Its kind of fitting that my first “travel post” will be about a remote “German” town in the Cascade Mountains in Washington – Leavenworth. Leavenworth used to be a small timber community and became the headquarters of the Great North Railroad in the early 1900s. The railroad relocated to Wenatchee in the 1920s, greatly affecting Leavenworth’s economy until 1962, when the Project LIFE (Leavenworth Improvement For Everyone) Committee was formed to transform the city into a mock Bavarian village to revitalize its economy.
When I traveled to Seattle the first time in 1996 a couple of my colleagues suggested I should visit Leavenworth but I thought…really a “German themed town” in the mountains, why should I go there since I just came from Germany. I continued traveling to Seattle and a couple of years later I finally gave in and made the trip to Leavenworth. Wow was I in for a shock – that was supposed to be a German town? All the houses looked like houses in Bavaria and the food they marketed for German food was Sauerkraut and sausages. Being from the Rheinland (which is a “state” in Germany on the Dutch border and way north of Munich/Bavaria) I of course was appalled that people would think Germany equals Bavaria. There is a big rivalry between the individual states in Germany (who has the best food, the best soccer club, the nicest sightseeing opportunities etc.) but when it comes to Bavaria, the rivalry is so big that all other German states together don’t like Bavaria and vice versa. I hope I am not offending my Texas friends (Hi Mel and Dee ;-)), but I would say you can compare Bavaria with Texas. If the Bavarians had a say they would be their own country and separated from the rest of Germany. Well take that with a grain of salt, that comes from a German who calls Cologne her home and not all Bavarians think that way. But long story short, for a German the first impression of Leavenworth is a “strange one” since we are so full of pride of our individualism and don’t want that Americans or for that matter any other country thinks that all Germany has to offer is Oomph Tata music, Lederhosen and Sauerkraut.
But when you live in the states as long as I do now, I have to say Leavenworth is one of my favorite towns to visit. I do get some of my typical German meats and seasonings in Leavenworth, satisfy my appetite for Schweinshaxe (see the pig kuckle photo below) and I have “romantic” memories of Leavenworth in the way that this was the first “real getaway” for Mike and I when we started dating and we had one of the best horse back trips ever here in the Leavenworth (Entiat) Mountains. Mike and I visit Leavenworth at least 2-3 times a year and we always have a great time. Depending on which time of the year you are visiting it can be really quaint and quiet or it can just be sheer craziness like during Leavenworth’s annual Oktoberfest where thousands and thousands of people literally occupy Leavenworth. They do brew some fine beer there and hold Oktoberfest 3 weekends in a row every October.
Leavenworth is also known for it annual Christmas lighting event, where thousands or maybe millions of lights that got strung around the trees and houses get lit up to Christmas music and if you get lucky the town is draped in a thick blanket of snow – which is quite the impressive sight and don’t forget to warm your hands and stomach with a big cup of German Gluehwein which gets sold in Leavenworth – its a German spiced and heated red wine which makes the cold sooooo much more tolerable.
Since Leavenworth sits in the middle of the cascade mountains there are a ton of outdoor activities you can chose from like hiking, rafting, skiing, snow shoeing, horse back riding, fishing, boating and as you can see from the photos below, you can even go mushing with real husky dogs (try out: http://thzkennels.com/)… you name it and most likely you can do it in Leavenworth. There are also a couple of towns in close proximity of Leavenworth that would be worthy to visit while you are already up in the region, like Lake Chelan (1 hour from Leavenworth) which is known for its gorgeous lake and recently became quite the wine region and has lots of wineries that offer wine tasting. Another town in close proximity is Lake Wenatchee as well as Fish Lake (30 minutes from Leavenworth). You can rent houses at the lake and spend a weekend or week at the lake in summer fishing and swimming and in winter you can even ice fish on Fish Lake.
Leavenworth though can be very touristy, so I thought it might be worthy to share some tips on where to eat, shop and stay in Leavenworth so that you get a really good impression of Leavenworth and see the really neat side of the town and not the crazy, kitschy cliché side of Germany ;-).
Where to stay in Leavenworth:
There used to be a really nice exclusive Spa that would also rent out 3 beautiful hotel rooms, called the Solstice. Unfortunately did the spa close down and the owners changed hands but the 3 very exquisite hotel rooms are still for rent by the Pension across the street (Pension Anna and ask for the rooms at “Pension Mschi” or the “ex Solstice Spa rooms). What makes these rooms so desirable is that they are right smack in the middle of town, set back on the more quiet Commerical street and are very nicely furnished – modern style with flat screen TV, super soft bed linens, hot tub and sauna the floor below and a very nice and clean bathroom. These rooms though come with a big price tag ($350 including taxes and if I can say so a really lame “German breakfast”).
The “next best hotel” in my mind is the Bavarian Lodge. It is though a big hotel and right on the main “highway” through town, but it is reasonably priced and in walking distance (1-2 minutes) to all the downtown restaurants and shops. There are a ton of other hotels on the main road through town but most of them I think are ultra kitschy and/or run down or ok but then further away from town.
If you are ok with the intimacy of a Bed and Breakfast, I can recommend the All Seasons River Inn on Icicle Road. You can’t really walk though to town and would need to drive or take a cab to/from downtown. The owners are super nice and prepare a lovely breakfast for you in the morning and the rooms are super clean and have a beautiful view onto the Icicle river that runs through town. Be prepared though that most of the B&B’s as well as the hotels are decorated in what they think a German hotel in Bavaria looks like, so expect a lot of nick knacks and kitsch.
Mike and I also stayed at the Alpen Rose Inn, also on Icicle Road and its definitely more a simple hotel but super reasonable priced, clean and they have a really nice garden where you can eat your breakfast in summer.
Last but not least I can recommend the Enchanted River Inn on East Leavenworth road. The owners are super nice and cook you the most amazing breakfast that you can eat outside on their deck overlooking the river. If I recall correctly then we got French style scrambled eggs with “star cut” bacon and Swedish pancakes called “Poffertjes” and a whole lot more food that would be “cleansed” with home made berry sorbet! The rooms are big with a fireplace and view of the river and the bathroom has a great Jacuzzi tub and the shower is also a steam room with built in radio
Where to eat in Leavenworth?
Now that’s a tricky one. So far I am not really impressed with the food I have found in Leavenworth. There are a few highlights though but they are not necessarily German style food.
There is a new pizza place in town – Idlewild Pizza on Commercial Street – I know pizza how boring, believe me I am not a pizza fan but the pizza’s the owner Eric creates/bakes in his authentic wood oven imported from Italy, are super delicious. All ingredients are super fresh and local. And he is very accommodating, I really wanted a prosciutto parmesan pizza and that type of pizza was not on the menu but that was not a problem and he accommodated me and made me the best tasting prosciutto pizza I ever had, I ate the entire thing!
If you are gutsy and want to try out a very Bavarian dish, then I can highly recommend Andreaskeller. but ONLY for the Schweinshaxe (pig knuckle, its more a shank though than a knuckle). It is very authentic and tastes really good, but you need to get over the fact that there is a lot of pig skin on the knuckle before you get to the tasty dark meat. Mike had a Schnitzel (veal cutlet) and it was deep fried and super doughy, so can’t recommend that. You might want to go with a plain sausage like a Bratwurst, some Kraut and a pretzel. Now the Pretzels were really good, not so doughy like the ones you get in the stadiums, their pretzels are crispy and tasty exactly how you would get them in a good Bavarian Brewhouse (like the Hofbrauhaus in Muenchen). My dessert – Apfelstrudel (warm apple pie) with warm Vanilla Sauce was very very good.
Muenchenhaus is a staple in Leavenworth and I do have to say I like it. The place only has outdoor seating since its “modeled” after a Bavarian beer garden and in winter they keep the place relatively warm with outdoor heater lamps and the latest and greatest – fireplace tables, they were really cool. They serve Hofbrauhaus beer and different style of sausages, Bavarian pretzels (not so good), some Sauerkraut and a soup of the day. Not the most amazing selection of food but a cool place in summer to drink some cold beer and even in winter its nice to sit outside and enjoy a glass of hot Gluehwein (mulled red wine).
For breakfast I like the little Crepe place – Pavz. There are a couple of “Wafflehouses” in town but that’s not really my type of breakfast. If it has to be “all you can eat carbs” then I would rather suggest the 59 diner that you drive by on your way out of town (20 minutes outside of Leavenworth, heading out on highway 2 west in the direction of Stevens Pass). The 59 diner is exactly what its name says, a 60’s diner with great milkshakes, plastic seats and lots of 60’s decoration.
Where to shop in Leavenworth:
There are a lot of knick knack stores in Leavenworth, but also quite a few interesting stores. Right next to the Muenchenhaus on the main street (Front Street) through Leavenworth are 4 little boutiques that are all connected to each other within the boutiques (so you don’t have to go outside to get to the next boutique). They sell a variety of house décor items, candles, hats, scarfs, hand bags, jewelry etc., the cute stuff like an Anthropology.
For some really nice oils, vinegars and salts try the Oil and Vinegar Cellar in Leavenworth.
The Cheesemonger has some local cheese, wines and beer and “Cured” has a relatively good selection of German meats. The “Speck” (German style bacon) looked really good, almost no fat and they had a variety of really good tasting home made salamis.
Right next to Pavz (the Crepe place I like) is a very nice boutique called “Simply Found”. Its jam packed and that can be somewhat overwhelming but they have some really nice shoes, boots, scarfs and if you dig a little bit deeper also some nice clothes.
Where to party in Leavenworth:
Wow another tough one; if you really want to party and get wasted…come for Oktoberfest, there is a party in 3 big tents AND in all the restaurants and bars. Outside of Oktoberfest there are a couple of places where the locals go like Ducks and Drakes on Friday and Saturday evening (after dinner) – be aware it will be very loud and you might be hearing some karaoke or The Loft (815 Front Street) is another place the locals favor, where I was told that its “better” if you walk in through the back door than coming in through their main entrance on the second floor on Front Street, but that still won’t guarantee you service, its really more a place where the locals hang out and everybody knows everybody.
Mike and I really liked this new brewery in town – Icicle brewery . They had live music on Saturday night and the best Kölsch (light beer that originally comes from Cologne) that I ever had in the US. The brewery is at the “end of town” heading east, maybe 2 minutes from downtown.
The Old Post Office Tavern on 9th street (one of the small side streets that go off Front Street) is also quite the party place on the weekends after dinner has been served.
In summer its fun to sit outside at Uli’s Pub on Front street.
Since things constantly change in Leavenworth, come back to this post when you are traveling to Leavenworth as I will be adding and updating this entry every time I uncover new and fun places when I travel to Leavenworth.