Alpine Wonderland: Find Bavarian Charm in Washington

By Jennifer Burns Bright

With a backdrop of snowy mountains and the rushing Wenatchee River, Leavenworth, located about 120 miles east of Seattle along a winding road through the Cascades foothills, promises festive winter vistas. During the holiday season, the town decks its halls—and trees and hedges and inns and shops—with more than a half a million lights that twinkle nightly. Revelers warmed by mulled wine wander the pedestrian-only blocks in a downtown with architecture that looks more like that of a German alpine village than what is typically found in the Pacific Northwest, let alone in central Washington state. If it seems it’s been designed that way, that would be correct: in the 1960s, an ingenious marketing strategy rebranded the sleepy former mill town as a Bavarian village. Today, Leavenworth has traded in lumber for gingerbread treats, nutcrackers and ski gear.

Sights

Downtown Leavenworth’s Village of Lights display takes place nightly. Photo courtesy of the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce.

The Village of Lights display happens nightly from Thanksgiving to February. Listen for carolers and alphorns—the long wood musical instruments used traditionally by Alpine herdsmen—among many concerts in Front Street Park’s gazebo. After browsing thousands of historic and whimsical nutcrackers at the Nutcracker Museum, check out the town’s pre-Bavarian history at the Greater Leavenworth Museum.

Eats

Bavarian Bakery’s German-style salted pretzels. Courtesy of Bavarian Bakery.

The Bavarian theme continues through food. Ludwig’s restaurant serves up authentic German and Hungarian homestyle cuisine, polka and imported beer. Their roasted pork shank called “Schweinshax’n,” can be seen slowly turning in their streetside rotisserie window. Known for their breakfasts and outdoor seating warmed by mobile fire pits, Argonaut Coffee and Biscuits serves breakfast sandwiches on homemade buttermilk biscuits on the eastern edge of town. On the west side, Bavarian Bakery is a local favorite for German-style soft pretzels—perfectly crisped and salted—German rye bread, and apple strudel stuffed with chunks of fruit.

Shops

Go early on a weekday if you want to enjoy quiet browsing downtown during the holidays. Der Sportsmann offers outdoor gear, including snowshoes and ski rental. For upscale clothing, visit Pine Hill Mercantile, part of the Leavenworth Boutique’s Front Street quartet of shops. Stop by A Book for All Seasons to pick up a novel for quiet nights by the fire or a guide to nearby hiking.

Outdoors

Alphorns sound off during concerts along Front Street. Photo courtesy Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce.

Downtown, horse-drawn carriages for hire jingle along the streets and kids shout merrily as they sled down the hill in Front Street Park. Find hours of family fun on nordic skis or snowshoes along the riverbanks of Icicle River Trail south of town or at Waterfront Park a few blocks downhill from Front Street. Leavenworth Winter Sports Club’s Ski Hill promises snow fun for all ages and interests: Try tubing down the 100-foot hill (rentals from the club include a rope tow and tube), or illuminated night skiing on more than 3 miles of groomed trails. To plow through backcountry powder on a snowmobile, try a guided day or night tour with Leavenworth Snowmobile Rentals.

Sleeps

A stunning view of the Posthotel. Photos courtesy of the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce.

For a Wenatchee River view and an outdoor hot tub at a family-friendly price, try Alpine Rivers Inn, just a short drive from downtown. The Linderhof Inn provides breakfast, comfy beds and an easy walk to the heart of Front Street. Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort offers rustic luxury in guest rooms and cabins with a full-service spa (and art walk) on the banks of Icicle Creek about four miles south of downtown. The wellness amenities and river views at the adult-only, European-style resort Posthotel may make you forget you’re just steps away from Leavenworth’s holiday festivities. Rejuvenate in multiple saunas, steam rooms, hydrotherapy pools and an all-seasons saltwater swimming pool.

Let AAA Help You Plan Your Visit

Download the AAA Mobile app for maps, discounts, restaurants, and lodging at AAA.com/mobile. For help planning your trip, find a local AAA Travel Agent or call AAA Travel at 800-529-3222.