We’ve just come back from a wonderful trip to Rügen, a windswept island in the Baltic Sea (Ostsee) just off the north east coast of Germany. You don’t have to say it … Are we crazy? The Baltic in February? These were exactly my thoughts when my husband suggested it a few weeks earlier, visions of ice chunks floating in the sea. But we went and it was brilliant and I thought I’d share why it was just so good.
First of all – convenience. Rügen is only 3.5 hours drive from Berlin and as an expat family with two young children this is a big factor. We fly so frequently to visit friends and family, so we’d rather not for short breaks, nor do we want to spend hours sitting in the car. For convenient holiday destinations from Berlin, the Baltic coast is a winner.
Second – good packing. Having been to the Baltic out of season before (to Usedom – further east along the coast towards Poland), we knew how cold it can be. We also knew that when the winds whipping down your neck and your finger tips are starting to go numb, wearing proper winter gear is absolutely essential to your enjoyment. We packed accordingly: snow trousers, fleecy hats and scarves and many layers for each of us!
Third – choice of hotel. Our selection here was also careful. We wanted somewhere we could spend time, even if the weather was truly dreadful. In February, this meant a well-heated indoor swimming pool! We found just that and knew that it would absolutely be worth the extra expense.
And finally – though the children could have quite happily spent all their time in the pool, Rügen turns out to be full of interesting things to do. Our top five below.
This is a dramatic chalk cliff set on the edge of a beautiful national park full of beech forest in the far north of the island. Following a short walk through the forest from the car park to the edge of the cliff, you’ll find a brilliantly informative museum – interesting for adults and children alike – right next to a nicely secure viewing platform to peer out over the breathtaking drop to the sea. There’s a nice playground and a decent enough cafe for a light lunch or cake too.
2. The Harbour at Sassnitz
Sassnitz is a bustling little port in the north east of the island. The harbour is full of little fishing boats and nice places to eat fresh fish, whether you fancy a sit-down meal in a restaurant or a quick Fischbrötchen auf die Hand (a smoked fish sandwich to take a away). Along the sea front are great big boulders which make for an exciting adventure playground for children.
The restaurant in the Strandhotel in Binz (a larger town in the southeast of the island) serves some of the freshest and most delicately prepared fish I’ve ever eaten. It’s definitely worth a visit and its slightly higher prices. Incredibly friendly serving staff make the whole experience even better.
Built by the Berlin architect, Johann Gottfried Steinmeyer, in 1837, this pretty pink castle is kind of kitsch but oh so interesting to visit, not least because of the Schinkel-designed vertigo-defying staircase which takes you up to the top of the tower. The steps are made out of wrought iron, so you can see all the way to the bottom throughout. Fun, but it takes some nerve.
5. The beach at Glöwe
We hadn’t expected to spend much time on the beach, but when we found this impressive stretch of beautiful sand in the very north of the island we could barely tear ourselves away from throwing in stones, dashing down the dunes, escaping the waves, despite the whipping cold wind. If you find yourself there in winter, you can always take yourself off for a hot Sanddornsaft (seabuckthorn juice) in the nearby Bio-Hofladen (organic farm shop) in Bobbin.