One of the most stunning places to visit in Thuringia (central Germany) is the Nature Reserve Rhoen, written as “Rhön” in German. This mountaineous region is the perfect retreat for a social media detox and immersion in nature. Rolling hills, deep woods, airy heights and nature as far as the eye can see make the Thuringian Rhoen region a must visit. And it’s not even very touristy over here!
**** This post came to be through a sponsored trip by Thüringen Entdecken/Visit Thuringia. ****
Why did I do this to myself? Getting up before dawn and going to bed only 4 hours earlier (that is at least 2 hours later than I had planned – why do I even plan?).
I must have been mad. But then again, you don’t get to see the most amazing landscapes in the picture perfect idyllic landscapes you thought you would only see in your head when reading romantic period novels. I was in the Rhoen and this was real. No book would be more vivid.
Now, if you have never heard of the Rhoen region, shame on you. Nah, just kidding. You are not alone. And so I was sent out by Thüringen Tourismus to help you see what you are missing as it is sadly underrated. But even more underrated is its Thuringian part.
You see, the Rhoen lies pretty much centrally in Germany and goes through three different states. Bavaria and Hessen have made it a pretty big deal in getting tourists to come and marvel at nature’s wonders around here. But what do they lack? Peace and quiet.
My Three Day Itinerary: Bad Salzungen – Bershausen – Neidhartshausen – Zella – Empfertshausen – Ibengarten – Dermbach – Arche Rhön –Gebaberg – Geisa – Ulstertal – Point Alpha
Did you say food?!
Come over to the Thuringian Rhoen and actually not run into tourist crowds and selfie sticks (I saw not even one!). Just enjoy walks in nature, hearing nothing but cicadas and bird songs and eat to your heart’s content.
Well, maybe your heart might object if you eat it too much, but the regional cuisine is absolutely to my taste. It is hearty and savoury, big portions with generous dumplings, juicy meat and fresh vegetables.
If you are feeling especially adventurous, try dishes with locally picked herbs and grasses. You could get salads with nettles or sauces from buckrams. Guesthouse kitchens are picking up the trend to go back to the old roots and I am all for it.
I even got gifted a cook book by the lovely Heiko Möllerhenn, which he himself had put together and sells at his hotel, so I can try them out as much as I like and you bet I will.
The regional highlights to try out are the Rhöner Forelle (Rhoen trout), Thüringer Klöße (potato dumplings) with your choice of a meat dish, Festtagssuppe (celebration soup) and the local farmer’s ice cream.
For drinks, there are plenty of locally brewed beers, the mineral water Rhönquelle which comes natural, with added CO2 or fruity flavours and the nationwide popular Bionade, which is fermented lemonade (for instance of elderberry, ginger and orange) and tastes so much better than it sounds.
Usually where there’s a hotel, there is also a restaurant. You can combine this if you want but the restaurants I dined at and liked where the following:
Hotel zum Rhönpaulus Dermbach, Landhotel Zur Grünen Kutte in Bernshausen by the lovely Familie Heidinger (they run several hotels for all kinds of travellers), the Landhotel zur Guten Quelle by the family Möllerhenn in Kaltensundheim and the fun inn Heile Schern.
Hiker Hearts Rejoice
There are two ways to get around the Rhoen and see all its splendour – you either hop into your car and drive around the area, seeing the different cute villages and hitting up some nice walking spots or you go all out and hike the whole way.
There are different trails that can last days, with different hiking difficulty levels. You can have your luggage sent between hotels so you can hike without any baggage at all if you so wish, which is super convenient.
I chose the first option since I wanted to get around more and see as much as possible during my short time so I know where to revisit the next time.
My favourite spot during my trip was the lake Grüne Kutte in Bernshausen. It is a natural sinkhole and deeper than it is wide.
This is also the very place I told you about in the beginning. It is such a pretty scene and if you can appreciate nature in any way, I am sure you will love it as much as I did.
You can walk up to the lake and walk along a bit of its edge and then walk past the many fields with lazy cows in it. It is such a great way to unwind and get away from the busy city life.
For more exercise, walk from the Geisa castles to the Bocksberg and back at the foot of the hill and near a cute stream. There are free guided tours every Saturday, which are really great!
You can also hike up the beech forest and look for traces of the famous Rhoen Robin Hood, the Rhönpaulus. There are many hiking signs and information boards throughout the Rhoen so you always know where to go next.
Hiking Tip 1: Check the weather report but pack a windproof jacket just in case. It can get windy, which, even when warm and sunny, might make it feel chilly and trick you into thinking you don’t need sunscreen. You’ll need it.
Hiking Tip2 : Also pack insect and tick repellent and a tick card (from local pharmacies) in case you get a nasty bugger.
German ticks can be dangerous, so you should push it off your skin with the card as soon as possible and watch your skin for signs of infection over the next days.
Pro tip (for the tough ones): If you get one and remove it, kill it between your fingers and glue between clear tape in case a doctor needs to analyse it.
Oh, And There Is Something to Learn for Everyone
The highlight of the trip and a world class highlight in general is the Dark Sky Park (yes, that’s right, world class as there are only nine throughout the entire world). Have you ever wondered about nature preservation at night? No? Me neither and shame on all of us.
So drive up the Geba mountain and meet up with the official Star Fairy (a title to my liking) Sabine Frank who will not only wow you with her insane passion for the project but also illuminate you on all things night sky (see what I did there?).
Apart from food and nature, you can also get a big dose of education in other forms. Dive straight into history with the well visited Point Alpha and see what life was like in an American military camp at the border and the scary truth of how central Germany was nearly annihilated by the USA.
Walk the former patrolling line and see how people had no choice but be brutally torn to pieces when trying to climb the wall. That’s a piece of history you won’t forget easily.
Less scary is a visit to the education centre Rhönwelt und Arche Rhön, which is pretty much family oriented but if you want to learn about local wildlife, this is a nice place to visit and it has a pretty view. An even better one can be had from the mountain Ellenbogen (‘elbow’).
For more information on the biosphere reserve, visit the museum in the old monastery in Zella, stroll its herb and fruit tree gardens. If you come at night, you can see a village full of bats in Neidhartshausen.
Artsy Tip: Fulfil your artsy curiosity along the wood art routes. The local art form is wood carving and you will see many examples throughout the villages. There even is a carving school in Empfertshausen!
Cowboy Tip: a Western Ranch in the middle of German mountains? The owner has even gone far beyond the regular rides program and hosts an annual country festival with big shots coming all the way from the USA. If you love horsback trips, cowboy tunes and crackling fires and s’mores, this is your new insider secret.
Geology Tip: Way back, then you are also in the right place. The whole area used to be full of volcanic mayhem, let alone giant oceans that covered the area and left shells at their bottom. You can see different sediments during your hikes – such as the free guided one in Geisa.
Ok, you may think that I am biased. But all the people I met along the way, from the busy hikers to the racing trikers and bikers were seriously over the moon about what they found in this little secret spot in the heart of Germany.
Clean and comely villages with hotels that give you more a feel of being in a guest family and the opportunity to retreat to the countryside and enjoy all its benefits.
You can wake up at dawn like I did to enjoy absolute quiet before the faint bird song slowly increases and the golden rays glisten on the smooth ponds. It really is this romantic. You will need a car to get around, grab a bike or use your good old walking equipment – i.e. legs.
Tell me in the comments: Have you ever heard of the Rhoen region?
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