Imagine riding in a gondola to the top of a mountain that overlooks Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and Italy. Or, bringing your military kids on a tour of a real-life castle that brings storybooks to life. These are just some of the experiences visitors of Edelweiss Lodge and Resort get access to when choosing to vacation with the Armed Forces Recreation Center.
Located in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Edelweiss Lodge and Resort is situated at the foot of the Bavarian Alps with only a four-to-six-hour drive to any major installation in Europe. Brad Hays, marketing director, says the resort prides itself on helping service members and their families create memories through a range of activities.
“We like to consider ourselves a stepping stone; people like coming back to an American-quality standard hotel with comfortable beds, a TV and nice restaurants,” Hays explained. “We offer a fully-guided tour program. Every day we’ve got tour buses that go out and take people to Neuschwanstein Castle, for instance.”
The castle, which is a key attraction, inspired Walt Disney to build Cinderella’s castle. Hays describes it as “stunning” with seven waterfalls and overlooking all of Bavaria. Other stops on the tour include Germany’s famous Christmas markets, the Alpine rollercoaster atop Oberammergau — a two-person ride takes guests down 8,530 feet of twist, turns and bends — or Berchtesgaden Eagle’s Nest which houses historical sites from World War II.
Planning your trip
In its first 10 years since opening in 2004, Edelweiss Lodge and Resort served 1.5 million guests from around the world. Though the majority of visitors are stationed overseas, a recent change in June 2019 expanded its offerings to active-duty service members and military retirees from the continental U.S.
Peak travel season is typically the summer months — mid-June to August — or during the winter when the slopes offer prime skiing and sledding opportunities. But Hays is quick to point out that May or September/October is a favorite time of year to travel because of the sights.
“In May, you have all the wildflowers blooming in the valleys and there’s still snow up on the peaks. It’s just gorgeous contrast,” he said. “Then in the fall, all the leaves are changing and it’s a very colorful.”
Things to do and see
There is no shortage of things to see or do, no matter the age of the visitor. From outdoor adventures to learning opportunities, the location is a conduit from something new every day. However, if military couples want to steal some time away for themselves, child care is offered at the resort featuring everything from reptile house to sledding.
For example, service members and their spouse can dine on an authentic, hearty German meal, like Schnitzel, wash it down with a Bavarian beer, then hop on a tour to a local brewery to see the behind-the-scenes process for creating it. The year-round tour to Griesbräu Brewery is for 16 years old and up, and includes a fun exam at the end of the visit that earns you a Bavarian Brewmeister certification.
Hays recommends adding an extra day to whatever intended itinerary you initially planned for; though it would be impossible to check all of the available items off a bucket list with one trip. And at the end of a busy day of sightseeing, families can enjoy some down time with the resort’s indoor pool.
For today’s on-the-go military families, time is a most precious asset, so spending it on unforgettable opportunities is the exact reset the home front needs. Bavaria offers a once-in-a-lifetime getaway that exposes military kids to a unique, multicultural experience while allowing couples time to reconnect. Hays adds the time spent nestled in the Bavarian Alps is the type of vacation any family will smile and reflect on later on.