Germany’s most popular trail is the Rennsteig ridgeway that slices west–east through the Thuringian Forest. Its 168km path along the region’s uplands, from Hörschel near Eisenach to Blankenstein on the River Saale, was a messenger route in the Middle Ages, and in the nineteenth century acquired a cachet as a symbol of national unity because it both formed the border of, and ran through, a patchwork of petty principalities. It still forms a border of sorts – Thuringians argue over whether the state’s best sausages are produced north or south of it. If fit, you could do “Der Runst”, as the Rennsteig is colloquially known, in five days’ hiking, stopping at villages overnight and dodging the wild boar that root in the woods. It’s more enjoyable if you take six. Sections of it make good day-hikes – the route ascends over Grosser Inselberg near Friedrichroda – and the 30km and 15km at either end with the greatest altitude differences, are favoured by cyclists on a parallel mountain-bike trail. Kompass’s 1:50,000 Rennsteig map (no. 118) covers both routes and is available from tourist offices throughout the region. An alternative if cycling is to follow part of the north–south 300km Werratal-Radweg (werratal.de) that tracks the Werra River west of Eisenach to Meiningen and beyond.
The area usually receives a good dump of snow in winter. The focus for skiing is a 2km piste on Grosser Inselberg. For ski rental and lessons go to Sport Hellmann (036259 508 52, sport-hellmann.de) at Lauchagrundstr. 13, Tabarz. In the east Thuringian Forest, skiing is at Steinach at the Skiarena Siblersattel (silbersattel.de). In summer, this renames itself Bikepark (May–Oct Sat 10.30am–5pm, Sun 11am–4pm; 4hr €15, day-card €18;
silbersattel-bikepark.de) and reinvents the pistes as downhill cycle trails for kamikaze mountain-bikers.