JANE SLADE discovers a little known beauty spot with a dark history not far from Salzburg in the Bavarian Alps
Every year the little German village of Rhupolding is invaded by 500 young British servicemen who take part in an exercise to test their skiing and shooting skills. Young cadets have come every year for the past 13 years to this rural Bavarian resort which is nestled in a valley close to the Austrian border just 40 minutes from Salzburg.
With a population of just 6,000 Rhupolding is known among Alpine sporting aficionados as the home of biathlon; the sport that combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting and where every year the World Championships are staged.
To describe this tranquil village as a Bavarian beauty spot would be no exaggeration. Untouched by the ravages of the last war, the 18th century buildings are richly decorated in colourful paintings which are refreshed each year; there is no graffiti, litter louts nor ne’er do wells slouching in hoodies.
This is a much-loved hamlet tended and cared for by the families whose connections with the area go back centuries. Rhupolding’s green and luscious valley looks much the same today as it always has; unspoilt and speckled with farmhouses and woodland.
The village is crowned with a magnificent hilltop church and a cemetery of immaculately maintained tombstones which trace the histories of the families who still live there.
You do feel you are going back in time particularly as it is not unusual to see the locals wearing national dress; the women in their dirndls and men in lederhosen walking their dogs, pushing prams or cycling along the paths and lanes, even in winter when the landscape is covered in snow.
No matter what time of year you visit your experience will be magical. During advent there are several Christmas markets to visit – which are nothing short of spectacular. You can experience real winter magic in the stunning village of Bad Reichenhall which is surrounded by mountains near Salzburg in Austria. And Salzburg itself, not-to-be missed at any time of year, is transformed into a winter wonderland of Christmas stalls during the festive season selling wondrous local crafts, hand-made decorations, delicious cocktails and woollen clothing.
Access to and from Rhupolding is easy; there is a fast motorway that takes you past Seegatterl the local ski resort (where a free ski bus will transport you to the slopes during the winter months), over the border into Austria and Salzburg the local airport.
During winter you can enjoy plenty of activities without even leaving the village including; cross-country skiing, Nordik walking and cycling on fat-tyre bikes which is great fun and surprisingly easy even on snow! You can even try shooting on the biathlon shooting range; a ‘must-try’ if you’ve never done it before, or you can simply enjoy all the facilities in the modern wellness centre.
I stayed at the family-run Alpenhotel Wittelsbach in the centre of town. This delightful, comfortable establishment is within walking distance of all the local hotspots and the owner is a real Anglophile and tea fanatic! You will enjoy some delicious cuppas and flavours from his vast collection while he regales you with anecdotes and stories about the local area. You will also find him on particularly good form in the bar in the evenings too!
Rhupolding is close to Berchtesgarden and the Eagle’s nest, Hitler’s summer hideaway where he kept his chatelaine Eve Braun. Although all the original buildings have been destroyed it is still a fascinating place to visit.
What is not commonly known is that after Eva and Hitler’s double suicide in Berlin in 1945 Eva’s parents moved to Rhupolding. Perhaps they wanted to feel close to their daughter and live in the shadow of Berchtsgarden or simply live out their days in a place where they wouldn’t be bothered or discovered. In fact they lived in a farmhouse in the village until their death.
Eva’s father died in 1965 but her mother lived on until the age of 96. She died 40 years ago in 1976. You won’t find too many locals keen to talk about this darker aspect of Rhupolding’s history but the Brauns are said to be buried in one of the local cemeteries.
Crystal Ski Holidays (www.crystalski.co.uk /020 8939 0726) offers a week’s half board at the four-star Alpenhotel Wittelsbach in Ruhpolding from £487 per person (based on two sharing) including flights from Gatwick to Salzburg and transfers (price given is for departure in January 2017). Direct flights available from all major UK airports.