The Ettal abbey in the German alps is a wonderful unknown gem that you should add to your itinerary if you intend to visit nearby Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
Visit the baroque basilica, take a tour of the brewery and distillery or learn how they make cheese at Ettal Abbey.
⛪️ What is the Ettal Abbey?
The Ettal abbey is a roman catholic working benedictine monastery. The cenobite monks have been living for centuries under a benedictine priory abbot in Ettal. It is better known as Kloster Ettal or Benediktinerabtei Ettal in German.
It consists of a basilica church, a convent, a bordering gymnasium school, a brewery, a distillery, a book store and a large herb garden.
The abbey order also owns a cheese making united, attached to the property grounds, and other inns and businesses nearby.
The active monastery has been around for almost 700 years and has been a place of pilgrimage for people from all over the world.
Bavarians and travelers settled around the abbey and the village of Ettal with 800 souls emerged over time.
🌍 Where is it located?
The little village of Ettal is located at the foothills of the Bavarian alps in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen district, or more precisely in the Graswang valley, in Southern Bavaria Germany
This quaint hamlet is located between Oberammergau and Oberau in the alpine region near the Austrian border.
The area is also known as the Ammergauer alps, with the Ammer mountain in the nature reserve bordering the Ettal forest.
Munich, the Bavarian capital, is about 1 1/2 hours away from Ettal by car and train.
To get there by car, take the A95 direction Garmisch-Partenkirchen and from Oberau drive upwards to the Ettal community, located at 900 meters above sea level.
You can park your car near the entrance or at the back of the monastery near the cheese making unite, but parking is payable.
To get there via public transport, take the train from Munich main train station to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and from Garmisch a bus towards Oberammergau and get out at Ettal.
✨ What’s special about the Ettal Monastery?
This medieval monastery should be on your bucket list for various reasons. Traditional know-how is highly celebrated in this monastery, and you absolutely don’t need to be religious to take part in the major attractions.
Basilica, Abbey, and Gardens
The main point of attraction is the basilica at the center of the building complex. Having been destroyed in 1744 in a fire, it was designed and rebuilt in the baroque style by Enrico Zuccalli from Munich, a Swiss-Italian architect.
You can see the green double-shelled dome of the basilica from the road. When you enter the building, you will be greeted with the circular frescoes on the ceiling and the intricately stucco decorated chancel and altars.
The gates and doors to the basilica are open all year round, and visitors can access it all freely. If you come from the road-side you will also come across a small library, and they also run a small book publishing house.
I highly recommend taking a stroll through the monastery gardens. They are located right behind the basilica and the best way to get there is from the cheese making unite.
Various herbs, plants, and flowers grow there, and they have marked them all out beautifully. The gardens are an educational walk, and you might even spot a bee hive.
Liqueur and Beer
The Ettal monks are known to produce first class herb infused liqueurs known as Ettaler Klosterliqueur. Abbeys across Europe used to communicate with each other in the older days and secret centuries-old recipes and the know-how would be shared among Benedictine monasteries.
Today, in Ettal they still produce a green and yellow liqueur within the walls of the monastery complex, similar to the Benedictine Chartreuse liqueur in France.
The distilled liqueur is stored in massive oak barrels on the premises before it is bottled on the place and sold in the monastery store. Herb infused liqueur is said to help one overcome a cold or sore-throat.
You can also purchase other artisanal liquor varieties prepared by the monks, such as Turkish Raki, Gin and Bitters. In fact, all these specialties can be purchased online on the Ettal shop.
Beer production is still part of the daily life of the beautiful Ettal abbey. The brewery is located at the other end of the complex, and they have an outdoor guest sitting arrangement for sunny days.
The beer is still prepared as per old monastery customs and know-how, the traditional way, with the Ammergau alpine waters, and it is known as the Ettaler Klosterbiere. They offer dark beers and typical southern Bavarian pale lager beer among other beer varieties.
Ettal abbey beer and liqueur are also served in the 1330 Café within the premises, the Ettal hotel Ludwig der Bayer across the road, the Kloster Markt shop and in the inns runs by the abbey near the complex.
Each, the brewery and distillery, offer a guided tour on separate days.
The distillery tour fees are EUR 9 per adult and kids up to 12 years are free. The tour takes place every Monday and Thursday at 4 pm for 45 minutes, and it includes a liqueur tasting session.
The brewery tour is EUR 12 per adult and kids up to 12 get to join for free. Organized every Tuesday and Friday at 3 pm it takes about 60 minutes and the best part is the beer tasting with explanation.
The monastery runs the cheese factory Ammergau alps, which is located behind the abbey compound walls on the other side of the complex.
Local artisanal cheese varieties can be purchased in the shop, such as Ammergauer Feuerkäse or the Ettaler Klosterkäse. Topfen/Quark and buttermilk can be acquired here as well.
Here you will find a small café where they offer cake and local meat and cheese specialties during the Brotzeit (afternoon snack time).
The highlight of your visit to the small cheese factory is the part where they show you how the cheese is made.
📜 Historical Points of Interest
The Ettal Monastery was founded by the Holy roman emperor Ludwig IV (aka Ludwig the Bavarian) in 1330. He was on his way back from Rome to Bavaria and stopped along the old Medieval Via Imperii, the region’s primary trade route.
The nearby trading centers, Mittenwald and Partenkirchen (today Garmisch-Partenkirchen), were on the way of the via imperii, which started in Rome and ended in northern Germany, crossing major trading cities such as Verona in Italy, Innsbruck in Austria and Augsburg in Germany.
Ludwig had crowned himself emperor and had been called out as a heretic by the roman Catholic pope of Avignon.
The monastery was located at a site of strategic importance. After the ordeal with a pope, Ludwig had to boost his power and popularity, to gain support for his reign among the local Bavarian population and from the Vatican.
He transported back a small marble statue of the Madonna Maria with Jesus from Pisa in Italy, which is known as the Ettal Madonna. The Basilica is dedicated to the assumption of the blessed virgin and the statue was and still is an object of pilgrimage.
Ettal abbey was a modest structure built in the gothic style of its time, which included a convent for monks, one for nuns and a separate convent for the house of the Teutonic knights order.
The basilica and convents survived the reformation and the 30 years farmers wars. The 18th century baroque boom, made Ettal abbey what you can see today.
Golden plated stucco ceiling art, godly enlarged frescoes and pastel colors added rococo style elements to the inner decoration.
The golden age of Ettal abbey started in 1709 when the knight academy and school were added to the premises.
Secularization of church property in the 19th century changed everything for the abbey, but its beauty was preserved over the ages and Ettal’s importance and influence didn’t die down.
Ettal hosted many guests over the ages. The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a friend of the Abbot of Ettal, during World War II, was an outspoken critique of the Nazis. The community was then involved in the conspiracy against Hitler.
What’s the legend of Ettal Monastery?
A written down legend from Ettal monastery tells a tale of a gray monk. It is said that a gray monk appeared to Ludwig the emperor and that he told him to build a monastery in the Ettal forests. The same monk was said to have handed over the marble Madonna statue as a gift. Once in Partenkirchen, Ludwig had a hunter show him the forest and area. Ludwig’s horse kneeled and bent down 3 times, which was taken as a sign and a benedictine order monastery was built at the site of the original church building. The Ettal monastery was one of the most important monasteries in the alps.
How old is Ettal Abbey?
Founded in 1330, Ettal abbey is almost 700 years old.
What time is the basilica open?
The basilica church is open daily from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm. You are free to join a mass.