The drive to Meschede was sunny, long and meandering, the speed limit on the motorway changing at almost every turn as the road swerved expertly upwards between the mountains. We were going to spend only four days here, wanting to take in the slowness of the sleepy mountain town before the baby comes. We’re staying at The Welcome Hotel, which sits just outside of town, alongside the Hennessee lake, surrounded by large, century-old trees.
The hotel consists of two buildings — the original yellow-stoned property on the right, and a newer, four-story build on the left — and is connected by an entrance in the middle. When we stepped inside to pick up our room key, we caught glimpses of the spacious garden patio straight ahead, and heard the comforting clanging of cutlery from the formal dining room, just off the left. Our room has a tiny, shared patio overlooking the parking lot that can be accessed by way of the main window. It’s decorated in a late 90’s style, with flocked grey-beige carpet and a 1998 Siemens Euroset corded telephone on the desk to dial reception with. After unpacking, we headed out into the patio garden known as “the Biergarten”, which has signage from the nearby Warsteiner beer brewery. Passing friendly pink-blossom trees, we walked down to the path alongside the Hennessee river bank, coats open in the bright sunny air.
During the night, the weather shifts, and when we filed into the magnificent dining room the next day for our complementary buffet breakfast, the sky was chilly and overcast. Despite the rain, we headed outside and explored the path alongside the river in the other direction. It took us a good forty minutes to reach H1 am See, where we slid into the corner of a worn leather sofa and ordered two hot chocolates. The restaurant’s interior is modern, with geometric wooden panelling on the wall, off-set by chalkboard tiles that sport drawings and tongue-in-cheek quotes like “Kuchen hat nur wenig Vitamine, deshalb muss man viel davon essen!” After six, parking in Meschede is free, and we leave the car near the bus station. Most restaurants are closed, but La Tavola da Franco is open, and we ducked inside for warmth, sharing a quiet dinner for two.
The weather was equally gloomy the next day as we drove an hour to Schloß Neuhaus outside nearby Paderborn, walking around the property in the shimmery rain. Since it was the off-season, there were no activities, and when the hands on the clock hit one, children of all ages spilled out of the nearby gymnasium. We found shelter underneath two large oak trees on the grounds, eating lunch while the rain tapped cheerfully against the canopy of leaves above us.
From the castle, it’s just a 10 minute drive into the city centre. We parked the car by the Paderborn Dom, careful to shake out our umbrella before we made our way inside through the Paradiesportal. The cathedral inside is magnificent and quiet, the stained-glass windows reflecting the dark overcast skies we’ve left behind. We walked past the organ with its impressive 10,885 pipes and explored by ourselves, but public guided tours are available on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
In town, we encountered four more churches, most of which were regrettably closed, and I may have spent a little too long, perhaps, lingering by the Leuchtturm1917 display in the local bookstore. The rain only increased as we walked, so we decided to head back to Meschede for dinner, choosing Saracino (where the tuna-cheese salad is so filling I could only manage to eat half).
On Wednesday, the weather was better, cold but without rain, and we decided to drive to Warstein, filing into an unpaved parking lot that was empty save for two other cars. After alighting, we followed the paved A4 walking path straight ahead. More than an hour later, we reached Lörmecke Turm, a 35-meter Douglas-fir and steel tower in the middle of the forest, and a further 200-or-so steps led us to the very top. Lörmecke Turm offers a spectacular view of the surrounding forest and villages, and creaks and sways threateningly with every gust of wind. We encountered a mountain-biker at the crossing after a hurried lunch, and decided to follow the friendly, shouted-over-the-shoulder advice, and took the path on the right. The two mile journey back to the car proved to be steep, the dirt pathway going around trees and up hills, the muddy ground streaking our shoes with twigs and dirt from yesterday’s rain.
Back in Meschede, we decided to find the Himmelstreppe, a staircase of almost 340 steel steps that lead up to the Staudamm. We climbed up and arrived breathlessly at the top, enjoying the last streaks of sunshine hitting the Hennessee water.
We boarded the aptly-named Hennessee boat for an hour long journey around the lake on Thursday. The weather was pleasant but chilly from the top deck, but the views of the nearby hills and forest incredible. Afterwards, we drove to Bilsteintal Wildpark, where we managed to catch the last tour of the Bilsteinhöhle alongside a busload of quiet and inquisitive seven-year-olds, who were on a field trip.
We explored the rest of Bilsteintal by ourselves, occasionally running into more children, but mostly just enjoying the creaky rustling of leaves. The lynxes proved to be elusive, but the sika deer were curious, and one streaked by, close enough to touch, when we walked past. A few hours later, we decided to return to Saracino for dinner, sitting on the terrace overlooking the river, enjoying a cold drink and a piping-hot pizza each.
On Friday, the weather was clear and warm, and on the drive back after breakfast, we listened to BFBS on the radio. We arrived home a few hours later to perfect sunshine, fully rested and more than ready to get back into the swing of things.