Germany has cultural-city favourites such as Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich but it’s also hiding a much more rural scene too. In fact, around a third of Germany’s total land area is woodland so why not immerse yourself in one of these holidays at the heart of nature
1. Saxon Switzerland National Park, Saxony
South-east of Dresden, the unusual eroded landscape of the Elbe Sandstone Massif takes visitors on a journey of discovery back to the Cretaceous period — rock formations, deep valleys, table-top mountains and gorges dominate the region and provide a habitat for rare animal species such as eagle owls, otters and dormice. The Bastei rocks are famed for the view they offer of the Elbe, and the river itself also makes a great way to explore this breathtaking landscape, whether by kayak, rowing boat or paddlewheel steamer. Saxon Switzerland is the birthplace of free climbing, which came about because hooks or similar climbing aids are not allowed to be used on the fragile sandstone. The region’s own climbing rules and grades of difficulty make it all the more special for climbers who reach the top here
2. Schlei Estuary Nature Park, Schleswig-Holstein
Idyllic villages, vast meadows, yellow rape fields and secluded swimming bays make the most northerly nature park in Schleswig-Holstein an ideal place for relaxation. The Schlei river is an ancient and defining feature of the region and of the town of Schleswig. Running more than 40 kilometres inland from the Baltic Sea, it provides a habitat to a diverse range of species because its waters change from salt water to brackish water. An array of masts, sails, ropes and the occasional fur seal – you don’t have to be a seafarer to enjoy the sights of the museum harbour in Kappeln.
3. Berchtesgaden National Park, Bavaria
The national park that encompasses Mount Watzmann, the ‘Sea of Rocks’ and the Hagen mountains is one of the oldest conservation areas in the Alps. The excellent water quality of the famous Lake Königssee is a reflection of the unspoilt nature of this mountain region. Ibex, marmots, eagles, mountain hare and Alpine salamander roam freely around this incredible landscape. Keen botanists will find such flower varieties as dragon’s mouth, rock jasmine and dwarf alpenrose. The Mount Watzmann mountain lodge trek promises hikers spectacular sights and fascinating insights: the highlights of this four-day mountain lodge tour include Lake Königssee, Mount Watzmann and the ‘Sea of Rocks’. Hikers can round off their trip by crossing Lake Königssee on an electric boat.
4. Hunsrück-Hochwald National Park, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland
Germany’s newest national park opened in 2015. Slender beech trees, mysterious moors, graceful wildcats, rocky screes, colourful flower meadows and imposing boulder landscapes are all features of Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate’s first national park. The best way to explore the region is along the Saar-Hunsrück-Steig, a 410km walking trail. Sections nine to twelve run straight through the Hunsrück-Hochwald National Park. They pass via the Celtic circular stone wall, through beech forests, over the Dollberg hills, on to the moors surrounding Mount Erbeskopf and up to the ruins of Wildenburg Castle, where indigenous woodland animals, wildcats and wolves can be seen in a 10-hectare wildlife enclosure.
5. Black Forest National Park, Baden-Württemberg
Made a national park in 2014, the Black Forest reaches higher than 1,000 metres above sea level in some places and is known for its bracing climate and precipitation. Spectacular views stretching into the distance, sprawling coniferous forests, deep cirque lakes and dark moorlands give the landscape its unmistakeable character. The northern Black Forest is at its most untamed and beautiful in the woodland nature reserves, some of which were established over a hundred years ago. Visitors to the Black Forest National Park can join one of the ranger tours on offer: the shortest is the route along the circular Lothar trail, which runs every weekend during peak season. There are also tours lasting several hours, including excursions to the Allerheiligen waterfalls, the Wild Lake or Mount Hornisgrinde.
6. Bliesgau UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Saarland
In the south-eastern corner of the Saarland lies a mosaic made up of vast orchards, exquisite beech forests, swathes of orchids and beautiful riverside meadows. They are features of the gently rolling hills that provide a habitat to little owls, red kites, lizard orchids and rattle plants. Walking trails, cycle tracks and bridle paths trace the history of Roman and Celtic settlements, and St James’ Way also goes through the region. The district of Gersheim is known for its orchids, with around 30 of Germany’s 60 indigenous varieties growing in this relatively small area. Guided tours of the orchid meadows run from early May to early July.
Visit The German National Tourist Board for more information