Virtually unsettled and covered with dense forest, the Erzgebirge gained its name (it means Ore Mountains) only in the 15th century, when the discovery of silver and tin deposits brought a flood of settlers to found its towns and cities. For 130 km (81 mi) along the German-Czech border, you can see the recovering scars of hundreds of former quarries and mine workings, and the wealth that exceptional mineral resources brought to the region reflected in its mining towns like Oberweisenthal, Annaberg-Buchholz, Schneeberg and Steffen.
Now, with its mineral riches exhausted, the Erzgebrige’s regeneration is protected by its status as a Biosphere Reserve, and one of Germany’s loveliest mountain landscapes has been restored to its natural beauty.
You can follow the ridge Trail for 197 km (122 mi) from Klingenthal in the Vogtland/Erzgebirge nature reserve. Gently rolling hills of forest alternate with moorland, colourful meadows and placid stream beds. It is an elemental but austere landscape, its remoteness a perfect habitat for rare animals and plants. The mountains rise ever higher towards the Trail’s end at Altenberg to the south. The numerous peaks around Fichtelberg 1214 m (3,983 ft) – it has a splendid cable car – make this part of the Erzgebirge a magnet for winter visitors.
Not only does the Landscape and microclimate lend themselves to the snowy magic of fairytales, but the region is famous for its wood-carved toys, intricate fretwork, and every kind of Christmas decoration. The industry began as a desperate measure by former mining communities when the silver ran out. Now every local industry depends on encouraging the Erzgebirge as a whole to recover its pristine variety of fauna and flora. Even the spruce planted for generations for mining use is being replaced with a mixture of broadleaf trees, the way it used to be.
How to reach
By car/bus to Seiffen (N0 or Oberweisenthal (S)
When to visit
Year-round (but the region is most crowded in winter)
Seiffen is the centre of the wooden toy industry.
You should know
Reifendrehen (carving toy animals from wooden hoops) is a skill unique to the Erzgebirge. So is Spanbaumchen-Stechen (carving wooden trees with intricate curly branches).