I am often reminded of what newcomers we North Americans are to experiencing the joy of walking — not gonzo hiking, not high-mountain trekking, certainly not backpacking, but simply walking, with or without poles — through beautiful countryside. Many of us practically wear grooves in our favorite paths near our homes, the ones that we use to get some exercise and fresh air. Still, we don’t always think of walking away from home as part of our travel experiences. But in many European countries, taking long walks at a travel destination is a healthy and invigorating part of visiting and exploring new places. The Brits call it tramping, and the Germans refer to it as wandern.
The Top Trails of Germany present an example of a well developed, meticulously mapped and signed group of premier long-distance trails. An yes, they are clean and safe too. Any Nordic Walking enthusiast planning to visit Europe, especially with the Euro so strong against the ailing dollar, should check out this economical way of sightseeing — and working off all that beer, bratwurst and Black Forest Cake as well. You can do day hikes or multi-day outings, staying in lovely villages and inns along the way. You’ll also find benches — usually intact and not graffiti-ed — along the way, as well as scenic overlooks when there is a particularly enjoyable panorama. Some portions of the routes are a bit narrow for comfortable pole walking, but mostly, you can stride along as the Germans themselves do.
The Westweg through the Black Forest, most famous for its cuckoo clock-making, is a 260-kilometer north-south route that passes through only 12 villages. The rest is beautiful countryside. The six-stage, 111-kilometer Eselweg through the Spessart Forest, Germany’s largest contiguous forest area, is partly in the state of Hessen and partly in Bavaria, is mostly level and occupies consistent elevations between 400 and 500 meters — roughly 1,300 t0 1,750 feet above sea level. The 23-stage, 320-kilometer Rheinsteig (photo above) is newest, following the beautiful banks of the Rhine River past fabled castles, two wine-growing areas and storybook villages.
When you begin to plan your spring summer travels, consider experiencing Europe one step at a time rather than through the windows of a tour bus.