Vast juniper heathlands with bleating flocks of sheep, a mysterious stalactite cave, a valley where mammoth hunters once roamed, a deep meteorite crater, a cliff covered with shells and hugged by turquoise water – this may sound like dreamland but will become reality as you hike the Albschäferweg (Alpine Shepherd’s Trail) in the Swabian Alb.
This long-distance hiking trail leads you 160 kilometres (100 miles) in a large circuit through the entire Eastern Alb. You will roam through wonderful forests and pretty meadows, passing various rock formations which tell the tale of incredible history. You will meet shepherds and their peaceful sheep many times along the trail. But, should you miss them in real life, you will find steel sculptures of shepherds marking the Albschäfer Trail along the way. They tell stories about the everyday life of traditional shepherds.
Shepherds have been wandering with their herds through the valleys and plateaus of the Heidenheim Brenz region since the 15th century. The Albschäfer trail (Alpine Shepherd's Trail) follows the tracks of the wandering shepherds and takes you past sheep farms, juniper heaths and rocky outcrops as it winds its way through the gently hilly landscape following picturesque, near-natural paths and stopping at idyllic villages and magnificent castles en route.
The official starting point of the Albschäferweg is in Giengen an der Brenz. To get there, take the Brenztalbahn train which runs between Ulm and Aalen. Free parking is also available at the station if you decide to travel by car. Since the Fernwanderweg is a circular route, you can start at any point along the route. Heidenheim is a great alternative starting point as it also has good rail connections.
If you want to shorten the hikes, you can divide the circuit into smaller routes or try out one of the 10 circular day routes known as the ‘Albschäfer-Zeitspuren’ (Shepherd’s historical footsteps.’
Each stage of the Albschäfer Trail except one ends in a village with good overnight accommodation. Here you can choose between guesthouses, holiday rentals and hotels. Along the trails, you will also find a few places to stop and replenish your drinks and snacks. With your rucksack full of goodies, you can relax on a bench and enjoy a break in wonderful places with great views. What could be better than enjoying this together with the happily grazing sheep? This is peaceful hiking at its best.
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On the third stage, the quiet and secluded nature of the Swabian Alb awaits you. You leave Anhausen and follow the Albschäferweg over comfortable forest paths and along extensive pastures to Heldenfingen.Right on the edge of the path you will find the Heldenfinger Kliff, a remnant of the steep coast of an ancient sea that was branded against the rocks here 15 million years ago.
On the fourth day you follow the Albschäferweg through picturesque mixed forests and over narrow heather areas. With the Steinheim basin at the end of today's stage, a unique nature experience awaits you.You start in Gerstetten, leave the Egleen Lakes behind you and walk past the water tower. On Sundays you can even go to the viewing platform. From above you get a nice overview of the surrounding landscape.
The seventh stage on the Albschäferweg is quite short with a distance of around nine kilometers. Therefore, the detour to Hellenstein Castle is definitely worthwhile. The detour is already included in the tour and it extends the distance from 9.1 kilometers to 14.5 kilometers. If you want to save yourself the detour, simply delete the detour to the castle in the route planner.
The penultimate and ninth stage on the Albschäferweg leads you to three historical buildings.Only a few minutes from your starting point in Neresheim you get to the huge Benedictine monastery complex Neresheim. Today only ten monks live in the large buildings, but you can take courses here and spend the night in the monastery. A special highlight is the huge abbey church with its radiant interior.