It is not common knowledge but the Altes Land (“Old Country”) Hamburg is the biggest contiguous fruit farming region in Northern Europe. When visiting the Altes Land prepare to be surrounded by apples and pears and cherries as far as your eyes can see. The handwriting of the Dutch, who colonised the area and turned it to orchards, is all over the region. Come join us on our tour through the Altes Land. It will be nothing like you expect.
Altes Land is very close to Hamburg
The region Altes Land is reclaimed marshland located in Lower Saxony and Hamburg. It sits downstream from Hamburg on the southwestern riverside of Elbe around the towns of Stade, Buxtehude and Jork. Buxtehude is easily accessible via S-Bahn from Hamburg. S-3 operates from Hamburg-Harburg and brings you in 20 minutes to Buxtehude. To reach Jork take the ferry to picturesque Cranz from Hamburg Blankenese. Either take your bike with you or alternatively rent one in Cranz and cycle the 5 km to Jork on the dyke.
Best time to visit is May to October
Obviously the main highlights of the year are the tree blossom and the harvest season. The cherry trees usually bloom from mid April to end May. The apple trees a bit later and faster, from beginning of May to end May. Don’t miss the opportunity to walk between the blooming trees, it is definetly breath taking! During the harvest season from August to October you have the chance to visit the farms, pick some fruits yourself for a small fee or just enjoy an Obstler (liquer made from apples) in the shade.
Take a bike tour
Exploring the Altes Land Hamburg by bike is the best choice. This way you come near the beautiful apple trees and will be able to stop and take pictures anytime. There are plenty of bike rentals everywhere in the region. If you are staying in one of the guest houses or apartements they will be able to provide you with bikes upon request. Take a bike ride on the dykes to overlook the plantations all the way down to the Elbe river.
You will see beautiful architecture
The area’s original reclamation and colonisation by Dutch settlers began as early as the 12th century. Today you clearly see a lot of Dutch features in the beautiful half-timbered houses such ase the wooden carving of swans arranged in a cross on the roofs. As common in the North, most houses are built of red bricks with a timber frame along with a reed decked roof. If you look closely the houses in the cities of Stade and Buxtehude are timbered in a black frame. The houses on the countryside in white. A very special feature are also the beautiful colored doors and gates. Rich farmes built this gates to indicate their wealth to passing travellers.
Fun fact: Germanies tiniest half-timbered house is located in the Harz Mountains. To find out more check out the blog post here.
There are fruits everywhere
The main fruit you find in Altes Land are apples. Almost 80% of the trees in Altes Land are apple trees. Along with apples comes also cherries, pears and plums in smaller quantities. You come accross plenty of small farmers shops where you can purchase the regional products for a fair price. Our most favorite shop is the Obsthof Matthies (honest opinion, not sponsored!). The offers varies from the pure fruit supply to products made out of frutis such as marmelade, liquer and cakes. But you can also find meat and fish from the nearby farms. Definetly worth to check some of those shops out!
Traditions are still alive
Each year during the blossom season in May a new Blossom Queen recieves her crown. For one year the woman represents the Altes Land and its traditions on several occasions accross all Germany. She has the honors to wear the traditional wedding gown of beautiful black and white dresses and a crown full of flowers along delicate silver jewelry.
All over the region you find beautiful white wooden benches. Those are wedding benches and are made to honor the bridal couple. Besides they are usually located at especially beautiful places bridal couples like to visit. The first bridal bench was made for the peot Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and his wife in 1776. You can find it today in front of the registry office in Jork.
Altes Land is the best location for picnics
What could be more romantic than having a picnic between the blooming apple trees? Pack your food at home or even better, purchase a full picnic basket in one of the many farm shops. They come along in different sizes serving all kinds of diets. You will not be disappointed!
As you might know Germany has a fairytale road connecting sites out of the Brothers Grimm fairytales. One of those fairytales namly the tale about the hare and hedgehog takes place in Altes Land. Close to Buxtehude you find the Lütje Heide (“Small Heath”) where the well known race took place. Small statues of the hare and the hedgehog are placed all over Buxtehude and it is a very fun and cute activity to try to find them all.
Good dining spots in Altes Land are plenty
Despite the towns in Altes Land being rather small they do offer a variety of good dining places well known beyond the borders of the region. Usually you find traditional German dishes on the menu. In addition seasonal offerings such as fish or game along with seasonal vegetables are quite common. A very unique place is the Mühle Jork. A restaurant located in an old mill. After having dessert you can take a stroll to admire the old building. Definetly worth a visit!
You will visit again
Unlike other places there is a certain magic about Altes Land wich makes you come back again and again. Before moving to Hamburg we knew little abouth this piece of Germany. It is the mixture of humor resulting from hard work and the most relaxed attitude which makes the people in Altes Land so irresistable. After trying your first apple pie in the shades of an apple tree sitting on a white wedding bench you will definitely and irresistibly fell in love with this region.
Not yet enough of Altes Land? In addition to the described activities a brilliant read is Dörte Hansens “Altes Land”. It describes three generations of women working and living in and close to Altes Land. It is a beautiful and moving story to read sitting beneath the apple trees.