Is Harz the New Chamonix?

If you’re tired of the Alps and are looking for somewhere a little different for a winter sports break, consider the gorgeous Harz Mountains. Located in Northern Germany, 120km southeast of Hanover, these scenic mountains reach an elevation of 3,743 feet (1,141 m) and extend across Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.

What makes the Harz so special is the natural beauty, history and culture that provide an all-encompassing winter wonderland experience both on and off the slopes. With its skiing, snowboarding, quaint architecture, historic steam trains, hearty German food and warming gluhwein, the Harz has a great deal to lure winter visitors. This “cultural heart” of Germany is also very easy to reach with regular flights to Leipzig and Berlin.

Skiing and snowsports for all levels

The Upper Harz offers something for all levels of skiing, snowboarding and more. With over 50 ski runs to choose from, experienced skiers and snowboarders have plenty of new challenges, while beginners can progress from gentle slopes to more advanced terrain at a steady pace. Ski runs are serviced with all the extras that tourists demand, including modern T-bars, chair lifts and cable cars to get you up the slopes.

Non-alpine skiers are not ignored in Harz, which has an impressive 500km network of trails to keep cross-country skiers and snowmobilers happily entertained. A further 40 slopes are dedicated to other popular winter activities including tobogganing and snowshoe hiking, which provides a great workout in deep snow.

Winter activities in Harz

If you prefer admiring beautiful snow scenes without feeling the need to strap on a pair of skis, Harz is the place for you. The scenic steam train up the Brocken Mountain provides visitors with a thrilling experience from a comfortable seat in a cosy restored railway carriage. This narrow-gauge railway transports visitors up 1,125m in an unforgettable ride.

The fleet has 25 restored steam engines dating back to 1897, serving several routes including the Brocken Railway which runs to one of the highest stations in Germany at the summit of the Brocken. Smell the smoke as it drifts past the window and listen to the long-forgotten sounds of a past era. Special steam train events include the Father Christmas Train, Brunch on the Brocken, the Easter Bunny Brunch and Special Sunset Trips on the Brocken.

Historic towns in the Harz

The Harzer Schmalspurbahnen Narrow Gauge Railways also connect the towns of Wernigerode, Nordhausen and Quedlinburg, some of the most delightful in the region. Colourful timber-framed facades give each town a surreal fairytale atmosphere. With over 2,000 historic properties, UNESCO-listed Quedlinburg dates back over a thousand years. Romanesque buildings rub shoulders with Art Nouveau mansions and delightfully irregular timber-framed houses in this urban gem. A dusting of snow completes the appeal. Art lovers will enjoy a visit to the Lyonel Feininger Gallery along with the studios and workshops of up-and-coming local artisans before enjoying a tasty lunch.

Neighbouring Wernigerode competes for attention with picturesque streets lined with multi-coloured timber-framed houses. The turreted 13th century Town Hall reigns over the market square in a scene unchanged since the Middle Ages. Above the town is the romantic Wernigerode Castle, reconstructed in baroque style to complete the magic of this winter landscape.

Culture, art, steam trains and an array of snowsports makes Harz a surprisingly good choice for a winter sports destination. But if you want to enjoy wildlife spotting, lakeside walks, forest trails, mountain biking, hang-gliding, white-water rafting, kayaking, caving, castles and the Brocken Botanical Alpine Garden, you’ll have to return in the summer.