Wunderbiking or Wunderhiking in southern Germany.
Hiking or biking through southern Germany reveals an unexpected natural beauty not seen from busy autobahns or at crowded tourist destinations. You'll discover a rich mosaic of towns, regional foods, colors, sounds, and smells of the rural countryside and historic Black Forest region.
Well-organized but low-key tour packages called Wunderbiking and Wunderhiking, conceived by the German National Tourist Office, take you on scenic routes that no car or tour bus ever travels. Both trips are ideal for families with older children (12 and over) and offer a welcome break from the mind-numbing parade of museums and castles crammed into most European vacations.
Biking tours . . . in the Rhine Valley
Three tours (7, 10, or 13 days) all start in Frankfurt. From May through September, bikers meander southward roughly following the Rhine River Valley to such towns as Heidelberg, Bruchsal, and Baden-Baden.
Instead of riding on busy boulevards, you pedal on a network of narrow, paved roads built for farm vehicles, or on graveled paths through lush, green forests. You ride sturdy three-speed bikes in small groups (maximum 19 persons) accompanies by a guide. A van with a bike trailer and your luggage will check on your progress at various points each day until you reach your destination--small country inns, each selected for its service and food.
Each day's trip is slow-paced and covers a moderate distance (no more than 30 miles). You don't have to be an experienced cyclist, but it helps to be in reasonable shape. Cost per person, based on double occupancy, is $650 (7 days), $840 (10 days), and $1,115 (13 days).
Hiking in the Black Forest
The Black Forest (Schwarzwald) occupies a 90-mile-long section of southwestern Germany that extends to the Swiss border. It is a rolling countryside of mountain peaks, green meadows, thatchroofed farmhouses, and small resorts.
The Wunderhiking tour is an eight-day hike that follows a loop starting and ending in the scenic town of Triberg. Each day you'll hike up to 17 miles on well-defined paths that centuries ago were used by the well-known clockmakers of the region. The paths run from one small village to another, where you stay and eat in selected "Romantik hotels.' Each day, your luggage is forwarded to the next hotel, so all you need to carry is a small day pack.
You can book this tour individually and follow the paths at your own pace. The per-person cost, based on double occupancy, is $335. In winter, this tour becomes a nordic skiing trip.
For more details on both tours, write or call the German National Tourist Office, 444 S. Flower Street, Suite 2230, Los Angeles, Calif. 90071; (213) 688-7332.
Photo: Cool, green canopy covers a graveled bike path in the Rhine River Valley
Photo: Dramatic overlook of old Heidelberg is at the end of the bike tour's second day. Cyclists pedaled down famous Philosopher's Way to bridge crossing Neckar River below
Photo: A host of golden dandelions greets hikers sauntering across a hilltop meadow near Triberg
Photo: Itinerant clockmakers, like this well-heeled mannequin in Triberg's Clock Museum, established original hiking trails