Never get lost again, forward your luggage, enjoy a friendly welcome: four certified highland regions offer hikers a stress-free package deal. Here they are.
Although it is true that roast chickens won't just fly into your mouth while you're on the road. At the same time, this is a land of milk and honey for hikers in Germany. Naturally, thanks to our perfect signposting, you can always find your way. Only carry a light picnic bag with you? Also possible, after all, full luggage transfers are available. Get to the starting point of the hike without your own car? This is made possible by the superb networking of hiking trails with public transport.
And if you want to overnight in style during multi-day hikes from stage to stage? The "Wanderbares Deutschland" luxury regions offer this service as well.
So far, four such regions have been certified, including nature parks, but all located in beautiful low mountain ranges. Ten more hiking areas are currently in the certification process of the German Hiking Association - which sets high standards. For example, at least five days of varied hiking trips must be possible. Most of the trails will follow natural paths and will be maintained in a sustainable manner.
The hosts are dedicated to the hikers, offering their services, serving rich breakfasts and preparing packed lunches. Hikers must be able to stop every few kilometers. At the local tourist information centers, professionals are on hand to offer advice and assistance. They know virtually every route.
We present the four trailblazing regions:
The scent of spearmint is in the air, a blackcap bird chirps. The trail goes through a small gorge, lush greenery to the right and left, wildflowers blooming in all kinds of colours. The Mühlental valley in the Hochsauerland near Brilon, surrounded by old deciduous forest, is a natural idyll in itself. But it gets even better. If you follow the valley in the direction of the village of Alme, you will find yourself in one of the largest spring areas in Germany.
The water comes out of the ground in a total of 104 places and feeds a dammed-up pond, which before long lies there like a pane of glass, under which with a little patience you can spot trout. You have arrived at one of the so-called soul destinations in Germany's premier quality region "Wanderbares Deutschland" (Walkable Germany). In 2014, the "Sauerland Hiking Villages" were recognised as trailblazers.
You can experience 43 of such invigorating places in the Sauerland - rocks and quarries, churches and hilltops, mighty trees and underground grottos, lakes and valleys. There you will find peace, or even find yourself. For example, in the Peace Chapel in Olsberg-Elleringhausen or at the sublime Rinsley Rock near Lennestadt-Saalhausen. This towers majestically above the canopy. Those who climb up reach the small summit plateau and have the opportunity not only to let their gaze wander, but also their thoughts.
The Sauerland, a region that stretches across the undulating hills of the Rothaargebirge between North Rhine-Westphalia and Hesse, also makes the hearts of more sporty, ambitious hikers beat faster: long-distance hiking trails such as the "Rothaarsteig" cross a total of 280 "hiking villages". And multi-day hiking trails are located completely in their trail network. For example, the 63-kilometre-long "Diemelsteig" in northern Hesse, which offers great views of the dammed Diemelsee lake in the nature park of the same name. Or the "Winterberger Hochtour", which leads through eight valleys and up to the Kahler Asten (842 metres), the most famous mountain in the Sauerland-Rothaargebirge Nature Park.
With 4,350 kilometres of perfectly signposted trails, you can never get bogged down in the "labyrinthine" trail network of the hiking villages. In addition, some paths can be accessed by wheelchair, for example the "Freistuhl" soul destination hike from Düdinghausen, which leads to a medieval courthouse square - which, by the way, is also one of the soul destinations.
"Räuberland" - Hiking and sleeping in the dark forest
This dark forest bordered on important trade routes. Perfect for ambushes. After a robbery, the criminals quickly disappeared into the undergrowth. Today, the "Räuberland" is a haven of peace in Germany's largest mixed forest area, the Spessart. The 450-kilometre trail network of the "Räuberland" in northern Bavaria leads through magnificent nature and cultural landscapes in a comparatively small area that are well worth seeing.
You will discover old orchards everywhere. There are a high concentration of schnapps distilleries, as well as a wide range of fine fruit brandies and juices from regional wine presses - perfect for filling up your flask or water bottle. Guided herb walks are offered, you can take part in family walks, go on GPS and geocaching tours, hike barrier-free, and book "robbery raids" as an event. And then if you dare, spend the night at a campsite in the middle of the forest.
Into the Most Beautiful Nature Reserve
The 13-kilometre-long "Räuberpfad" (Robber's Trail) leads into one of the most beautiful areas of the region, beginning in Rothenbuch in Lower Franconia. It is located in the oldest nature reserve in Bavaria, the Hafenlohr Valley, and is part of the Spessart Nature Park. The Hafenlohr River rises in the historic town centre with its hunting lodge, once the administrative seat of the Spessart. From there, the trail leads through forests and meadows into the valley, which inspired the poet Kurt Tucholsky: "This is a landscape that no longer exists in the world". You cross the unspoilt valley, partly on boardwalks, where marsh balsam and cotton grass thrive, beavers and amphibians feel at home, and in the water are loaches and trout.
The Spessart Trout - a Speciality
Spessart trout is just one of the specialities that "Räuberland" has in store at its inns. The delicacies also include succulent cakes and elaborate pies, game and lamb dishes, and bread specialities. However, "Das Wirtshaus im Spessart" (The Inn in Spessart) is an invention of the fairy tale writer Wilhelm Hauff, who set the novella of the same name in Spessart in 1828. Where the robbers once lived.
"Frankenwald" - Half day, all-out pleasure in a hiker's paradise
Sometimes the Mitwitz Castle is beautifully reflected in the moat. This was the seat of a knightly noble family and is the starting point of the "Wasserschloss-Runde". The 14-kilometre walk takes you along narrow paths, through dense forest, along a stream, down to a rock cellar where beer barrels used to be stored, and then up the Fuchsberg. There is a restaurant where you can rest and enjoy freshly tapped beer from new barrels, and the view from the terrace over the Franconian Forest Nature Park is magnificent.
This loop is just one of 32 "FrankenwaldSteiglas": tours that usually take half a day and lead even less experienced hikers to the highlights and sights of the Frankenwald, a low mountain range in north-eastern Bavaria.
Wide Meadows, Steep Valleys: A Typical Franconian Forest
In addition to the "Steiglas", the "FrankenwaldSteig", one of the few long-distance circular hiking trails in Germany, welcomes the more ambitious hikers. Enjoy 242 kilometres of typical Franconian Forest landscapes in 13 daily stages: meadow valleys, steep forest slopes, open high plateaus. Along the way is the spa in Bad Steben, where a mineral spring was discovered in the Middle Ages, and Kronach: Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach, who painted a portrait of Martin Luther the reformer, was born here.
The Franconian Forest also sees itself as a region of culinary delights, so small provisions are sufficient: local specialities include "Blöchla", a tube-shaped lard pastry reminiscent of the once booming timber rafting industry, and the "Seelenspitzen", a plaited pastry that was given away in the Middle Ages to release the souls of the deceased from purgatory. Today it is good for a hearty hiking breakfast, as served by many local hosts.
"Zweitälerland" - For Professionals and Connoisseurs
In the Southern Black Forest Nature Park things are almost alpine. After all, the summit plateau of the Kandel, the highest mountain in the award-winning hiking region "Zweitälerland" in southwest Baden-Württemberg, lies at 1,241 metres. The 106-kilometre-long "Zweitälersteig" leads you to the Kandel and other peaks in the area and is very demanding for hikers. Craggy rocks, deep gorges, but also great views.
Adventurous Routes, Magnificent Views
On sometimes steep, sometimes rocky, sometimes wildly romantic paths, there is one attraction after the next: the Zweribach waterfalls plunge more than 40 metres into the Simonswald valley. There you pass through the steep and increasingly narrow Teichschlucht gorge, where the Teichbach cascades downhill for 250 metres before flowing into the Wilde Gutach. The ruins of Kastelburg Castle promise a morbid atmosphere of chivalry. The Hörnleberg offers a magnificent view of the second of the valleys which bears its name, the Elztal. On the "Zweitälersteig" you can conquer more than 4,000 metres in altitude in just several days - preferably without bags and luggage, because hosts offer luggage transfer. Explore the scenic diversity of the hiking region with over 800 kilometres of marked trails.
Speciality: Delicious Wood Fired Bread
Many one-day and half-day walks also offer the whole range: through mountain meadows and fragrant pine forests, a tour leads to the Huberfelsen, a granite boulder protected as a natural monument, which can be climbed on its own. Another is the Bread Trail, which connects five farms over a good ten kilometres, where the bread ovens smoulder just like in the good old days. So always follow your nose. The wood-fired bread with the brown crust, which has adorned traditional Black Forest snack plates since time immemorial, can be bought along the way and carried in your rucksack for the journey. This is just one - tasty - feature of one of the thousands of kilometres of German quality hiking trails.