Bavaria is famous for three things: Oktoberfest, mountains and lakes. Munich is an ideal location to sample all three, the Oktoberfest when it’s that time of the year, but there is no shortage of beer all year around. Beer is considered food in Bavaria! Mountains are visible from every angle of the city and several lakes are close by. My absolute favorite, the Chiemsee is just 1 ½ train ride away.
Alight at the small town of Prien am Chiemsee and you are faced with a picture post card of a Bavarian town, a marketplace, Fachwerkhäuser with plenty of geraniums on their balconies, Weisswurstkiosks and friendly people.
I make my way from the tiny station up the road towards the Marktplatz and never fail to pay the Heimatmuseum a visit. It’s the type of museum I love, small, located in a traditional house, exhibiting furniture, paintings and everything which makes up the culture and history of the Chiemgau, including fishing implements and clothes. You are even allowed to kid around in one room and are encouraged to try on a particular hat. Of course, the glamour granny couldn’t resist.
After that I make my way back towards the station and board the Chiemgaubahn, Germany’s oldest still operating steam engine which pulls three cars the short distance to the lake. Extremely popular with kids who can’t stop pulling the whistle.
The beauty of the lake unfolds as soon as you step down from the train. No motorboats are allowed, except the ferries of the Fessler fleet which connect Prien with the two islands in the lake, Herreninsel and Fraueninsel and then continue on to Seebruck on the opposite shore if you wish.
First stop is the Herreninsel with its most famous site: King Ludwig’s dream castle Herrenchiemsee. It was his last castle and it’s unfinished because …even a king can run out of money. Built as an homage to his hero, Louis XIV of France Ludwig intended to even surpass the splendor of Versailles. And, if you visit the castle you can only say: he came pretty close. Mirrored halls, marble staircases, chandeliers, sumptuous furniture where ever you look, until you turn a corner and find the unfinished part. It’ such an amazing contrast which makes the castle special from all others which have been completed.
The gardens and fountains, statues and walkways stretch forever from shore to shore. What’s not so well know however is that the island is a sanctuary for bats. Over 100 species have found refuge here and some live in the eves of the king’s castle. There are deer in the woods and it’s just wonderful to walk around and enjoy nature..sans cars of course. If you wish you can be carried around by a horse drawn carriage and you can stay overnight in pretty luxury hotel.
But I continued on to the next stop, the Fraueninsel. Many artists live and work on the tiny island which you can walk around at a very leisurely pace in about an hour. I take much longer because there is so much to see. First the monastery with its distinctive round tower and the Klostershop which offers a great selection of interesting books, votive candles and souvenirs. And of course, the two products the nuns make to help support themselves: marzipan and a very strong liquor.
I love to walk the length of the path along the shore, past benches where you can rest and enjoy the view of the lake and several kiosks which serves the island’s specialty: Renkenfilet. It’s a smoked filet of a fish which only lives in the Chiemsee, similar in taste and texture to mackerel or smoked trout. Served in a bun with a cold beer it’s the best possible snack.
And then there are the numerous potteries for which the island is also famous. One makes the best tiles for stoves and is of historical interest too. Others produce ceramics and you can watch how the artists paint them and, of course, buy them too.
I took the last ferry back to Prien and then the train which returns me to Munich after an exceptionally enjoyable day trip combining history, nature and art.