The Eifel proves that a region doesn’t have to be both tall and wild to be a great destination for outdoor escapes.
The Eifel region is an attractive area of highlands between Aachen, Cologne, Koblenz and Trier which is quite untypical of the rest of Germany’s landscapes. Visitors don’t normally think of this nation as volcanic territory, but dormant volcanoes have formed a lot of the higher ground, although it’s hard to spot their influence in the likes of the Swabian Alps, for example, down near Stuttgart, where erosion has produced a plateau.
In the Eifel, the telltale signs are not so much the volcanic peaks as the circular crater-lakes, or Maare, which are dotted through the region. And although it has been around 10,000 years since an eruption, the region is not definitively dormant, and the landmass is actually still rising at a rate of 1-2mm a year.
The telltale signs are the circular crater-lakes
Nevertheless the Eifel is not especially high. The highest point, Hohe Act, stands at 747 metres, and there are a further 30 tops of 400 metres and upwards, which amounts to about two-thirds of the height of the UK’s Lake District. But this is not a land of peaks and troughs, more one of extreme undulations, cloaked in forests of pine and beech.
Much of the territory -110 square kilometres – has recently been designated as the 14th German national park, with red deer, wild cats, beavers, black storks and eagle owls living amidst rolling hills and deep valleys dominated by woodland and heaths.
The water here is precious, both for drinking and bathing, with over 500 springs. Gerolstein is a very popular carbonated water from the Eifel, and Bitburger beer, one of Germany’s highest quality brews, is made here with Eifel water. There’s also a high quality Eifel red wine from the Ahr valley.
This region is an enriching one in which to walk, through neatly kept villages of half-timbered houses, with plenty of visitor variety in the shapes of castles, abbeys, cliffs, lakes, and waterfalls. Its windy, hilly, under-utilised roads are also popular with motorcyclists, who come here for weekend rallies. Mountain bikers are well served with a network of off-road routes, and for motorsports enthusiasts there’s also the big attraction of the Nürburgring, Germany’s original Formula One race track.
Of the towns, Monshau is the most touristed, and positions itself as a health resort, with a town centre of 300-year-old half timbered houses crowding together over narrow streets. It’s pretty, relaxed, and influenced (in its restaurant menus, at least) by proximity to Belgium.