I have made many trips to the Berchtesgaden area (in Southern Germany) over the past few years and during those visits I have returned to the Rossfeld mountain on many occasions. It is just a stunning destination.
During my September 2019 trip to Bavaria I stayed for a few nights at Villa Bello in the small village of Oberau, a perfect location for accessing various attractions in the area and especially close to Rossfeld.
At around 1600m the summit of Rossfeld is not particularly high compared to some of the surrounding mountains but it is a fantastic place to visit and has a number of key advantages as a photography location.
The most important advantage is accessibility. The road which leads to the summit is wide, well maintained, safe and easy to drive, with ample parking at the top and multiple stopping places on the way up or down. The road is a ring, the ends of which can be accessed from Oberau (850m altitude) or from Obersalzburg (750m) and you can drive your car all the way up to an altitude of 1570m.
This accessibility makes the destination suitable for anyone who can drive a car or get on a bus, spectacular views can be had in many directions at different points on the route without even leaving the vehicle.
For anyone who has driven on a lot of other mountain roads in (e.g.) Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Italy or Switzerland the Rossfeldpanoramastrasse road is the height of luxury. Perfect surfaces, a wide two-way carriageway, relatively gentle corners and a lack of surprise entrances or blind spots make this a very safe road. For first time mountain drivers a degree of caution should be exercised and special attention should be paid to the speed of travel (especially on the descent). The road is kept in such perfect condition by the collection of a toll, at time of writing access to the road costs €8 for a passenger car.
Click here for more information about Rossfeldpanoramastrasse.
What can you see from Rossfeld?
The great peak of Hoher Göll (2522m) is Rossfeld's close neighbour (to the south west) and it is a very imposing sight from the top of Rossfeld, appearing immediately adjacent despite being a few kilometres away.
The Göll massif is the first in a sequence of mountain ridges which decorate the landscape in the sweeping views which are available to the south-east from the summit of Rossfeld, following the valley of the Salzach river. On a clear day it is possible to see past the peaks of the Tennen mountains and past the hills from the Salzach valley all the way to the the mighty Dachsteinn (2995m) some 70 kilometres away. On hazy mornings these beautiful layers of mountains are a superb subject for photography.
Turning your gaze to the east from the summit of Rossfeld you can get views of the lush valley below with some interestingly shaped hills.
This valley is flanked on the other extreme by more mountainous ridges (the Totes mountain range). These views are also stunning although the valley is often in shadow at both sunrise and sunset.
The scenery to the north-east is a little more gentle, a flatter (but not flat) plain with villages and fields, often likely to be covered in fog in the mornings of spring and autumn.
The historic Austrian city of Salzburg lies some 20 kilometres to the north of Rossfeld, and it is possible to catch some distant views of the city, including the airport which is quite easy to identify due to the landing lights. To the north-west you can see a side on view of another huge iconic lump of rock, the Untersberg, topping out at 1973m.
As we complete the circle there are views of distant mountain peaks and some glimpses of buildings in the valley below, a highlight is the rounded form of Kempinski Hotel Berchtesgaden which looks like it could be either the new Apple headquarters or the lair of a James Bond super villain.
Overlooking this area, perched on the mountain above Obersalzburg, you can catch a glimpse of the Kehlsteinhaus or "Eagles Nest", a nazi stronghold from the 1930s. The Kehstein mountain is a sub-peak of Hoher Göll.
Hoher Göll itself is a popular climbing destination, offering a variety of different routes to to summit, from the pretty easy to the pretty challenging. The Purtschellerhaus, perched beautifully a few hundred vertical metres below the summit, provides a welcome staging post for climbers and a point of interest for any photographers who might point a lens in that direction from Rossfeld.
The range of different heights in the surrounding mountains means that you often have some feature or another which is in the clouds at Rossfeld. This can be a great bonus for photography. I particularly liked how the clouds were gathering above the Purtschellerhaus on this September morning so I captured their motion in a time-lapse.
The jagged rocky slopes also give great opportunities for dramatic images when the clouds are performing for the camera.
Now that we have covered the 360 degree attractions of Rossfeld it is only proper to mention the highlights of the mountain itself. The Ahornkaser is the highest tavern in Germany that you can reach by car and it offers a chance to get refreshments while on the mountain. It is also a good vantage point for photography with a charming mountain cottage nearby that has Hoher Göll as a great background.
The views that you can enjoy from Rossfeld are available all year round thanks to a dedicated effort being made to keep the road clear. I have previously visited during times of heavy snowfall and still been able to drive without any difficulty to the summit. Indeed the slopes on the north of the mountain are an active skiing area with beautiful panoramic views.
I hope that this introduction has made you eager to visit Rossfeld, it is one of my favourite places to take photographs because there are so many compelling possibilities in one easy to reach destination. I look forward to returning to Rossfeld in the future!
Until next time,
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The state of Bavaria, in the southern part of Germany, bordering Austria, is simply one of my favourite places to be, and also one of my favourite areas to photograph.
At the end of May I made my 5th photography trip to this amazing highlight reel of a region, spending a few nights near Berchtesgaden, followed by a couple of nights in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. By day I split my time between Germany and Austria, crossing the border multiple times as I travelled between destinations.
One thing that was immediately obvious as I drove towards Berchtesgaden was how lush and fertile the land was at this time of year. All the fields and trees were the brightest of colours and the plentiful birdlife was highly active wherever you looked.
On my first morning I was at the beautiful Hintersee lake by around 0500. This mountain lake, framed by tall peaks, is a lovely place to be and a really great photography destination. There are some famous views there which have been photographed extensively, but it is one of those places where there are so many possibilities that you can also find your own new compositions.
There is an "artists path" which follows the shore of the lake, with different Hintersee inspired artworks displayed at intervals. This walk is exceptionally beautiful, taking in a number of lovely views, and it takes around 30-40 minutes to walk round the lake.
At this time of year there are great possibilities for misty mornings, and this was a good example of one such morning. Conditions can change very fast once the sun starts to burn off the mist and it very quickly changes from "too much mist" to "not enough mist"... but on the other hand it is quite hard to predict exactly when that change will happen so photographing in these conditions involves a fair amount of waiting around.
The water at Hintersee is remarkably clear and free of pollution and it is also shallow, calm and sheltered - there are possibilities to see the bottom of the lake through the emerald waters and there are also good possibilities for reflections. There are many options available to a photographer when planning a shot.
For anyone who visits this area, whether they are interested to take pictures or not, I highly recommend Hintersee as a destination, it made an immediate impression on me when I first visited in 2016 and I have not become immune to it over numerous subsequent visits. It's one of those places you can't get enough of... I wish I was there now.
I could not leave Hintersee without making my version of one of the more heavily photographed views. There are a few rocks in the lake with trees managing to grow directly out of the stone, and they provide an interesting focal point for a picture with the mountains rising on either side (hidden by mist and cloud on this occasion) and the Hintersee village on the right hand side.
After the beautiful early morning at Hintersee it was time to retreat to my accommodation for breakfast. On previous visits I had always stayed at the truly excellent Hotel Edelweiss, a superb hotel which I definitely recommend, but on this occasion the Edelweiss was full so I decided to try a different approach, booking into Villa Bello in the village of Oberau, a few kilometres from Berchtesgaden. I chose this location because it was particularly near to Rossfeldpanoramastrasse and I liked the idea of being able to get from my room to the top of Rossfeld (about 1600m) in just a few minutes on occasions when the light looked promising. Villa Bello is a lot more basic and resides at the other end of the price range from the more up market Edelweiss, but I think that both offer great value for what they are.
After breakfast it was time to head for my next location, I intended to be on the first boat heading out into the beautiful and peaceful lake Königsee in order to be ahead of the crowds as I made the trek towards the tallest waterfall in Germany, the 470m tall Röthbach falls.
The journey to the Röthbach waterfall is quite a long one, beginning with a boat from Königsee. The first stop of the boat is at the iconic St. Bartholma church with its red roof and towers, but in order to get to the waterfall you need to stay on the boat until the final stop at Salet, a trip of about 30 minutes from Königsee. From Salet it is about a 20 minute walk to reach the north side of Obersee lake. This lake is absolutely the most beautiful and most photogenic part of the journey to the waterfall.
At the north side there is a single boathouse which provides a great foreground for a picture of the surrounding mountains reflected in the lake, with the waterfall clearly visible (despite still being kilometres away) in the background.
The weather on this day was rather variable, the battle between the sun and the clouds was very hard fought and each had their victories, this meant that there were some moments with an interesting combination of light and shadow.
Obersee, like Hintersee, is exceptionally well sheltered from the wind and this means that flawless reflections are often possible in the lake surface. The walk around the lake is a bit challenging in wet conditions as the rocky path becomes quite slippery, but there are some very beautiful views to enjoy on the way.
The walk to the south side of Obersee takes around 30 minutes, depending on the traffic. The path, at the steepest and slipperiest part, is also rather narrow, so it can be quite a bottleneck due to slower moving people in front of you or people returning from the other direction. This was why I wanted to be in the first boat of the day, hoping at least to avoid the two-way traffic on my journey to the falls. At the southern end of the lake you can find another solitary boathouse, looking back towards its counterpart at the northern end.
After the boat journey, the hike to Obersee and the journey around to Obersee's southern side it is now time for the final push towards the waterfall.
That final part of the journey takes around 30-40 minutes. The waterfall itself is not a particularly good subject for photography when you get closer to it (other opinions may be available on this subject), but it was good exercise and interesting to see it in person.
Some of the other observers appeared to be somewhat less interested, this cow only had eyes for the fresh green grass.
After completing the return journey to Königsee I confess that I started to be quite tired. Even though it was only mid-afternoon it had already been a long day and I had carried my camera stuff for close to 30 kilometres. I retreated to a restaurant in Berchtesgaden for some food and checked the situation in some photography competitions I had entered.
I was delighted to see that one of my staircase pictures from Vienna had won the Top Photo award in the Black and Yellow challenge on GuruShots, an online photography competition. I participate regularly in these competitions and occasionally I manage some successes - I added a "Recognition" Page to this site in order to keep a record of any notable achievements.
Restored by the meal, and encouraged by the win, I decided to visit the Maria Gern chapel at dusk. Those who have studied my previous posts might remember that I have shared very similar shots before... but I really like this view and I always want to try and make improved versions or just capture the scene in different conditions.
This trip included such a range of locations that I will have to cover it across multiple posts, but before I conclude this instalment I would like to share some images from my drive up to the summit of Rossfeld the following morning. The Rossfeldpanoramastrasse toll road is a super way to get to a panoramic viewpoint without requiring extensive and time consuming hiking. For a few euros you can get past the gates and drive all the way to the summit at about 1600m elevation. Rossfeld is not a particularly lofty peak compared to many of the surrounding mountains but it is located beside the Salzach river valley which gives enough surrounding space to make Rossfeld a superb viewpoint to many directions.
The summit of Rossfeld is right on the border between Germany and Austria and the available views cover the territory of both countries. It is possible on a clear day to see all the way past the Tennen mountains to the Dachstein massif some 70km away.
I have spent many early mornings at the top of Rossfeld, sometimes quite uselessly if the cloud level is low, but so far I have not become tired of watching the sun gradually illuminate the different layers of the valley below and burn off the morning mist.
That's it for part one of this trip, I hope that you have enjoyed this post and consider tuning in for part two!
Thanks for reading,
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