Former Irish Examiner sub-editor Mareike Graepel lived in Cork for years before she returned to her native Germany. With new Cork-Dusseldorf flights on offer, she gives the local lowdown on the Ruhr Valley.
As we are a German-Irish family living in Germany we naturally have friends and family from the Emerald Isle over on holidays staying with us on a regular basis.
For each and everyone we make a huge effort to impress them with everything our Ruhr Valley region has to offer — mostly successfully, I might add.
With the new Düsseldorf route from Cork, lots more people might (should!) consider visiting gorgeous, fascinating, diverse and exciting North Rhine-Westphalia.
As we can’t host everyone reading this article here’s a selection of perfect holiday ideas for the area around Düsseldorf.
By the way, this very article is published in the Recklinghäuser Zeitung this weekend too — focusing on the best trips for the Munster region.
A relaxed exchange.
The fairytale on bikes: For cycling fans
In the Münsterland. Located north of the industrial Ruhrvalley, between the gentle hills, soft fields, and tree-lined alleys and the ever- buzzing university city of Münster, there are a million things to see and do.
But if you come over to do just one particular thing and nothing else: Cycle. Ride along the route of the 100 moated castles.
The route extends over 1,400km but don’t be scared, it can be divided into shorter trips.
The most beautiful castles can be found on the southern route, a mere 210km long: Schloss Nordkirchen (also known as the Westphalian Versailles), Burg Hülshoff and Burg Vischering to name but a few.
It feels like cycling through a fairytale, especially in spring and early summer when everything’s in bloom, orchards and gardens.
A five-night-trip including luggage transport, detailed route tipps, maps and hotel reservations is available from €349 per person in a double room, rental bikes come extra.
Suitable for all ages and levels.
For bookings, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0049-2571-949392.
From Düsseldorf airport, there are direct trains to Münster’s main station.
The Hiking holiday
Instead of travelling north of Düsseldorf, head eastwards a bit and up the hills: The Sauerland is far from ‘sour’, instead it holds the nearest actual skiing areas in wintertime and over 40,000km of hiking routes lead through picturesque villages with timber-framed houses and onto cute market squares.
Add the season of blooming elderflowers to the picture (May to June) and you are close to heaven.
Most local inns serve homemade elderflower syrup for lemonade or the refreshing summer drink ‘Hugo’ with mint and a hint of prosecco added in.
Find your own perfect hiking trip among the many, many options at www.sauerland.com
Or call 00 49 2974 202 190. Start in Halver, Meinerzhagen or anywhere near a cave (e.g. Atta-Höhle), a reservoir (e.g. Biggesee) or wherever your interests guide you.
To get to the Sauerland, we recommend taking a train from Düsseldorf airport to one of the bigger cities (Meinerzhagen or Lüdenscheid), or to rent a car.
Make sure to bring proper boots, some of the hiking routes are quite demanding, others are easy enough even for beginners.
Cultural and industrial-historical
While most people might just head into Düsseldorf’s Altstadt for nightlife and cultural offerings be aware, the Ruhrvalley just north of Düsseldorf has so much to offer it had to spread over several cities which are joined at the edges to form a giant metropolitan area.
People who grew up there compare it lovingly to New York.
Given the size (over five million people) and the mixture of cultures, religions and styles — it’s not a bad comparison.
The melting pot that it is now started off as a coal-mining stronghold (founded mainly by an Irish guy called William Thomas Mulvany, by the way).
Today, the coaldust has been brushed off and from underneath a fascinating thing called ‘industrial culture’ has emerged.
Proudly, the old mines and steel plants are now museums (most notably the Unesco World Heritage Site in Essen: Zeche Zollverein), theatres (König Ludwig, Recklinghausen) and walk-in science- fiction scenes (Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord).
The soil tips are now viewing points, perfect for gaining a an overview of the entire valley.
To be honest, it would take weeks to see it all but it is possible to get a good first impression in a few days.
Oh, did we mention all the musicals (from Starlight Express in Bochum to The Phantom of The Opera in Oberhausen)?
And the nightclubs in factories?
The spa resorts with a skyline to die for?
www.ruhr-tourismus.de/en/ has all the links you need.
For accommodation and travel offers, call 0049 1806 181 610.
If you fancy something really stylish and are not afraid of heights, have dinner on top of Dortmund’s television tower, at 137m: www.fernmeldeturm-dortmund.de
Or go deep, deep down in Bochum’s coal-mining museum with a ‘real’ mine: ( www.bergbaumuseum.de ).
The Ruhrvalley is perfectly connected by public transport so getting around with children is as easy as pie.
The museums have special children’s areas (like Germany’s largest exhibition on the world of work, its past, present and future in Dortmund: www.dasa-dortmund.de ), the zoos are great (the best is in Gelsenkirchen: www.zoom-erlebniswelt.de — it features three big areas called Alaska, Asia and Africa and the animals have as much space to roam as they would in the wild).
The theme parks are never boring (Bottrop: www.movieparkgermany.de ).
For families with small children though, there is only one address: The Ketteler Hof in Haltern am See ( www.kettelerhof.de ) – so many slides, swings, sand and water areas, climbing opportunities and even a fairytale forest.
It’s so well done, so proper, sturdy and with an obvious attention to detail, not a single child has ever left this place voluntarily.
Plus it only costs €14 a day per person for all people over the age of two.
Spend a few days in Haltern on top of that and explore the lake (with its own beach!), check out Icelandic pony riding ( www.reiterhof-budde.de ) or visit the only free living pony herd in Germany ( www.wildpferde.de ), the latter ideally on the last Saturday in May, when the yearlings get caught out of the group to prevent inbreeding — a very special pony fair!
There is a direct connection from Düsseldorf airport to Haltern am See.
Just a weekend break
Remember that Berlin wasn’t always Germany’s capital?
From 1949 until 1990 it was in Bonn.
A city that should not be underestimated by any means — and only a short train ride from Düsseldorf airport.
On a rainy day, the Haus der Geschichte ( www.hdg.de ) gives an incredible insight on German history, plus the admission is free (as opposed to Irish museums, most exhibitions in Germany cost money - and are all closed on Mondays).
During the first weekend in May, Bonn celebrates the festival Rhine in Flames, a spectacular event with fireworks all along that part of the river.
From Bonn you can also take a boat to the Loreley, the famous rock on the Rhine near St Goarshausen, where the beautiful siren of the same name sang so captivating a song that it confused the men on the ships — so that they crashed onto the rocks and drowned.
The view from there is absolutely stunning and no siren has been heard since the 19th century.
Aside from lovely hotels in Bonn, there is a very exciting place to stay: The Basecamp, Germany’s first indoor camping site ( www.basecamp-bonn.de ).
The camping trailers are all individually decorated, you can sleep in a Rockabilly caravan, a ‘space shuttle’ or a Jules-Verne themed one.
Or in real retro-style American Airstreams, colourful hippie Volkswagen T2 vans, a mountain gondola or plain and simple in a sleeper cabin of a real train. All this is priced at youth hostel level. Very cool!
www.bonn.de for information on the city and region. The website is also available in English.
Fly Cork Düsseldorf twice weekly (Wednesdays and Sundays), with Aer Lingus ( www.aerlingus.com ).
How to get around:
Public transport is perfectly structured, mostly on time and generally affordable, so try trains and trams ( www.db.de ).
If you do rent a car, remember to drive on the right hand side of the road.
And here are the holiday tips
Mareike will be giving Germans about Cork in her article in German newspaper, the Recklinghauser Zeitung:
Needless to say, the new guide book Cycling Munster by Dan MacCarthy is the best way to explore the rebel county — as it is also available in Germany through online shops and because Aer Lingus offers free check-in for bicycles.
To rent bikes for friends and visitors, go to www.cyclescene.ie or enquire in your local bike shop.
To impress visitors, pick a particularly scenic and easy route like the one from Clonakilty to Inchydoney and back.
For an easy day trip, start in Glengarriff and make your way up to Barley Lake, a place where even the most urbanised city people from Germany will have to admit that the Irish are right when they say: “When God made time, he made plenty of it.”
Don’t forget to bring a picnic.
Your tourists will love it — and you can woo them even more if you let them explore Garnish Island the following day…
Obviously the Irish culture is so diverse, you’d need several books to fit it all in.
But to give the guests a good idea, bring them to heritage sites like Blarney Castle, Jameson Distillery in Midleton, and of course the Titanic Experience in Cobh. Dining in Kinsale is a must.
The five best beaches in the county should be your destination on any sunny day.
As most Germans have seen movies like The Van, you will have grown-up tourists excited like their own children when they get an ice-cream or chips on a beach.
On the very top of the To-Do-List for family groups is of course Fota Wildlife Park.
Perfect in all weather (if you bring rain gear, just in case).
Cork, Clonakilty, Kinsale — three nights, three cities (or towns).
If your guests only have a long weekend, bring in the big guns and show off: Breakfast at The Farmgate in the English Market, lunch in Café Paradiso, dinner in Bunnyconnellans in Myrtleville (because of the view, the view!).
The choice in Kinsale ranges from Fishy Fishy and The Steakhouse to a lovely chipper named Dinos, and to finish the impressing session, do the Clonakilty pub crawl with live music.
Those guests of yours will never want to go home.
And they will hum Christy Moore and John Spillane songs on their way…
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