A Visit to the Bavarian Forest
The Bavarian Forest is an almost unknown area of Central Europe. Tucked away in the south east of Germany, it is part of the largest range of forested mountains in the region and the largest area of wilderness between the Atlantic and the Urals.
The autobahn from Frankfurt to Vienna passes along the Danube Valley, within view of these mountains, but few visitors turn off to explore the dense forest, tumbling streams and pretty villages. Indeed, for most of the second half of the twentieth century, the roads up into the mountains came to a "dead end" at the Iron Curtain – the border with Czechoslovakia, as it was called then.
Partly because of its remote location and the fact that the border prevented through traffic for decades, this area is also one of striking unspoiled beauty, much of it untouched by human development for many years. Bohemian Forest is the geographical name for the whole area, divided in post war years between the Bavarian Forest and Bohemian Forest on each side of the border, each containing a National Park.
Even before the Iron Curtain, the area has seen more than its fair share of history, as it separated the Kingdom of Bavaria from the Habsburg Empire. Traces of this history remain to be visited today: paths along the medieval trading routes, glass production, ruined castles, beautiful churches and the summer festivals celebrating cross border raids by Hussites and Austrians.
Within 24 hours of arriving in the picture book pretty village of Bayerisch Eisenstein, we had crossed the border to take a look at the Czech Republic. And that's how it goes with most visitors here: the fascination not only of a border which can be crossed on foot but also a border which was once the fault line separating Eastern and Western Europe, democracy and communism, the free market and the centrally planned economy, freedom and restrictions.
Getting to the Bavarian Forest
Road: The Bavarian Forest lies between the A3 Regensburg-Passau autobahn and the Czech border.
Air: The Bavarian Forest is most accessible from Munich airport but can also be reached by road and rail from Prague, Nuernberg, Linz and Salzburg airports.
Rail: There is a railway station in the village of Bayerisch Eisenstein, served by the Waldbahn on the German side. The Waldbahn takes visitors from the mainline station in the Danube Valley, winding up through the foothills and mountains of the Bavarian Forest, until reaching the border. On the Czech side train speeds are held back by the lack of development of the line during the Iron Curtain days and the trains meander down through the Bohemian Forest mountains to Klatovy and Plzen and eventually Prague.
The railway station and excellent bus services let visitors come by train from the airports and explore the area by public transport. Some British visitors even make the whole journey from London by train: breakfast in London, dinner in Bayerisch Eisenstein!
The Village of Bayerisch Eisenstein
Bayerisch Eisenstein is the ideal starting point for exploring Bohemia, the area between the border and Prague, as well as south east Germany, and even across the border into Austria.
Apart from the wide range of day trips which can be made, the village itself is the perfect holiday location:
- The unique railway station, the only one in Europe divided between two countries, Germany and Czech Republic, with a pictorial history of the railway and the border and a major information centre about the border.
- There is also a local railway museum, demonstration glassworks with a restaurant where you can bake your own bread, a supermarket, restaurants and cafes, tennis and mini-golf and a beautiful neo-baroque church.
- The Arber mountain, with a cable car which runs 10 months of the year and with plenty of places to eat and walk at the summit, is 10 minutes away by car or bus.
- And then there is that very important border with the Czech Republic, now completely open to walk or drive across without even having to show your passport!
Two National Parks for the Price of One
The Bavarian and Bohemian Forests are on your doorstep if you stay in Bayerisch Eisenstein. Both are easily accessible and completely free of charge. The area is crisscrossed by long distance hiking trails including one from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic!
But the forests are also ideal for less strenuous walking, including reaching the delightful woodcutters cottage at Schwellhaeusl for lunch with a gentle walk along the river. Even better, many of the pathways through the forest (all of them well signposted) are ideal for push chairs and wheelchairs, allowing everyone to enjoy the peace and beauty of the forest. There are also numerous mountain biking trails. You can take the train to a further point in the forest and walk or bike back.
At Neuschoenau, more than 40 species of indigenous animals and birds can be seen in large natural enclosures, including brown bears and beavers, lynx and wolves.
The forests and rivers form the basis for a wide range of outdoor activities: archery and high wire parks, summer toboggan runs, canoeing and many more.
And there are winter sports: alpine skiing and snow boarding, cross country skiing, tobogganing and snow show walking. All-in-all, activities for every time of year.
Day Trips to the East
We love setting out across the border into the Czech Republic to meander along the country roads in any direction. Even without any particular destination in mind, we always enjoy the pretty villages, many of them substantially unchanged for more than 50 years, the babbling streams with occasional canoeists, the once grand towns and larger villages, a reminder of the riches brought by the small scale mining of gold and other minerals in centuries past, and the ruined castles. Small museums provide fascinating insights into the varied history of the area.
Klatovy is the nearest small town with an impressive square at its centre and an unexpected corner of lovely Art Nouveau buildings. Plzen is a major city but still untouched in its centre by Western retailing. The range of decorated buildings to admire is simply amazing and the huge square at its centre is the scene of a variety of seasonal markets.
Even Prague is within reach – how cool can it be to be able to go from your home to Prague for the day?
Heading north from the border brings us to the delightful town of Domazlice and further still to the famous 19th century spa towns, playgrounds of the European aristocracy.
To the south is the fascinating UNESCO World Heritage site, Cesky Krumlow. When we first came to the area it was hard to see the beauty underneath the scaffolding and builders rubble. Now it has been restored to its full glory, with the unique castle towering over the old town tucked in the multiple bends of the river. It's less renovated neighbour, Prachatice, once an important terminal for the transport of salt from Southern Bavaria to Bohemia, is altogether quieter and also well worth a visit.
Day Trips to the West
You can't head out of the forest and into the rest of Germany without encountering the Danube, once part of the Northern boundary of the Roman Empire and one of Europe's greatest waterways. This section of the Danube is very peaceful with a number of wildlife areas and sanctuaries. Cycle paths meander along the banks and boat trips can be taken from Regensburg, Deggendorf and Passau, varying from a 40 minute tour of the town at Passau to a cruise to Budapest and beyond. Along the Danube are castles and monasteries galore.
There is the town of the three rivers, Passau, where the Ilz and the Inn flow into the Danube, which its castle, where (President) de Gaulle was imprisoned in the 1st world war and glass museum with the largest collection of Bohemian glass in the world. And the preserved medieval UNESCO World Heritage site of Regensburg with its ancient stone bridge, narrow alleyways and Roman ruins.
Salzburg and Munich can also be visited for the day.
Just about every weekend during the summer there is some kind of event to visit. Every town and village has at least one festival during the summer, some of them last for a week, celebrating beer and music, local sports and customs. Then there are the medieval re-enactment festivals – celebrating the salt trade or past battles or ransacking of castles. In winter there are horse and sledge races and après ski.
Where to Eat and Drink
We have some excellent places to eat in the area: Poeschl-Stuben in Bayerisch Eisenstein and the Waldbahn-Hotel in the nearby town of Zwiesel are ones we can strongly recommend!
Beer is the "national" drink of Bavaria and there are plenty of small, local breweries in the area, including the "steam beer" made at the Dampfbrauerei in Zwiesel.
The traditional cuisine of the area is based on pork in various forms and several different varieties of dumpling. Fish from the lakes and rivers also feature prominently on local menus. These days, the better restaurants also have a selection of vegetarian dishes. And prices are usually very reasonable, with a substantial main course plus beer or wine available for less than €15 per person.
View Bavarian Forest, Germany in a larger map
Bavarian Forest Holidays – Vacation Rentals in Bayerisch Eisenstein
We came to Bayerisch Eisenstein from the UK in 2004 and we have never regretted our choice of a place to live and a starting point for holidays in the area. The air is fresh, the water is from local springs and the pace of life is relaxed. The local residents are very friendly and helpful – village life as we used to know it!
As Bavarian Forest Holidays we offer nine self catering apartments in three neighbouring houses. All apartments are rated 4 or 5 stars from the German Tourism Association. There are apartments with one, two and three bedrooms, all with kitchen/dining rooms and separate living rooms with modern TVs and DVD players and free Internet Access (WiFi). The apartments have all been completely renovated since 2005, with modern bathrooms and kitchens, stylish decoration and top quality glass and china, dishwashers and microwaves, hairdryers and swimming towels.
The apartments are ideal for couples, groups of friends or extended families and families with children of all ages. The houses are within a couple of minutes of the National Park.
We have a reception area where we are available to advise guests on outings, book tickets, taxis, car hire, restaurants for dinner and tickets for events. In summer, we arrange barbecues for our guests. Our now famous schnaps tastings happen all year round. We also have a guest lounge, a library and a small shop with food and drink, maps etc. We aim to offer most of the facilities of a good hotel but with the space, freedom and privacy of self-catering (vacation rentals).
Our original idea was to visit here occasionally on our way to business meetings in Eastern Europe and to rent one apartment to help offset the cost of the house. The first apartment was a huge success with guests who loved our facilities and the area. As our passion for the area grew we wanted to share what we had found with as many people as possible, so we added more apartments.
We welcome you to come and stay with us and experience this wonderful corner of Germany. www.bavarian-forest-holidays.com
© 2009 Margaret Leach
Bayerisch in German translates to "Bavarian" in English. The town Bayerisch Eisenstein means Bavarian Ironstone or Iron Ore (but no one uses the English translation of the village name).
- Der Bayerischer Wald - The Bavarian Forest, site in English. Tourist office site.
- Der Bayerischer Wald Arberland - Holidays in the heart of the Bavarian Forest, site in English.
- Arber Bayerischer Wald - Welcome to the Grosser Arber (mountain), site in English. Webcam!
- Nationalpark Bayerischer Wald - The Bavarian Forest National Park, site in English.