Much of Thuringia’s acclaim as the green heart of Germany is due to the THURINGIAN FOREST (Thüringer Wald). Around two-thirds of the upland region of the state’s southwest – 135km from Eisenach west to the A9 east, 35km north to south and 982m at its highest point – is thickly cloaked in pines interspersed with mixed forest or highland meadow, and irrigated by countless streams. Germans have celebrated its landscapes at least since Goethe rambled around Ilmenau, and its romantic villages with cottage workshops do little to dispel the illusion of an area that’s a timewarp back a few decades. Indeed, the ambience is more of a draw than sights in the few towns: modest spa-town Friedrichroda, sleepy Schmalkalden, its Altstadt a fairytale of half-timbered buildings, or former courtly town Meiningen, repository of the area’s high culture, such as it is.
With your own transport this is touring country, a place to potter around pretty villages. Without, getting around is best by the Süd Thüringen Bahn (sued-thueringen-bahn.de), which loops from Eisenach to Erfurt via Meiningen, with branch-lines to Schmalkaden. However, the region is superb to explore by foot and bike. With five or six days spare you could take to one of Germany’s most famous long-distance paths, the Rennsteig, along the highlands’ spine. Regional tourism website www.thueringer-wald.com is handy for planning if your German’s up to it.