Germany is a deceptively big country. Unfortunately what that means for us is that there are load of beautiful regions off the beaten path that don’t really get the attention they deserve. The Bergisches Land is definitely one of them. Situated just to the east of Cologne and Düsseldorf, it’s a whole world apart from these bustling cities. Imagine peaceful, picturesque villages with half-timbered houses, beautiful hilly landscapes and endless opportunities for enjoying the great outdoors.
All of that sounds lovely – and it really is! This is why I’ve gone ahead and taken a closer look at the Bergisches Land, not only to give it a bit more love, but to inspire you to discover it for yourselves. Nature is at the forefront here in the Bergisches Land. This hilly region in the west of Germany is a veritable treasure trove, filled with beautiful villages, castles and over 4,000km of hiking and cycling trails. Whether you’re looking to do a relaxing day trip from Cologne or Düsseldorf or really want to spend a few days getting stuck into a more obscure region, you’re guaranteed a fantastic time.
But what is it exactly that makes this region so special? Good question – and there’s plenty of answers! I’ve been drawing upon my own experiences to present to you five reasons to visit the Bergisches Land on your next holiday to Germany. And trust me – you’re not going to regret it!
Despite being quite the hidden gem, it’s actually very straightforward to get to the Bergisches Land. Its proximity to both Cologne and Düsseldorf means that it’s perfect for a lovely day trip enjoying the nature or even just treating yourselves to a few days of some proper downtime. There are loads of cheap flights from the UK to Düsseldorf or Cologne-Bonn going – once you’re there, there are very good train connections which will take you eastwards into the region.
Should you fancy exploring the region at your own pace, then why not opt for having your own four wheels? The quality of the roads in Germany means that it’s a brilliant country to do a proper bit of road tripping, and I can say from experience that there are some truly beautiful drives in the region. You’ll be cruising your way through valleys, over hills and through wonderful little villages – last time I was here I had a smile plastered on my face the whole time!
To help you plan your own adventure in the Bergisches Land, I’ve included some handy links below to help you find cheap flights to Germany as well as finding some good deals for car rental.
Lakes, hills and forests – a haven for the outdoorsy types
If you love the great outdoors, you will love the Bergisches Land. You’ll be amazed at despite being so close to the bustling cities of Cologne and Düsseldorf, the region is a whole word apart. There are swathes of lush pine forests, dozens of winding rivers and gorgeous hilly landscapes at every turn. The various dams have also created beautiful reservoirs such as the Grosse Dhünntalsperre, which provides fresh drinking water to 1 million people each day. Crazy!
There’s no end to the hiking and cycling that you can do here thanks to the great network of trails that criss-cross their way through the region and cover over 4,000km. All of the main routes are well-signposted and they’re easily accessible from many towns and villages. If you’re limited on time, I’d recommend looking at the Bergischen Streifzüge (Bergisch Strolls), a collection of little hikes that you can easily do in a day. Those of you planning to undertake a larger excursion might want to look into tackling the Bergische Panorama Route. As you can probably guess by the name, these routes will bring you to some fantastic viewpoints where you can admire the lush, rolling hills and beautiful valleys. If you want to feel like you’re on top of the world, then give the Panarbora Tree Top Park – it’s an amazing feeling to be walking amongst the tree tops, and there are plenty of viewing platforms for you to enjoy those lush views.
Cyclists will feel right at home in the Bergisches Land as well. There are over 250 cycling routes in total, with around 30 of them being fantastic long-distance tours to get stuck into. Due to the hilly terrain, most of these rides will be at an intermediate level, but no matter what fitness level you are I definitely recommend going for the Bergischer Panorama Cycle Route. This actually follows a disused railway line, meaning that gradients won’t ever be too steep and you’ll get a unique perspective of the countryside as you pass through tunnels and viaducts.
Fairy tale castles and idyllic palaces
You’ve got to give it to them – the Germans know how to build a beautiful castle. Many of Europe’s most beautiful castles call Germany their home, tucked away in the thick, ancient forests or perched high up on misty mountains and hills. The Bergisches Land has some truly stunning castles of its own that are well worth checking out! Castle Hückeswagen is a cute little palace which dates back to the end of the 12th Century, home now to the municipal offices. Another stately residence well worth checking out is Bensburg Palace. You can easily do this as a little day trip from Cologne – in fact you’ll be able to see the skyline of the city when you look back towards the entrance gates. Constructed in the 18th Century, it used to be the hunting lodge of aristocrats and the local ruling house. These days this beautiful palace is home to a luxury 5* hotel, one of the Leading Hotels of the World, and even plays host to beautiful Christmas markets.
Black, white and green – Architecture in the Bergisches Land
When a region is this idyllic, it’s hardly surprising that even the houses are ridiculously picturesque as well. No matter where you are in the Bergisches Land, you’ll often come across traditional half-timbered houses that sport distinctive green shutters and walls intricately clad in slate tiles. These are known as Berg houses (or Bergische Haus in German), and this colour combination of white walls, black timbers and green shutters is known amongst locals as the “Bergisch Triad”. A lot of traditional Berg houses enjoy legal protection by the local government as well. Would you believe that the laws surrounding renovation and restoration of these buildings are so strict that there are only 4 official shades of green paint that you can legally use to paint the shutters! I definitely recommend checking out the village of Hückeswagen to really get an idea of how charming the style is. The cosy town centre features loads of these wonderful little houses clad with slate tiles, and that’s on top of the cute castle there I mentioned earlier!
Guru Tip: I definitely recommend checking out the abbey in the town of Altenberg. Consecrated in the late 13th Century, this beautiful church was the final resting place of the counts and dukes of the local ruling house. Its picturesque location nestled away in the hills and forests makes it a beautiful little oasis of peace to explore!
The Bergische Kaffeetafel – a German take on cream tea
Ah, cream teas… You just can’t beat them! Sure, there’s plenty of heated debate as to whether it’s the jam or clotted cream that goes on first (I’m a cream-first person myself!), but you won’t have that problem with the Bergische Kaffeetafel. This is essentially what happens when the Germans do their own version of a cream tea. Imagine – you’ve spent the day heading out on a long hike through the forests, climbing hills and enjoying the lush views along the way. But when you arrive back, it’s fair to say you’ll be pretty hungry. So, as any self-respecting local would do, just sit yourself down at a traditional restaurant and order yourself a Bergische Kaffeetafel!
You’ll be served a humongous spread of both sweet and savoury treats. First you start with the sweet things – one or two waffles, a bit of cinnamon rice pudding, or even some fruit loaf. Once you’re done with those, it’s time to move onto the main course, where you’ll have loads of cured meats, hams, cheeses and gorgeous freshly-baked bread to get stuck into. A shot (or two) of liqueur will then round the whole thing off. Sure, if you’re looking to stick to a diet it’s probably not the best option, but it’s heartiness that German cuisine always does well!
Christmas Markets – the most magical time of year
You just can’t talk about Germany without mentioning the amazing Christmas markets they have going on as well. Honestly, nothing else comes close! The smell of mulled wine in the air, the sight of the fairy lights all around… It’s a truly magical experience and one that I can only recommend to everyone. If you end up timing your visit to the Bergisches Land during the Advent season, then I definitely recommend checking out at least some of these markets while you’re there.
Palace Bensberg, which I’ve mentioned before in the article, plays host to a beautiful market set in the intimate surroundings of the beautiful courtyard. As well as being able to sample local foods and sweet treats, there are plenty of traditional handicrafts on offer which always make for a lovely keepsake. What really adds that extra bit of magic factor is being able to see the skyline of Cologne illuminated in the distance. Another palace with their own Christmas market is Grünewald Palace.
The Bergisches Land – just waiting to be discovered!
Who’dathunkit? A whole haven of lush nature, tucked away right under our noses. The outdoorsy types in particular will absolutely love the opportunities open to you here, so if you’re ever touring through the region, be sure to stop over, give yourselves a bit of time here and get a feel for the lovely atmosphere and natural beauty.
This is of course one of the many hidden gems that I’ll be sharing with you during my spotlight on North Rhine-Westphalia this week, so be sure to keep checking back for even more inspiration!