Germany is only a little brother to the big siblings France or Austria when it comes to skiing holidays. This, however, makes it an insider’s tip for skiers open to something different, less crowded, less commercial and more cosy.
Bavaria features the widest choice of slopes, with the Zugspitze in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany’s highest mountain. In south-west Bavaria, the Allgäu with villages like Oberstdorf and Oberstaufen is Germany’s largest skiing area with 500km of slopes, cosy mountain huts included. And there has already been lots of early snow this year!
Germany in winter is Christmas market country. From the end of November up until Christmas, it’s all about sparkling lights, Christmas trees, handicrafts, hearty food, sweet treats and mulled wine. One way to explore a variety of markets is a Christmas market cruise. On the Rhine, visitors can sample one or even seven markets in Cologne or make a short trip to Heidelberg, home of Germany’s oldest university where the market spreads across five different little squares. Christmas market cruises on the Danube start near Nuremberg, arguably Germany’s most famous Christmas market, but also well known historic cities like Regensburg and Passau on the Danube, both beautifully preserved, make enchanting picture perfect Christmas market settings.
Everyone feels more hungry in winter. Baiersbronn in the Black Forest is a real treat for every food lover, featuring seven Michelin stars divided up between three restaurants. Foodies will also enjoy the abundance of home-made products such as Black Forest hams, schnapps and honey or a visit to the local chocolate factory. Baiersbronn is also a top winter destination for skiing or hiking on a wide variety of special winter trails.
Here’s an idea: warming up in winter while sampling beers in Bavaria. Many breweries in the south of Germany have been turned into destinations for visitors, offering brewery tours and providing accommodation.
Visiting breweries in Bavaria also comes with the added benefit of exploring some of Germany’s oldest and prettiest towns such as Bamberg where the Fässla brewery has been going since the 17th century. Just in case you’re worried, all of those places have lovely Christmas markets as well.
Stollen and Christmas in Germany go hand in hand. You could buy this special cake at your local Lidl but it’s much better sampled in Dresden where it was invented more than 500 years ago, its shape symbolising the baby Jesus. As things are done properly in Germany, there’s an official association of Stollen bakers and all of the 150 bakers are based in the Dresden area.
The city on the Elbe is full of historic attractions and in winter, live revolves around the Striezelmarkt, one of Germany’s oldest Christmas markets. Or experience the city while cruising on one of the old paddlesteamers run by Sächsische Dampfschiffahrt who offer tours throughout winter.
Criss-crossing the Harz, the Harzer Schmalspurbahnen railways connect the cities of Wernigerode, Nordhausen and Quedlinburg in proper vintage style. The narrow-gauge railways are Europe’s longest historical rail network and feature steam locomotives for some good old huffing and puffing up the mountains.
The trains provide a year-round service for the local communities and a trip in winter through the snow covered Harz mountains makes for a special travel experience. Just thought we’d mention it, Quedlinburg is not only a UNESCO world heritage site full of half-timbered houses but also features a delightful Christmas market.
This is something for the family (ok, for the boys): The Nürburgring in the Eifel, one of Europe’s most famous motor-racing circuits, has been transformed into an all-year motorsport themed adventure zone in recent years, perfect to animate those dark winter days. The ring°werk is a mixture of science/theme park and museum; there’s a cart track, backstage tours of the racing circuit are offered, and a number of hotels right next to the Nürburgring provide accommodation.
Most importantly, racing enthusiasts can have a go for themselves on the Nordschleife circuit open to the public.
The Ruhr area is Europe’s unlikely Capital of Culture 2010 and trailblazer of industrial tourism. Germany’s former industrial heart has turned its obsolete blast furnaces and coal mines into spectacular visitor attractions. The most dramatic of the conversions is Essen’s elegant Zeche Zollverein coalmine, a UNESCO site attracting a million visitors per year. In the run-up to Christmas the site invites visitors to experience a special Christmas atmosphere: Industrial architecture meets seasonal events and a traditional Christmas market.
The German tradition Kaffee & Kuchen is experienced at its best in winter time when cosy cafés invite visitors to spend long hours indoors, drinking coffee and eating cake. Cafés come in different styles, some more old-fashioned, others very trendy. There are some famous and old-established ones like Café Niederegger in Lübeck or Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum in Leipzig. Some are local favourites in smaller towns to be discovered by the discerning travellers. Rest assured, sooner or later you’ll end up in one.
Germany's cities are perfect for avoiding winter gloom with stylish hotels and restaurants, world-class museums and great shopping. In Berlin, seasoned travellers could go for a lifestyle tour to explore the trendy side of the capital . Couples looking for a romantic break will find Heidelberg a rewarding destination. And youngsters with little to spare can benefit from stylish budget accommodation anywhere in Germany. Last but not least and suitable for everyone: The Christmas markets. Just in case, you’d forgotten.
For more information on all the above, visit www.germanyisWunderbar.com, just launched by Wundermeisters Andrew Eames and Barbara Geier. The site features a competition to win a two nights stay for two in Oberstaufen in Bavaria.
Ski picture © Andreas Kaster
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