Unknown to much of the outside world but a mini-Black Forest to northern Germans, the Harz mountains cover an area about 100km long and 30km wide where Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Lower Saxony meet. Soaring peaks may be absent, but the region is blessed with thickly wooded rolling hills, low peaks and snug valleys in which small villages and modest resort towns nestle, offering pleasant base-camps for a variety of outdoor activities. The key points of interest are Thale for its location at the mouth of the Bode Valley, an attractive hiking destination; the Brocken, the Harz’s highest peak with its captivating associations with the pagan festival Walpurgisnacht; and the low-key ski resort town of Braunlage. Towns in the foothills such as Quedlinburg and Goslar are also possible gateways for forays into the hills, but if you’re reliant on public transport you’ll need to rise early; though offering vital shuttle services to hikers, bus connections around the Harz take time. Trains are a bit faster and – as part of a network of narrow-gauge railways with steam trains – the journeys are a delight in themselves.