Summer in Germany: Three regions for a laid-back, crowd-free holiday
Germany usually comes a little lower on British holidaymakers’ wishlists than heavyweights such as France, Italy and Spain – which means fewer tourists, and more space for clued-up Britons to enjoy. The country is getting back on its feet in terms of tourism, with social distancing measures in place in most states, and masks required in hotels, restaurants, shops and on public transport. While most Germans are holidaying at home, there are still fewer visitors than usual, especially in off-the-beaten track locations. Here are some of good spots to get lost in for a while.
The Baltic coast
Chalk cliffs in Jasmund national park, Ruegen Island. Photograph: Getty Images
The state of Mecklenburg Vorpommern, whose coastline stretches for 1,243 miles along the Baltic Sea, is overlooked by most international visitors. As well as boasting some of the country’s best beaches – and the islands of Usedom and Rügen – it also offers handsome Hanseatic cities such as Rostock and Wismar.
Unesco-listed Wismar, occupied by Sweden for 155 years, is just 15 miles away and has lots of eyecatching architecture, churches and a large market square. North of Wismar lies peaceful Poel island, with old manor houses, cobbled alleys and a sandy beach. The 13th-century Romanesque-gothic church has a 47-metre tower, and there’s also an old lighthouse and tours of the connected island of Langenwerder, a protected bird reserve.
Farther east lies Rostock, with its brick gothic architecture and docks; then north up the river is small but lively Warnemünde, for excellent seafood restaurants and a generous expanse of beach. East of here are the charming seaside towns of Zingst and Darß, and the island of Rügen, with lots of cute villages and the ruins of former Nazi holiday park the Colossus of Prora. If that’s too busy, the white cliffs of Jasmund national park, whose white cliffs were immortalised in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, aren’t far away.
Wismar has lovely holiday lets in the historic granary – Ohlerich-Speicher has design apartments sleeping four from €170 a night in August/September. Schillings (doubles from €65, limited summer availability) has homely rooms and a restaurant serving seasonal cuisine. For a bit more buzz, Warnemünde’s Dock Inn container hostel has doubles from €149 in summer/€75 in low season.
The Black Forest
Hiking the Albsteig trail in the Black Forest. Photograph: Alamy
Although well-known within Germany, the southern state of Baden-Württemberg is vast enough to offer lots of off-the-beaten track sights, as well as hotspots such as Lake Constance, romantic Heidelberg , and the spa town of Baden Baden.
The Black Forest is an obvious choice for some R&R: it spans 2,320 square miles, from Karlsruhe in the north down to the Swiss border, and has endless quiet areas. It’s especially great for hiking, from the long-distance (217 miles) Albsteig, which now has several trekking camps with firepits and compost toilets en route, to the 29-mile Albtal Abenteuer Track, with steep climbs of up to 1,000 metres a day.
Another great day hike is through the Wutach Gorge (Wutachschlucht): the largest gorge in Germany, it has a great spread of flora and fauna. There are some interesting accommodation options these days too, including Naturträume, a tent that dangles 30 metres above the ground (€165pp a night including picnic hamper) in Schenkenzell, close to the Hirschgrund Zipline Area. In late 2020, a new visitor centre in Ruhestein (part of the Black Forest national park) will offer a brand-new skywalk experience.
To the east of the Black Forest lie the often-overlooked Swabian Alps, a Unesco Global Geopark characterised by high summits, patchy lowlands, ancient volcanoes and about 2,500 caves; there are tours of the four-mile long Falkensteiner cave in Bad Urach, with its underground river. The area is also known for nomadic sheep farming, and visitors can accompany a shepherd for a day or two, sleeping in a traditional wooden wagon at Hofgut Hopfenburg (which also has tipis and yurts, apartments from €87, sheep wagon from €53.50).
The mountains of Saxony
Bastei Bridge in Saxon Switzerland. Photograph: Alamy
The Bavarian Alps are deservedly popular, but the eastern state of Saxony also has plenty of peaky thrills. The largest range, the Ore mountains, form a natural border with the Czech Republic. It is linked to the fairytale-like Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland) area, which spans the Czech border east of Dresden. Its dramatic, craggy mountains, rock formations and handsome gorges and valleys have been used as backdrops for films including Cloud Atlas and The Grand Budapest Hotel.
The best way to explore is on foot via the historic Malerweg (Painters’ Way), named after the artists who found inspiration here. Most tourists don’t go further than the much-photographed Bastei Bridge, almost 200 metres above the Elbe, but the trail continues through thick forest and quaint villages with plenty of restaurants, and the hilltop Königstein Fortress, and there are hundreds of less-visited trails.
Further south, the area around Oberwiesenthal (once the GDR’s top alpine resort) provides opportunities for hiking, cycling, rock climbing and mountain biking; it has the only Stoneman mountain bike route in Germany. Also worth exploring is the Erzgebirge Mining Cultural Landscape, a Unesco site that highlights the region’s mining history via the 100-mile Silberstraße (Silver Road), between Zwickau and Dresden.
North of the Ore range is the Zittau Mountains nature reserve, with smaller sandstone mountains, volcanic peaks and picturesque valleys, as well as marshlands, meadows and woods – a good place to spot roe deer, eagle owls and peregrine falcons.
Pirna and Bad Schandau both make good bases for Saxon Switzerland. Close to the latter are quaint and historic places to stay like Villa Waldfrieden (doubles from €219), and Hotel Fortshaus (doubles from €110 B&B). In Zittau, Hotel Weberhof (doubles from €110 B&B) has comfortable rooms and an Italian restaurant.
• This article was amended on 27 July 2020 because in an earlier version, the North Sea island of Sylt was wrongly included in the Baltic coast section.