When we went to Salzburg earlier this year, we decided to follow in the von Trapp family footsteps and head out to the mountains. The Sound of Music after all does glorify Austrian countryside and its mountains. With visions of dancing atop mountains in our heads (skirts swirling in a perfect circle of course), we headed out from Salzurg for a day trip to Lake Konigsee. The lake is only a 45 minute drive from the center of Salzburg. One minor niggling detail is that technically Lake Konigsee is in Germany.
Lake Konigsee in Germany
Lake Konigsee is famous for being one of Germany’s deepest and cleanest lakes. During its history, Konigsee has been beloved by Bavarian royalty as well as Adolf Hitler. Hitler had a summer home nearby, The Eagle’s Nest, which meant that the Nazi high command had homes in the area as well. Today, the Eagle’s Nest is a restaurant. In real life, the von Trapp family’s home itself was taken over by Hitler’s architect of the Final Solution, Himmler who wanted to have a vacation home near to his leader at the Eagle’s Nest.
Today, Lake Konigsee still gets lots of visitors but it is protected within the Berchtesgaden National Park. Thanks to receiving its national park status in 1978, the park, the lake and everything in it is protected for future generations.
The water is so clear that you can see a fair way into it. The lake was created by glacier activity during the Ice Age. It is about 8 kilometres long, 1 kilometre wide (at its widest) and 192 metres deep.
The mountains loom straight up on the lake’s side reminding people of a fjord. This topography also produces a clear echo which is demonstrated on the boat with a trumpet about half-way from the dok to St. Bartholoma, the first stop.
Since the early 20th century, only electric boats and row boats are allowed on the lake. The electric boats take tourists from Schonau to the ports of St. Bartholoma and Salet on the lake. It’s about a half-hour to St. Bartholoma and an hour to Salet.
With a fleet of almost 20 boats, the boats run pretty regularly but, be forewarned, all the explanation is in German. You can get a free app for your iPhone or Android that gives you the English translation. We didn’t have WiFi though and, frankly, I’d rather just contemplate the beauty of the place than listen to an explanation.
St. Bartholoma, the first stop on Lake Konigsee
We got off at St. Bartholoma to explore. There are several hiking trails that depart from near the boat’s dropping off point. We were trying to find an ice cave that is about 6km away but we merely got lost. We took an easy stroll along a trail that lead around the lake. The kids practiced skipping stones in the clear water. We found a small playground where they spent time goofing around as well.
The St. Bartholoma church was built in the 12th century but then later remodelled in the 17th century to reflect Ottoman influences. The onion-domes are very striking against the green of the trees on the mountains.
Near the St. Bartholoma church there was a former hunting lodge of the Bavarian kings which is now a restaurant. We thought the food was pretty good serving the usual Bavarian fare (and beer, of course). We had a hearty meal of sausages and potatoes and were ready to hit the trails again.
We followed another hiking trail in search of the elusive ice cave at the bottom of Mt Watzmann. According to legend, the peaks of Watzmann represent a king, queen and his 7 children who got turned into stone because of their cruelty. This trail takes 2 hours round trip to get to the cave where the ice doesn’t melt even in summer. It’s not encouraged that you go into the ice cave though because of the danger of ice falling on you.
Excited by the thought of the ice cave, we set out to find it even though I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I wouldn’t let them inside. I know my kids though and they can never do a straight-forward hike because they stop to play and to explore constantly.
My children got distracted by a river with giant rocks along its bank and a small waterfall. They spent so much time playing by the waterfall we did not make it very far on the trail. I decided we needed to head back because I did not want to spend the night in St. Bartholoma if we missed the last electric boat!
We never made it to the port of Salet either which takes you to the smaller Lake Obersee and Germany’s highest waterfall, Rothbachfall. We had a really nice day even though we didn’t do half the things I planned to do at Lake Konigsee!
Lake Konigsee is a very popular destination in Germany for Germans themselves. The boats and the restaurant were busy and full of people. We were pretty much on our own on the trails though – people seemed to disperse fairly quickly onto the nature walks. We really did feel that we were on our own in this gorgeous national park.
How to Get To Lake Konigsee
We hired a driver who dropped us off and picked us up. You can, however, take a public bus from Salzburg to Berchtesgaden, the nearest town. Then it’s a bus from Berchtesgaden to where the electric lakes depart on Konigsee at Schonau am Konigsee. You can check timetables and prices at the English-language website.