Steadily hiking through dense forest, you pause as you feel the sun on your skin as it pierces through the trees, illuminating the path ahead. As you walk on, you can hear the friendly bleating of sheep as the forest opens up and gives way to a large, sprawling meadow. Directly in front of you, the wide expanse of the Swabian Alb spreads out with its undulating pastures, isolated woodlands and charming villages. You let your gaze wander for a while and give your eyes time to take it all in.
For centuries, shepherds and their flocks of sheep have roamed the plateaux of the Swabian Alb. And on the Albschäfer Trail, you can follow in their footsteps to experience the best of this region. On a ten-day round trip, you will hike through the entire Eastern Alb, covering a distance of 160 kilometers (99 miles) and conquering over 2,200 meters (7,000 feet) in altitude as you go. And while this may sound like a challenge, the gradual inclines that you'll encounter throughout the hike are always gentle enough to be thoroughly enjoyable as you trek across wide meadows, past colorful juniper heath, through deep forests, small villages—and several ancient castles.
The Albschäferweg starts officially in Giengen an der Brenz. With a railway station connected to other larger cities all over Germany, it's fairly easy to get to from anywhere in Europe and you can comfortably get there without the need for a car. As this hike is a circular route, however, you can also join on at any point during the hike, with section seven being another equally attractive starting point due to Heidenheim's train station. The trail itself is excellently marked with a white shepherd on a blue background so you always know you're on the right path. One thing to bear in mind, however, is that as the trail leads through some relatively isolated wilderness, you'll rarely encounter places to stop for food or drink. You can easily stock up in any of the villages you pass, however, just be sure to think ahead and get what you need in advance.
Your first stage starts in Giengen an der Brenz. You start your walk at the station, follow the path along the Brenz and then cross the river to the south.Immediately you leave the little town behind you and you find yourself in peaceful nature. The Albschäferweg leads you across wide fields and along small Wadstücke. After a while you cross a country road on a bridge and reach the ruin of the Güssing Castle on a narrow mountain spur. Here you can stroll among the old walls, before you walk around the trail Hermaringen and get back to the shore of the Brenz.You follow the course of the river, sometimes closer to the water, a bit further away and wander through Bergenweiler to Sontheim an der Brenz. The Albschäferweg leads you along the edge of Sontheim and with good visibility you can see the Alps from here.The last section to the finish line leads you through a quiet forest and finally over some fields, before you reach Stetten ob Lontal.On your first leg, you can make a detour to Hermaringen or Sontheim for a stop in a restaurant or café. In both places you will also find supermarkets to top up your food.
After a restful night, you start your second day on the Albschäferweg in Stetten ob Lontal. After a few steps you have left the village and will soon cross the Lone Valley and the Lone. The path leads you up the other side of the valley into a dense forest and you hike on leisurely paths towards Kaltenburg.From the south side, the castle does not reveal all of its splendor, but once you enter the site, you can see how well the castle is still preserved. After a wall has partially collapsed in 2010, unfortunately, not all parts of the castle can be visited at the moment.Directly below the castle is the Charlottenhöhle. If you like, you can pay a visit to the beautiful and large stalactite cave and take a look at the cave museum before continuing on your hike.You continue hiking, cross the federal highway A7 and then dive back into the forest. On comfortable forest paths you reach the domain Falkenstein. In the outer bailey of the former Falkenstein Castle, a sustainable agricultural enterprise is housed. There are hardly any traces left of the actual castle on an offshore rocky spur, but the view to the Eselsburger valley is worth a visit in any case.Between forest and fields the Albschäferweg leads you further in the direction of Anhausen. Here you will find a friendly B & B where you can relax for the next day.At this stage, you can either take a rest before crossing the motorway at the local rest area or take a detour to Eselsburg. In Eselsburg, you will find the Eselsburger Talschenke directly at the river, where you can strengthen yourself for the further way.
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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 on comfortable forest roads and along extensive pastures along to Heldenfingen.Right on the edge of the road you will find the Herwigfinger Kliff, a remnant of the cliffs of a primeval sea, which was branded here 15 million years ago against the rocks.You continue from here and soon reach the extensive Hungerbrunnental. On both sides, the lush valley is surrounded by forest, and apart from other hikers and some sheep, nothing here will remind you of civilization. You follow the beautiful, natural path and can switch off from your everyday life perfectly.Shortly before your stage destination in Gerstetten, you can take a rest at the tree-lined Egleen lakes and enjoy the magnificent view on a bench. From here it is only a short distance to the center of the village.On the third stage there is no rest stop, but in Heroesfingen there is the bakery Banzhaf. This is open from Monday to Saturday from 05.30 to 12.30 and from 14 to 18 clock, only on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, the shop is closed in the afternoon. If you arrive in Heldenfingen at the right time, you can stock up on fresh provisions there.
On the fourth day you follow the Albschäferweg through picturesque mixed forests and over narrow heathland. With the Steinheimer Becken at the end of today's stage you can already expect a unique nature experience.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 the top you get a nice overview of the surrounding landscape.Soon you leave the open fields behind you and wander across forest and forest roads through extensive mixed forests. Chance of the trees give the view of meadows and heaths free and again and again you have the chance to meet sheep.You pass the small Küpfendorf and after another forest you reach the Steinheimer basin. The path leads you in Sontheim on the castle stables. From the highest point of the rock, the highly visible and 15 million year old Meteor Crater spreads at your feet. The basin is well below the surrounding Alb landscape and to this day the crater edges can be seen. You continue on the crater rim and after the Knillberg you reach the Schäfhalde. On the flat elevation there is an airfield and right next to it you will find the excursion restaurant Heiderose.After a well-deserved rest, the tour will take you around the airfield and down to the Steinheimer Becken.
On your fifth leg you leave the Steinheimer Becken in the morning and ascend to the northern crater rim. With a beautiful view of the crater, you walk comfortably along the edge of the forest and soon after you reach the Wental.In the Wental are countless large and small rocks and stone formations of dolomitic limestone. The Albschäferweg leads you directly through the valley and its unique landscape. After you have admired all the rocks, the trail leads you through a dense mixed forest towards the final destination.As you wander the forest paths and forest roads between the towering tribes, you will find a unique tranquility in the peaceful nature. Happy and satisfied you finally reach the stage destination Zang.Halfway through the Wental is the Landhotel Wental with attached restaurant. If you do not have backpackers with you, you can take a leisurely break here. The restaurant is open from Tuesday to Sunday. Otherwise, you can also easily provide in the supermarkets in Steinheim with provisions.
After your restful sleep in the small Albdorf Zang, you will take a few more steps through the village. If you feel like it, then make a detour to the small village pond. The pond is idyllically located between the small houses.Then you leave the village to the east. The Albschäferweg leads you first along the edge of the forest and after a short stretch of forest you will reach the first houses of Königsbronn. Before you descend to the village center, you can make a detour to the rocky spur of the former castle Herwartstein. From up here you have a great view over the village and the idyllic Brenztal.If you like, you can leave the Albschäferweg on the way down to see the pots. The source of the Brenz lined with rocks lies in the middle of the village, where you can also find several inns and cafes.The Albschäferweg then leads you along the banks of the Brenz to the Itzelberger See. Here you leave the Brenz valley and wander through a large mixed forest on to the stage destination Heidenheim.This tour ends at the hiking home Naturfreundehaus Hahnenschnabel. Here you can stay for a fair price. The house is located just above Heidenheim and is surrounded by meadows and forests. Information and reservation under naturfreundehaus-heidenheim.de/unserhaus/index.html
The seventh stage on the Albschäferweg is quite short with a distance of about nine kilometers. Therefore, it is definitely worth the detour to the castle Hellenstein. The detour is already included in the tour and it extends the route to 13.5 kilometers.To get to the castle, you wander a bit through the streets of Heidenheim. The castle, the landmark of the city, towers visible from afar on a survey of the houses. After a short climb you can visit the castle and the museums before continuing on the Albschäferweg.Back it is again a short distance through the city, before you reach the park Brenz. It is open from March to October and costs a small entrance fee. Nevertheless, the path through the beautifully landscaped park is worthwhile. After leaving Brenzpark, you are back on the Albschäferweg.It goes up a piece of the Brenz, before you leave the city and walk up to a vast piece of woodland. Here you can enjoy the silence and tranquility before you reach the Ramensteinhöhle. The cave is freely accessible and so you can explore your inner life yourself.From the cave it is only a short distance to the finish in Nattheim.At this stage, there is no refreshments along the way. It's best to stock up on supplies in Heidenheim before starting your hike.
At the eighth stage on the Albschäferweg you hike across the plateaus of the Härtsfeld. The Härtsfeld has a significantly stonyer background than other regions in the Eastern Alb and therefore earlier here the yields of agriculture were considerably lower. This made the landscape especially popular with the migrant shepherds. With current knowledge, good results can be achieved in agriculture and so the flock of sheep are becoming increasingly rare.You leave Nattheim and walk past fields and meadows in the direction of a dense forest. You cross the forest on comfortable paths and then pass the villages Fleinheim and Auernheim. With a great view you hike above the fields and meadows along the edge of the forest in the direction of Neresheim, today's stage destination. Long before you reach the place, you can already see the famous monastery towering over the plateau.On the eighth stage you will not find a refreshment stop on the Albschäferweg. Ideally, you take on a backpack vesper and make your rest according to your own needs.
The penultimate and ninth stage on the Albschäferweg leads you to three historic buildings.Only a few minutes from your starting point in Neresheim you will reach the huge Benedictine monastery Neresheim. Only ten monks still live in the large buildings today, but you can take classes here and spend the night in the monastery. A special highlight is the huge abbey church with its radiant interior.The next intermediate destination is the castle Katzenstein. The well-preserved fortress can be visited from March to December and the cozy Burgschänke is perfect for a cozy rest.Walk across the wide fields of the Swabian Alb to Härtsfeldsee. In summer you can swim here to cool off from your hike.You follow the Albschäferweg on to Dischingen, where the impressive parish church awaits you. Then you follow the course of the Egau until the stage goal Ballmertshofen.Note on this tour that the castle tavern in Burg Katzenstein is closed in January and February, and is only partially open in November and December. If you take your hike during these months, you should provide yourself with sufficient provisions in advance.
The last stage of the Albschäferweg is also the longest tour of this long distance hike. So you have enough time before you have to say goodbye to her.You leave Ballmertshofen heading west and soon reach the Bavarian border. The Albschäferweg meanders through dense forest and past meadows past the small village Zöschingen.Again and again today alternate short forest with fields and heathland and after nine days you have quickly found your rhythm again. Happy and full of energy, you continue hiking and crossing the border to Baden-Württemberg.Soon after you leave the forest completely and in front of you the wide meadows of the Ostalb spread out. Leisurely, it goes with fantastic views down to Giengen. Before you reach the city center, it is still worth the detour to the pavilion. From the small viewing platform, you can take a last look at the vastness of the Alb, before you have to say goodbye to her.Your last steps on the Albschäferweg lead you to the cozy city center of Giengen. But after ten days in peaceful nature, even this little town seems like a metropolis to you. With a satisfied smile you think back to the heathland, the meadows and the peaceful forests before you start your journey home.The last stage unfortunately offers no refreshments along the way. Fortunately, there are plenty of shopping opportunities in Ballmertshofen, so you can equip yourself in advance with a good backpack vesper.