Monday, 25 August 2014

A Day in the Bavarian Alps

Street scene, Mittenwald
Just over half way through our stay in Munich we took advantage of the efficient German Rail System to journey south for the day, into the Bavarian mountains. Our destination was the small town of Mittenwald; one of the highest towns on Germany and being almost right on the border with neighbouring Austria, just about as far south as one can go and still be in the Federal Republic.

Comfortable and fast Regional trains depart from Munich’s Hauptbahnhof hourly, with a journey time of just under two hours. En route the line skirts the Starnberger See, the biggest of several to the south of Munich, before heading off in a south-westerly direction towards the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen; home to many winter sporting events as well as the 1936 Winter Olympics.

As our train sped south, the scenery became more and more spectacular, with the mountains steadily growing in the distance as we approached them. We had other plans first though, as we wanted to pay a brief visit to the monastic brewery of Kloster Ettal. Some homework prior to our departure for Germany  revealed that Ettal is just a 10 minute bus ride way from the railway station at Oberau. What was even better was the fact our train ticket was valid on the bus which, like many services in the region, is operated by Deutsche Bahn.

Alighting at Oberau and walking the short distance to the bus stop, it appeared we weren’t the only thirsty pilgrims heading to the monastery that day. Around half a dozen others were making the same journey, although most must have stayed for longer than we did, as only one other couple shared the journey back with us.

Almost as soon as we left the station and crossed the busy north-south highway, our comfortable coach-style bus began to climb, and soon the road was snaking its way up into the mountains, with pine forests on one sideband steep ravines on the other. Before long we reached our destination, the small settlement which has grown up around the imposing abbey church of Kloster Ettal. We left the bus and crossed the road to the monastery entrance.

I had read briefly about Kloster Ettal and its monastic brews, but wasn’t quite prepared for just how close the monastery is to the mountains. Dating back to the early 1600’s, the imposing abbey church was rebuilt in Baroque style following a fire in 1744. Today, the complex functions as a Benedictine abbey with a community of 50 monks, and as well as its own brewery operates a distillery, a bookstore, an art publishing house, a hotel, and a cheese factory. The distillery produces Ettaler Kloster Liqueur, a herbal liqueur which comes in both a sweet yellow and a more herbal green varieties.

Klosterhotel Ludwig der Bayer
There was building work going on outside the church, so we skipped a visit there and instead made for the Kloster shop. There I bought some bottles of Kloster Ettal beer and a few post cards. We them retraced our footsteps back across the road to the Klosterhotel “Ludwig der Bayer”, which is owned by the abbey. As the adjacent photograph shows, the hotel is quite an imposing building and is obviously a popular stop-over place for people visiting this picturesque part of the Ammergauer Alps.  It seemed quite up-market as well, but the waitress didn’t mind us sitting in the Braustüberl just having a drink (Klosterbräu Ettal Helles). 

We then caught the 12.19 bus back to Oberau station, and after a short wait boarded the 12.45 train to Mittenwald, some two hours after our original train. The train divided at Garmisch, with only the front portion continuing on to Mittenwald. The single track line climbed steeply up through a wooded valley towards out destination, and some 20 minutes later we alighted at quite a large station over-looking the valley of the River Isar; the same river which flows through Munich.

Mittenwalder beer
Despite the sunshine, it felt decidedly chilly as we walked the short distance from the railway station into the centre of town. We called in briefly at the tourist information office, primarily to pick up a map, but seeing as it was lunchtime and that we hadn’t eaten since breakfast we decided to go in search of some food and drink. Like most towns in Bavaria, Mittenwald has its own brewery, and Mittenwalder Privatbrauerei claims, with some justification, to be the highest in Germany.    

Beer garden, Gasthof  Stern
As might be expected, the brewery has several outlets in the centre of town, and the one we chose, Gasthof Stern was very good. Despite the chill, we sat out in the partially covered beer garden at the rear of the pub, from where we had an excellent view of the imposing mountains, just across the valley. We enjoyed a glass each of the very pale-coloured Mittenwalder Helles, along with a traditional Bavarian favourite of Leberkas mit Spiegel Ei und Kartoffelsalat. (Baked, finely-ground pork and beef loaf, topped with a fried egg and accompanied by potato salad).

Leberkas mit Spiegel Ei
After that we had a look around the town which was larger than it first appeared. It is a picture-postcard sort of place, with unbelievably pretty, flower-bedecked Alpine houses and shops. Needless to say it was crowded with tourists, including some from Birmingham if the accents were anything to go by. We found a supermarket where I was able to buy a couple of bottles of Mittenwalder beer to take back with me, (my rucksack was getting rather heavy at this point!)

There is a cable car cross the valley which runs up to restaurant and viewing area, high up one of the mountains. We toyed with the idea of taking a ride up the mountain, but unfortunately the peaks were shrouded in clouds, so we would not have seen much had we gone up. Time was getting on by now anyway, and although the last train back to Munich doesn’t leave until10.30pm, we made our way back towards the station to check on the times.

Close to the station was a wooden cabin café, with several groups of people sitting outside at tables, chatting over a beer or two or a glass of Schnapps. We decided to join them and enjoyed a further glass of Mittenwalder Helles, before catching the 4.30pm train back to Munich. The journey back was every bit as scenic as the outward one, and the countryside looked even more attractive now that the sun was shining.

I can certainly recommend a visit to this attractive part of southern Bavaria, especially to anyone who appreciates spectacular scenery. Beer wise there is much to offer as well, and whilst this part of Bavaria, know as Oberbayern doesn’t have the same large concentration of breweries as say Franconia in the

Tourists in Mittenwald

north, the combination of mountain scenery, picturesque old inns and decent beer is a winning one in my book. Well known beer writer Des de Moor wrote a piece about brewing in nearby Murnau, and a while back, writing in CAMRA’s Beer Magazine, he described a beer and hiking holiday in the region. Now given my enjoyment of walking in the countryside, coupled with my passion for good beer that for me would be a holiday which would come close to heaven!

I believe this is the company referred to in Des’s Beer Magazine article.


BryanB said...

If you'd stopped in Garmisch, you could have taken the Wankbahn up the Wank and had a beer at the Wankhaus.

Ah, childish pleasures'r'us....

I thought the Ettaler Kloster Dunkel far better than the Helles, but then I generally prefer dark beers. We missed Mittenwald on our visit a couple of years ago, instead we crossed the border (we were there by car) and had a nice lunch at the brewpub in Innsbruck.

Paul Bailey said...

Bought a bottle of Ettaler Kloster Dunkel back with me, Bryan. Haven't got round to trying it yet, but as I write, it's in the fridge chilling down.

Paul Bailey said...

Bryan, having now sampled it, I agree the Ettaler Kloster Dunkel is an excellent beer.

I still have a Dunkler Doppelbock, plus a Heller Bock to try.