The magnificent view of Mt Watzmann from Hotel Bavaria. Picture: Bronwyn Brown

We arrive in Berchtesgaden tired and hungry following 11 long hours of travel by air and train. Before stepping out of the train station and being assaulted by sleeting rain and cutting winds, we consult our map - we're quickly learning early autumn in the Bavarian Alps can generate some unexpectedly extreme weather.

Heading off on foot, suitcases in tow, we battle our way through the elements until our accommodation, Hotel Bavaria, comes into sight - a character-filled old mansion, perched on the side of a steep hill looking down on the gushing Ramsauer Ache river.

As we enter the haven of the hotel's foyer, we are warmly welcomed by the owner's son, Andre. Our room is huge by European standards, the decor fitting perfectly with the era of the building. But the best part is the balcony, overlooking magnificent Mt Watzmann. Of course, with the current weather, we have to take Andre's word on the view - Watzmann is well and truly hidden behind a curtain of clouds.

We decide to walk up the hill into the centre of town in search of refreshments. Five minutes later we find ourselves in the charming village centre but, being a Sunday afternoon, it's a ghost town. We walk around aimlessly for half-an-hour past countless closed shops and restaurants until we give up and return to the hotel.

It has stopped raining by the time we step back out for dinner but with darkness the temperature is plummeting towards freezing. We set a cracking pace back up the steep hill to warm ourselves up, hoping some restaurants will be open. Thankfully the town centre is much livelier now and we settle into a cosy pizzeria off the main square for a tasty dinner.

The next morning we awake to the sound of rain but nevertheless I step straight out on to our balcony, hoping for a view of Watzmann. Unfortunately the great mountain is still proving elusive.

After a delicious champagne breakfast in the hotel's dining room, we make our way back towards the train station to join a tour which will give us an insight into the darker side of this peaceful town. There's a suggestion the tour may be cancelled due to inclement weather but we're eventually advised the tour can go ahead, minus a visit to the infamous Eagle's Nest, a chalet-style building high atop Mt Kehlstein that was gifted to Hitler. While we're all disappointed not to visit this historical site, our guide explains that, because of Hitler's fear of heights, he visited Eagle's Nest only a handful of times.

Piling into a mini-van, we wind our way up the mountain to Obersalzberg, a small summer and winter retreat once occupied by the nazis. It starts to snow and the countryside looks amazing, with a clean blanket of white covering the ground and trees. Our guide explains this area was a favourite of Hitler's and, as such, was the official second seating place of the nazi parliament.

Hitler had a home, known as the Berghof, in the area. He hosted many foreign dignitaries here and held important meetings with his closest advisers, who also acquired properties in the region. It is believed many important decisions were made right here, in this sleepy little alpine town. And while the local inhabitants were driven out to create a secure zone, the nazi propaganda machine portrayed a completely fictional story of Hitler as a good neighbour and nature lover.

We arrive at our destination, the Dokumentation Obersalzberg, a museum built on former nazi land. All the information is provided in German but audio-guides are available for hire and we have our English-speaking guide to explain each exhibit to us. The museum provides a comprehensive insight into the nazi history of the area, along with the rise of the nazis in Germany more broadly.

Our guide then takes us into an extensive underground tunnel and bunker system, designed to provide a haven for Hitler and his advisers as defeat by the Allies loomed. The tunnels linked high-ranking nazi officers' houses to important infrastructure. The system was protected by machine-guns and anti-gas technology, and could provide refuge for up to six months. But as we all know, in the end Hitler ended his life in Berlin.

Back into the mini-van to continue the tour past Hitler's property (the house has been destroyed), we can see the countryside is indeed beautiful. It is difficult to believe we could have anything in common with the dictator responsible for the deaths of so many people but we are quickly falling for this place, which he obviously loved. Thankfully, time seems to be healing the damage Hitler did to this beautiful piece of the world.

The next day we awake to markedly improved weather - still cloudy but the threat of rain seems to have passed. Another champagne breakfast before we catch a local bus to Berchtesgaden National Park's famous Konigssee Lake. The lake lays claims to being the most pristine in Germany, and its emerald-green waters are crystal-clear and simply stunning. We take a soundless electric ferry across the lake, the captain providing commentary in German and stopping at one point to demonstrate the echo from the mountain-side with a trumpet.

Disembarking at the furthest point of the lake, we enjoy the approximately 6km return hike to the Obersee lake and around its shores to a waterfall. The views are breathtaking - pristine alpine lakes with snow-capped mountains in every direction. After the hike, we catch the ferry back and then take the cablecar up Mt Jenner. It takes us to 1800m above sea level, well above the snow line, and so a snowball fight seems mandatory. The spectacular surrounds would be even more amazing on a clear day.

On our final morning, I once again open the curtains and the French doors as soon as I get up to step out on to our balcony. Finally, Mt Watzmann has decided to grace us with its magnificent presence. It is a perfect vista, the beautifully formed snow-capped peaks juxtaposed against a brilliant blue sky. I call my husband out on to the balcony and we sit there in the early morning air, enjoying the view.

We reflect on the dark history of this sleepy alpine town, and agree its beauty certainly outshines any evil that lived here years ago.

The West Australian

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