Enjoy Germany in all its natural and Bavarian glory

THINK Munich and most Australians imagine Oktoberfest, but just south of this Bavarian beauty sits Germany’s highest mountain and nature galore.

A bunch of Bavarian boys are slapping their thighs like they are at a Australian barbecue plagued by mozzies but who can blame them?

Apart from partaking in a traditional Southern German dance (the Schuplatter Knee Dance or Slap Dance) there’s much to celebrate in the tiny township of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in which I find myself.

Australia’s own Hugh Jackman recently put this darling destination, about 1.5 hours south of Munich, on the global map, with his film Eddie The Eagle.

For it was here that  Jackman and co-star Taron Egerton, who played British underdog ski jumper Eddie “The Eagle” used the impressive ski jump which dates back to the 1936 Olympics, for much of the film’s hero shots.

It’s stunning spring weather in Southern Germany and I am here to write a story on nature, but I am having all the luck of the four ice skaters who tripped and relinquished a gold medal to Australia’s Steven Bradbury in the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The two-person cable car I am meant to be catching to the recently opened Hotel Das Graseck is closed for renovations on my arrival, as is the hotel itself, and a planned hike through nearby Partnach Gorge has also been cancelled at the last minute as the warm weather is sending too much water down the gorge from a melting glacier.

But I have Bradbury luck after all, as Garmisch-Partenkirchen is also home to Germany’s tallest mountain – Zugspitze – at almost 3000 metres high.

On a good day, once you catch a 10-minute cable car ride to this 2962 metre peak, you can see as many as 400 mountain peaks in neighbouring Austria, Italy,  Switzerland and France.

And even on a “bad” day, when it’s raining in the valley below, the mountain is high enough to clear the clouds.

Apart from the views, the beauty of this mountain is that it’s charming in all seasons. It guarantees seven months of snow throughout the year and in winter, there’s an igloo village in which visitors can stay and witness art installations carved from ice.

There’s four dining options on the mountain and plenty of options for non-sporty types such as relaxing in the sun lounge; visiting the Zugspitze exhibition; admiring the igloo village ice art; or the Maria Heimsuchung chapel – Germany’s highest chapel.

Sporty types will adore the 20km of snow which offers something for everyone from  beginners  to snowboarders and  even free riders.

Down below, Garmisch-Partenkirchen has a population of 28,000 people and has 10,000 tourist beds, which rapidly fill with enthusiastic hikers in the summer months.

German composer Richard Strauss (best known for his opera Elektra)lived here and Michael Ende, who wrote the German fantasy novelNeverending Story was born in the town.

This is a tale of two towns combined into one.

In 1935 the German Government said Garmisch and Partenkirchen must combine for the 1936 Winter Olympic Games but they did not want to be one.

These days, the rivalry is more  of a friendly joke and both sides of this town, divided by the Partnach River, are equally beautiful, boasting beautiful ancient buildings with colourful frescos.

Early Italian traders used this town to stay in the guesthouses, and there’s still plenty of Italian influence here through wine and food.

But for a true Bavarian experience, head to one of the old restaurants along Ludwigstrasse for traditional dancing and hearty dishes such as schnitzel and pork knuckle.

In all, there’s 300km of hiking paths, 450km of cycling routes, 60km of ski runs, 28km of cross country skiing trails, and 19 golf courses within a one hour radius in this area.

Partnach Gorge boasts a bridge almost 70 metres high, or closer to the water there’s an easier walking patch used by ancient foresters and hunters.

In the distance, on Dreitorspitze Mountain, squint and you can see the hut of Bavaria’s  King Ludwig who was also a fan of Germany’s alpine country.

But one of the highlights remains the steep Olympic ski jump, which was originally constructed in 1923 and rebuilt in 2007.

Its highest point is 62 metres above the ground.

And if Garmisch-Partenkirchen is good enough for Hugh Jackman, it’s good enough for me.

The writer travelled on a first-class German Rail Pass  (five days within one month) as a guest of Rail Europe and The German National Tourist Office – www.germany.travel

Fast Facts

Staying There

Hotel Dorint is in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and is surrounded by the German Alps. From some rooms you can see the Olympic ski jump.Click here for the link.

Hotel Das Graesck is a modern boutique hotel with ideal views of Dreitorspitze Mountain. Owned by two doctors, it also boasts a preventative medicine centre for treatments such as dentistry. The two-person cable car, which is the only access to the hotel, is the oldest automatic cable car in the world, built in 1954. Click here for the link.

Travelling There

Rail Europe has regular trains from Munich’s main train station to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Click here for the link 

Zugspitzbahn runs regular cable car and train rides up and down Zugspitze.   Visit website