Following up on the success of last year’s cultural traditions theme (US tourists to Germany rose by 8.5% in 2015), the GNTO has chosen Fascinating Nature Vacations in Germany as its 2016 theme. They have a lot to work with, as more than one-third of Germany’s land is under protection as natural sites that include 16 national parks, 15 UNESCO-designated biosphere reserves and over 100 natural parks. Add to that appeal the consistent green initiatives and environmental record, which position Germany as a prime sustainable destination.
Replacing the Wall with Green
The reunification and nature themes blend in the remarkable Green Belt that has in the past 25 years replaced the line of the Iron Curtain that until 1989 separated East and West Germany. Stretching 870 miles from the Baltic Sea to the town of Hof in Bavaria, this nature conservation project was begun immediately after reunification, transforming over 3,000 square miles of former no-man’s-land into an unbroken swath of natural habitat that is home to more than 5,200 species of plant and animal life.
As your clients walk its trails along the Elbe valley or cycle through the Harz foothills on a Wernigerode tour (www.wernigerode-tourismus.com) they will see birds, wildflowers and small villages that were once cut in two. They will also see Cold War-era relics still visible as nature reclaims the land.
Nature around Berlin
Elsewhere in the former German Democratic Republic, clients can canoe or kayak through the magical tree-draped streams and canals of the Spree Forest, a biosphere reserve in an inland delta southeast of Berlin that is habitat for otters, cranes, ospreys and eagles. Set in the Spreewald Bioreserve, Spreewaldresort Seinerzeit (www.seinerzeit.de) is a traditional country inn and brewery dating to 1788. It’s in the town of Schlepzig, the center for boat trips through the 600-mile network of waterways
On the other side of Berlin, toward the Baltic coast, the Mecklenburg Lakes are another area rich in nature and outdoor activities (www.off-to-mv.com/en). Inside Muritz National Park clients will find land and water sports, with kayaks for exploring the lakes and bikes to use on the extensive network of dedicated cycling trails through wildflower-painted meadows and farmland. Resorts for all budgets are scattered throughout the park, or clients who prefer more luxury can find it at Hotel Castle Basthorst, a beautiful manor house resort near Schwerin, with opulent rooms and a state-of-the-art spa (www.schloss-basthorst.de). Another noble country house hotel, this one overlooking the Baltic Sea, is Schlossgut Gross Schwansee, built in 1745 and seamlessly combining modern comforts with its classic elegance (www.schwansee.de/en/hideaway-baltic-sea).
The lush green forests and snow-covered peaks of Southern Bavaria’s Berchtesgaden National Park, one of the oldest conservation areas in the Alps, are a year-round magnet for active travelers. The park offers 160 miles of hiking trails, from gentle paths around beautiful Lake Königssee and through mountain valleys, to challenging ascents that lead to spectacular mountain panoramas. Many of the trails are also open to mountain bikers, and bikes can be rented in the park (www.bavaria.us). Berchtesgaden National Park is habitat for 55 animal and 140 bird species, including the golden eagle, with a wingspan of up to 8 feet.
The Black Forest
In SouthWest Germany’s state of Baden-Württemberg, the rugged Black Forest region is a favorite playground for hiking, walking, cycling, golf and winter sports. Small half-timbered towns dot this heavily forested corner near the Swiss and French borders, and in the southern part, known as the Hochschwarzwald (High Black Forest), small resort towns hug the shores of Lake Titisee, offering swimming, sailing and windsurfing. When reserving hotels in the Hochschwarzwald for your clients, be sure to choose a Red Inclusive Card property, which entitles each guest to a special pass for free access to more than 60 activities and attractions in the region. Included in the Red Inclusive Card are e-bike rentals and tours, paddleboard rentals, boat cruises, tennis court time, Segway rentals, pony trekking for children, tubing, golf, mountain coasters, golf courses and free access to two spas and 16 outdoor swimming pools. Also included is free admission to more than a dozen museums and cultural venues, an exceptional value.
For easy access to Lake Titisee and to a hiking network that includes a spectacular waterfall, book clients at the Best Western Hotel Hofgut Sternen Höllsteig, a beautiful and historic hotel set in a dramatic ravine, with an excellent restaurant, a glassblowing center and a Black Forest cuckoo clock shop (800-780-7234,
www.bestwestern.com). Best Western hotels in Europe are independently owned and often historic properties such as this one, whose past visitors include Marie Antoinette.
Although SouthWest Germany is well-known as the birthplace of the automobile, another form of transport originated here. The first bicycle was patented in Mannheim in 1817, and to mark next year’s 200th anniversary the region is highlighting its outstanding network of cycling routes through the Swabian Alps, the Black Forest and along beautiful Lake Constance. Your clients can join Germans of all ages as they enjoy nature, tour vineyards around Stuttgart and Gengenbach, ride along the Neckar River, and bicycle to castles, monasteries and gardens using a simple tour app. Downloaded from the website, the app includes detailed maps, identifies nearby attractions and includes information on the route’s length and level of difficulty (www.tourism-bw.com).
Suggest that clients with restricted mobility consider traveling in Thuringia, in central Germany, where Hainich National Park is especially accessible. Even its treetop canopy trail through an ancient beech forest has step-free access. The Brunstal Adventure Trail in this UNESCO World Heritage site is also accessible and has interpretive signs in Braille.
The 10 beautiful theme gardens in the Thuringian spa town of Bad Langensalza welcome visitors with restricted mobility and specially trained English-speaking guides are on hand to assist visually impaired guests. The Friederiken Thermal Pool is also fully accessible and barrier-free. The charming family-run Alter Bahnhof Inn and restaurant in Heyerode offers accessible lodging