Ever since the Romantics eulogized an island where coast and country collide, RÜGEN has held a semi-sacred place in German sentiments. The great, good and fairly unsavoury of the last two centuries – Caspar David Friedrich, whose paintings did more than any poster to promote its landscapes, Brahms and Bismarck, a couple of Kaisers and assorted grand dukes, Thomas Mann, Hitler and GDR leader Erich Honecker – not to mention millions of families, have taken their holidays on an island renowned for chalk cliffs, 56km of silver sands and beautiful deciduous woodland. Notwithstanding a newfound sheen as coastal resorts reassert themselves as the fashionable bathing centres they were in the early 1900s, Rügen is timeless and uncomplicated, with an innocent, Famous Five quality. Its rural southeast is a gorgeous preindustrial landscape where a steam engine chuffs around small seaside resorts and inland villages knot around cobbled lanes shaded by ancient trees.
Those on a flying visit usually only tick off premier resort Binz, a classic Baltic holiday destination renowned for its handsome Bäderarchitektur, and the Königstuhl at Jasmund, a chalk cliff immortalized by Friedrich in 1818. Do so and you may be forgiven for wondering what the fuss is about – together, they are the busiest destinations on Rügen, and can be overcrowded. With an area of 926 square kilometres, Germany’s largest island has less-populated corners to discover. Places like Putbus, not so much a planned town as a Neoclassical folly writ large; smaller resorts near the rural Mönchgut peninsula; or the Jasmund National Park’s chalk cliffs cloaked in spacious forest. There are curios such as Prora, Hitler’s holiday camp falling into ruin behind the beach, or the lighthouses of Kap Arkona and former fishing village Vitt in the windswept northwest. And then there are places like Hiddensee, a car-free sliver of land just off the west coast that may be the most idyllic spot in the area.