The Partnach Gorge, Garmisch-Partenkirchen   


If I was given the chance to live abroad, the Alps is where I’d buy my dream home. They’re perfect for sunny walks in summer, skiing in winter and natural wonders all year round. Natural wonders like the Partnach Gorge at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany.

We spent a week in the Bavarian town late one summer (purely by coincidence discovering our neighbours were staying in town too when we bumped into them on the train to Gatwick Airport). And a great week it was, apart from Graham ripping his ear open falling down the hotel stairs and spending several hours in a hospital having it stitched back together again.

We couldn’t fault the German health service and their wonderful staff. It’s just that G looked a bit of a knob with his head wrapped in bandages.

Partnach Gorge
Bridge over troubled water

By then, we’d already explored the gorge, known locally as the Partnachklamm, and for me it was the highlight of our trip. Far better than trying to read German magazines in a hospital waiting room.

The gorge was formed over millennia by the Partnach stream slicing through the mountains, and the entrance to it is reached via a long walk through the fields and woods of the valley, where the Partnach has all the usual features of a gentle flowing river. From the pre-war Olympic Stadium in Garmisch, it took us about 20 minutes to reach it.

We paid our small admission fee at the entrance and began the climb up the path that’s been cut into the sheer rock face.

Apparently, as far back as the 18th century, locals braved the torrents to bring wood from the Reintal Valley at the top of the gorge down to their homes in Partenkirchen. Back then there was no path.

Partnach Gorge
The gorge sparkles in the sun

Timbers would be lowered into the water, leaving nature and gravity to take their course until a tree trunk or two got stuck between the rocks. Then it would be up to the men to risk their lives to free them, dangling dangerously over the cliffs in little chairs. Not surprisingly, quite a few ended up dashed on the rocks below.

When we were there the stream was pretty fierce but it was nothing like what it would be in spring, when the immense forces of the snow melt create spectacular torrents and real drama.

Any time of the year, I wouldn’t want to fall into it! Come winter, much of it freezes and it must look incredible.

The rock-faces, at times just a few inches apart, reach up to 260ft or more in places. Sometimes greenery cascades down along with the water, as if it were pouring with rain. The sun occasionally breaks through the canopy of trees above.

The Partnach
Up at the top, a gentle stream

Once or twice the path is cut deep in the rock, notably at a lower section where, in 1991, a huge rock face collapsed, blocked the old footpath and dammed the stream.

It didn’t take long for the Partnach to find its way through again, though, or for the damage to be repaired.

Up at the top, 2,300ft later, we emerged into the sunshine again, a bit knackered. In front of us the Partnach had again returned to being nothing more than a lazy stream just a few inches deep in places.

We briefly walked along the riverbank, caught our breath and then continued on uphill through the trees to find a mountain restaurant where we could refill on cold beers and lunch. Plenty of other hikers were out and about – along with about a million wasps…

Partnach Gorge
Water cascades down around us

Fighting them off wasn’t much fun but the views across the Bavarian Alps were some of the best I’ve seen anywhere and made the climb worth it alone. We descended by a much gentler path in the sunshine, stopping occasionally to take in the landscapes and snap away on our cameras.

And again I could see why this could easily be home…

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