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Great outings and the country life: a family weekend in the Südheide region

Durch Blätter hindurch Windmühle erkennbar (Copyright: Frank Bierstedt)

Gifhorn and the Südheide region offer relaxation and a change of scenery for young and old alike. Take a trip with family and friends to a region that not only impresses with a rural atmosphere and unspoiled nature, but also meets the highest requirements when it comes to contemporary leisure activities. In other words, the ideal conditions for spending the weekend as a family!

Saturday morning: steeped in history

Instead of going to an outdoor pool in summer temperatures, we recommend an excursion to the pleasantly temperature-controlled rooms of Gifhorn Castle. Located just twenty or thirty kilometres or so from both Wolfsburg and Braunschweig, the town of Gifhorn is the tranquil centre of the green Südheide Gifhorn region. But start by exploring the town itself together with your family. You’ll be walking on historic ground here: there was already a permanent settlement at Gifhorn by around 900 AD, as this was one of the few dry hills in the otherwise marshy Aller glacial valley. The centuries-old history of the town can still be felt at Gifhorn Castle, which was built between 1525 and 1581 and was later expanded to become a fortress protected by moats. The bastions were connected by underground ramparts, parts of which still remain and are used for exhibitions by the historic museum housed in the castle.

At the same time, modern Gifhorn invites you to enjoy a shopping trip in its over 170 specialist stores – behind façades characterised by half-timbered houses, which you will find around the Steinweg pedestrianised zone. The traditional weekly market (8 a.m.–1 p.m.) held on Saturday mornings to the north of the town centre isn’t to be missed: here, sellers from the local area offer their fresh products grown on regional farms and raised with a focus on animal welfare.

So while Mum keeps an eye out for stylish outfits, Dad and son explore Gifhorn’s impressive old town. You can experience the atmosphere of times past in magnificent St. Nicholas’ Church built in 1744, or in Kavalierhaus (cavalier house) built in 1546 (Steinweg 3). The residential houses dating to the 16th to 18th centuries and, naturally, the ‘Alte Rathaus’ (Old Town Hall), a half-timbered building built in 1562, are also worth seeing. After your morning trip back in time and a leisurely shopping spree, stop off for lunch together at the Ratsweinkeller restaurant, where you can enjoy modern, sophisticated dishes in a historic setting. Of course, you can also find other culinary delights in Gifhorn, no matter what your tastes – from pizzerias to traditional cuisine. And it’s all within easy walking distance.

Saturday afternoon: visit a unique mill museum

Feeling re-energised after a delicious meal? Then let’s carry on to Europe’s only International Windmill and Watermill Museum, which is well-known far beyond the region. This spacious open-air museum is well worth visiting for children and adults alike and boasts 14 original or true-to-life replica mills on a 15-hectare site – not just from Germany but from every corner of Europe and the world. The mills were carefully relocated here and authentically rebuilt or replicated piece by piece and set in surroundings typical of their original locations. You can thus admire gems such as a Tyrolean watermill, a Hungarian Danube ship mill, a Russian post mill and a Majorcan windmill. And you’ll even find a mill from Taiwan here! A large exhibition hall features around 45 additional model mills from all over the world, from Montmartre in Paris to the famous La Mancha windmills from Spain, the backdrop against which Don Quixote once fought his unsuccessful battles: these are witnesses of a nearly-forgotten era in the world’s history.

After an eventful day, you can start the evening with a bit of relaxation – for example at Wellness Sauna Gifhorn with its outdoor pools and the health-boosting salt grotto. Massage and cosmetic treatments are also part of the complete programme on offer.

For dinner, it’s worth returning to Gifhorn Castle, where you can enjoy sophisticated German and Mediterranean cuisine at Zentgraf, the castle restaurant – in the orangery, on the patio or in the old castle vaults.

Sunday: experiencing otters up close

Children will love this activity. After a hearty country breakfast, it’s time to enjoy the unspoiled nature of the heath. Just 30 kilometres to the north of the town of Gifhorn lies a special highlight: the Hankensbüttel Otter Centre. Children can discover charismatic otters in a brand new way here. The cute little predators were once found all over Germany, but were then almost completely wiped out. Thanks to intensive conservation efforts, they have once again been classified as native to Lower Saxony for a few years now. And the work of the Aktion Fischotterschutz organisation, which also runs the Otter Centre, has played a key role in this.

bridge
The Otter Centre in Hankensbüttel (Photo: Frank Bierstedt)

Here at Isenhagener Lake, you and your little ones can experience otters and several species of marten on a six-hectare site. Spacious, species-appropriate enclosures let you observe the animals as if they were in their natural habit. During feeding shows, you’ll be amazed by the unbelievable dexterity of these popular, furry little characters.

Südheide Gifhorn
Nature experience bridge over Isenhagener Lake (Photo: Südheide Gifhorn)

A three-kilometre network of paths offers insights into the native habitats from the edge of the village to the pond and, while children let off some steam in the original playing areas at the nature experience centre, you and your loved one can take in the view over the water from the lakeside patios while enjoying coffee and cake.

And if the sight of otters splashing cheerfully through the water makes you and your children want to go for a swim too, you might like to stop off at Hankensbüttel Forest Pool. You can then enjoy a fantastic lunch in the town of the same name, for example at Landgasthaus Zur Linde, which was built in the 14th century on the foundation walls of the former Isenhagen Abbey. It was rebuilt in 1767 and has remained effectively unchanged ever since. The guesthouse has been run by the same family for four generations.

Sunday afternoon: hiking through the heath

A weekend trip to the Südheide region should naturally be rounded off by following in the footsteps of Hermann Löns, ‘The Poet of the Heath’, and exploring the seemingly endless natural landscape. Hiking routes abound in the incredible heathland. However, travelling on one of the many bike routes is an excellent way to explore the area, too. The otter paths around Wahrenholz, for example, are definitely worth visiting. They will take you through the lowlands of the Ise River, where you may even be lucky enough to come face to face with the otters from the Otter Centre in their natural habitat.

Kayaking
Kayaking on the Ise River in the district of Gifhorn (Photo: Frank Bierstedt)

If you want to explore the region in an original way, why not take to the water: whether you choose a booked tour with a traditional Spreewald punt or hire canoes, kayaks, rowing boats or pedal boats, you are sure to enjoy your tour along the Ise, Aller or Oker rivers. Those who prefer to enjoy the water without a current can take in the magnificent surroundings from Bernstein or Tankum lakes and also spend the night at the Bernsteinsee Hotel. Still looking for a real highlight to bring your weekend to a close? Then round off your trip with a raft ride on Mühlen Lake and the panorama of the Windmill Museum in Gifhorn, the point of departure for an unforgettable weekend in the beautiful Südheide Gifhorn region.

Find out more about the Südheide region

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