It is a crisp spring day in the Bavarian mountains and we are driving up through thick pine forests and accompanied by the chatter of birdsong from the pretty Alpine town of Berchtesgaden high up into Obersalzberg, a magnificent pristine wilderness of lakes and mountains. A mere 25 kilometers from a Salzburg and just over an hour and a half drive from Munich, the Kempinski Hotel Berchtesgaden is tucked away in one of the most spectacular corners of the Bavarian Alps. A 5-star ultra-luxurious hotel run by Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group, the Kempinski Hotel Berchtesgaden effortlessly matches legendary Bavarian hospitality with a personal touch. In the capable hands of the hotel’s dynamic General Manager Werner Müller is a true original high up in the rarefied air of the Alps.
The striking architecture of the hotel fits subtly into the magnificent grandeur of its natural surroundings – the 138-room hotel is almost hidden into a mountain lair and is a private hideaway surrounded by forests and wild Alpine grass. The hotel features an award-winning Spa, indoor and outdoor pools area, a Michelin starred restaurant, an impressive cocktail bar, a kids club, and even a helipad. In the summer you can tee-off at a nearby 9 hole golf course – one of Germany’s highest. This is destination perfect for romantic getaways, spa-lovers, gastronomes and of course outdoor enthusiasts – In the Berchtesgaden National Park between Konigsee and Rupertiwinkel, there are a total of 230km of hiking trails. Additionally, the resort has comprehensive conference facilities: There are six conference rooms and an outside event space for up to 4,000 guests.
On arrival, we are met by a mustachioed Bavarian doorman providing a genuinely hearty local welcome. Check-in was swift and accompanied by non-alcoholic fruit schnapps. Throughout the stay, the staff without exception were courteous and attentive but relaxed and friendly. A slightly surreal quirk of the hotel is that concierge service is easy to spot. She is a woman dressed in a striking ruby-red dress. She is, unsurprisingly, known as the ‘Lady in Red’.
Rooms are accessed through stylishly low-lit corridors. Our Executive Mountain View room had an incredible uninterrupted panoramic view of the Untersberg massif and Kneifelspitze. On a clear day, we could see the shining spires and turrets of Salzburg emerging from the low spring mist. The spacious room came with a large Villeroy & Boch equipped bathroom with a walk-in shower and a deep bathtub. The room had an adjustable remotely operated log fire that faced the huge, cozy bed. A Krups coffee machine and a well-stocked minibar only added to the numerous luxury details.
As well as a Presidential Suite, the hotel offers a single-floor Panorama Suite and a two floor-Maisonette Suite. The Panorama Suite has a luxurious 75 sqm of floor space with a separate living room and bedroom as well as a working desk, a fireplace, and entertainment facilities. The Maisonette Suite feels like a private chalet and comes with direct access to a 40sq m rooftop terrace with stunning mountain views and set with wild grasses. The Art Deco style bathroom is very impressive.
One of Kempinski Hotel Berchtesgaden’s many stands out features is its Spa and 24-hour fitness gym. The Spa’s facilities include an indoor pool, heated to 28°C in summer and 31°C in winter that accesses directly an outdoor pool – a useful touch in the snow-covered Alps. There are two mixed-use saunas, one Finnish and one herbal in addition to a steam bath with color therapy. The Spa also boasts a meditation lounge with floating water beds to wind down in as well as a Physiotherm infrared cabin and a Solarium.
Spa treatments are varied and include seasonal massages. We opted for the 80-minute natural ‘Salt Stone Massage’ exclusively designed for Berchtesgaden, using hand-smoothed salt stones that are mined locally and contain zeolite, one of the world’s most ancient minerals and a potent anti-oxidant. Warmed salt stones are applied using a healing technique that balances the body’s equilibrium, detoxifies and provides deep relaxation to the muscles. It was very soothing and refreshing. Afterward, we relaxed in the outdoor pool surrounded by the mountains as the dust of falling snow fell on us.
Other signature massage therapies available at the Spa include the ‘Thermal Alpine Herb Massage’, where Alpine herbs such as wild calendula, arnica, and chamomile are compacted into herbal pouches that are gently steamed and used to apply pressure.
A day of hiking in the Alps should start with a sturdy breakfast and the Kempinski Hotel Berchtesgaden does not disappoint. The buffet breakfast is incredible and includes complimentary champagne. This banquet-sized buffet has everything you could imagine. You can choose from fresh wurst, speck, hams, organic eggs, locally smoked trout, freshly-made miso soup, dozens of different yogurts, granola, local artisan loaves of bread, dozens of different smoothies and the most extensive collection of herbal teas I have ever encountered in a hotel. To call this breakfast impressive would be an understatement: We asked if they had any gluten-free bread and 10 minutes later our kindly waiter returned with three different types of seed encrusted bread rolls that the chef had just made and baked specially for us.
Afternoon tea is served in the relaxed, cozy atmosphere of the hotels ground floor lounge area from 1-5pm. You can match teas and wines with freshly-made sandwiches, locally smoked trout and English scones with clotted cream. Chef Patissier Michael Stah’s delicious Eckerbiichl cake is a must while elderflower and raspberry sorbet, yogurt ice cream and wild berry compote are very popular with invigorated hikers. The Kaminbar serves one of the 130 different gins or 300 whiskeys available and serves superb lager and pilsner from esteemed local brewery Hofbrauhaus Berchtesgaden.
The hotel has two restaurants Restaurant Johann Grill and Restaurant Le Ciel, where you can dine on seasonal cuisine. Restaurant Johann Grill, named after a famous local mountaineer, is run by head chef Sebastian Weigel and serves robust, modern Alpine cuisine using almost entirely sourced local produce. It is a large, open-planned restaurant that is popular with guests and visitors alike. We sat in one of the snugs and chose from an impressive seasonal spring menu while snacking on freshly-baked bread with accompaniments of salt with wild mountain herbs and a truffle and cream cheese dip. For starters, we dined on a zesty marinated meadow herb salad of beansprouts, seeds, and nuts with delicious pink roasted strips of local Salzburg fillet of beef. This was followed by marinated brook trout from Resch with pickled pumpkin, ginger, and citrus fruit.
Our mains were paired with local wines suggested by our delightful waiter. Alpine spring Lamb with Bearnaise sauce and asparagus were matched with a delicious Schiefer Riesling Schiefer from Villa Huesgen in the Mosel Valley. An outstanding dish of roasted Barbary duck breast with sous vide red cabbage, apple and potato dumplings with buttered brioche crumbs were washed down with a fine red, a Zweigelt from Burgenland in Austria.
Exploring the area: Berchtesgaden & Oberslazburg
In the past Emperors, composers, writers and the great and the good from Viennese high society were drawn up to these lofty heights for the crisp bracing air and spectacular vistas of 6,000 ft peaks above amethyst green lakes. Sigmund Freud used to stay in a nearby pension.
Kempinski Hotel Berchtesgaden sits above the valley opposite to the Untersberg massif, a sheer wall of mountains that looms large in Teutonic myths – the Holy Roman Emperor Barbarossa is said to lie sleeping beneath it with an army awaiting the call of ravens to rise and save the German people at its darkest hour. In the 30s and during World War II it was popular with the Nazi elite – Hitler’s Berghof used to stand next to the hotel and the remains of it and bunkers are now an impressive museum. One relic that survived the war is Eagle’s Nest, perched on the summit of Kehlstein at more than 6,000 ft directly overlooking the hotel. It can be accessed in summer months from May using an elevator that ascends hundreds of meters through the mountain itself.
After World War II the local area was occupied by the US Army until 1995 when it was returned to the Bavarian state government who devised plans to bring tourists back to an area of outstanding natural beauty. Cloaked in the snow in winter, when we arrive spring has returned and with it the walkers and hikers who take to paths through the forests and meadows carpeted with seasonal wild grasses and Edelweiss. The Alpine wilderness is so untouched in places that wildlife from golden eagles to deer has thrived. You can ski here but it is more the cross-country skiing and snowshoe variety. Down below in the valley next to the town of Berchtesgaden, Königsee, a narrow stretch of emerald water enclosed by abrupt mountains that is the stuff of myths and romantic paintings. The long immaculate lake resembles a narrow fjord as you walk around it through dense pine forests. On its western shore is St. Bartholomew’s Church, a beautiful red onion-domed 17th-century chapel accessible only by boat or a long hike. Königsee is surrounded by spectacularly jagged mountains including the 9,000-foot high Watzmann, the second highest peak in Germany. In German ‘Watzmann’ means ‘Cruel Man’ and is named after a tyrannical king who was turned to stone by the gods.
| Photos courtesy of the Kempinski Hotel Berchtesgaden
Kempinski Hotel Berchtesgaden, Hintereck 1, 83471 Berchtesgaden, Germany
Tel: 00 (49) 8652 97550 / Email: [email protected]
Rooms from $275