TS Eliot immortalised this dreamy lake in The Waste Land, and Ludwig II, the “mad king” known for flamboyant palaces, had a summer residence here. Visitors can cycle the 49km border trail (bikeit.de, half-day rental €11) in roughly four hours, or take a boat from Possenhofen to Rose Island, to see the eccentric monarch’s villa. Though the chi-chi town of Starnberg tends to fill up with tourists in summer, the smaller villages retain a quiet charm. Take a ferry to Bernried to see the expressionist art at Buchheim Museum der Phantasie (€8.50).
Where to eat In Berg village, fuel up for a hike with superb roast duck (€11.50) in the beer garden at Hotel Schloss Berg.
Where to stay A prime position right by the water means the chalet-style rooms at Forsthaus am See (doubles from €100 BB) in Pöcking, a few miles from Starnberg, go fast in high season.
Getting there S-Bahn S6 train from central Munich (day pass for all U-Bahn/S-Bahn trains €12.40) to Starnberg.
South of Starnberger See lie these 19 lakes and ponds in an idyllic landscape of marsh grasses and dense forest. After a dip at one of the swimming points on Grosser Ostersee or Fohnsee, take some time to explore on foot.
Where to eat Fohnsee Stüberl serves fish fresh from the lake (€16.90) or flammkuchen (€9.40), a cracker-thin crust topped with crème fraîche, bacon and spring onions.
Where to stay The pretty Hotel Landgasthof Osterseen in Iffeldorf (doubles from €112 BB) is known for its comfy quarters. The breakfast buffet is worth rising early for and a complimentary sauna after a long day of hiking.
Getting there Take the Regionalbahn (RB) train from Munich’s Hauptbahnhof to Iffeldorf (from €31 return).
Home to one of Germany’s oldest sailing schools, Ammersee in the Fünfseenland (“land of five lakes”) is a paradise for watersports lovers. On fine afternoons, dozens of windsurfers, sailors and kayakers will be out on its glassy surface. The less athletic can watch the action from Strandbad Seewinkel, a manmade beach on an 8km promenade in Heersching. A short bus ride away is Kloster Andechs (tours from €5.50pp), a Benedictine monastery founded in 1455, where visitors can taste seven varieties of traditional Bavarian beer brewed on site.
Where to eat Dishes such as pan-seared lake trout with passion fruit butter (€19) at Fischer in the village of Stegen offer a welcome respite from pork knuckles and other hearty regional staples.
Where to stay Great location, excellent breakfast spread and contemporary style make the 40-room Ammersee Hotel (doubles from €85 BB) in Herrsching a popular choice with Müncheners.
Getting there Take the S-Bahn S8 train from central Munich to Herrsching (day pass €12.40).
Sometimes nicknamed the Bavarian Sea, the region’s largest lake sprawls over 80 square kilometres with three main islands, and a smattering of smaller ones. Herreninsel, or “lord’s island,” has an unfinished palace by King Ludwig II patterned after Versailles, and there’s a convent on its feminine counterpart, known either as Frauenchiemsee or Fraueninsel (“women’s island”). Both are open to the public and worth visiting, and it’s easy to rent a kayak in Bernau and row over to uninhabited Krautinsel for a picnic lunch.
Where to eat Guests have been sailing out to Klosterwirt abbey on the Fraueninsel for over five centuries. Order veal-mushroom ragout (€18.90), followed by a shot of klosterlikör, a potent spirit distilled by the nuns.
Where to stay Rooms may be on the modest side, but Hotel Schlossblick (doubles from €105 room only) in Prien is in a prime lakeside location.
Getting there Take a regional train from Munich’s Hauptbahnhof to Prien am Chiemsee (from €41 return). In summer, a train runs from Prien to the main boat pier.
Pristine water and a lovely mountainous backdrop make this a popular spot. The five towns around the lake have gone upmarket, with spas, fine dining, and luxury hotels. But this can’t detract from the lake’s sheer splendour, and there are lower-key gems. Spend a leisurely afternoon hiking along the banks, or book a boat tour (seenschifffahrt.de, from €10).
Where to eat For a blowout, Christian Jürgens’ triple-Michelin-starred Überfahrt (tasting menus from €219) in Rottach-Egern is worth breaking the bank for. Equally indulgent but less extravagant delights can be found at Kirschner Stuben. Try the chanterelles in cream with semmelknödel (bread dumplings, €18).
Where to stay Best value in the area is Hotel Ritter am Tegernsee doubles from €80 BB) near the lake in Bad Wiessee.
Getting there Bayerische Oberlandbahn (BOB) train from Munich’s Hauptbahnhof to Tegernsee (return from €38).
Unlike at posh neighbour Tegernsee, all of Schliersee’s shoreline is accessible to the public. Signposts around the fringes in English and German describe the local flora, turning a stroll into an impromptu nature walk. The children’s playground in the town of Schliersee is so popular that families from other villages regularly drive over at weekends. The walk up to St Georg am Weinberg chapel brings a stunning view of the lake framed by snow-dusted peaks.
Where to eat For big portions of traditional fare such as schweinebraten (roast pork, €9.80), Hotel Terofal by Schliersee’s historic theatre hits the spot.
Where to stay In summer, lakeside lounge chairs at Seehotel Schlierseer Hof (doubles from €100 BB) fill up with sunbathers.
Getting there Bayerische Oberlandbahn (BOB) train from Munich Hauptbahnhof to Schliersee (return from €38).
Cradled on all sides by 1,000-metre mountains, this area is popular with skiers in winter and hikers in summer, when wildflowers bloom across the spectacularly green landscape.
Where to eat Lamb and venison bratwursts (€8.30) at Blecksteinhaus come from a traditional butcher and the sauerkraut is made in-house. For dessert, Kaiserschmarrn (€7.40), a sugar-kissed cross between a chopped pancake and a broken soufflé, is enough for two.
Where to stay After making the trip to this remote lake, most visitors spend the night and venture back to town at a leisurely pace the next day. Hotel Gundl Alm (doubles from €90 BB) is an old-timey mountain lodge minutes from the shore.
Getting there Bayerische Oberlandbahn (BOB) train from Munich Hauptbahnhof to Schliersee (as above), then Spitzingsee is a 2-3-hour hike.
Staffelsee’s serene beauty was supposedly a source of inspiration for Kandinsky, Münter, Marc and other expressionist artists in the early 1900s. The visionaries lived in countryside between here and Kochelsee. The picturesque town of Murnau has cobbled streets, outdoor markets and Staffelsee-Freibad, a 5,000-square-metre recreational area with beach volleyball and free sunloungers.
Where to eat The beer garden at Gasthof zum Stern in Seehausen am Staffelsee does rustic fare like grilled mackerel with tangy potato salad (€10.80).
Where to stay Griesbräu zu Murnau (doubles from €119 BB) in Murnau is about 10 minutes’ walk from the water, and has an in-house brewery that traces its roots back to 1670.
Getting there Regional Bahn (RB) train from Munich Hauptbahnhof to Murnau (from €35 return).
Like Staffelsee, this placid lake was central to the region’s artistic traditions, on show at the Franz Marc Museum (open Tue-Sun 10am-6pm, €8.50), a small, but thoughtful collection of the artist’s works in a modernist building.
Where to eat In the museum, restaurant Blauer Reiter in the Franz Marc Museum uses regional ingredients in mains such as trout fillet with rosemary potatoes (€15.80).
Where to stay Seehotel Grauer Bär (doubles from €86 BB) has direct access to the lake, unimpeded alpine views from the garden, and a sauna.
Getting there Regional Bahn (RB) train from Munich Hauptbahnhof to Kochel am See (from €35 return).
While most travellers stop at nearby Kochelsee, those willing to go a bit farther to this hidden gem in the mountains will be rewarded with impossibly scenic views. It’s popular with windsurfers, but the crowds that descend upon more accessible lakes are conspicuously absent. The water is pure enough to drink.
Where to eat The lakeside terrace of Hotel Karwendelblick is the place to eat whole fish (€11.80) from the lake with butter-drenched potatoes.
Where to stay Hotel Schwaigerhof (doubles from €70 BB) may be a little on the Spartan side but it’s a charming laid-back spot right by the lake.
Getting there Regional Bahn (RB) from Munich Hauptbahnhof to Kochel am See (return from €35), then Regionalverkehr Oberbayern (RVO) bus to Walchensee.
This is ideal road trip country, so it’s worth renting a car for ease of mobility and for savings on train fares. Individual train tickets can be bought at stations or on the Deutsche Bahn website, but there are cheaper options. Bayerische Oberlandbahn (BOB) has a one-day Oberland Ticket from €17 for unlimited trips from 9am until 3am. Deutsche Bahn’s Bayern Pass (bahn.de) offers considerable savings, especially for groups of up to five. It costs €23 a day for one person’s unlimited travel, but a five-person ticket starts at €43, or less than €9pp. Under-15s travel free, with a pass-holding adult. Want to spend the whole weekend in the countryside? The Schönes Wochenende (lovely weekend) pass offers just that: tickets valid on Saturdays and Sundays from €40, plus €4 for each additional passenger (for up to five).