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Beach Resort Towns

Just west of Warnemünde, lie the beach resort towns of Heiligendamm and Kühlungsborn. With the charming town of Bad Doberan, they are worth a day-trip or more.

Kühlungsborn became a major seaside resort more than 100 years ago and today only a strip of trees separates a mile-long stretch of elegant hotels from its beach.

From early morning, when the promenade is empty except for a few early-risers, the seaside is a magnet for hotel guests. Some reserve large wicker Standkörber; semi-enclosed chairs that shield wind and sun.

If these beaches are too crowded (unlikely), consider a 20-minute ride east on the narrow-gauge railway "Molli" ($6 RT) to Heiligendamm, Germany's first seaside resort.

If Kühlungsborn is a resort reborn, Heiligendamm, part of a $425 million restoration project, is early in its gestation period. Building exteriors remain much as they were 100 years ago and visitors come not to swim but to explore what has become a massive open-air museum.

In 1793, Duke Friedrich Franz I chose the site for its "healing powers" and spa facilities. Swimming pools, ballrooms and a casino were built, and by the early 1900s, Heiligendamm was well established as the elegant summer retreat.

But during WW II the buildings became hospitals and clinics and later, under communist rule, apartments. Today, restoration is in full swing and Heiligendamm will soon be a 21st-century resort with grand hotels, shops, condos and golf courses.

Fischland-Darss-Zingst Peninsula

About an hour northeast of Rostock, the Fischland-Darss-Zingst peninsula is home to busy farming communities and fishing villages as well as a rich variety of salt marshes, lagoons, chalk cliffs, and forests.

Much of the area falls under the protection of the Nationalpark Vorpommersche Boddenlandschaft, which contains a 50-kilometer/33-mile network of cycle and footpaths, one of whose primary destinations is the 107-foot-high Darsser Ort Lighthouse. (The lighthouse can also be reached via horse-drawn carriages from several nearby villages.)

The region's endless beaches have long attracted tourists, but unlike Warnemünde, there are few hotels and little commercialism.

Most villages have changed little since 1900. Ahrenshoop, for example, has inspired countless painters, sculptors and writers for nearly a century. Today, they live in well-tended homes, often opening their studios to passersby.

Though weekend tourism is comparatively light, weekdays offer an even greater sense of "getting away from it all." Avoid leaving on Sundays, when traffic backs up for hours.