By JACKIE HARDING
One of the benefits of living the expat life is making friends from around the world. It makes for some great vacation spots!
I have, jokingly, said I only befriend people who live in stunningly beautiful locations and so far the paybacks have been fabulous, with friends in Italy, Mallorca, Prague, New England and Bavaria.
Bavaria is in itself a fascinating area with a strong history of individual identity, from being a duchy to being a kingdom in the past. Some Bavarians still think of themselves as Bavarian first, German second.
The southeastern state is bordered on three sides by Austria, the Czech Republic and Switzerland and Bavaria holds dear its traditions of beer drinking (the internationally famous Oktoberfest began in Munich, one of its major cities), its dirndl and lederhosen traditional garments and the maypole (a tree trunk decorated with symbols of the local crafts and industry.)
One of my favorite Bavarian locations is the small alpine town of Oberammergau. Our friends who now live there must sometimes wish they had picked a different location to settle after their expat life as we have become frequent visitors.
Of course, we go to spend time with good friends primarily, but the first time I visited the area I felt a deep intrinsic connection with the mountains and meadows that quite honestly feed a subconscious need in me. Maybe I have alpine ancestors or maybe it’s living in the flat lands of the Netherlands, but as soon as I see the mountains my heart soars!
Located an hour’s drive south of Munich, Oberammergau is stunningly beautiful. The town is set in lush flower-filled meadows that border the meandering Ammer River, with a movie set backdrop of the Ammergau Alps cradling the town. Hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing in winter are attractions that entice tourists, but it is most famous for its Passion play, performed every decade (any year ending in zero).
The five-month run of the Passion play, or Easter pageant, tells the story of the events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This tradition dates back to 1632 when locals begged God to save them from the plague. The disease stopped taking the lives of the population and to show thanks they promised to enact the Passion play, leading to the first performance in 1634.
The 2,000 performers, stage crew and technicians are all local towns people, which must create some entertainment when the year of the performance approaches and all the local men start growing their hair and beards! I recall my friend relating to me a visit to the hairdresser soon after she moved there, “I sat next to Jesus in the hairdresser” she giggled. During the 2010 performances 500,000 people from around the world visited the small town, so if you are interested book early!
Oberammergau is not just the play though. Its houses are decorated with fresco paintings, known as lüftmalerei, dating back to the 18th century, and create an almost Disney-like atmosphere as you wander the little streets, many houses decorated with fairy tale, religious or folk scenes, each picture creating the feeling that you have walked into a extract of a Grimm fairytale. Its other creative talent lies in its tradition of woodcarving that dates back to the 1500s, and shops are filled with intricate wooden sculptures. There is even a school where you can enroll in a five-day course.
All of these things add up to a fascinating location to visit, but for me it’s all about the splendor of the surrounding countryside. There is nothing quite like starting out a walk in the rolling meadows, the alpine flowers scattered through the verdant grass, listening to the alpine music of cow bells clanking as their owners fill their bellies. As you climb into the forested sides of the mountains, the cool air fills with the sound of mountain streams and you gasp as you turn a corner and there in front of you is the town laid out like a child’s toy under an azure blue sky with white downy clouds, coincidentally the same colours as the Bavarian flag.
If you require more challenging walks, you can hike or take the cable car up or down the Laber, 1684m high, for stunning views of the area as you sip a coffee in the cafe. From there experienced hikers can hike the fixed rope trail to the summit of the Ettaler Manndl. The Kofel, Oberammergau’s distinctive mountain of 1,342m, does require you to be fit, have the use of both hands, be unafraid of heights and have some hiking experience as the climb involves a “via ferrata,” a steel cable with iron rungs to climb.
I have spent many hours admiring the way the light reflects on its white peak but have yet to find the necessary courage to climb it…..one day! You can do a circular hike to the Kofel, and if the idea of a hike all the way down is just too much you can cheat and, after an hour’s walk to the Kolbensattel, take the “Alpine Coaster,” a toboggan run that has 73 curves and whose top speed is 43km/h. After all that you can relax at the local pool, which has both an indoor pool with flume, a Jacuzzi and for the really fearless, an outdoor pool filled with fresh mountain water. Brrr!
Oberammergau is, as you can see, a place with something for all and a good starting point to explore some of Bavaria’s delights…..but please don’t tell everyone!
Where to stay:
If you are looking for a wonderful vacation home in Oberammergau we stayed in this luxurious rental home. The ground floor has 140 square meters of living space with room for up to six guests.
From their promotional materials:
The ground floor combines kitchen, dining room and living room into one large space to allow our guests to participate and enjoy indoor activities together. The top level features three bedrooms with king size beds. Our large master bedroom is joined by a private contemporary and spacious en suite bathroom. The other two bedrooms share a second, also very modern and stylish bathroom.
About the author:
Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a longtime expat, she’s lived in Boston, Mass for 12 years, and in the Netherlands for the past six years.
Jackie is becoming an expert at re-inventing herself! Trained as a nurse in UK, in the United States, she worked for nine years as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and runs the Hub newsletter and writes for the Eindhoven News. She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.