Modest by Alpine standards, the swathe of unspoilt wooded hills known as the Sauerland nevertheless represents a precious taste of the great outdoors for the millions who live in North Rhine-Westphalia’s major cities, as well as attracting holiday-makers from further afield. The region, which strays across the Land boundary into western Hesse, is above all popular for activities, from hiking, mountain biking or Nordic walking in the summer to skiing in the winter, while its artificial lakes – the target of the famous RAF “Dambuster” air raids during World War II – offer a focus for all kinds of water-based activities, from canoeing and fishing to swimming, sailing and windsurfing. If that’s too energetic, you can take a sedate coffee-and-cake excursion aboard a comfortable cruise boat on the Möhnesee (moehneseeschifffahrt.de).
Five natural parks together comprise almost three-quarters of the region’s territory, crisscrossed by a number of themed hiking-trails such as the Sauerland-Höhenflug – a high-altitude route that takes in four 800m peaks – and the 240km Waldroute, which links the towns of Iserlohn, Arnsberg and Marsberg to provide a close-up view of the region’s forests and fauna. For mountain-bikers, the 1700km Bike Arena Sauerland is the draw, supported by cyclist-friendly hotels and guesthouses. With so much fresh air and wholesome exercise, it’s perhaps no surprise the Sauerland was the location for the first ever youth hostel – at Altena, southeast of Dortmund. Möhnesee is the closest of the Sauerland lakes to Soest; a bus service – the #R49 – takes around 25 minutes to connect Soest Bahnhof with the lakeside town of Körbecke. For more information, visit the helpful web portal sauerland.com, which is in English as well as German.