CC Road Trip (Part 1): Ten Days Through The German, Austrian, and Italian Alps

Material objects certainly have their virtues, but as I’ve grown older I’ve come to value the significance of worldly experiences. Travelling has indeed become a great passion of mine as I’ve comfortably settled into my mid-twenties, and although I often do enjoy travelling solo, I also value sharing these experiences with loved ones. Just a few weeks ago from the publishing of this post, I spent 10 days in Germany, Austria, and Italy with my bf, Pat, and my mom. It was an epic trip, needless to say.

Departing at night from Boston aboard Lufthansa, we landed in Munich around 9:30 local time, made our way through customs and baggage claim and picked up our rental car from Sixt. We proceeded making our way through mid-day Munich traffic to the Hotel München Palace, a charming little boutique hotel in the upscale and less touristy Bogenhausen district on the eastern bank of the Isar River.

Although the hotel did have a parking garage, the bellhop considerately suggested I take advantage of the ample perpendicular street parking for 6 euros daily versus 10 for the garage. Located within 10-15 minutes walking distance of Marienplatz, the central square of old town, I’d highly recommend it to anyone visiting Munich.

Beneficial to me, it was also only several blocks from Maximiliansanlagen, an expansive park with trails offering scenic views of the Isar and city that I would run through on my daily morning run, one of my favorite ways to explore a new city.

Our first two days were spent exploring Munich by foot, taking in the sights and soaking up the culture. Marienplatz was crowded, but otherwise Munich in November is not a very busy time as far as tourists are concerned.

Pat and I did some shopping, taking advantage of the abundance of smaller European sizing, while my mom searched far and wide of a Weihnachtspyramide (traditional German Christmas pyramid), unfortunately to little success.

It’s an understatement to say that every third car in Munich is a BMW, as Munich is to BMW what Dearborn is to Ford. Yet I was happy to find a host of other interesting cars, both Curbside Classics, and newer cars that are either not available at all here or brand new models that haven’t made their way to U.S. shores yet, including the VW Arteon, redesigned Mercedes-Benz CLS, and BMW X7.

Contrary to what I saw in France last year, Germans, especially in Munich like their larger cars with larger engines, despite the high cost of fuel. Now that I sell Land Rovers, they are much higher on my radar and I was amazed to see so many of them in Munich, especially the full size Range Rover and the almightily LR4.

Our next day was devoted to BMW Welt, where I was allowed to geek out over my favorite automobile brand like a little kid visiting Disney World. Unfortunately a substantial part of the museum was closed off, as they were changing some of the exhibits in the off-season, but it was nonetheless another exciting visit to the Welt.

We capped off our last evening in Munich with a fantastic dinner at Brenner, a high-end restaurant offering magnificent old world decor, a central open kitchen with wood grill on display, excellent food and drinks.

Early the next morning, we departed Munich for Berchtesgaden, a small town in the Bavarian Alps just a few kilometers from the Austrian border. History buffs will know Berchtesgaden as the location of the Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus to Germans), a strategic Nazi era compound used by Hitler and the Nazis that lies intact today. Located several kilometers from where Hitler’s fames Berghof personal residence once stood, the Eagle’s Nest is located just a stones throw away from the spectacular 5-star Kempinski hotel where we stayed.

In fact, the Kempinski Berchtesgaden hotel itself was the primary reason why I chose to spend three nights in the otherwise relatively small and unheard of Berchtesgaden area. Offering breathtaking views of the German and Austrian Alps, the hotel itself is easily one of the most beautiful and impressive hotels I’ve ever stayed in, blending modern architecture with traditional Alpine elements.

The rooms were outstanding, featuring fireplaces and bathrooms larger than my bedroom at home. The hotel restaurant, fitness center, and spa were wonderful, and above all, the service was top-notch. Every staff member was über friendly and accommodating, but the thing that impressed me the most was that the restaurant maître d’ remembered our names the second morning and addressed us so the moment we walked in. It’s little things like this that leave an impact.

I should also mention that the Kempinski Berchtesgaden has a partnership with a certain German automaker’s performance division, and that I got to drive a courtesy hotel supercar from said performance division for an afternoon, but stay tuned for Part 3, my full review of it.

Our stay in Berchtesgaden was relaxing, with day trips to the town of Berchtesgaden (above), as well as nearby Salzburg, Austria, which is only about a 25-minute drive away. Salzburg (below) is a beautiful city, combining medieval architecture with many splendid nineteenth-century villas evoking a Parisian vibe.

In a now rather comical moment, reminiscent of something that would be in Top Gear or Grand Tour, I drove us down a narrow, winding cobblestone road, only to reach the end and a blockade. After a brief moment of panic and embarrassment, I proceeded with the only plausible option and began slowly backing up down the quarter mile or so of road filled with pedestrian onlookers.

In typical fashion, my mother stepped into action and saved the day, seeking out an Irish shopkeeper no less who informed us that if we pulled up close enough to the blockade, it would in fact lower automatically for us. Blonde moment, I know.

Following three nights in Berchtesgaden, we then proceeded on what would be the longest single portion of driving to Padua, Italy (Padova in Italian). Our original plans had been to spend two nights in Venice, but the recent floodings and subsequent warnings that tourists cancel non-essential travel into Venice led us to change our plans the week before we left.

Quite honestly, the less said about Italy, the better. I’m sure there are some very lovely parts of Italy to visit, but unfortunately we just visited the wrong place, leaving a bad taste in our mouths. Padua was dirty, industrial, and sketchy. None of us felt the same level of comfort, welcoming nature, and above all, safety, that we did in Germany and Austria. Thankfully we were able to cancel the second night in the hotel and decided to head back to Austria (above: Mondsee, Austria) and do a night in Innsbruck, a city always under consideration for our trip.

Knowing our own Paul Niedermeyer is originally from there, I asked him if he had any recommendations of sights to see and his list sure did no disappoint. The following morning we made the 3.5 hour drive up to Innsbruck, a city which is absolutely stunning.

Between its picturesque buildings encompassing centuries of architecture, the Inn River that flows through the city center, and the awe inspiring Alps that surround it, Innsbruck is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities I’ve had the fortune of visiting. In hindsight, I can’t believe I almost did not get to see it.

Upon checking into the high-end yet very inexpensive Alelrs hotel, we set out on foot in the very pedestrian-friendly Innsbruck a towards Altstadt (old town), checked out some of the shops and historical buildings, and upon Paul’s suggestion climbed the clock tower to get some stunning 360 views of the city and the mountains.

I really wish we could have stayed longer in Innsbruck, but we had already planned to spend our last full day visiting the new 007 Elements experience/museum about an hour away in Sölden, before turning around back north to Germany.

I only became aware of 007 Elements several months ago following some brief media coverage of its grand opening. Indeed, it’s a hidden gem. Accessible only by 25-minute gondola ride, and in remote Austria no less, 007 Elements hardly feels like Disney World or the Smithsonian, making for a very intimate, specialized experience.

For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s a complex situated 9,000 feet above sea level at the summit of Gaislachkogl Mountain in Sölden, the very location where one of the key action scenes of Spectre, the most recent Bond film to date, was filmed.

The main building, which looks and feels very much like a Bond villain’s lair, houses the walk-through and interactive exhibits. The glass building next to it houses the posh “ice Q” restaurant and was actually featured in the film, albeit superimposed to be four times larger, serving as the fictional Hoffler Klinik where Bond stays.

Just beyond that down a rather steep little slope lies one of the film’s Land Rover Defenders. True to the brand’s “Above and Beyond” motto, it was fittingly perched atop a boulder. As both the Defender and the Range Rover Sport were prominently featured in the Austrian portion of Spectre, Jaguar-Land Rover actually is one of the key sponsors of 007 Elements, something I found cool given my position.

The air was quite thin up at 3,043 meters, causing my usually dormant asthma to act up a bit, but it was nothing a little alcohol couldn’t aid. Looking out over the Alps from the ice Q restaurant, sipping my dry vodka martini was the perfect end to an exciting day. After travelling back down the mountain, we returned to our car and made the hour and a half or so scenic drive to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, where we would be staying our final night before driving another hour our so to the Munich airport in the morning.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen itself is a cute little town nestled at the foot of the Alps, and history buffs will remember it as the location of the 1936 Winter Olympics. I don’t know exactly where in Bavaria a branch of my German ancestors came from five generations back, but I could easily see my great-great grandmother, Afra Glück on a farm on the outskirts of a town like Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but I digress. Tired after a long day of travel, we checked into the Obermühle Boutique Resort, a cute little hotel combining traditional Alpine elements with thoughtful contemporary conveniences, and a very artsy Volvo XC90 parked out front.

The next morning, after a chilly sunrise run, we packed the car and headed back up to Munich for our flight home. On a side note, throughout Germany and Austria, but especially evident at the airport going through security and boarding, the Germans do everything so organized and efficiently, but I digress.

All in all it was an incredible trip, literally the trip of a lifetime, as I’ve personally never seen so much of the world and been in another part of the world for so long a period. It was wonderful getting to discover so much of an area near and dear to my heart with the people I love most. We couldn’t have asked for better weather either, with temperatures averaging in the 50s each day, and the only rain being the morning we left for home.

I’m sure most of you are also wondering what fortuitous vehicle I had to drive across three countries and some 1,400 plus kilometers. Well, drumroll please…

It was in fact a 2018 Volvo V90 T8 Inscription. Stay tuned for my full review of it in Part 2 of this series. Part 3 will be a review of the car I was provided with by the Kempinski Berchtesgaden, and because I’m bad at keeping secrets, it was a Mercedes-AMG GT.

Related Reading:

CC Road Trip (Part 1): Ten Days Through The German, Austrian, and Italian Alps

CC Road Trip/Driving Impressions (Part 3): 2018 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT roadster