It's a constant dilemma, especially when you've only got one chance at an area. Do I get high, or do I stay low? Sometimes the decision is taken out of your hands by the weather; leaden skies and low cloud obviating the rewards of getting high. But if the weather's fair, it's a dilemma. And when it comes to Berchtesgadener Land, the pros and cons of each are equally compelling...
It's easy to assume that the best views are always to be had from on high, and in this corner of Bavaria, there's no denying the views are sublime. Standing on the cliff top at Eagle's Nest, surveying the National Park, mighty Watzmann and his towering family, Lake Königssee, the Alps and Salzburg is the kind of view you just don't see every day.
On the other hand, looking down at Königssee may be good, but it doesn't hold a candle to being on the lake itself, raising your chin skyward to take in the magnitude and splendour of the mountains that surround you. Nor does it enable you to discover the hidden glory of Obersee or the Eiskappelle glacier. For those, you need to keep a low profile.
The great advantage of getting higher than the surrounding peaks, is that you can see exactly where you are, where you've been, and where you're going – it gives you a perspective it's impossible to get at ground level. Reaching the top of the Grünstein, the effort of the climb is rewarded with a widescreen view of Berchtesgaden National Park, your final destination, and is like slotting the final piece of a jigsaw into place.
If there's one way to keep a perspective on the power and beauty of nature, it's to stay at ground level and feel how insignificant we are in the presence of granite monoliths millions of years old. Walking the Panoramaweg in Bischofswiesen unveils the true drama and symmetry of the Untersberg and Lattengebirge mountain ranges, and strolling the Wimbach valley in Ramsau, dwarfed by the Watzmann and the Hochkalter mountain ranges, gives a far more powerful perspective of your location than simply gazing down upon it.
Atop the Eagle's Nest, it's easy to see how its infamous first proprietor felt a desire to dominate all that he surveyed. There's a natural high to getting high, it somehow makes you feel powerful and in control. Fill your lungs while standing on the summit of Jenner Mountain where they say you can see 100 German and Austrian peaks and you feel an affiliation with the strength of the mountain itself. It's intoxicating.
Descend into the Wimbach gorge and what it lacks in distance it makes up for in power. Walking alongside the raging torrent of water, forced through the narrow gorge like an angry bull through a gate, the roar of the water drowns out all other sound while the spray from gushing waterfalls pricks your skin like an expensive alpine facial. It's impossible to keep the grin of exhilaration from your face.
After a hard ascent, reach the panoramic terrace of the mountain Blaueishütte and not only can you savour the spectacular views of Hintersee below and the glacier above, but you can enjoy a tasty, home-made lunch on a sunny terrace while you're doing it. Take the Jennerbahn to its end, leave the crowds, and enjoy the chocolate box scenery of the high almen with its flower-filled meadows and its soundtrack of tinkling cow bells. Follow the cardiovascular climb of Grünstein and you'll be rewarded with an immense sense of satisfaction to go with the jaw-dropping views below.
Follow the Wimbach valley and you'll reach the mountain hütte of Wimbachschloss. Originally an 18th-century hunting lodge, its pretty terrace lies at the foot of the mountains and is an idyllic spot to enjoy lunch. Take the boat across Königssee to its furthest point at Salat and not only are you rewarded with the voyage itself and its magical, musical moment, but you will find one of the most beautiful lakes you have ever seen, completely hidden from the rest of the world (well, most of it).
When it comes to walking in Berchtesgadener Land, it seems the choices between getting high and staying low are just too close to call. Whichever route you choose to follow in a given location, you're going to miss out on something equally spectacular. There's only one thing to do – avoid making a decision altogether and simply extend your stay. Dilemma sorted :)