Jul 16, 2010 6:20:52 AM
Getting fresh in Germany: cycling, hiking and skiing
No matter what kind of outdoor activity gets you off that couch, you’ll be able to pursue it in this land of lakes, rivers, mountains and forests. There’s plenty to do year-round, with each season offering its own special delights, be it hiking among spring wildflowers, swimming in a lake warmed by the summer sun, biking among a kaleidoscope of autumn foliage or celebrating winter by schussing through deep powder. Wherever you go, you’ll find outfitters and local operators eager to gear you up.
Germany is superb cycling territory, whether you’re after a leisurely spin along the beach, an adrenalin-fuelled mountain exploration or a multiday bike-touring adventure. Practically every town and region has a network of signposted bike routes; most towns have at least one bike-hire station (often at or near the train station). Germany is also criss-crossed by more than 200 long-distance trails covering 70,000km, making it ideal for Radwandern (bike touring). Routes are well signposted and are typically a combination of lightly travelled back roads, forestry tracks and paved highways with dedicated bike lanes. Many traverse nature reserves, meander along rivers or venture into steep mountain terrain.
For inspiration and route planning, check out Tourism Germany’s cycling section, which provides (in English) an overview of routes and free downloads of route maps and descriptions.
For on-the-road navigating, the best maps are those published by the national cycling organization Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad Club (ADFC). Its regional maps for day and weekend tours, and cycle tour maps for longer excursions, are available in book stores, at tourist offices and online (in German). ADFC also publishes a useful online directory called Bett & Bike (in German), which lists thousands of bicycle-friendly hotels, inns and hostels.
Got wanderlust? Germany is perfect for exploring on foot. Ramble through romantic river valleys, hike among fragrant pines, bag Alpine peaks or simply go for a walk by the lake or through the dunes. Many of the nicest trails traverse national and nature parks or biosphere reserves. Nordic walking – where you strut with poles just like a cross-country skier – has taken Germany by storm in recent years.
Trails are usually well signposted, sometimes with symbols quaintly painted on tree trunks. To find a route matching your fitness level and time frame, pick the brains of local tourist office staff, who can also supply you with maps and tips.
Wanderbares Deutschland is an excellent resource – it features comprehensive information on dozens of walking trails throughout Germany. It’s mostly in German, but some routes are also detailed in English.
‘Climb every mountain…’ the Mother Superior belts out in the Sound of Music, and the Bavarian Alps – the centre of mountaineering in Germany – will give you plenty of opportunity to do just that. You can venture out on day treks or plan multiday clambers from hut to hut – as long as you keep in mind that hiking in the Alps is no walk in the park. You need to be in reasonable condition and come equipped with the right shoes, gear and topographic maps or GPS. Trails can be narrow, steep and have icy patches, even in summer.
The Deutscher Alpenverein (in German) is a goldmine of information on hiking and mountaineering and has local chapters in practically every German town. It also maintains hundreds of Alpine mountain huts, many of them open to the public, where you can spend the night and get a meal. Local DAV chapters also organize various courses (climbing, mountaineering etc), as well as guided treks, with which you can link up.
Modern lifts, primed ski slopes from ‘Sesame Street’ to ‘Death Wish’, solitary cross-country trails through untouched nature, cosy mountain huts, steaming mulled wine, hearty dinners by a crackling fire – all are hallmarks of a German skiing holiday.
The Bavarian Alps, only an hour’s drive south of Munich, offer the best downhill slopes and most reliable snow conditions. The most famous resort town here is, of course, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which hosted the 1936 Olympic Games and is popular with the international set.
There’s also plenty of skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing to be done elsewhere in the country, where the mountains may not soar as high as the Alps, but assets include cheaper prices, smaller crowds and a less frenetic atmosphere. Among Germany’s lower mountain ranges, the Bavarian Forest has the most reliable snow levels, with plenty of good downhill action on the Grosser Arber mountain. Cross-country skiing is especially wonderful in the Bavarian Forest National Park.