The majestic crags and peaks of the Karwendel mountains stretch between the Inn and Isar rivers, the Seefeld bowl and valley of Achensee lake. Mittenwald is located here, a beautiful little town near the border between Germany and Austria and the headwaters of the Isar. Famous as the home of Bavaria's violin makers and for its unique tradition of frescos, Mittenwald attracts people who want to enjoy the mountain air and the wonderful natural setting of the town. The Karwendelbahn cablecar, opened in 1967, needs just a few minutes to take visitors from the valley station to an altitude of 2,244 metres. The station at the top of the line is the starting point for countless hiking routes and climbs that suit every level of experience. Whether you're a beginner or an expert, the perfect excursion awaits you up here – one of the more advanced routes is the Mittenwald via ferrata (http://www.mittenwalder-klettersteig.de/), ideal for experienced climbers who want a new thrill. Novices and families with children can take the Passanami panoramic route, which offers spectacular views of the Alps' foothills and nearby mountains, such as the Zugspitze and Wetterstein peaks. Weather permitting, a professional guide is on hand every Tuesday: during and after the walk, they provide tourists with information about the sights surrounding you and the limestone mountains that make up this section of the Alps.
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All this activity in the great outdoors is strenuous business, but nobody has to make the descent back to the valley just to get a snack. Located right beside the top station of Germany's second-highest mountain cablecar, the Berggaststätte eatery can provide hungry hikers with Bavarian specialities that range from a traditional meat-and-cheese platter to roast pork. On sunny days, take your meal to the terrace outside so you can marvel at the view of the Isar valley as you enjoy your food.
Once your hunger has been stilled, drop in to the nearby information centre about the natural world of the mountain peaks: Bergwelt Karwendel. Germany's highest exhibition about environmental issues has a permanent display dedicated to the fragile ecosystem that is home to the Karwendel range's flora and fauna. The goal of the exhibition is to raise awareness for the sustainable, careful treatment of the natural world, with particular emphasis on the plants and animals of the mountains. Visitors to the centre can also experience the Alps in all their glory in the form of walk-in dioramas, videos and films, some of which showing breathtaking footage of thunderstorms and avalanches. It comes as no surprise to learn that Bergwelt Karwendel won a prize for sustainability from the Alpine Convention in 2009. It's not just the centre's exhibits that leaves a lasting impression either: the building itself is remarkable, taking the form of a gigantic telescope clad in larch wood.
Getting here: It only takes 15 minutes to walk from Mittenwald station to the Karwendelbahn cablecar's valley station. Leave the railway station via the exit on Bahnhofplatz, go right and then turn right again when you reach Dammkarstrasse. After just a few metres, turn right at Mühlenweg. Stay on Mühlenweg until you reach Weidenweg. Go left here. Cross the Isar and then follow Arzgrubenweg until you see the cablecar station on your left.