Germany’s highest mountain overlooks the village of Garmisch- Partenkirchen and its iconic St. Martin church

Welcome to the New Bavaria

From the state’s capital of Munich to her tiny hometown in the alps, Food & Wine deputy editor Melanie Hansche discovers a new generation of Bavarians interpreting classic traditions in exciting and delicious ways.

Hiking through fir and spruce forests in the snowcapped peaks of Bavaria can be strenuous, but it comes with rich rewards: eye-popping mountain vistas and cozy, decoratively hewn almhütten (Alpine huts). Stop in, and the proprietors will feed you heaping servings of pork and dumplings paired with steins of beer, all to help fuel your mountain descent.


As a Bavarian-Australian expat, to me these old-school huts are a touchstone of tradition and the mountain culture that I deeply miss. Call it nostalgia in the form of a convivial dining room filled with rustic beer hall–style benches, gingham tablecloths, hefeweizen on draft, and a menu of fortifying mega schnitzels. That was how I always remembered them until my most recent trip in 2019, where I came across a hut that thrillingly deviates from tradition.


The Tannenhütte overlooks my hometown of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a ski resort town famous for hosting the 1936 Winter Olympics as well as visitors from the nearby 2015 G7 summit, where then-President Barack Obama caused a ruckus by drinking a beer early in the day. (To Bavarians, the hubbub was absurd; drinking beer before noon is so acceptable that we have a word for it: frühschoppen.)


The Tannenhütte's elegant, clean lines deliberately eschew what architect Thomas Feigl calls the "yodeling style" of architecture from yesteryear. His ambition was to bring hut culture into a more modern and sustainable age, a vision that resonated with the Bavarian State Forest Enterprise, which owns the site.


On a chilly December afternoon, I was struck by the hut's huge panoramic window, a departure from the almhütte's traditional style of small, shuttered windows. From it, you can see a stunning view of the Wetterstein massif and Germany's highest peak, the Zugspitze.


I was equally stunned by the food coming from the kitchen, the work of proprietors Anna and Andreas Hertle and their team. Classics like schnitzel with potato salad and goulash with spaetzle were lighter and more deft in execution than standard hut fare and were served on gorgeous plates fired by a local ceramicist. We ate tender veal schnitzel, lightly crumbed and fried in clarified butter; a single kaspressknödel (cheese dumpling) with a fluffy texture, floating in a savory beef and vegetable broth; and a charcuterie platter showcasing small goods and cheeses from regional producers. This food wasn't simply about fueling your hike; the Hertles work with local farmers and artisans to source well-crafted, organic ingredients.


The Alps
Credit: Cedric Angeles

This new sensibility is playing out across Bavaria. My home state, where I spent the first four years of my life living above my aunt's bakery in the foothills of the Alps, is rich in traditions but not one to adopt change quickly; it's one of the most religious and politically conservative regions in Germany. Distinct traditions as they relate to food (pretzels!), music (oompah!), and local dress (lederhosen!) are so strong, they tend to dominate popular culture, much to the annoyance of many Germans, given Bavaria makes up only 16% of the national population. 


My parents and I immigrated to Australia when I was still a child. After that, visiting family was a rare luxury, but my Australian husband and I relocated to the U.S. seven years ago, and we now try to visit Bavaria annually. December's a particularly charming time, thanks to the romantic Christmas markets and the deliciousness of festive food and drink like lebkuchen (gingerbread), roast goose, and glühwein.


Garmisch-Partenkirchen generally looks like it came straight out of a fairy tale, and that's even more true at Christmastime. The annual Christmas market takes place from late November until late December in the main square, and it's here that I have repeatedly stuffed my face with roasted chestnuts, schupfnudeln (like an elongated gnocchi), bratwurst, and baguettes sandwiched around stinky melted raclette and smoky speck, washing it all down with endless mugs of hot spiced glühwein.


Hikers make the short trek to the Tannenhütte, a modern Alpine hut with great food and views
Traditional Bavarian home
Left: Credit: Cedric Angeles
Right: Credit: Cedric Angeles

On this trip, I left the market to stop in at one of the oldest pastry shops in Bavaria, Konditorei Krönner. Though it was established in 1759, its quirky dining room would not look out of place in a Wes Anderson film. The owner, Franz Krönner, is a ponytailed master pâtissier with a wry sense of humor and a penchant for loud printed shirts. His specialty is baumkuchen (tree cake), a labor-intensive cake that is layered like the rings on a tree and made on a spit. Krönner's confections follow his family's age-old recipes, adjusted only for sugar content after the war. They're still made from scratch: "No powders, no shortcuts, no cheating, no frozen stuff." Even the spice mixes used for the bakery's famous Christmas cookies, of which Krönner makes tens of thousands annually, are a secret blend: Whenever he's going to make a batch, Krönner writes the recipe on a slip of paper, makes the blend, and then tears up the paper. "Not even my children know the recipe," he jokes—funny, given that his son works in the kitchen. 


That commitment to tradition doesn't end with Krönner. A 20-minute stroll led me to the Ludwigstrasse, a cobblestoned lane full of historic architecture, painted murals, and old-school inns festooned with twinkling Christmas lights. My favorite place here is the lively, women-owned and -operated Gasthof Fraundorfer, in business for 91 years. Barbara Fraundorfer Sr. has been in charge for more than 50 of those years and runs the place with her two daughters. Here, you can partake in one of Bavaria's signature Christmas meals: roast goose or duck with braised red cabbage, and dumplings with gravy. For me, Krönner and Fraundorfer truly embody old Bavaria. 


The new Bavaria I found at an inn of a different kind: the boutique Werdenfelserei hotel, which opened in 2018. This 51-room property is an ambitious concept by the local Erhardt family. It's incredibly striking, a concrete and wood colossus modeled on a traditional hay barn, but not remotely utilitarian. The design evokes a kind of casual yet luxe Alpine chic, which I found myself very much enjoying as I stood on the terrace of the ridiculously elegant rooftop pool, sipping an Aperol spritz and looking out at the Alpspitze and Zugspitze mountains. 


Hikers make the short trek to the Tannenhütte, a modern Alpine hut with great food and views
Credit: Cedric Angeles

Wurzelwerk, the hotel's restaurant, spotlights local ingredients (wurzel means root) and German wines. Johannes Wäger, who at just 25 years old helped launch the project (since my visit, he's moved on), recalled when I spoke to him that the style of the hotel and food initially attracted some criticism. "There was a lot of skepticism from locals when we first opened. We couldn't exactly whack them over the head with familiar ingredients used in unfamiliar ways," he says. But Wäger and his team slowly won them over with dishes like borscht studded with pickled sturgeon and caviar; sous vide duck breast with red cabbage kimchi, chestnuts, and kumquats; and black beer ice cream with poached quince.


Another innovator who has won over the locals is Leonhard "Hardi" Wild, a former champion ice hockey player turned third-wave coffee roaster. Before he launched the business with his wife, Steffi, he told me, "The main coffee in Garmisch-Partenkirchen was bad drip or came with tons of whipped cream on top." No longer. At his café, Wildkaffee, you can buy everything from a pour-over using single-origin beans from Rwanda to a sticky Prana Chai produced in Melbourne from black tea leaves, whole spices, and honey. For me, a perfectly crafted flat white sparked my morning, and I'm not going to lie: This Aussie-Bavarian never in a million years thought she'd ever see a flat white in her tiny German hometown.


Wildkaffee co-owner Hardi Wild
Quartier hotel interior
Left: Credit: Cedric Angeles
Right: Credit: Cedric Angeles

I'd argue that Wild's trajectory into coffee was fate: When his great-grandfather Leonhard Panholzer opened his general store in town in 1892, he sold roasted coffee beans from small suppliers. There's a mural of Panholzer on the wall of the slick new roastery that Wild opened in 2018. "I never doubted that the town would embrace this kind of coffee culture," Wild told me, adding, "Failure was not an option—I'm too euphoric about my product!"


On my final night, in Munich, I found myself sitting in my hotel's cheekily named meat-forward restaurant, The Lonely Broccoli, watching the cooks in its open kitchen. I ate local lamb cooked sous vide and finished on smoked hay, and a beef tartare topped with a cream made from local cep mushrooms and sprinkled with grated Belper Knolle (an aged cow's milk cheese seasoned with garlic and pepper). I drank a glass of dry Riesling Sekt from the Mosel and a Pinot Gris from my buddies at Ocean Eight in Australia. If you'd said to me 10 years ago that I would be eating elegant, forward-thinking, and stupidly fun food (and drinking excellent wine and not beer) in my home state, I might have laughed a little skeptically. Not now, though. Welcome to the new Bavaria; I love it as much as the old Bavaria.

Franz Krönner bakes baumkuchen (tree cakes)
A dish from Wurzelwerk restaurant
Wurzelwerk restaurant
Left: Credit: Cedric Angeles
Center: Credit: Cedric Angeles
Right: Credit: Cedric Angeles

Where to Eat & Drink

Konditorei Krönner


Indulge in the German tradition of "kaffee und kuchen" here: Buy all the cakes, chocolate truffles, and Christmas cookies, and enjoy glühwein on the patio in the winter. (chocolatier-kroenner.de)

This casual-by-day, fine-dining-by-night spot has established a solid reputation for skillful fusion. (Bavarian bao buns, anyone?) Chef Jörg Heid leans on quality produce from the region: beef from a nearby village, lamb from the greater Werdenfels region, chanterelles from the surrounding forest, and locally distilled gin. A beautiful burnished-gold dining room and deft cooking are another fine example of the "new" Bavaria.


Known for boisterous traditional live music nights, beer liqueur, crispy pork knuckles with sauerkraut, and a room heavily decorated in beer steins and local sports memorabilia, this classic inn on the historic Ludwigstrasse is a must-visit.


A 40-minute ascent from downtown Partenkirchen, through forests and over a suspension bridge, will take you to this modern Alpine hut with extraordinary views toward Germany's highest peak, the Zugspitze, and proprietors Anna and Andreas Hertle's terrific food, from soups to schnitzel, roast beef, and their own cakes, baked in-house.


Kick-ass fair-trade coffee and casual snacks can be found at two locations: The café near the train station serves excellent house-made cakes and sandwiches, and the roastery sells all manner of beans as well as beautiful coffee accessories and homewares.


At 2,962 meters above sea level, Germany's highest restaurant opened in 2018 with panoramic views of four countries from the summit of the Zugspitze. Its striking open-plan design and wood accents evoke the chalets of old but with a cool, modern spin. The menu focuses on Alpine cuisine from Germany, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland.

Where to Stay

Quartier


With its distinctive gables and unusual, modern style, Quartier was an architectural game changer when it opened in 2016. Acclaimed for its sustainable design, it sports 19 chic, self-contained apartment "lodges," a community garden, a rooftop terrace, and a modern restaurant focusing on eco-conscious sourcing and local producers. Rooms from $175, quartier-gapa.de

Das Graseck


Graseck is a boutique wellness hotel located above the Partnach Gorge with dramatic mountain views; there are holistic, conventional, and sports medicine facilities on-site. All 33 rooms and suites have forest or mountain views (the infinity pool has the best view of all), plus there's a beer garden, sun terrace, and fine-dining restaurant. Rooms from $306, das-graseck.de

Werdenfelserei


Splurge on one of the open-plan suites with a fireplace, a free-standing tub, and a terrace with a mountain view in this gorgeous reimagining of a rural mountain hotel. New head chef Sven Karge serves a skillfully executed Bavarian menu at its restaurant, alongside a seasonally inspired six-course "Fireworks" tasting menu. Rooms from $140, werdenfelserei.de

Christmas market stall
Cookies from Konditorei Krönner
Cozy outdoor tables at Konditorei Krönner
Left: Credit: Cedric Angeles
Center: Credit: Cedric Angeles
Right: Credit: Cedric Angeles

Take a
 Side Trip 
to the City 
of Munich

Most visitors headed to the Alps, and to Garmisch-Partenkirchen specifically, will pass through Munich. It would be a loss not to spend a few days exploring the city, especially with the Christmas markets in the main square through December. (If you're renting a car, you'll need to pass through the city anyway; Garmisch-Partenkirchen is about an hour south. It's also easily reached by train from the München Hauptbahnhof, the main railway station.) 


If you decide to visit Munich and convenience is key, book into the NH Collection München Bavaria (rooms from $140, nh-hotels.de). Renovated in 2019, it's right next to the train station and the car rental offices. The rooms are spacious (some with views of the Alps), and the in-house restaurant, Arnulf's, serves a refined take on Bavarian cuisine while offering some excellent German wine flights.


One of Munich's oldest and most venerable hotel families, the Geisel family, operates the Excelsior by Geisel (rooms from $169, excelsior-hotel.de) a short walk from the main Christmas market. Stay at this classic property for the old-school hospitality, for the generously sized rooms, and to plunder the 80,000-bottle wine cellar belonging to their restaurant, Vinothek.


For a spot with a luxurious, residential feel, the relatively new Andaz Munich Schwabinger Tor (rooms from $250, hyatt.com), located just north of the city center, is walking distance from Munich's famous Englischer Garten. Design-forward with a smart Scandi sensibility, the rooms are large with gorgeous window seats overlooking the neighborhood, and the minibar is filled with locally made craft sodas and gummy bears. You don't need to leave the hotel to have an excellent modern Bavarian meal at The Lonely Broccoli, which features a large open kitchen and grill, turning out impressive dishes cooked with care. Make sure you grab a sunset drink at the rooftop bar and terrace; you can see all the way to the Alps.


Munich is known for its centuries-old beer halls and inns, and you should certainly visit the likes of Augustiner Stammhaus and the Hofbräuhaus München. But one of the most energetic places, and one that's helping evolve the beer hall genre, is Xaver's, a new-school brewpub whose motto is "refreshingly traditional." Here, you'll find young hipsters in lederhosen and tats slinging beers, and well-heeled Münchners enjoying dinner. It used to be difficult finding a wine menu in the city that listed actual vintages—it's a beer-forward state, after all—but at Xaver's, you can easily order a tight, racy 2015 Clemens Busch Mosel Riesling or a juicy, elegant 2019 A. Christmann Spätburgunder from the Pfalz.

Recipes

Bavarian Christmas Feast
Credit: Photo by Greg Dupree / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Prop Styling by Prissy Lee

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Credit: Photo by Greg Dupree / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Prop Styling by Prissy Lee

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