On the Weg des Buches (Way of the Book) trail, you embark on a journey through time as you walk in the footsteps of the Bible smugglers and secret Protestants during the post-Reformation period. In the 16th century, the predominant denomination was Catholicism whilst other beliefs were forbidden. Many followers lived out their faith in secret and were persecuted for their religion. These secret Protestants would remain Catholic in outward appearances and practice their Protestant faith in secret.
Reading the Bible in one’s own language was and is the basis of the Protestant faith. Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible and the invention of printing in the 15th century made it possible for the poorer classes to read the Bible for the first time. In the Middle Ages, according to Catholic authorities, this reading was reserved only for the clergy and was usually in Latin. Therefore, traders smuggled German-language Bibles and prayer books into Austria, taking a big risk. Protestant sentiment spread quickly, especially in remote valleys and mountain villages, and its followers were not dissuaded even during a 200-year counter-reformation.
The Way of the Book was created and opened in 2008 by the Protestant Church in Austria. The pilgrimage focuses on the meditative character of walking, self-discovery, and learning about history. You follow the route of the book smugglers along reconstructed paths that pass places that played an important role in the Protestant Resistance and during the counter-reformation. On 32 stages and a total of 640 kilometers (397 miles), you discover the sheer diversity of nature in Austria, climb alpine peaks, cross green valleys and cool off in crystal-clear mountain lakes.
The starting point of the pilgrimage trail is Ortenburg municipality in Bavaria. In the Middle Ages, the market here was a Protestant enclave where Protestant masses were held in secret in the otherwise Catholic area. The town of Schärding was once an important port for the salt trade, attracting many traders and thus Bible smugglers. Here, you cross the border into Austria and follow the Way of the Book through the picturesque Salzkammergut region, over the mighty Dachstein peak. You then hike across the scenic Carinthian Nockberge mountains to Agoritschach village in the border triangle of Austria, Italy and Slovenia.
The entire Way of the Book can be divided into three parts in terms of difficulty. The first twelve stages run through hilly, easy-to-walk terrain. These are followed by some challenging hike days, that may require surefootedness and a head for heights, with more than 1,200 metres (3,937 feet) of elevation gain. In the Carinthian part of the long-distance trail towards the south, the ascents become gentler again as the landscape flattens out. If you don’t want to walk the entire pilgrimage trail in one go, you find several opportunities to hop onto public transport along the way. Follow in the adventurous track of the Bible smugglers and hike through a beautiful part of Austria.
The journey of the book starts in Ortenburg, which played an important role in the early Protestant faith: in the 16th and 17th centuries, Ortenburg was an Evangelical imperial county, which was a rarity in the otherwise Catholic area at that time. A visit to the well-preserved castle high above the Wolfach is definitely interesting.At the beginning of the walk you walk eastwards past the Protestant market church. It goes without major differences in altitude through a colorful cultural landscape to Bad Höhenstadt, where you can cool your warm feet in the Kneipp pool. Refreshed, you follow the Sulzbach and the parallel railway line to Sulzbach.The green Inn appears in front of you, which marks the border between Germany and Austria. Your destination for today is my hometown Schärding, which is known for its colorful baroque facades and the beautiful castle park. My personal tip is a stop or an ice cream in the Lachinger restaurant on Silberzeile.
The baroque town of Schärding became wealthy through the salt trade and it was precisely these salt traders who often smuggled the Bible across the border. At the beginning of the second stage you leave the banks of the Inn and hike through the hilly landscape of Upper Austria. You walk along the Pram through small towns and past traditional courtyards.In late summer you will find many fruit trees next to the path for a small snack in between. After a good half of the 30-kilometer stage, the path begins to climb a little more and you go to the heights of the Sauwald. From the slopes on the edge of the forest you can enjoy wide views back into the Inn Valley and Bavaria. In Sankt Willibald you will finally reach your today's destination.
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Today you can expect a brisk 28-kilometer march through an increasingly hilly landscape. From the starting point in Sankt Willibald you hike past fields, meadows and forest areas to Peuerbach, where you can take a first break in one of the many cafés or inns. Then you leave the high onion dome of the parish church behind you and follow the path over the Feichtenberg to Waizenkirchen.A beautifully designed market square with a fountain invites you to take a breather before you continue north along the Aschach river. On the last section of this stage you have a crisp ascent up to Sankt Agatha. There you have reached your goal for today and can jump into the water to cool off in the outdoor pool.
On the fourth stage you can look forward to two castle ruins. From Sankt Agatha it goes into the forest, where you can climb the panoramic tower of the Stauf ruins. Your gaze wanders far across Upper Austria to the Alps.Then you cross the valley of the Aschach and immediately climb up again. The path of the book meanders up and down through the forest and takes you to ruin number 2: Schaunberg Castle was once the largest castle complex in Upper Austria and here you can also climb a lookout tower.Back on the ground, continue hiking and pass the elaborately designed Landerlkapelle. After a short rest, you continue to Eferding, your destination for today. In Eferding there has been an existing Protestant denomination for several centuries - one of the few in Upper Austria that survived the period of persecution and forced resettlement in the 17th century.
After a night in Eferding, you set out for the wide plain of the Eferding Basin. A lot of vegetables are grown here and you hike on flat paths to Polsing. Here the path of the book begins to climb and leads you up to beautiful viewpoints.In Unterscharten it is worth taking a look at the Protestant Tolerance Church and next to it a cozy inn awaits you. Past mighty square courtyards, you follow the route over the Roithener Kogel and then descend back down into the plain. You will reach your destination at the Evangelical Trinity Church in Wallern an der Trattnach.
With less than 14 kilometers, the sixth stage is one of the shortest on the pilgrimage, so at the end of the day there is time to explore the city of Wels. From Wallern an der Trattnach you can stroll south in a relaxed manner. You leave Krenglbach behind you and follow the path along the Passau Railway. After you have crossed under the motorway, you will already reach the foothills of Wels: Here too, there has been a close Protestant church community for centuries.You walk past the Protestant church into the historic center of the city and can explore the dreamy streets there. Stroll through the beautiful castle garden, walk along the Mühlbach or marvel at the water tower. A variety of restaurants and bars invite you to a cozy end to this stage.
From the center in Wels it goes to the banks of the Traun. You always follow their course along the water and in some places you can put your feet in the cold water. The foothills of the city are behind you and the landscape around is greener and greener.You cross tributaries and creeks of the Traun and get closer and closer to your destination in Lambach. When you reach the power station, you can already see the towers of the mighty Benedictine monastery in front of you. The extensive facility is definitely worth a tour and you can then fill up your energy reserves in the rustic monastery cellar. There are also pilgrims' hostels in the monastery if you want to stay here.
Today you will again be accompanied by the element of water: From Lambach with its imposing pen, you will initially head west along the Traun. After a short distance you change to the bank of the Ager. The path of the book flatly follows the river to Schwanenstadt, where a stroll through the colorful old town is ideal. Here you will also find many places to stop for refreshments to satisfy any hunger pangs.Then you can take a look into the Protestant church before you continue on. It goes back to the Ager and past the turquoise lakes of the gravel works at Redlham. South of Attnang-Puchheim you cross the Ager and turn off to Rutzenmoos, your destination today. In addition to the Protestant church, you can also visit the Protestant museum here.
From the evangelical community of Rutzenmoos we go to the beautiful Traunsee today. After a delicious breakfast, we set off into the initially hilly landscape along the Aurach Valley. A few times you cross the Salzkammergutbahn and then you reach the beautiful city of Gmunden, which is known for its typical ceramics. The sight of the Seeschloss Ort, which can only be reached via a bridge, is really overwhelming.The rock faces rise steeply around the crystal-clear Traunsee - you stroll along its west bank and enjoy fantastic views. Different bathing places invite you to take a break and refreshment next to the path of the book. In Traunkirchen, I recommend a detour to the monastery church, which towers defensively on the lake shore. You have reached your destination where the Traun meets the Traunsee: the beautiful Ebensee awaits you with its town hall park, two museums and the Church of St. Joseph.
We continue through the beautiful Salzkammergut: Stage 10 starts on the south bank of the Traunsee in the village of Ebensee. Before you start hiking, you can make a worthwhile detour up to the Kalvarienberg chapel. The view of the lake from up there is simply fantastic.Then you follow the Traun on the brine pipeline path. The world's first pipeline was built on this route: the brine pipeline started operating in 1607 and transported salt from Hallstadt to Ebensee. Here you not only walk in the footsteps of the Bible smugglers, but also those of salt. Without major differences in altitude, you hike between the forest and the Traun Valley through smaller settlements and past lush meadows.You change the banks of the Traun twice and can enjoy different perspectives. Finally, you arrive at your stage destination Bad Ischl - an incredibly beautiful city, whose wonderful location was also used by Emperor Franz Josef for his “summer vacation”. You can end the day in one of the traditional inns or neat cafés.
On the eleventh stage, the rushing Traun gives you the direction: you leave the enchanting Bad Ischl and follow the river south. You walk through the beautiful Sisipark and pass the valley station of the Katrin cable car. If you want to enjoy a fantastic view over the Salzkammergut, then I recommend driving to the summit of the Katrin.Afterwards you continue walking along the water, crossing small towns and after a good seven kilometers the rustic Weissenbachwirt invites you to take a break. After a power boost in the form of a Kaiserschmarrn, you continue on the path of the book. The Traun is now becoming noticeably narrower. Bad Goisern is your destination today and awaits you with traditional inns and craft businesses. Austrian customs are lived here and there is a lot to discover.
The twelfth stage, which starts in Bad Goisern, is also impressive in terms of landscape. At the beginning you cross the blue shimmering Traun and walk along its west bank. Parallel to the Salzkammergutbahn, the path of the book winds through the valley, which soon widens and reveals a view of Lake Hallstatt.Over the Arikogel you march to the eastern shore of the lake and you will be amazed by the views of the mountains and the turquoise water. Rest areas and meadows are always available for a breather. The Uferwirt Seeraunzn is the perfect place for a stop with a view of the lake.After eleven kilometers you can either hop in the boat to cross over to Hallstatt, or you can follow the path further along the shore. Then you cross the town of Obertraun, where you meet the Traun again. From the south bank you can have wonderful views of the world-famous Hallstatt, where this stage ends.
Today it goes into the wonderful mountains on the border between Upper Austria and Salzburg. From the dreamy, but always well-visited Hallstatt you climb up the salt mountain. From the World Heritage view you can enjoy a gigantic view of Lake Hallstatt and you cannot miss a visit to the Salt Mine. The path of the book winds steeply through the forest, you walk higher and higher.At the 1,502 meter high Strähnhag you will reach the highest point of today's stage and a short time later the Rossalm with curd cheese is waiting for you. Strengthened, you then hike on an almost flat route through the forest and reach the interesting landscape of the Grubalm Niedermoor. If you want, you can take a short detour through the Löckenmoos.Past the quaint Ebenalm, where you can also spend the night, you reach the shores of the Vorderen Gosau lake. You can spend the night at the Gasthof Gosausee and you will be greeted with a gigantic view of the Dachstein.
The 14th stage starts with fantastic views of the Vorderen Gosausee. Right at the beginning you have a steep ascent up to the mountain station of the Gosaukammbahn. Once at the top, you can treat yourself to a second breakfast in one of the two huts.Then you leave Upper Austria and cross the border to the state of Salzburg. Alternating between light forest and wide alpine meadows, you walk in an arc around the Kleiner Donnerkogel. With a view of several 2,000-meter peaks, you continue through the incredibly beautiful mountains to the Stuhlalm, where you can stop off.Afterwards it becomes more demanding, because you walk the promising Schwarzkogelsteig. For the narrow, rocky path you should bring surefootedness. Past the Sulzkarhütte, another refreshment stop, you hike the last section of this day to the Hofpürglhütte. The large hut, clad with wooden shingles, offers different beds and a wonderful sun terrace.
After a night in the Hofpürglhütte, you set out to walk the Linzersteig. Accompanied by wonderful views, you hike along the steep flank of the Gosaustein, which requires surefootedness and attention. Initially, the path of the book runs at a constant height until after five kilometers you climb steeply to a breathtaking viewpoint above the Sulzenhals.Through pine fields and light high forest, it then goes down to the Bachlalm. In the sunny garden you can enjoy a delicious snack and you might even spot marmots behind the inn. Then you cross the border to Styria and hike down the Schlitzenalmweg into the valley. There you will reach your destination in Ramsau am Dachstein, a Protestant community in the middle of the mountains.
At the beginning of the 16th stage, the path of the book leads you down from Ramsau am Dachstein to Schladming. In the town in the Ennstal, known for skiing, you will find nice alleys, many restaurants and the Protestant Peter and Paul Church. After you have crossed Schladming, you follow the Talbach uphill.The Talbach waterfall, which plunges down several steps in front of the city gates, is particularly beautiful. You continue to hike to Untertal, where the stream divides into two arms. Now following the Untertalbach, you keep climbing up and after 17 kilometers you can take a well-deserved break in the Waldhäuslalm.The path of the book takes you with new energy to the impressive Riesach Falls, a true natural gem. Thunderous masses of water search their way through the narrow gorge through which you are now hiking. At the upper end, the Riesachsee is waiting for you and you can stop again in one of the two huts on its shore. The last section runs up to the Preintalerhütte, your today's destination in beautiful nature.
After a hearty breakfast, you leave the Preintalerhütte and dive into the wonderful nature reserve Klafferkessel. It starts out rocky and steep over the Outer and Inner Lämmerkar towards the summit of the Greifenstein. The first lakes that arose in the last ice age are already appearing in front of you. A colorful mosaic of small and large lakes covers the archaic landscape, for which you should bring surefootedness.At over 2,300 meters you cross the border between Styria and the federal state of Salzburg again and reach the Zwerfenbergsee. The Lessach stream accompanies you into the valley, where you can stop off at the Laßhoferalm snack station. After a refreshment, it goes flat through the Lessachbachtal to Lessach-Oberdorf, your current stage.
From Lessach-Oberdorf we continue along the Lessach through the wonderful landscape of the Lungau. The valley widens and you reach Tamsweg, where you can refill your supplies in one of the supermarkets. If your legs are fit, then a wonderful detour up to the pilgrimage church of Sankt Leonhard is worthwhile. The interior is really magnificent and the view over the Lungau from the hill is impressive.Now the Mur becomes your companion. The path of the book takes you higher and higher up the valley flank - partly through forest areas, then again over meadows and past farms. A serpentine finally brings you back into the valley to Madling. In Ramingstein on the banks of the Mur, the majestic Finstergrün Castle awaits you, where you can spend the night in the summer months from May.
After your very special overnight stay in Finstergrün Castle in the Murtal, it's up again today: On shady forest paths you climb up to an uncultivated alpine pasture from which you can enjoy great views. The surroundings are becoming more and more alpine and at the 2,257 meter high Feldernock you reach the highest point of this stage. Here you are in the Salzburg Lungau and Carinthian Nockberge biosphere reserve.At the nearby summit of the Kleiner Königstuhl, a wooden summit cross with a summit book awaits you, in which you can enter yourself. After enjoying the wonderful panorama, you descend to the Karneralm. Afterwards you will be accompanied for a part by the Klöllingbach and on the Klöllingscharte there is another few meters uphill. On the last section of this day, the book's path leads you relaxed to Dr. Josef-Mehrl-Hütte, where a cozy place to sleep is already waiting for you.
From the starting point at the quaint Dr. Josef-Mehrl-Hütte in the beautiful Lungauer Schönfeld is a demanding uphill climb to the first peak of the day, the Stubennock. Like the following peaks, it lies on the border between Salzburg and Carinthia. With wonderful views you hike on to the 2,246 meter high Sauereggnock, then follows the Seenock with a view of the Friesenhalssee and finally you reach the Friesenhalshöhe.From here it is only a short ascent to the highlight of the 20th stage, the Großer Königstuhl at 2,336 meters above sea level. The 360-degree panorama over the Nockberge is simply fantastic. The path of the book then runs over the Karlnock to the Stangscharte, where there is a shelter hut. We continue to the beautiful alpine meadows on the Schneegrubensattel. After a short, somewhat steeper descent, you finally reach the cozy Priesshütte, where you end the day and spend the night.
The comparatively short 21st stage starts at the Priesshütte and initially leads you along the Nockalmstrasse for a while. But you will soon leave this and turn onto an alpine path that leads you to the Steinnock. At the same height you hike on to the beautifully designed viewing platforms, which lie like three UFOs in the landscape.This is followed by a slight ascent to the summit of the Falkert at an altitude of 2,308 meters. The double summit cross is surrounded by wooden seating steps, which invite you to take a break with a view. For the descent to Falkertsee you follow path 159 over evenly sloping alpine floors. In a zigzag you descend to the small lake, which is surrounded by several huts. Which one you want to spend the night in is entirely up to you.
With only nine kilometers, this stage gives you more time to thoroughly enjoy the wonderful world of the Carinthian Nockberge. So today you can sleep a little longer before you leave the picturesque area around the Falkertsee in a southerly direction. You walk steadily uphill to the Rödresnock, on which a summit cross awaits you. Your gaze wanders over the Gurktal Alps and the Nock Mountains - simply fantastic!Then it goes on to the 2,168 meter high Schwarzkogel, where you are also greeted by a small summit cross. The path of the book then winds steeply downhill through the forest. You cross the uncultivated Moschelitzenalm and descend into the valley. The village of Wiedweg is your destination today and welcomes you with its all-white evangelical church.
Today you can expect a tough training session for your calves with an altitude difference of 1,100 meters uphill and downhill. Starting from the Protestant community of Wiedweg, you enter the Gutzelwald and climb the flank of the Kirchheimer valley. The further you get up, the lighter the forest and finally you enter a promising plateau. Then you stand on the rocky summit of the Kaiserburg, which is very close to the mountain railway station of the same name.After you have entered your name in the summit book, you go up a few more meters to the 2,146 meter high Wöllaner Nock. A dreamlike panorama awaits you there and then the descent into the valley begins. You follow the path of the book past the Vorderen Wöllaner Nock into the forest again. In Laastadt you reach the edge of the forest and continue walking to your destination Arriach with the largest Protestant church in Carinthia.
Starting from the beautiful village of Arriach, the pilgrim path first leads over the Mühlbach and then through quiet forest areas and past farms uphill. You leave Unterwöllan and Dreihofen behind you and descend into the valley of the Afritzbach. Following the rippling water, you hike to Afritz with its modern Protestant church.The Afritz waterfall, located at the end of a short forest path, is a worthwhile detour. In a slight up and down it goes to the shore of the Afritzer See. Lush meadows and crystal clear water invite you to rest and swim. You reach the second lake of this stage, the Brennsee, over a small hill. With a view of the shimmering water, you walk to Feld am See, the goal of this day's stage.