Jurasteig Trail: through the heart of Bavaria
It's best to allow a bit of time for the Jurasteig Trail. First, there are the 13 varied stages, which deserve to be savoured as they slowly reveal their treasures, and then there are also up to 18 loops that branch off the main route and which are well worth the odd detour.
The route's treasures include Weltenburg Abbey and the Danube Gorge – but also highlands and river scenery with forests and riverside meadows. The Bavarian Jura is home to peregrine falcons and kingfishers, as well as several types of orchid and other rare flowers. Another feature that makes the Jurasteig Trail particularly popular with walkers are the numerous inns and taverns serving up fresh, cold beer and hearty regional specialities.
The Jurasteig Trail starts and ends in the beautiful town of Kelheim. To the north of the town the trail goes straight up Goldberg hill, whose shady beech forests provide the first glimpse of a typical Jurassic landscape. Shortly before Kapfelberg there are stunning views across the Danube valley at the Teufelsfelsen cliffs near Bad Abbach. From the spa gardens in Bad Abbach the route continues through varied forest scenery to Matting and then Eilsbrunn via the town of Alling in the Schwarze Laber valley. In the Naab valley the little village of Penk provides a splendid vista across the valley. After the idyllic Penk valley the route runs through open landscape until it reaches the outskirts of picturesque Kallmünz. The Naab valley is followed by the Vils valley, and then the destination of that day's stage, Schmidmühlen, where there are lots of inns offering accommodation.
Heading west, the Jurasteig Trail now runs along a narrow path up the Blaugrund towards Hohenburg with its pretty market square and the castle ruin on Schlossberg hill. The route continues through orchid-rich pine forests until suddenly, just before it reaches Kastl, the forest opens out and reveals the impressive panorama of Klosterburg Abbey towering over this market town. Just half an hour later the route reaches Pfaffenhofen and nearby Schweppermannsburg Castle. Before heading for the day's final destination in Oberwiesenacker, the pilgrimage church Maria Heil der Kranken is well worth a visit – at 621 metres above sea level it is the highest point on the Jurasteig Trail. Soon the trail runs through wide expanses of forest and meadow once again, past Rothenfels, the pretty pilgrimage church in Lengenbach, and Arzthofen to Deining. From here the Jurasteig Trail follows the valley of the Weisse Laber river, in a region that boasts 1,000 springs, until it reaches picturesque Holnstein, from where it continues to Dietfurt an der Altmühl, also known as the town of seven valleys. On the other side of the Altmühl river the route runs through Deising and up to Rosskopf plateau with its magnificent panoramic views, before becoming more challenging on its way to Riedenburg, the pearl of the Altmühl valley.
The last and also perhaps the most beautiful leg of the journey through the Altmühl and Danube valleys runs through the Klamm woodland reserve and leads across the Tatzlwurm, one of the longest wooden bridges in Europe, to Weltenburg Abbey. On the last few kilometres towards Kelheim walkers can enjoy an unspoilt riverscape with beech forests and mighty rock faces in the Weltenburger Enge conservation area. It's a shame that from here it's only a short distance to Kelheim, where the route ends at the boat landing stage where it began. But there's always next time.