A visit to a 500-year-old salt mine probably doesn’t rank high on many people’s travel bucket lists. Of course I am not like many people.
When I first heard of the Berchtesgaden salt mine, and how it is accessible via a steep slide made for adults, I knew THIS WAS IT. The holy grail of travel experiences.
Screw Neuschwanstein. I HAD TO do this.
And so we bought tickets, donned our super stylish extra-large miner’s costumes…
…and hopped on a petite train into the mouth of the mine. When we arrived, my heart fluttered when I spotted a wooden slide that extended into the darkness below. Four by four, the visitors in our group were told to slide down into oblivion, without any seatbelt or safety harnesses.
“Umm, I’m seven months pregnant. Are you sure this is safe?” I asked, when it was our turn.
“Yes, sure,” replied our guide, who have (without a doubt) brought many heavily pregnant women down here.
Against my better judgement, I took my place on the slide, held onto my mother-in-law like a koala (the only time I’ve done so) and we pushed off, legs akimbo,
Our adventure didn’t stop there. I mean, ultimately it was the salt that we came for, and it was everywhere. It was on the walls, in the droplets of brine that dripped from the ceiling, sticking to our clothes and skin. In the hour-long tour, you learned how it is extracted and processed via a series of complex machinery. Mika was strangely well-behaved throughout the entire tour, but I had to stop him from licking his sticky salt-covered fingers every five minutes.
At the deepest point of the caves, the Mirror Lake rests, its reflection as shiny as glass. We took a barge across, our surroundings illuminated by ambient music and lighting.
It was a bit like the ET ride in Disneyland.
We eventually emerged into broad daylight — only to buy a ton of cooking salt from the salt shop(we would later find out that salt would taste the same whether it came from a tricked-out mine or someone’s sweat glands).
While the alpine resort of Berchtesgaden contains hidden thrills 130 meters below sea level, the rest of its attractions can be found above ground. Just steps away from Austria and once a Nazi retreat (Hitler has a mountaintop chalet here), the picturesque enclave in Bavaria now serves as a retreat for picture Nazis.
We spent a wonderful three nights, Hotel Neuhausl Superior, a cozy alpine lodge with an indoor pool and a crackling fireplace, in case the weather turns dour. Breakfast and dinner was included because we were midway into our holiday and was thus getting lazier.
Unfortunately, the weather was spectacular and there was no excuse not to go out and explore Berchtesgaden’s curiously underrated centerpiece — the emerald-hued Lake Konigsee — which stretches like a fingertip, hemmed in by dark blue mountains. Hitler often boated here. It is now known as one of Germany’s deepest and cleanest lakes and, to preserve its pristine quality, only electric boats are allowed for crossings.
Getting tickets for one of these rides was simple enough; and we soon found ourselves gliding serenely for 35 minutes towards St. Bartholomä, a pilgrimage centre dominated by an onion-domed church. There is also a small playground and peaceful walking trails leading inland, through the woods and past small waterfalls.
Nearby, a rustic fisherman’s pub doles out fresh — and presumably mercury-free — trout fished from the lake’s waters.
For an all-encompassing view of the fjord-like lake, we went up to Mount Jenner or Jennerbahn via what could be the world’s tiniest, most rickety-looking cable car I’ve ever seen. The ride up was terrifying.
But since it was German and not Malaysian engineering, we survived and were rewarded for our bravery with stupendous vistas.
You really can’t go to Germany without heading to its highest peak, the Zugspitze (even the name Zugspitze — which cannot be said with a suitable amount of spittle-spewing — sounds intimidating). This fearsome mountain lies in the upscale ski resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but you can access it either by lifts from Germany or Austria.
Expensive as Garmisch was supposed to be, we managed to find a really affordable two-bedroom accommodation at Apartment Sport-Quartier, with a balcony that opens out to the Olympic ski run. I can foresee myself breaking my neck (and many other bones) on this thing.
We ascended with a cable car because cable car rides are the bomb until a gust of wind blows past. Then the gondola starts rocking violently and you wish you had attended church two Sundays ago instead of slacking off at a dim sum restaurant. I’m happy to report, though, that the cable car looks a lot more secure than the previous one we were in.
There was not much of a view from the top because of the swirling mist; only a rocky terrain blanketed in snow, but it was not sparkling white like you see on the brochures but a slushy grey from the footprints of all those who came before us.
Uh so, instead of making snow angels, I had to be contented with sledding. At seven months pregnant.
And you know, I can sled, I can slide, I can do all the shit that most women steer clear from when they’ve got a bun in the oven, but I draw the line at climbing to the top of the gipfel (summit), where a golden cross is planted no doubt for the many climbers who have perished by slipping to their deaths here.
Actually, I’m just guessing.
Because it’s freezing and the only way up is to scale the metal ladder with your bare hands. Only X-men and exceedingly drunk people can accomplish an extraordinary feat like this.
And whadayya know, I was right: there they were, in their full lederhosen glory, the proud and the victorious stood beating their hairy chests at the summit. You don’t bust out that lederhosen unless you’re pissed. They are drunk as a skunk, alright.
And then le hubby says, “I’m going. Wait for me.”
I was like dude, don’t make me retrieve your limbs. But inspired by the obnoxious lederhosen-clad specimens, he went. And he made it.
I think I may have married an X-man.
Hotel Neuhausl Superior, Berchtesgaden Cozy, family-run alpine lodge equipped with a spa and swimming pool for adults and a big playground for kids. Set in a peaceful village a good distance from town, but price is inclusive of a generous breakfast and dinner. Your own transport is needed. $$$
Apartment Sport-Quartier, Garmisch-Partenkirchen Affordable chalet-type apartments in an expensive ski resort town. Modern and relatively new furnishings but basic, so don’t expect toiletries or luxe bedding here. $
- If you’re pressed for time and can pick only one Bavarian ski resort, skip Garmisch-Partenkirchen and head to Berchtesgaden instead. Its far more scenic and has two very different attractions: the salt mines and Lake Konigsee.
- The tallest point in Germany, the Zugspitze, can be accessed either from Austria and Germany (check Google maps). Entry fees in Austria are supposedly lower and grants you access to the same footpaths if you had come from Germany. If taking the German approach like us however, you need to choose your mode of transport up and down the mountain: by cable car or cog train, or both. We took a cable car up and a train down, and preferred the former. The train ride takes longer and half of the tip happens in dark tunnels deep in the mountains.
- The Zugspitze is glorious on a fine day, but it’s often wet and foggy up in the mountains. If you’re in Garmisch, be sure to keep yourself updated with the weather forecast. If the weather doesn’t look promising, it’s best to shelve your plans and do the equally delightful Partnach Gorge instead.