Whether you prefer to hike through the Swabian Alb at a leisurely pace in several weeks or cycle across it in a few days is a question of taste. Two tours and many impressions in the varied natural landscape in the heart of Baden-Württemberg.
In front of us, the road descends steeply; opposite, the sun is slowly creeping over the mountains. Behind us lie a lush green Alb meadow near Bad Urach and three days in the saddle. Here, on the Albtrauf, as the almost vertically sloping, rugged break-off edge of the Swabian Alb is called, we enjoy the first rays of sunshine of the day and, for a brief but intense moment, the morning peace. Then we get back on our bikes and start pedaling - we've planned six days to complete the Swabian Alb completely. That's ambitious, but definitely doable with our powerful e-mountain bikes.
The tour called Alb-Crossing leads us over 370 kilometers from Aalen in the northwest of Baden-Württemberg to Tuttlingen in the southeast. And although the Alb is a high plateau (so it's rather flat at the top), the cycling up and down the steep flanks adds up to plenty of meters in altitude: Around 7,000 will be on the counter at the end. But that's one of the attractions of this tour - sometimes you pedal up a long climb in the lowest gear, sometimes it's a relaxed pedal across the plain. And then again, you'll be hurtling downhill over winding gravel roads.
With distances of 50 to 70 kilometers, the daily stages are quite demanding, especially the constant ups and downs take a lot of energy - but every effort is rewarded. The Alb not only has a lot to offer in terms of scenery, but also in terms of sights: there is a castle or palace on almost every other hill, including magnificent examples such as Hohenzollern Castle and Lichtenstein Castle. The Limes Museum, the Nebelhöhle and the Lemberg are also worth a stop - to name just a few examples. And so the tour becomes a real cycling trip, combining a sporting challenge with a cultural experience. In any case, the Alb-Crossing is not primarily about 'eating up kilometers', but about enjoyment. Especially when cycling up on the undulating high plateau, it is easy to get into a wonderful pedal trot that virtually carries you through the landscape. But: If you want to, you can also really push yourself on the tour without any problems.
Just a moment ago, we were puffing up the last twists and turns of the forest road to Hohenneuffen, the ruins of the castle of the same name at an altitude of 740 meters. The phenomenal view was accompanied by an apple spritzer. The route now descends at high speed through the serpentine forest, soon followed by a grassy field path through orchards and an asphalt road past waving fields of grain dotted with red poppies. Then gravel crunches under the tires again, we roll through the next dip - and uphill again.
Technically, the routes do not demand too much from even the averagely fit cyclist, as they mainly lead over asphalt bike paths or wide gravel roads. From time to time, however, you will also be on less paved, narrow trails. An off-road trekking bike is therefore recommended, and of course you're even better off with a solid e-bike. We were quickly gripped by the Alb frenzy; the changes in speed and terrain are fun and make the Alb Crossing an exciting tour.
This is how you get to Aalen by train: Plan arrival.
Wildflowers with yellow, red, blue and white blossoms dot the meadow, the grass is knee-high. The path winds its way through the middle to the top of the hill. There the green of the meadow and the blue of the sky meet. The crickets chirping in the summer-warm meadow and the bees buzzing from blossom to blossom make the idyll perfect; reveling and silent, we enjoy the picture-book hiking world of the Swabian Alb. Such moments are not rare here - a hike in the Alb is more like a string of best-of landscape moments. The colorfully spotted meadow is followed by a forest, a root-covered path winds between moss-covered boulders and the broad, mighty trunks of ancient beeches. Under their mighty crowns it is shady and cool - almost like a fairy tale. If Little Red Riding Hood were to ask for directions, one would hardly be surprised. The path runs barely ten meters along the edge of the eaves, but only rarely can you catch a glimpse of the landscape through the dense shrubbery. Then the thicket thins out for a short stretch - and reveals a view of Hohenzollern Castle, which sits enthroned on a hilltop opposite.
The Albsteig runs along the long-distance hiking trail HW1 and leads on 358 kilometers once across the Swabian Alb. You can hike from Donauwörth to Tuttlingen on mostly natural paths - it takes two or three weeks. Taking the time for it - and at the same time leaving yourself time - is worth it. Because in the unique landscape of the Alb, the hike becomes a pilgrimage, a lasting experience full of contemplative nature and impressive cultural experiences.
And even we, who only hike here for a single day, quickly discover that the Alb clears the mind. The world is muted here, the everyday life is quickly behind you. And such overwhelming panoramas appear again and again in front of you that your heart leaps for joy. Sometimes you don't meet a soul for hours, wandering alone through the wide meadows or the dense forest, accompanied only by the murmur of a wild brook or the hammering of a woodpecker. Very gradually, the landscape images change like nature, from lovely to wild to rough and back again.
A hike in the Swabian Alb is certainly not an extreme experience - instead, you can experience contemplation and enjoyment of nature, balance and deceleration. However, you should not underestimate the Alb, there are plenty of ups and downs, even experienced hikers can't get away without pulling muscles. Sometimes you even need a bit of courage, like at the Hangenden Stein near Albstadt. The striking rock arches over the edge of the ridge; those who climb up are rewarded with a phenomenal view. But we don't mind admitting it: You can also enjoy the view quite well without climbing the rock.
Hiking in the Alb is never boring; there are too many places worth seeing and places steeped in history, imposing castles and mysterious caves along the way. You should definitely take time for these little side trips and adventures, just as you should for an extended lunch, for chats with innkeepers, shepherds and hiking encounters. For us, in any case, it's a done deal: Albsteig, we'll be back. With more time. We'll see how far we get.
Cover photo: Simply overwhelming: The view from the Alb Traufkante © Fabian Teuber
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