As the hyphen in its name suggests, the chic skiing resort of GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN was originally not one alpine village but two, which faced each other across the Partnach stream and were united in a shotgun wedding in time for the 1936 Winter Olympics. The Games were an enormous success – so much so that the town was slated to host the 1940 Winter Games after the Japanese city of Sapporo withdrew. In the event, of course, war intervened and the 1940 Games didn’t take place, but Garmisch-Partenkirchen has been on the international winter-sports map ever since, which gives the resort a relatively cosmopolitan air. Though any clear distinction between Garmisch and Partenkirchen has long since vanished, the two halves of the town do have sharply contrasting characters: Garmisch is lively and international, while Partenkirchen better preserves its original alpine charm. Looming over them both is the Zugspitze, at 2962m Germany’s highest mountain. In summer, the town’s mountainous setting attracts hikers and climbers.
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The Zugspitze massif
The Zugspitze massif
To get to the top of the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak, take the Zugspitzbahn cogwheel railway from the Bahnhof Zugspitzbahn alongside Garmisch-Partenkirchen’s Hauptbahnhof at least as far as Eibsee, where you can either stay on the cog railway, or else transfer to the dramatic (and much faster) Eibseeseilbahn cable car, which ascends nearly 2000m to the summit in ten minutes. If you stick with the train, you’re deposited on the Schneefern glacier on the Zugspitzplatt plateau below the peak, from where you complete the journey to the summit on the ultramodern Gletscherbahn cable car. At the summit, there’s a second cable-car station – the top of the Tiroler Zugspitzbahn, which ascends from the Austrian side. There’s a redundant frontier post between the two stations. Descent back to the valley is via the Eibseeseilbahn cable car with a transfer to the cogwheel railway for the remainder of the return journey down to Garmisch Partenkirchen.
From November to April the Zugspitzplatt offers Germany’s highest skiing, with powder snow, a range of red and blue runs and spectacular views, extending in clear weather as far as Italy and Switzerland. For a brief period in midwinter you can also stay in an igloo hotel (iglu-dorf.com; €99 per person per night). In summer, there is a limited selection of short hikes, including one which crosses the glacier to the Windloch observation point, from which you have good views of Ehrwald in Tyrol, 2000m below. The descent on foot to Garmisch-Partenkirchen is only for the fit, and takes seven to ten hours, though many choose to break the journey overnight at the Reintalangerhütte (refuge operated by the German Alpine Association;00821 7089743; dorm or double €13 per person; half-board €20 per person).