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Lake Chiemsee is the crown jewel of Bavaria's tourist region. Located about half-way between Munich and Salzburg, Austria, Lake Chiemsee has been a favored destination since the days of Roman occupation of the area. This large glacial lake contains almost 20,000 acres and is often called the Bavarian Sea. Nearby wetlands and small pothole lakes give evidence it was once much larger. The Rivers Tiroler Achen and Prien flow into the lake; the River Alz is the main outlet. These rivers contribute to wetland systems of great value to migrating birds and waterfowl that nest in the reed beds and rear their young in the shallows and on the mudflats. Because of the importance of this water system, the entire lake and adjoining wetlands are protected by international agreement. This protection assures that Chiemsee remains a pristine water body and a joy for tourists to visit.
The Chiemsee is divided into the larger northeast section, called Weitsee, and the Inselsee, in the southwest. Although there are many tourist-geared villages along the lakeshore, Prien on the west end of the lake has become the main destination for holiday-makers. From Prien, visitors can take the small steam railway to local destinations or get on one of the 1920's-style paddle-wheelers to visit other ports of call. The antique steam ships are a main method of transportation around Lake Chiemsee. The pristine waters warm early and are ready for swimmers to enjoy as early as May. Sailing is a tradition at Chiemsee, with several yacht harbors and marinas around the lake. Facilities exist here for visitors to arrange yacht storage and docking during the off-season. Private combustion-driven boats are not permitted on the lake, but electric boats are available for rent, as are peddle-boats, canoes, kayaks, row boats and inflatables. Lovely sand beaches stretch for long distances along the shore, inviting non-swimmers to sunbathe, play volleyball, windsurf, scuba dive, picnic and simply observe the water birds and wildlife.
Most of Lake Chiemsee's shoreline holds walking paths for those wishing to enjoy the view. Farther back, the shoreline is dotted with cottages, both private and holiday rentals. Resort hotels offer relaxing spa facilities, fine dining and evening entertainment. A variety of holiday destinations are available, from holiday houses, gasthaus facilities, camping grounds and caravan parks. Because Lake Chiemsee lies at the foot of the German Alps, ski apartments and chalets are also offered that provide both winter and summer enjoyment. From a convenient location overlooking the emerald water, holiday-makers can engage in sailing, hiking, cycling, fishing, swimming, spas, golf, balloon rides, para-gliding, canoeing, rock climbing, white-water rafting, cross country skiing, windsurfing, and downhill skiing depending on interest and season. Most equipment can be rented, and lessons are readily available for novices. Regular festivals are held at various points around the lake, including the biggest Reggae Festival in Europe held in Ubersee. Anglers enjoy the thrill of setting the hook on trout, pike, zander, perch, eel, carp, whiting, bream and char - the protected spawning grounds at some river mouths are off-limits, however. Licenses and rules can be obtained at most major tourist locations.
Today's visitor to Chiemsee is only the latest in a long line of appreciative lake visitors. On the northeast shore, at Seebruck, a museum and archaeological dig exposes remnants of a Roman settlement from many centuries ago. During World War II, Hitler was so impressed with Lake Chiemsee that he insisted the route of his first Autobahn be changed in order to skirt the shore; he ordered the first 'rest house' on the highway built along the lake. But likely the historical figure that still brings the most visitors to Lake Chiemsee is King Ludwig II, the last Bavarian King. Often called Mad King Ludwig, his mental health has always been a matter of conjecture, and he was preoccupied with building castles before his removal from office and mysterious death. One of the three castles he ordered built was constructed on the largest island in Lake Chiemsee, Herreninsel (Gentlemen Island). The castle, Herrenchiemsee, was built as a replica of Versailles in Paris. Visitors flock to see the castle and also to visit the nature reserve on the island, a protected area for birds and bats.
Another island in the lake is Frauenchiemsee (also called the Fraueninsel or the Island of Women), home of a beautiful Benedictine abbey founded in 782 AD. Some areas of the Abby Frauenwoerth are open to visitors, including the beautiful gardens. Both islands are accessible by boat. Small uninhabited Cabbage Island between the two often serves as a good place to anchor private boats.
Cycling and walking paths are numerous in the area around Lake Chiemsee. Bicycles can be rented in several places. Local roads are popular for motorcycle touring, and guide services exist to make nearly any expedition an easy and pleasant experience. Farms in the area often offer farm-made food products, and cafes in the small villages surrounding the lake provide a more traditional cuisine. The Alps themselves offer rock climbing, white-water rafting, and mountaineering.
Less that two hours from Munich or Salzburg, Lake Chiemsee remains one of Bavaria's most popular destinations for lakeside vacations. Whether you prefer to be pampered in a lakefront resort spa or enjoy the freedom of a caravan park or self-catering holiday home, you'll find exactly the right mix of leisure activities to make your vacation a memorable one. Once you experience the lake and its alpine backdrop emerging from the morning fog, you'll be checking the real estate listing to make Lake Chiemsee your home. Come and enjoy Chiemsee - don't lose another day!
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