Germany is a big country, and there is great variation within its borders. It’s difficult to pin down one thing that Germany provides uniquely for the walker that isn’t gazumped by something grander elsewhere, but the whole country just has a mervellous spread of quintessentially Middle European landscapes it is hard not to be drawn there.
Geographically, the country descends from the Bavarian Alps on the Austria border, down into the forested river valleys and uplands of central Germany, to the low-lying, lake spattered areas of the north (with a low point of 3 metres below sea level) to the North sea and Baltic coasts, where tiny, wind-beaten islands nestle against the mainland.
There are 15 National Parks in Germany, and an additional 14 biosphere reserves, scattered throughout the country covering most of the natural spectrum of Germany. The best walking is to be found in the south of the country. Beginning with the Bavarian Alps, arriving into Werdenfelserland and the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, you have a number of large mountains at your disposal. The Zugspitze is Germany’s highest peak, and is a stone’s throw from the Austrian border. It is shaped like a castle’s battlements, and a cable car runs to the top of the precipitous north face to the summit, which is somewhat developed, with a cafe and a viewing platform. A much more satisfying way is to tackle the Zugspitze from within its battlements, via the Reintal valley, staying at the excellent Reintalangerhutte (+49 (0) 88 21 / 88 11) then walking across the plateau and climbing the mountain’s sharp summit ridge, which is cable and piton assisted for most of the way. The mountain holds snow year-round, so pack winter equipment.
Also in this region is the more impressive Alpspitze (2629m) which can be climbed via its north face, then a cable-secured ferrata route to the top. It is also a popular mountain for ski mountaineering in winter. Both peaks can be accessed from Garmisch-Partenkirchen. A fine and very different place to walk in the south-west is the Schwarzwald 'The Black Forest' near Baden-Baden: here, thousands of miles of walking trails network 400 square miles of rich green hilly woodlands and rustic villages with excellent inns.
Dense trees, small communities and some of Germany’s finest beers and wines, the area has a mediaeval feel, and is thick with folklore. There is a stunning waterfall at Todtnau, and the Lake at Schluchsee has views of the Alpine foothills..
Gengenbach is a romantic mediaeval city which is well worth a visit and there are many quaint villages to enjoy throughout the area. In the south-east, the Bavarian Forest is – despite its name – a range of low mountains that extends along the border with the Czech Republic. The highest mountain is the Großer Arber (1456m), and the entire range offers many walking opportunities, being as it is connected to the Nationalpark Bayerischer Wald, established in 1970 as the first national park in Germany. This park is what is left of the ancient Hercynian Forest that stretched across Germania in Roman times.The Bavarian uplands are famous for its lakes and picturesque castles, most famously King Ludwig's at Neuschwanstein, which ticks every box for a European hilltop, lakeside castle from the Baroque period (think a Germanic Hogwarts). Further north – close to the geographical centre of Germany – are the Harz mountains, one of Germany’s most popular walking areas, and a deeply beautiful area, streaked with gorges, gently rising mountains and thick forests. The Harz National Park is located in these mountains, and contains the region’s highest peak, the Brocken (1,141m). There are also a number of spa towns in the region where you can relax, such as Bad Harzburg.
Germany also has running through it two of the great rivers of Europe: the Rhine and the Danube. There is much to be said about walking sections of their banks, and the newly-launched, 320km Rheinsteig trail between Wiesbaden and Bonn makes the most of the beauty of the Rhine Valley, with views of the river meandering in its deep gorge below. It’s a magnifiecent walk past castles, forests, hills and through Germany’s finest winemaking region. The Danube has a famous cycle trail, the German section of which - between Donauschlingen and Passau (550 km) - while not the prettiest of the trail, is well worth a look.