Hiking in Germany
For our second hiking trip in the Palatinate, we tackled the stretch between Waldfischbach and Heltersberg, which is largely identical with stage 4 of the 9-stage “Pfälzer Waldpfad” (the Palatine Forest Trail).
The Soul Rocks in the Palatinate
Out of our three planned hikes, this was the one about which I had been most wary: for one, it was the longest at 12 km (our hosts from the Rheinland-Pfalz Tourism Board had assembled our hiking schedule with a great deal of kindness and consideration); for another, it was squeezed in between a transfer in the morning and a bus ride back from Heltersberg to our hotel in Waldfischbach at 18h44. As I found out, this was the last bus of the day, too, so we knew that there would be little room for error – or a major detour.
After our check-in at the Hotel Zum Schwan, a cozy family inn in Waldfischbach, we set out immediately to start our journey.
From the hotel, we turned left and then followed the signs to the Maria Rosenberg Chapel, the town’s main sight and a famous destination for pilgrimages since the Middle Ages.
Returning to the foot of the hill, we turned right – just before the main road – alongside the river Schwarzbach until reaching a bridge (the crossing is labeled “Wappenschmiede” on local maps) where we crossed to join the Waldpfad on the other side. Alternatively, however, you can also turn right out of the hotel and follow the Waldpfad markers from the roundabout onwards.
The hike alongside the Schwarzbach, as I found only out much later, is also part of the German Shoe Trail, an invention of the local tourism board from the 1970s that, sadly if altogether predictably, was never meant to be showered with the same kind of applause that met the introduction of the German Wine Trail.
Shoes and the German shoe industry, it appears, only interest a comparatively small number of people. You will be pleased to hear that the German Shoe Trail still exists, but the PR campaign to promote it is, in the words of the official literature, “conducted in a far lower key” these days.
The hike itself turned out to be extremely nice and pleasant: not too hard, not too easy, providing a healthy sportive walking challenge after our (relatively lazy) warm-up walk on Day 1.
There were two highlights: first, the Heidelsburg, an enchanted castle ruin, which is being advertised as “Germany’s oldest forestry office”, although the evidence for that appears a little sketchy. (It was some sort of fortified building, that much is for sure, and was used back as early as the 3rd or 4th century AD, though – after all this time – it is not easy to say exactly for what.)
One thing is sure, at any rate: with the nearest parking space 4 km away, you will have the Heidelsburg pretty much to yourself, and there is a nice and spacious picnic area, too. For us, having started the hike a little past noon, this was the perfect place for having a go at the picnic bag that our hosts had prepared for us. It was a good thing, however, that we had left the bottle of wine behind, temptingly called Wanderwein (“Hiking Wine”), for if we hadn’t, we would probably still be looking for a way out of the Heidelsburg maze. (It is a bit tricky, that one, and gave Mrs. Easy Hiker and myself the day’s only cause for a quarrel over the right direction. A blissfully small number, by the way, by our standards.)
The second highlight of the hike, following shortly after, is the Seelenfelsen array of rocks that overlooks the Schwarzbach valley. It received its name – the Soul Rocks in the Palatinate – when two people suffered fatal accidents here in quick succession during the 19th century. Both of them, it must be emphasized, when they were trying to cross the rocks rather than walk past them on the hiking trail, and both of them when they attempted this crossing after dark, something that I would not recommend under any circumstances.
There is a separate trail where you can explore the Seelenfelsen at greater length, but we had no time for that, preferring to head straight for Heltersberg and even stepping a little on the gas pedal because, we thought, with a little luck we could catch the bus before the one at 18h44, giving us a little time at the hotel to refresh and relax before dinner.
In the end, we were 2 hours early, or 1 hour 59 minutes to be precise, one minute late for the 16h44 service. (Not the type of risk against which even the best travel insurance can protect you.) So we sat there for a few minutes, trying to force our luck: maybe, just maybe the bus would be late, until it dawned on us that we would have to wait until 18h44 after all, and although we had not yet seen Heltersberg proper (if there is such a thing), we had resigned ourselves to the idea that the next two hours would not be the most eventful of our lives.
Just when we were ready to march into Heltersberg town centre to find a place to have some coffee, we saw a bus turn around the corner. The scheduled bus was five minutes late!
Say what you will, but this was a miracle, and with no offence to Heltersberg or to our hosts and everybody else who tried to make our stay in the Palatinate as pleasant and as special as possible: this was the most joyous moment of our entire trip.
The hotel Zum Schwan, our base in Waldfischbach, is perfect for an easy hiking trip: not too fancy, but comfy and with good food. What they serve is honest and decent Palatine fare with a hint of Mediterranean flair, a very common combination in the area’s better restaurants and a very successful one if done properly.
It is also worth pointing out that all the pieces of furniture in (currently) three of the twenty rooms at the hotel are made from massive wood – no veneer or varnishes and certainly no carpets or fabrics – which gives these rooms a rustique, Nordic feel and which is apparently also very good for allergy sufferers or anybody who is highly sensitive to dust.
So, we were properly refreshed to start the final stage of our trip.
More of that next time!