Cabins, canoes, climbing – Pleasing everyone on a mountain getaway

Sheri Byrd, Story and photos
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***(Editor’s note: Final in a three-part series highlighting European travel for families.)

Between TDYs, summer camps and saving leave for winter holidays, our family was pressed this year to squeeze in a summer getaway together.

The kids, ages 12 and 10 and affectionately known as Thing 1 and Thing 2, asked for someplace they didn’t have to be quiet and could run. That ruled out a quiet gasthaus with priceless antiques.

T1 wanted a TV in the room to take his video games along. T2 wanted swimming. I wanted boats – lake or river would do. My husband wanted mountains – steep trails to hike and mountain bike.We all fantasized of just reading a book in a comfortable room with a fabulous view, and none of us cared much for long days in a car or tour bus. A place with a kitchen is always best for us, avoiding the cost and stress of eating every meal from a restaurant.

A last-minute reservation for four in August can be difficult in Europe, when locals usually head out on vacation.

We found our perfect solution in a deluxe cabin at Vacation Village of the Armed Forces Recreation Center, Europe, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

Vacation Village is a campground for campers and tents, and also offers cabins for less-rough roughing it. “Deluxe,” in this case, means containing a full kitchen and bath, thereby avoiding chilly early-morning hikes to the bath-house. Rustic cabins do not have bathrooms.

***image2***Day 1 – The beauty of the Alpine peaks and valleys on the drive into Garmisch took our breath away. The kids quickly became comfortable coming and going to the playground and camp store with the gangs of other children staying at Vacation Village. Co-located with Artillery Kaserne, it is entirely fenced, guarded and protected.

Our cabin had one bedroom and a loft with four mattresses on the floor.

“The loft was as much fun as anything,” said T1. “We could wrestle and rough-house as much as we wanted – which was good since the European TV wouldn’t play my Game Cube.”

Day 2 – It was warm, around 80 F, so we took our cooler full of sandwiches from the base, and headed for the Eibsee, a lake in a high hanging valley above the town. T1, T2 and their dad rented a pedal-boat with slide and headed out into the water. I took a power-walk around the lake.

“We were supposed to ride the cable car to the top of the Zugspitze – the highest point in Germany,” said T2, “but we’ve seen other mountains. The lake was too much fun, and we decided to skip it.”

Day 3 – T1 and T2 took their rock-climbing course, which started at AFRC’s Hausberg Lodge indoor climbing wall. They moved on to rappelling out the window and down the lodge wall, and spent the afternoon at a low cliff site, popular with beginning climbers. “The instructors were cool,” said T2. “It was totally fun.”
While the kids were occupied, hubby and I hit the trail. We took the Hoehlental gorge trail up the lower slopes of the Zugspitze.

The gorge itself began about half way up the trail, where the path has been cut through solid rock and the river pours powerfully through narrow mountain cut.
At the top was a welcoming, typical Bavarian mountain lodge offering a full local menu.

Afterward, everyone was pretty tired, and we settled in for a quiet afternoon. I found the base library adjacent to the campground. It offered an extenisve book selection, internet access and hundreds of videos. We checked out two family classics: “Twilight Zone – The Movie” and “Escape to Witch Mountain.” These films rounded out our days perfectly.

“Wanna see something really scary?” I said as I turned the light out that night. The kids kept the bathroom light on after that.

Day 4 – Decked out in full-body wet-suits from AFRC, we began our day-long canoe trip on the peaceful Loisach river. The sun came out and we heated up quickly, so I’m not sure if the 12-year-old boys in my canoe capsized it on purpose or not.

We shared our adventures with two guides, an Army family from Vicenza, and a retired U.S. Marine with his three sons visiting from the U.S. Embassy in Ghana.

Day 5 – Another bright, sunny day began with the speed of the Rodelbahn, a sort of bobsled in a metal track, next to the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympic stadium, home of the 1936 Winter Olympics.

Next, we climbed more than two kilometers, ascending 500 meters, in only 14 minutes, thanks to the comfort of the Eckbauer cable cars.

T1 and T2 are naturally more energetic on downhill hikes, and this one was steep. After about an hour, the trail routed us directly through a large mountain inn. We eagerly enjoyed a hearty Bavarian lunch on the terrace with magnificent mountain views.

***image3***Half an hour later, we entered the back of the Partnach gorge, just as amazing as the Hoehlental, but not quite as steep. The front of the gorge emptied out into the road behind the stadium, and we were back at our car four hours after boarding the cable car.

Day 6 – Our luck finally broke, and it rained buckets. We headed for mad King Ludwig’s Linderhof castle, but we actually had more fun back at the cabin, reading, playing games and watching the Olympics – as far as we could get from the stress of office work, house work and school work for one final, peaceful summer evening.