Totengrund translates to ‘soil of the dead’, and several theories involving ghosts, nutrient-poor soil and a meteorite impact try to explain the name. What we do know for sure is that the valley is one of the most scenic areas in Lüneburg Heath. The winter months often see thick wafts of mist linger above the basin, while in the summer, blossoming heathers seemingly ooze out of the valley. The Totengrund lies in a no-car zone, and it takes between one and three hours by foot, bike or horse carriage from the nearest villages to get here.
Heather grows in August and September, transforming the rolling hills into a sea of lilac and purple blossoms. The best way to experience the natural spectacle is to take a day or two to explore the extensive network of walking trails and cycling routes that zigzags through the national park. The ‘Lila Krönung’ trail between the villages of Schneverdingen and Amelinghausen takes you past some of the most beautiful spots. The total length of 46 kilometres (28.5 miles) is sectioned into several stages that you can easily complete within a day.
The Pietzmoor near Schneverdingen is a mystical landscape of bogs and marshlands. A five-kilometre-long (3.1 miles) boardwalk guides you around the eerie scenery, and the experience changes with each season and the changing weather. A trip here can be combined with a visit to the Osterheide meadows. A number of walking and cycling paths connect the two areas with one another.
Nature and wildlife enthusiasts should put the Schweimker Moor on their list. The vast area of 250 hectares has been declared a bird conservation area and is one of Germany’s most important crane-breeding grounds. In March and April, you have the chance to observe these birds and their courtship dance. Other species you might spot are curlew, hobby and the European whinchat.
The 169-metre (554.4-foot) elevation of the Wilseder Berg marks the centre of the Lüneburg Heath nature reserve. From up top, you have panoramic views over the beautiful landscape, and on a clear day, you might make out the church steeples of Lüneburg and Hamburg in the distance. The hill stands in the car-free zone of the park but is easily accessible by a walk or bike ride from one of the nearby car parks. Alternatively, you can jump in one of the horse carriages in one of the nearby villages.
Between May and October, Egestorf is home to a special kind of leisure park. While you leave most entertainment parks with a rush of adrenaline, this particular experience sends you home relaxed. Your bare feet are at the centre of attention here. At 60 different spots, both kids and adults can experience what it feels like to walk on sand, bark or glass, get a foot massage or dip their feet into a tank and let small fish nibble off the dead skin.
One of the most popular man-made attractions in Lüneburg Heath and a real-deal amusement park is Heidepark Soltau. Steep wooden coasters, bobsled and white-water rides, steel coasters with crazy loopings and turns and the 103-metre-high (338 feet) drop tower are on the scarier end of things, while the scenic train ride and the giant swing are great fun for those not looking for an adrenaline fix. Overall, the park offers around 50 rides for the whole family.
Bispingen offers another exciting attraction – an indoor and outdoor cart centre. The former Formula 1 race car driver Ralf Schumacher himself helped develop the centre in the mid-90s, and today, the venue sees 200,000 visitors of all ages race around the tracks. After a briefing which teaches you the basics, explains the carts and points out the safety guidelines, you’re ready to join the race. Carts on the outdoor track can get up to speeds of 70 km/h (43.4 mph); kids go at a slower pace on a dedicated track.
Ralf Schumacher Kartcenter, Horstfeldweg 5, Bispingen, Germany, +49 5194 982050
If you want to kick back and relax, one of the region’s spa and wellness centres is your spot. Soltau, Lüneburg city and Bad Bevensen all have larger facilities that treat their guests to heated pools, chill-out rooms, various saunas and steam baths, as well as wellness treatments ranging from Hawaiian- and Thai-style massages to light therapy facials.
Soltau Therme, Mühlenweg 17, Soltau, Germany, +49 5191 84481
East of Unterlüß begins one of Germany’s largest forests. Spanning across 7,500 hectares, the Lüßwald is composed of oak, beech, spruce and Douglas fir tree woods with some of the trees being several hundred years old. Deer, wild boars, foxes and a myriad of bird species call the protected forests home and, with a bit of luck, can be spotted along the many walking trails that traverse the woodlands.