Lake Tegernsee, Germany: A mountain retreat undiscovered by tourists

I'm only an hour south of Munich, and have driven into a calendar scene of paddling swans, lake water so clear that every pebble gleams, and smart villas bearded with geraniums. Lake Tegernsee is impossibly pretty, and a momentary clog of traffic through the town of the same name is the only momentary distraction. On around the lake is Rottach-Egern, which takes alpine absurdity to another level. It's off the main road and has many traditional Bavarian buildings decked out in murals, fret-worked balconies and flowerboxes of tangled geraniums and petunias.

I've yet to see one of the tour coaches that clog many European alpine roads and burp up crowds of camera-toting tourists at viewpoints. Few visitors from beyond Germany appear to stray to Tegernsee, though I have to wonder why. It's full of Germans, and still feels very Bavarian. You can tuck into Bavarian food and tramp along the shoreline, where you hear German greetings. You can buy sturdy German hiking clothes in upmarket shops. You needn't bother looking for snowdomes or cuckoo clocks.

The Germans have been admiring Lake Tegernsee for a long time. An abbey was founded on the lakeshore in the 8th century and got busy in the Middle Ages with stained-glass manufacturing and printing. Later, the inevitable baroque refurbishment gave its Gothic church an Italianate blush. Part of the abbey complex now houses one of Germany's oldest breweries, Herzogliches Braustuberl, which serves up foaming tankards of beer and ogre's helpings of schnitzel and pork knuckle at (for an Australian) bargain prices.

These days, it isn't the spiritual but more likely spas that entice visitors. In the 19th century, Bavarian royals and artists favoured Lake Tegernsee for retreats, and it has never really lost its posh shine since. Some of Germany's priciest real estate is found along the shoreline. There are lots of handsome hotels, but the best is the Althoff Seehotel Uberfahrt. Don't be put off by its awkward-sounding name. This opulent Leading Hotel of the World has whim-gratifying staff and superb restaurants, and my en suite is as large as a skating rink and has Swarovski crystals embedded in the ceiling above the bath.

The hotel is bang on the waterfront at the lake's loveliest outlook. A vast spa will pummel and pamper you into a state of nirvana. You can flop from indoor to outdoor pool, sauna to sauna, relaxation zone to library, where you can unfurl a newspaper or gaze on the peaceful scenery.

The lake isn't high – only about 750 metres above sea level – and its landscapes more wooded and hilly than truly alpine, though hoofing to viewpoints or taking to mountain-biking trails will get the heart thumping. (A cable car will take you up the 1722-metre-high Wallberg.) A fairly short walk from Tegernsee to Grosses Paraplui rewards with a panorama lovely enough to have been shown off to a Russian czar and Austrian emperor. It's high enough to see over the ridges to the full splendour of the Bavarian Alps behind.

In autumn, beautiful orange foliage blankets the hillsides. When you're done walking, ferries will take you to and fro across the lake. There's a jetty right outside the Seehotel. By evening you'll want to be back for the hotel's choice of dining spots. Restaurant Uberfahrt is considered one of Germany's top restaurants; its chef Christian Jurgens has three Michelin stars.

I'm in the mood for something more relaxed, so head to Bayernstube, which provides a contemporary take on traditional tavern food. I tuck into baked duck with red cabbage, and just as gratifying as the food and beer are the surrounding conversations in German. The rest of the world overlooks this lovely corner, at least for now.

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traveller.com.au/germanytegernsee.com

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FLY

Etihad flies to Abu Dhabi (14½ hours) and Munich (6½ hours), a one-hour drive from Tegernsee. See etihad.com

STAY

Althoff Seehotel Uberfahrt, a member of Leading Hotels of the World, is just outside Rottach-Egern at the southern end of Lake Tegernsee and has a wellness spa, Michelin-starred restaurant and lake views. Phone 02 9377 8444, see lhw.com

Brian Johnston stayed as a guest of Leading Hotels of the World.

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