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You can't tell by looking at it, but the Vogelsberg is the largest volcanic landscape in Central Europe. Long extinct - and wonderful to walk around on the Vulkanring hiking trail.

So where is it, the largest extinct volcano in Europe? From the small town of Ulrichstein, the view goes far over gentle hilltops, over meadows, fields and narrow stretches of forest. A real Hessian picture book landscape. But where are the cones and craters? Karl Rudi shakes
laughing his head. "On the Vogelsberg, it doesn't look like Mount Etna. It's more like Iceland. The whole landscape is volcanic, full of weathered fissures and vents from which lava, rock fragments and ash were repeatedly hurled until 15 million years ago. Materials that formed this low mountain range." As he descends, the 69-year-old points to the Schlossberg of Ulrichstein with its castle ruins. "This mountain here, for example, was such a conveyor vent. But you have to look closely to notice that." He grins. "Or you're out with a good guide."

Foundlings from solidified lava

Karl Rudi is a good hiking guide. A very good one, in fact, because in his luggage he has many exciting stories about geology, history, flora and fauna. We are hiking on the Volcanic Ring, a 119-kilometer hiking trail that winds through the Vogelsberg Volcanic Region Nature Park. The Vulkanring can be completed in six days; we are on our way from Ulrichstein to Herbstein. Stamina is required, because 23 kilometers lie ahead of us, plus some steep climbs right at the beginning. "From the central height of the Vogelsberg, river valleys develop in all directions. They are particularly deep here in the northwest. And that's where we have to go through!" our guide explains as we climb uphill through sparse mixed forest. We are amply compensated for the meters of altitude. Again and again, Karl Rudi shows us traces of the region's volcanic past. For example, in the basalt of the path gravel, the green olivine fragments that were hurled into the air with the magma from a depth of more than 60 kilometers. The lesestone piles at the edge of the fields, where you can also find reddish, weathered stones between basalt, the volcanic bedrock. Or the large boulders on the hillside, which were formed when solidified lava flows broke apart during the Ice Age. Shortly before Herbstein, our stage destination, we even pass a veritable sea of rocks consisting of boulders five or six meters high.

The mountains of fire have left traces of stone

And what happens between the volcanological findings? There we puzzle over the eggshells of wild birds by the wayside, marvel at tree fungi in the forest, and taste the nutty-tasting fruits of the Indian jumping weed, also called peasant orchid. We delight in the purple bells of foxglove, which blooms at the damp edge of the forest, and at Totenköppel, a Germanic cult site and Christian cemetery, we let ourselves be told about early music concerts that are held here in the summer. At Totenköppel we have a picnic under ancient beech trees with a view of the Rhön Mountains. There is sourdough bread from the farmer in Ulrichstein, along with Vogelsberg sausage, strong cheese and wonderfully aromatic apples.

Absolutely terrific: The great distant views

The constant alternation between valley floor and slopes, between horse paddocks and cattle pastures, between dark spruce and light beech forests on our stage is typical for the volcanic ring, Karl Rudi tells us. Also the grandiose distant views. "Depending on your location, you can see far into the Spessart, into the Rhenish Slate Mountains, into the Taunus, and even to the skyscrapers of Frankfurt! A real experience," enthuses our hiking guide. We, on the other hand, are delighted by a completely different sight when we reach our destination, Herbstein: It's the volcanic spa with its soothing healing waters that bubble to the surface here from the depths of the Vogelsberg. It doesn't always have to be magma.

You can find more information about the volcano ring at www.vogelsberg-touristik.de.

Three favorite hikes

Hiking guide Karl Rudi knows the most beautiful routes around the Vogelsberg and reveals his three favorite tours here.

ore hiking trails near Mücke

The new northern ore hiking trail is particularly beautiful: Around former open pits, cable car foundations, ponds, slurry settling ponds and historical photos on information boards bring ore mining and its history very much to life. In addition, yellow lilies on the banks of the ponds and the Vogelsberg heights in the distance. Great!

Geotour to the Felsenmeer near Homberg

Entertaining tour that I like to go with friends who have children. Through meadow orchards, the trail leads to a sheep watering place and on to the plain of the Hoher Berg with a view far over the Lahn. There is a platform with a view over the largest basalt quarry in Central Europe, a sinkhole, the cause of which was puzzled over 400 years ago. And on the way to the Dicken Steinen, a sand pit with colorful sands.

Trail of nature near Eichelsachsen

From a mountain garden with Vogelsberg volcanic rocks became a hiking trail of surprises: narrow paths in hedgerows, a hunting lodge of the former Hessian landgraves, springs, a quarry with the basalt columns ubiquitous in the Vogelsberg. And here, too, again and again wide distant views.

Cover image: Green hills instead of glowing lava: Volcanic activity in the Vogelsberg region, here at Hoherodskopf, stopped seven million years ago © Roman - stock.adobe.com

In collaboration with Hesse tourism

Hiking through quiet low mountain ranges, old beech forests or orchards, paddling on the Lahn, looking at the most beautiful medieval half-timbered houses and soaking up the atmosphere of historic spas - Hessen makes romantic souls happy all around. But gourmets also get their money's worth on wine hikes, in Hessian butcher shops and with "Handkäs mit Musik", a pickled cheese. Reasons for a Vacation in Hesse there are enough!

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