Exploring Germany's fairytale forests, castle-studded hilltops and scenic waterways
When you think of Germany's stunning landscape -- straight from the pages of a storybook -- you'll most likely be picturing the expansive mosaic of lakes of the northern lowlands, the dramatic peaks that rise along the Austrian border and the rolling forest-clad hills of the Black Forest in the southwest. So not only will we walk you through some of the most accessible ways to get closer to nature in Germany, but we've also handpicked a selection of deals to take you there, too.
Find your rural adventure in Brandenburg
Easy to reach from Berlin, Brandenburg makes the ideal base for your trip. Home to three UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and 11 nature parks -- around a third of the region is protected -- it's perfect for those in search of a relaxing stroll around undulating meadows, meandering rivers and glittering lakes. Not far from the capital are the charming canals of Spreewald, where you can pick your way through forested trails and peaceful glades. But the best way to explore the area is by navigating the network of waterways by Kahn (a shallow punt boat) or kayak.
We also recommend heading to the glamourous palaces, stately homes and gardens of Potsdam. Highlights include the English Gothic-style Babelsberg Palace, Sanssouci Palace -- an ornate building set in elegant grounds that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- and the town of Oranienburg's impressive Baroque palace. The city of Potsdam itself makes an excellent base for your explorations. Don't forget to see its impressive old town to see its market square and climb the dome of Saint Nicholas' Church, a superb example of German Neoclassical architecture.
Germany's varied terrain also makes for some excellent cycling routes and, as many of the country's 200 cycle paths are traffic free, it's a safe way to explore the country. One of the most popular routes on Germany's extensive cycle network is the Berlin-Copenhagen path, which connects these two European capitals via 700 kilometres of newly paved and well-signposted lanes, plus a short ferry ride across the Baltic.
Once you're clear of Berlin, you'll be free to take in the unspoilt scenery of Brandenburg -- think golden fields of sunflowers in the summer and beech forest trails coated with crisp leaves in autumn. And as you head north along the route, you'll find yourself among the mosaic of crystal-clear lakes, rivers and canals that make up the Mecklenburg region. As well as pedalling through ancient groves of beech trees and taking a boat across Lake Müritz, Germany's largest inland lake, you can also climb the turreted castle of Wesenberg for stellar views across the surrounding landscape's patchwork of azure blue and verdant green. Your final stop will be the port town of Rostock on the Baltic coast, from where you'll take the boat to Denmark.
Widen your horizons...
There are exciting outdoor excursions on offer across all four corners of the country. For those looking for quintessential German scenery, the Black Forest's pine-scented trails and timber farmhouses will immediately transport you into a world of children's bedtime stories. The beauty of the region lies in its varied landscape -- you'll not only stumble across hidden waterfalls within its thick forests, but also picturesque spa towns and the languorous Rhine that slips slowly past vineyards and crumbling castle ruins.
You'll also find jaw-dropping scenery in the Bavarian Alps -- think lush green valleys dotted with daisies and framed by craggy snow-capped peaks. Those after a challenging hike should head to Germany's oldest national park, Bayerischer Wald, which provides some of the most rewarding climbs, including the 16-kilometre route to the Große Arber, which consists of summiting eight peaks over 1000 metres.
You might also want to consider Painter's Way in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains of Saxon Switzerland. This trail takes you along the Basteibrücke -- a bridge that spans unusual rock formations and affords spectacular views of the region. And if you're looking for a picture-perfect photo, be sure to visit Rakotzbrücke, a stunning 150-year-old bridge on the border of Brandenburg and Saxony. Its delicate arch was specifically built so that its reflection creates a circle on the waters beneath it.