Berchtesgaden and the Eagle’s Nest – Off the Beaten Track

Berchtesgaden is a small Alpine town hidden away in the south-east corner of Germany. It sits on the shores of Königssee below rocky peaks that rise to almost 9,000 ft.

The earliest records of the town date back to 1102 and from 1517 onwards it amassed wealth from salt-mines.

The Eagle's Nest
The Eagle’s Nest

However the area gained notoriety in 1933 when a large tract of land above the town, known as Obersalzberg, was purchased by the Nazi party and developed for recreational and administrative use.

The most well-known remnant of that period is the Kehlsteinhaus, often referred to as the Eagle’s Nest. This chalet, perched on a peak high above the town, was built in 1939 as a 50th birthday present for Hitler.


I visited Berchtesgaden in October on a cold, but clear, sunny weekend – perfect for viewing Alpine scenery. I was just in time to see the Eagle’s Nest, as it is closed from November through to mid-May due to its high elevation.

The three most memorable aspects of my visit were: firstly, the scenic beauty of Berchtesgaden, Königssee and the surrounding mountains; secondly, the insight I gained into the Third Reich from visiting the Eagle’s Nest and the Documentation Centre(Dokumentationszentrum); and thirdly, my stay at the Berchtesgaden Intercontinental Hotel.

My Five Highlights of the Berchtesgaden Area

Berchtesgaden itself, a typically attractive Bavarian town, has many buildings with ornate frescoes. The most outstanding part of the town is the triangular Schlossplatz (Castle ‘Square’), overlooked by the ancient Royal Castle and the Church of St Peter and St John, with its Lombard style exterior of decorative stones in alternating colours.

Ornate Frescoes
Ornate Frescoes

Königssee, a lake about 5 miles long and 1 mile wide with clear emerald-green waters below steep rock faces. A boat ride around the lake is not to be missed, passing waterfalls and the red-domed Chapel of St Bartholomä.

From the boat quay at the southern end of Königssee, a quarter mile trek leads to the smaller Obersee lake, and Germany’s highest waterfall, the 1,500 ft high Röthbach.

• The Eagle’s Nest is approached by a bus ride up a steep narrow road through several hairpin bends. Private cars are forbidden from using this road. The final 100 metres to the Eagle’s Nest chalet is by a lift built through solid rock. The interior of the lift is lined with gaudy polished brass and Venetian mirrors.

There is now a restaurant in the chalet, but don’t spend too long over refreshments, as the views are what make the visit worthwhile. Allow some time as well for a guided tour of the chalet with its World War II artefacts, including a marble fireplace donated by Mussolini.

Chapel of St Bartholomä by Konigssee
Chapel of St Bartholomä by Königssee

• The Documentation Centre. This museum chronicles the rise of the Third Reich and the World War II period, and it pulls no punches in exposing the evil of those times.  Expect to see parties of schoolchildren visiting – an essential part of their education. Access can be gained from the Centre to some of the massive network of WW II bunkers below Obersalzberg.


• The Intercontinental Hotel. The hotel considers itself a ‘Resort’ and certainly its facilities justify this title. Top class amenities include an indoor/outdoor pool and a Michelin starred restaurant; add to that, panoramic views of the surrounding mountain scenery.

I was a little disappointed that the complimentary mini-bar contained only ‘healthy’ items like carrot juice and nut bars!

The hotel is built over some of the WW II bunkers and is close to the Documentation Centre and bus station for the Eagle’s Nest. Although quite expensive, a Senior Discount Rate will save you some money or maybe, as I did, use some IHG Reward Points.  I include it in my list of Top Ten Favourite Hotels.

Network of WW II bunkers
Network of WW II bunkers

Getting to Berchtesgaden

I arrived by car when on a driving tour of the area. If flying, the nearest airport is 24 miles away at Salzburg. This has flights from London Stansted by Ryanair and, during the winter months, from Luton by Easyjet. Transfer to Berchtesgaden is then by rail, taxi or hire car.