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Travel

Hiking to the Elmau Alm mountain lodge restaurant

Visitors from around the world come to admire the Zugspitze, Germany's highest peak in the Alps. But head east and you'll find yourself in a Bavarian Alpine idyll at Schloss Elmau's mountain lodge.

When we decide to order another Almdudler lemonade and a glass of Veltliner wine it is nearly five o'clock in the afternoon, the time at which the mountain lodge usually closes. But hostess Astrid Fieber takes our late order with a smile and soon returns with the herb-flavored lemonade and glass of white wine. "After all, we're not civil servants," she says, and this flexibility convinces the gentlemen at the neighboring table to also order another round. They say one more beer will lift their wanderlust to help them climb down the mountain.

The Elmau mountain lodge has been around for 90 years. It is located at a height of 1,203 meters (3,948 ft) in the midst of breathtaking mountain scenery. From here, you have a perfect view of the different peaks, the Zugspitze, the Alpspitze and the Dreitorspitze as well as the Karwendel mountain range with its Soiernspitze peak. The passing autumnal clouds help make this picture book vista real.

Get in the hut

Deutschland Almhütte Elmau bei Schloss Elmau

Lodge interior at the Elmauer Alm

"You have to climb up here, to come down": Astrid Fieber knows this well, even though she has only been serving at the mountain lodge for a comparatively short time. She has witnessed the calming and relaxing effect the hike has on people.

Like her predecessor, she obtains all her goods from the nearby 5-star spa-hotel Schloss Elmau, which is also the owner of the mountain lodge. But while chef Mario Corti might be serving scallops and turbot in the valley, up on the mountain, the meals are more rustic: Popular dishes here are the Currywurst sausage, as well as apple strudel and lemon cake.

When US President Barack Obama and the other G7 leaders came to Schloss Elmau in June 2015, there was not enough time for them to hike up to the mountain lodge. The US president just managed a friendly "Grüß Gott" greeting in the nearby village of Krün, before vanishing behind closed doors to focus on world issues.

So in many ways, we are more fortunate than these world leaders: Our schedules are not controlled by tight agendas. All we need to enjoy the day are good hiking boots and a bottle of water for the hike.

The journey is (also) the goal

The small village of Klais is located a mere 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Munich and just 10 kilometers away from the spa town of Garmisch-Patenkirchen, with its fashionable pedestrian city centre. With a car these are negligible distances, especially considering that there are hardly any speed restrictions on the A96 highway to get there from Munich.

Racing at high speed towards the idyll of the Wetterstein mountain range is also part of the Bavarian way of life. The mountain hike offers a rewarding opportunity to truly wind down afterwards. There are no half measures here.

Deutschland Mautstraße Schloss Elmau

Humble road toll in the mountain idyll

Just behind Klais, a barrier blocks the road. A friendly gentleman in a woolen jumper demands four euro ($4.30) to pass. Considering the panorama that was about to become visible he could easily have asked for more. Minutes later, we roll past Schloss Elmau and further on we drive on to the large parking place in the forest. In order for things to get crowded on this parking place several villages would all have to decide to simultaneously come here - which is probably the case during the summer months.

Hiking, also for inexperienced

From the parking place the sign post tells us, it takes about two hours to walk up to the mountain lodge located some 200 meters above us. That seems doable, and it is. The moderately challenging path leads over a stream and then through rugged autumnal forests.

Traces of storm Niklas are still very visible, even though it raged here more than six months ago. At the end of March, saplings, which have shallow roots, were ripped from the soaked ground. Some of the old established trees lacked the strength to withstand the gusts too.

Deutschland Umgestürzter Baum bei Schloss Elmau

Not able to withstand the storm

What remains has turned the terrain to the left and right of the path into a fairytale forest. Moss has covered the fallen trees. They allow us to spy the mountain peaks surrounding us, creating a magical vista. Though hikers might delight at the ever-changing scenery, the forest rangers will view it all with mixed feelings.

We reach our destination despite several photo opportunity stops after just 90 minutes, without ever feeling out of breath. At no point was the climb really steep. Plain levels along the way ensured that it didn't get too strenuous or that leg muscles tightened uncomfortably. For passionate mountain climbers the hike would not have even started at this point as they would have sought more challenging routes.

After stopping for refreshments at the mountain lodge, a slightly steeper and narrower meadow path leads us back to the valley. At the first fork in the path we can't decide between right or left and so finally, we just decide to go off route. This way we reach Schloss Elmau in less than half an hour.

Deutschland Schloss Elmau

Through the autumnal forest with a view of Schloss Elmau

Lord of the castle for just one day

What might come as a surprise is that Schloss Elmau caters for all tastes, without any unnecessary frills. You feel welcome and relaxed, so long as your wallet stretches to cover the expense of staying here. Schloss Elmau covers everything from service to award-winning world class spas and restaurants. An easy thing to accomplish if you charge the kind of prices this place does.

Deutschland Schloss Elmau

Unique acoustics: The concert hall at Schloss Elmau

The Schloss, which combines two "Leading Hotels of the World" awards, has become an El Dorado for all who enjoy music and nature. Artists, especially musicians, like to perform here at Schloss Elmau with its long concert tradition - from the Amadeus Quartett to Yehudi Menuhin and Alfred Brendel. For lovers of chamber music, this is a top location because of its exquisite concert hall.

An added bonus is that this "house music" is included in the room price. On the evening of our hike, bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff did us the honor of entertaining us.

Schloss Elmau was also a favorite escape for Loriot, who for many to this day remains Germany's leading humorist. Loriot, who died in 2011, liked to come to Schloss Elmau as often as possible. It was he who coined the phrase: "If it weren't for the mountains, the Alps would be a pitiful sight." We'd like to think that he came up with that line while sitting at a window at Schloss Elmau.