Just recently the Travel Dudes team was told of a place of far reaching rolling hills and white powder snow.
A winter wonderland in rural Germany – the Ore Mountains
Curious by nature, we wanted to find out whether this was true and traveled to this place known as Erzgebirge or the Ore Mountains.
People come to Erzgebirge from all over Germany and the rest of Europe, many for the same reasons, especially in winter. The vast variety of winter sport facilities is certainly one of the main reasons people visit from all over. Erzgebirge has many perfectly groomed downhill ski slopes, countless cross-country skiing trails, and a famous lightning-fast bobsleigh and luge track.
The Erzgebirge is one of the lesser known winter destinations in Europe and people tend to overlook it until they meet someone who has been there. Word of mouth is often the best marketing tool and once you’ve heard some intriguing stories, you often want to visit yourself. Until you get that chance to visit the Ore Mountains, read here more inspiration and some very cool opportunities to explore.
This is Our List of Reasons to Visit the German Ore Mountains in Winter
Visit the Bobsleigh and Luge Capital, Altenberg
For many years now, Germany has been a leading force in the Olympic Winter Game’s discipline of bob sledging and luge. In Altenberg (near Dresden) there is the DKB Eis Kanal, a famous bob and skeleton ice track, and when you see it you begin to understand why.
The well-maintained track is a training facility as well as a competition ground. Just last week the DKB Eis Kanal hosted the World Junior Luge Circuit competition drawing teams and spectators from all over the world. Visitors to the track can enter for free anytime except during scheduled competitive events. Opening hours and further information can be found online or via their DKB Eis Kanal Facebook Page, or of course, can be found at the visitor centre:
Neuer Kohlgrundweg 1
Tel. +49 (0) 305-622-660
For those of you who are interested in seeing true professionals in action: In 2020 the Bob & Skeleton World Championship will be taking place in Altenberg!
Ski Like There is No Tomorrow in the Ore Mountains
When we said Erzgebirge has perfectly groomed downhill slopes we were not exaggerating. From bigger resorts like Oberwiesenthal to small family-run resorts like Holzhau Skihof, there is something for everyone in the Ore Mounatins. You will need at least a couple days to explore the area around Oberwiesenthal, the skiing mecca of eastern Germany for decades. The area offers kilometers of cross-country runs as well as world class alpine and a brand new Snowpark Oberwiesenthal. Also at Holzhau Skihof there is the opportunity to explore the downhill slopes, rent equipment, have a hot cup of Glühwein, go on winter quad bike tours, or take the kids ice tubing!! Both ski resorts offer an array of fun and family friendly winter activities.
Get Cozy in the Boutique Mountain Lodge, Bergstraße 10
After a long and active day outside, there is nothing better than coming home to a warm fireplace and rich meal. That plus a wood burning private Sauna and outdoor hot tub will be waiting for you at the Boutique Lodge Bergstraße 10. As early as 1759 the hotel’s main building was constructed in the traditional Fachwerkhaus style, and after an incredible renovation the modern and stylish Bergstraße 10 now accommodates several apartments, mountain suites, and a restaurant serving delicious local cuisine.
Admire Wooden Art Masterpieces at Blockhausen, Ore Mountains
The owner Erwin Strittmatter proudly calls his work ‘chainsaw art’, but what visitors get to see at Blockhausen requires far more Fingerspitzengefühl than this name would let on. What began with the construction of the forest hut in 1995 has now grown to an impressive outdoor gallery of wooden animal sculptures connected by a comprehensive trail network through the forest.
In 2001 the main German culture TV channel, MDR, documented the Blockhausen site in a series called ‘Unterwegs in Sachsen’ and immediately put Blockhausen on the national map. Since then the annual visitor numbers continue to grow with them topping off 2017 at 45,000 visitors!!
Blockhausen now has many ‘huts’, better known as mountain lodges throughout the site all available for rent or private functions. The Heuhotel also holds a restaurant and rooms for workshops or overnight guests. Follow the links in this article to find out more.
Take A Trip to Germany’s highest town with the Fitchelbergbahn
Saxony’s highest train takes passengers into the hills of the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains), leaving every day on a 17km route from Cranzahl to Oberwiesenthal, Germany’s highest town. A train ride with the Fichtelbergbahn is an extraordinary experience for young and old: snow-covered fairy-tale landscapes slowly stream by while the old steam locomotive pounds and puffs it’s a way through the Ore Mountains. For anyone who loves trains, this is a must-do experience.
We especially recommend taking part in one of many events organized by the train company. You can choose between a romantic moonlight ride, a traditional soup or herbal schnapps tasting, and or several other exciting experiences annually held on the train. More information on events, schedules and prices can be found here.
A magical stream train locomotive journey through a winter wonderland… sound intriguing?
Treat Yourself at the Elldus Resort and SPA
This family-friendly mountain resort offers visitors the best of the best: A 2000qm area home to four different saunas (temperature variant), a steam room, cosmetic rooms, an indoor swimming pool, and kid’s spa area. All of this makes the Elldus Spa and Resort in Oberwiesenthal a perfect location for a wellness weekend in the heart of the winter wonderland Erzgebirge.
The Elldus Resort has a great location overlooking the ski piste of Oberwiesenthal and offers a restaurant on site as well as easy access to outdoor activities. Skiers and winter enthusiasts staying at the Elldus can look forward to a relaxing break after a full day spent exploring outside. Day rates and opening hours can be found on the website and or booked via phone: +49 (0) 373-481-2661
Lauenstein Castle Falconry Show
The Lauenstein Castle’s impressive history reaches all the way back to the 13th century and the building is still in impeccable condition to this day. It tells a lot of Saxony’s (and Erzgebirge’s) wealth in former medieval and renaissance times. As recently as 1979 the main building was reconstructed and turned into the Osterzgebirgsmuseum, where visitors not only learn interesting facts about the castle’s history, but also follow region’s geographic development and admire relevant regional art. But one of the true beauties of the village is the history of Falconry and the daily Falcon show in Lauenstein that still happens there today.
At 11 am everyday there is a Raptor show lead by Henry Dydymski (www.falknerei-schloss-lauenstein.de) and it is amazing!! Especially great entertainment for kids the falcon show is interactive, informative, fun, and surprising. It’s run on the castle’s property and basically includes a tour of the castle ruins at the same time. It is a must see when exploring the Ore Mountains.
Also one of the Lauenstein Castle’s larger rooms is often used for wedding ceremonies and different public events such as concerts and exhibitions. Check their schedule to see what’s happening next!!
- Tuesday – Saturday, Sundays- and Public Holidays 10.00 am– 4.30pm
- Closed Mondays
Follow Your Nose at the Huss Incense Making Factory
No matter what time of the year you come to visit the Ore Moutains the smell of incense is in the air. However Christmas (and winter) is an especially magical time of year!! At Huss local incense making factory Christmas is in the air all year round. Their products are famous across Europe and people travel from throughout the continent to buy and learn to make the famous Erzgebirge incense candles.
Visitors of all ages can take a courses on how to make their very own Christmas scenting candles at frequently organized workshops. Prices and more information can be found here. There are incense recipes for all seasons, fall, winter, spring, and summer.
Celebrate the Zwönitz’ Light’s Off festival
Erzgebirge’s charm is not only defined by beautiful landscapes and ancient history, but also by the region keeping important cultural traditions alive. The ‘Lights Off Festival’ is a spectacular annual event and definitely worth a winter time visit. On February 2nd, in various towns throughout the Ore Mountain region, the “Zwönitzer Lichtmess” is a symbolic highlight to officially end the Christmas season. Although it happens throughout the entire region, the biggest, best, and original, is still held in town of Zwönitz and has been celebrated for decades.
In the evening of February 2nd there is a host of traditional music and preparations for the celebration. Food and drink stands entertain guests who patiently wait sipping their hot Glühwein and eating grilled Bratwurst with mustard in front of the main stage. Eventually performances by local choirs and brass bands fill the air and the main square fills with the buzz of people come to attend the Light’s Off. Just before 6pm the mayor of the town comes on stage and presents the event, the history, the tradition, and the epic countdown. 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…. And at 6 pm sharp, the mayor of Zwönitz orders “LIGHTS OFF” and every single home and public light in town will extinguish for a few minutes.
It’s a truly impressive sight. Get it?
Get Lost in Fairytale Winter Landscapes
When travelling to a new destination we often get so caught up in seeing all the main attractions and important events that we forget to step back and fully appreciate the natural beauty of the location. The Ore Mountain region of Germany is exactly this. While driving through the outskirts of Zwönitz and Oberwiesenthal you really leave hustle and bustle behind, capturing peaceful images of the sun setting over fields of untouched snow, children sledding down a hill laughing and shouting with joy, lights of candle’s burning bright in the windows of a quaint little village, and so on, and so on.
The far reaches of Germany’s east are steeped deep with rich traditions, the people are friendly and inviting, and the activities are plentiful. There is a ton to see and do and experience in the Ore Mountains and we hope this article has helped shed light on the lesser known region. Also that we have helped inspire you to explore a new region and see more of what this wonderful area has in store.
Dress warm and enjoy the season!!
The region is a lesser known area of Germany and from what I learned it is steeped in a rich and fascinating history.
The Ore Mountains are aptly named as this geographic region consists of a low lying mountain range filled with natural resources which once extracted, have built empires.
The area has formed a natural border between Saxony and Bohemia for centuries and still to this day divides the official land border between Germany and the Czech Republic. The highest peaks are the Keilberg which rises to 1,244 meters and the Fichtelberg at 1,215 meters above sea level. I travelled to the region in winter and with these peaks sitting just above one thousand meters there was plenty of snow and the Ore Mountains turned into a winter wonderland.
History: Let’s step back however to the 12th century.
Almost 1000 years ago the Ore Mountains were slowly becoming settled, and with the erratic discoveries of tin and silver deposits, the settlements grew and the industry of mining developed. In the 16th century the Ore Mining deposits of tin, and especially silver used for coins and minting money, began to peak and the settlements grew rapidly. This expansion saw many industries develop such as forestry, glass making, salt trading, and the continued extraction of many different types of raw minerals from the Ore Mountain hills.
All of this industry helped build the Saxon Empire with its capital in Dresden and also the Bohemian Empire with its capital in Prague. The riches mined in the Ore Mountains we’re used for centuries by the royals on both the Bohemian and Saxon side to help generate trade and economic stability, the build castles and fortresses and to fund wars and conflicts. All of this activity created a network of mining sites throughout the region steeped in hard work and industrial prowess.
Mining has shaped the culture and traditions of the Ore Mountain region and still to this day the industry has a strong hold on the communities’ identities spread throughout the hills.
An old saying developed here states that “everything comes from the mine” and it refers to the fact that this industry has shaped the region entirely. From its landscape, to its handicrafts, the living traditions and folk art. The visitor may recognize this immediately upon arrival in the Ore Mountains as from the normal everyday greeting, Glück Auf! This is an ancient term used by minors to express luck to each other for finding a new strain of valuable minerals in the rock.
The Ore Mountains are known especially in Germany and throughout Europe for their variety of customs during the Advent and Christmas season. This is epitomized by traditional Ore Mountain folk art in the form of Christmas pyramids, candle arches, nutcrackers, miners’ and angels’ toy figures, all of which are used as throughout the region as Christmas decorations.
One of the most notable winter time traditions is seen with almost all houses decorating their windows with light candle arches in such a way that each village is transformed into a sea of light. It is truly spectacular site. The Ore Mountains have developed Christmas traditions in a way that creates a warm and inviting atmosphere that one would come to expect in a winter wonderland of endless rolling hills.
Things to do in the Ore Mountains
My trip to the Ore Mountains was also a great eye opener into how many activities are possible in the winter season. From a professional bobsled and Luge track to family run ski resorts and boutique lodges, to international wood carving exhibitions and falcon raptor shows, to skiing on the highest peaks of the region and relaxing in a spa to finish the day.
There is so much to see and do in “Erzgebirge” especially in the winter around the Christmas season. See also our photo winter guide about Erzgebirge.
Travel tip shared by Greg for Travel Dudes.
Big thanks to Erzgebirge Tourismus for the support in helping make this project possible!!