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Walking the Saar-Hunsrück-Steig Trail in Germany

on 12 February 2012.

Travel writer, Roger BrayRoger Bray treks through Rhineland Palatinate keeping a weather eye open for wild boar.

 

A man walking in Rhineland-Palatinate

The raw statistics might be enough to put you off. Some 100,000 people are estimated to hike all or some of the Saar-Hunsrück long distance trail each year and in the forests along the way there are probably at least as many wild boar.

But in five June days of mostly glorious weather we met no more than about 30 other walkers - and while up to 50 of the now pestilent animals were sighted on a main road not long after we crossed it, the closest we came to one was a delicious plate of wild boar ham when we arrive in the city of Trier.

Woman walking on path aheadThose with long memories may have heard of the Hunsrück. It was the setting for Heimat, Edgar Reitz's sprawling exploration of the 20th century German experience, first shown on British television in the 1980s. Schabbach, the fictional village which was home to its central character, got its name when the director spotted it on headstones in Morbach, where we begin our hike.

It was the first day of the Pfifferling season when we arrived there. Pfifferlinge are better known here by their French name, chanterelles: small, orange, trumpet shaped mushrooms. They were on the menu at our first hotel, the tranquil Landhaus am Kirschbaum, served in a wonderful ragout with dumplings. Kirschbaum means cherry tree. We would see plenty of those growing wild on the trail.

Day one dawned fresh and bright but we were warned the temperature might rise to 35C. We started on forest paths, our pace interrupted by information boards describing wildlife and the formation of a large peat bog. One listed bats including the Bechsteinfledermaus, which, I joked to my wife, must be the only species able to play the piano. She was not mightily amused.

It was not long before we reached a pond with railings crossing it - for those with unsure balance - inviting us to shed boots and socks and walk across in bare feet through the cool water. Later we would come to wish we might encounter another cool crossing. The trail was so clearly marked it was hard to take a wrong turning. We finished at the Hunsruckhaus, a visitor centre at the foot of the Erbeskopf which, at 2677 feet, is the region's highest point. There is no accommodation here so the Landhaus owner picked us up and took us back to his hotel.

Church steeple and vinyards on hill behindOn Day 2 he dropped us at the Erbeskopf summit. Ski lifts lead there and a summer sled run snakes down. There are great, hazy views of the soft, rolling landscape. We walked through sun slanted forests of spruce and old beech, the canopy loud with bird song. We tried out the curved, deck lounger style wooden benches, paid for from the European Social Fund, which are positioned at viewpoints along the way. It was hard to get out of them.

Today's leg was supposed to be 20kms, but we were sure it was longer. The temperature soared. The shade of foliage helped - but not much. After a picnic lunch in a glossy green meadow we climbed to a ridge on what must have been an ancient trade route, since a stone cross commemorates a Tirolean trader, murdered by an unknown assailant. We summoned reserves of energy to climb the Hunnenring, the day's highlight, an immense, ten metre Celtic defensive wall of rocks built in the 4th or 5th centuries BC. It's all the more staggering when you learn it was more than twice that hight before locals, unaware of its cultural value, looted it for their own building material. We were all but staggering ourselves - and lusting for cold beer - as we reached the Parschenke Simon hotel in Nonnweiler. Our main bags, which were transferred between hotels while we hiked with light day packs, were already in our room.

Day 3 and it was 25C by 9.30am. Nonnweiler's parish church contains a curiosity: the 12th century Hubertuschlussel, or St. Hubertus's key, was heated and plunged into rabies bites, to cauterise them. For some unexplained reason the practice stopped in 1828. But the church was locked and we couldn't get in to see it. Near our destination we passed a beaver dam. Hunting left the European beaver all but extinct towards the end of the 19th century but is had been reintroduced to two local brooks. We were struck by the modernity of houses and the lack of timber frames. Haus Doris, our hotel for the night, might not have been all that old either, but its geranium hung balconies and traditionally designed furniture gave it a long established look.

Day 4 started muggy and rainy. In the woods the thick canopy kept us dry but biting insects ambushed us. Crossing a peat bog we found more wild raspberries than we had ever seen in one spot. In the high places low cloud drifted wraith like around the trunks of towering beeches. As we traversed a high meadow a distant village emerged and disappeared again, as if behind glowing curtains. High grass dripped rainwater into my boots. At the Hotel zum Langenstein in Riveris they took them to a drying room. For dinner there was crisp skinned fried trout with waxy, boiled parsley potatoes and with it - for we were now in Moselle vineyard country - large glasses of dry Riesling. The king of grapes, said our hostess.

Roman Legionaires marchingDay 5 was our last on the trail. Buoyed by fresher air and intermittent sunshine we headed for our last stop - Trier. We were concerned that the final few kilometres would be on streets through the city's built up outskirts but the trail was artfully designed, leading us across fields, through trees and then along a vine covered hillside until the spires of Trier's cathedral and its Roman amphitheatre came into view below. Down the hill, a half kilometre or so past the stunning brickwork of Emperor Constantine's Baths and we emerged abruptly from rural solitude, mingling with crowds and getting a taste, if not a glimpse, of the elusive wild boar.

Factbox **

The Saar-Hunsrück-Steig runs for 180-kilometres connecting the two federal states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland. It is considered one of the best long-distance trails in Germany, not least for its views and its rural nature - less than 5% of the track is asphalt.

Details of the trail and packages (including B&B, baggage transfer, packed lunches and transfer to your starting point if public transport isn't available) can be found at the Rhineland - Palatinate Tourist Board site, where there is a dedicated page. You can tailor-make your route but a seven stage tour, for example, costs €460.

The most convenient way to get there is on Ryanair to Frankfurt-Hahn airport, which is a short taxi ride from out first hotel in Morbach. Local information also available from the Hunsrück Tourist Board at http://hunsruecktouristik.de.

Map of our route

Hotels

* The Roman road from Bingen (NE of Morbach) to Trier, was travelled, and written up, in 368 AD by a Roman scholar, Ausonius, who travelled to Trier to take up a post as tutor of the Emperor Valentinian I's eldest son, Gratian. The road, der Ausoniusstraße, is named after him, and (straight) parts of the original route still pass through lush green meadows and shady forests of the Hunsrück.

** This 'Factbox' is not sponsored. I commission journalists to write travel articles and supply a factbox because I think it is useful information.

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