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In this region, you can walk along the dunes and hear the roaring sea break fiercely on the rocks, or you can lie on a tranquil beach while tiny waves lap at your feet. Sound inconsistent? Not in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany's northernmost province, which borders both the turbulent, chilly North Sea and the smooth, gentle Baltic. Between these two bodies of water are rolling groves and meadows, lakes and ponds, and little fishing villages with thatched cottages. Fashionable seaside resorts dot both shorelines and nearby islands. Even in the coldest weather you can swim in heated seawater at the resorts of Westerland and Helgoland. In Kiel, you can wander around the harbor or explore Schleswig with its Viking memories.

Hamburg is the ideal gateway to the region, and it is easily traversed without a car. Where the trains end, local buses take you the rest of the way, linking small towns and villages. Should you decide to rent a car, bear in mind that roads are overcrowded in July and August, when many Germans head to the unspoiled beaches.