Take a deep breath: You are in the forest. And what a forest! High above your head, the crowns of beech and fir trees billow, sunlight falls diagonally between the trunks onto the thickly mossy ground, and there is a soft crackling in the undergrowth. A deer? Birds chirp, you feel your own heartbeat. All tension falls away from you, you draw the cool air deeply into your lungs, breathe oxygen into the smallest pore. And then you slowly walk on. Step by step on the ground, which tree needles and damp leaves have transformed into a wonderfully soft, springy surface. Now you wish for only one thing: that this forest may never come to an end.
These prospects are good in the Siegen-Wittgenstein district. Nowhere in Germany are there more forests than here, in southeastern North Rhine-Westphalia. And that's saying something in a nation for which the forest is a myth and a symbol of identity, and which still views it with romantic glorification. But what does transfiguration mean? Between Siegen and the Sauerland, the forest is indeed as magical as in a fairy tale. As a green low mountain range, it gently undulates up and down. A sea of green that invites you to dive deep into it, go on hikes that last for hours, and engage in many other activities that are equally good for body, mind and soul.
"If you have a piece of forest, you don't need much else for happiness". An old Sauerland farmer's saying? Quite possibly. Or maybe it's just the latest Instagram post from an all-around relaxed forest bather. Forest bathing is the latest green wellness trend, comes from Japan, where it's called Shinrin-Yoku, and means nothing more than surrendering completely to the atmosphere of the forest - on a walk, a hike, or simply meditating on a tree stump. Everyone knows from their own experience that a few hours in the forest caresses the soul. But forest bathing also has a positive physical effect: the microbiological scents that trees and plants release allow our immune system to function better. At the same time, blood pressure is lowered and the production of stress hormones is reduced.
Why does forest bathing actually recharge the soul? The many shades of green in nature have just as soothing an effect on the psyche as the scent of resin and moss and the babbling of a forest stream. We can almost feel how worries and heavy thoughts fall away from us and disappear into the foliage. How our sources of strength fill up anew. And there is something else that speaks for forest bathing: Nowhere do we need good weather so little as in the forest, where the treetops protect us from the heaviest precipitation. Is a low-pressure area approaching? Then let's go for a long walk in the forest. By the way, the rhythmic pattering of raindrops on leaves is the most beautiful wellness music of all.
In the forests of Siegen-Wittgenstein you can not only soak up the atmosphere, but also get active. For example on the Rothaarsteig. Known as one of the most beautiful high-altitude trails in Europe, the hiking trail leads over 154 kilometers in eight stages from Brilon to Dillenburg in Hesse. Even those who only join in for a day will find plenty to offer: Rest breaks on originally designed "forest loungers" and "forest sofas", plenty of vantage points and shelters and, last but not least, a 40 meter long suspension bridge over the forest gorge near the village of Kühhude. Do you remember the hurricane Kyrill in 2007? You can take a closer look at the damage it caused in the forest near Schmallenberg on the "Kyrill Trail", which leads you over ladders and footbridges to overturned trunks and exposed roots towering above the ground.
Should you be interested in Rothaarsteig someday encounter a two-meter-tall, dark-furred bull of cattle with massive jaws grinding, you haven't been dreaming, by the way: it's actually a bison. Bison are the largest free-living mammals in Germany, were considered almost extinct, but since 2012 a herd of cattle has been grazing in the wild between Bad Berleburg and Schmallenberg as part of a species conservation project. They are not really easy to find. So if you want to play it safe, visit instead the "Wisent Wilderness", a 20-hectare natural enclosure that is home to another herd. And a hiking trail leads directly to their pastures.
And this is how you get to Siegen by train: Plan arrival.
Cover photo: Borderless wonder forest: Nowhere in Germany are there more forest areas than in the district of Siegen-Wittgenstein © Tourismus NRW e.V. - Oliver Franke
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