On a clear day, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better view than from the 9,700-foot Zugspitze, Germany’s highest Alpine peak. From the terraces at the top, glorious views extend in all directions, encompassing vast, rugged mountain ranges glistening with pristine snow. It requires some effort and expense to reach the summit, but the unparalleled panoramas make the excursion well worth it.
The train to reach the Zugspitze departs from a special station behind Garmisch-Partenkirchen’s main railway terminus, about 30 minutes away from Schloss Elmau. It’s best to leave as early as possible, because the likelihood of encountering clouds increases in the afternoon. Be sure to consult your concierge about the weather before departing – it may be sunny at your hotel even as the mountain summit is beset by clouds. (Also ask about the condition of the rail track; it may be simpler to board the train at Eibsee, avoiding a stretch in a bus.)
In fact, we were warned against going, but ever optimistic, we paid €50 each and boarded the train at Garmisch. After passing through idyllic meadows dotted with wooden barns and farmhouses, the train eventually began to ascend, becoming a cog railway. The right side had the best views, at least when the train was not in a tunnel.
At Gletschergarten (Glaciergarden), we exited the train and changed to the cable car to make the final ascent to the summit, which, alas, was completely obscured by clouds. Having made this excursion before, we knew the weather was very changeable, and we settled in at “Germany’s highest beer garden” to wait for a break in the clouds. Hearty beef broth with a toothsome bacon dumpling made for a restorative snack, especially when accompanied by a glass of malty Franziskaner Royal Jahrgangsweissbier, created for the brewery’s 650th anniversary.
Just as we were beginning to wish that we had listened to the concierge, the white and black of the mountains began to appear through the wall of clouds, followed by some brilliant blue sky. The views were as stupendous as I remembered. We watched with awe as cottony clouds swept past the snowy Alpine peaks, a majestic collision of mountain and sky. Before returning, we stopped at the Glaciergarden, set below the cloud line and offering yet more terrific Alpine vistas. In the winter, skiers take advantage of dramatic runs near here.
If it’s running, you can take a cable car straight from the Glaciergarden down to Eibsee, a fast and scenic contrast to the cog railway ascent. We made it back to Schloss Elmau well before Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake), the casual German version of high tea.