Germany // Hesse //

The Rhön Biosphere Reserve

East of Fulda and accessible by bus, the 950m Wasserkuppe is the highest mountain of the Rhön and the highest point in Hesse. The landscape was formed by volcanic activity in the Tertiary period. The Rhön region – which stretches into Thuringia and Bavaria – has been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve to safeguard its pristine upland landscapes, so it comes as a surprise to find the summit of the Wasserkuppe so cluttered. The Deutsches Segelflugmuseum is packed with full-size and model gliders: the summit has been the main centre for gliding in Germany since the 1930s.

Outdoor activities

Beyond the cluster of buildings, you’ll see paragliders launching themselves off the grassy summit – there’s a school (06654 75 48,
wasserkuppe.com) should you want to join them. A circular walk around the summit offers breathtaking views south over neighbouring peaks and west towards Fulda. On the northwest side at Märchenwiesenhütte there’s a summer toboggan run (€2.50) and, in winter, blue, red and black ski runs. You can rent ski gear on site and there’s a ski and snowboarding school. The Rhön is splendid hiking country: the 89km Rhön Rennsteig Weg – which links the Rhön and Thüringer Wald – starts here, while the 180km Hochrhöner, which passes over the Wasserkuppe, is a sort of “greatest hits” of Rhön hiking, rated among Germany’s most beautiful walks. Unsurprisingly, the Wasserkuppe is also a popular destination for bikers.