, she’d managed to fall off and sprain her ankle. 

Still, in between Bea and I had enjoyed probably the most stunning scenery of the whole hike, traversing plateau-like terrain with wide-sweeping panoramic vistas of the Mangelfall mountain range, the eastern part of the Bavarian Alps. Looming up straight ahead of us we marvelled at the Wendelstein – at 1838 meters the highest local peak. We’d been up there once by cable car. The mountain top boasts a cosy restaurant and stunning views far into the Austrian Tirol. 


When we roll in at the Krugeralm, the inn we’d been recommended just a little further up the hill, the waitress apologises profusely that the kitchen already closed at 2 PM. They’re no longer serving full meals, only snacks. We’re expecting just sandwiches and soup at the very most, but it turns out that Germans’ idea of just a snack is actually a full-blown hot meal. Very soon we’re tucking into wagon-wheel-sized pizzas, pile-high plates of side salads and mouth-watering Kaspress Knödel oozing with Pinzgau Beer Cheese.  

Mountain food's seldom tasted so succulent and the hike has wet our appetite for longer forays into the Alps.

A guate!


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