Garmisch-Partenkirchen has more to claim than just its long name. It’s a cozy German town in the heart of the Alps that once was an Olympic site so many years ago. For those who are looking for a great place to mountain bike, go hiking, or skiing in winter, this resort town fits the bill. Its charm will win any traveler over, and Garmisch (as it is most often called) is a welcome respite after spending a lot of travel time in larger cities.
History and Setting of Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Garmisch and Partenkirchen of course were two different towns that were joined for the 1936 Olympics. But Partenkirchen’s actual history as a settlement dates back much farther. It was originally a Roman town, and there are traces of that history in an old Roman road that travelers can see between Partenkirchen and nearby Mittenwald. This road served as a route between Germany and Rome until the 17th century.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen’s real claim to fame is its setting for the highest peak in Germany, Zugspitze (more than 9,000 feet). This mountainous setting made it the perfect candidate for the Winter Olympics in 1936, and today there are some 60 miles of downhill skiing trails and more than 100 of cross-country.
Beyond the Ski Slopes
While many associate Garmisch only with skiing, there is plenty to do for those who arrive in summer. Just as in winter, its lovely alpine setting plays host to plenty of activities. Many visitors flock to Garmisch (about 50 miles south of Munich) in summer for mountain biking and hiking in the same mountain region that serves skiers so well in winter. With all the alpine lakes, boating is also popular, and both boats and mountain bikes are easy to rent in the area.
Because the tallest mountain in Germany is a main attraction in Garmisch, there are two ways visitors can scale its height. The first is to take the 10-minute cable car up the summit (where a charming restaurant can be found). The slower, but perhaps more scenic route is to ride the leisurely 1 hour plus cog railroad from the main train station in town, then use the cable car for the last bit.
There are also rides up lesser mountains in the area, such as Alpspitze and Wank), but the views from Zubspitze cannot be matched. For those who like to enjoy the scenery on their own two feet, lower level trails make for great hiking, and of course there are more rigorous trails for those experienced hikers. There are more than 175 miles of wooded trails that lead through pine forests and alpine meadows for you to create your own “Sound of Music” moment.
All these sporting activities (hiking, biking, and skiing) fit well with the hearty German dishes so popular in this area. Pork and dumplings are popular, as is traditional apple strudel (apfelstrudel). Don’t miss the wonderful freshly caught perch (renke) and trout (forelle) often found at lakeside inns.
Part of what makes this small town so endearing are all the enchanting Upper Bavarian-styled homes, so beautifully adorned with charming painted scenes and window boxes full of flowers. A particularly good spot to see some of these homes is the Fruhlingstrasse.
Also worth seeing in town is the 18th century parish church of St. Martin just off Marienplatz with beautiful stuccowork by the Wessobrunn school of painters. Another St. Martin’s Church across the Loisach River is even older. This Gothic church dates from 1280 and has a huge St. Christopher wall painting.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen’s most famous resident had his home on the eastern end of Garmisch. Composer Richard Strauss’s villa still exists there today, and each June the city celebrates his music with a festival.
While Garmisch-Partenkirchen is small in size, it’s big in heart. It’s a town used to visitors, yet it offers up a taste of the slow life. While so many travelers experience a whirlwind of activity when touring Germany (or Europe generally), this charming town allows them to relax, go for a hike, and enjoy the scenery.
Fodor’s Germany 2007