“I like this region!” – stepping onto a train at Munich’s Hauptbanhof, along with others carrying hiking poles and backpacks, I said to myself.
The train was headed to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a ski town near Zugspitze, the highest peak of Germany.
But that’s not where I was going. A group of us disembarked at Murnau and transferred to a bus, which dropped off most hikers at Unterammergau, while I stayed on and reached my destination at Oberammergau – a town in the Bavarian Alps, known for its wood-carving and decennial Passion Play.
After stowing my luggage at the hotel, I started the 5.2 km walk to Ettal Abbey.
My hands were freezing, as I found a bench under the sun, reluctantly taking off my gloves to eat a rollbratten sandwich.
Back home in Lisbon, it was sunny 28°C. Here, I wore three layers of clothes, hat and gloves and I was still freezing.
The walk was very well signposted.
First along the river, with the Kofel summit (1,342 metres/4,403 ft) playfully revealing itself behind the clouds.
Then, about 40-50 minutes into the walk, came a bridge where I crossed – only because I had crossed a bridge earlier to the other side of river, opposite of the town -. From here I had two choices, either continue to walk along the stream with thick underwater grasses
or through the valley with good sun exposure.
Either way converged at Ettaler Mühle – a watermill turned restaurant and brewery.
After which, I also had two choices, along the main road with car traffic or through a forest
I did a little bit of both and soon, caught sight of the dome of the Benedictine monastery.
The church bell was ringing as I stepped into the abbey.
Ettal Abbey was founded in 1330. The foundation walls of today’s church date from the Middle Ages. After a devastating fire in the 18th century destroyed the original Gothic structure, the church was rebuilt in Baroque style by Enricco Zuccalli, a Swiss architect who studied under Bernini.
The churchyard measures approx. 100 x 100 meters and is lined with a grammar school, a boarding school, monastery shop, a café and an administrative office. The monks, about 50 or so, live in the buildings behind the basilica.
The interior of the Baroque church was lavishly decorated with opulent colours.
Painter Johann Jakob Zeiller designed the fresco – depicting hundreds of Benedictine worshipers gathered to praise the Holy Trinity – underneath a double-shell dome, giving the illusion of looking into an open sky. The Baroque organ was constructed around 1763 by the organ builder Johann Georg Hörtich from Dirlewang near Mindelheim and was restored at the end of the 1960s.
A wedding ceremony took place in the Basilica moments before my arrival, with people in traditional attires moving towards the reception.
Leaving the crowd behind, I wandered to the back of the Abbey
where I spotted a sign pointing to the showroom of dairy co-op, founded by the monastery along with 37 farmers in the Ammergau region.
Cheese-making presentations were carried out throughout the year in normal times, but this is no ordinary time.
I picked up yogurts, two blocks of cheeses and a slice of mandarin quark cake and walked back to the monastery.
I was going to check out the Abbey shop next, but the group wedding photo was taking place and they even brought a bulldozer over for the photographer, a petite lady of my height, to stand on.
Later, before the bride and groom got into their car and drove away, the best man called back the wedding band for their celemonial exit.
I got some herbal teas at the shop and walked back to Oberammergau before dark.
For dinner, I went to Restaurant Mundart and had beef from local farm cooked three ways – steak, ragout and Bayerischen Fleischpflanzerl, which is like a flattened meatball. It was so good and I was so hungry, I empted the plate, including the creamy smashed parsley roots, in no time.
I had the mandarin quark cake for dessert. The Germans sure know how to make good cakes, I will leave it at that.
Coming up Next: Linderhof Palace and Park, Germany