Castle Ruins, Caves and Teddy Bears
Swabian Alb: More than just a landscape
The word ‘Alb’ refers to the low, rolling limestone mountains that form a high plateau, east of Stuttgart. Stretching southwest to northeast for 200 km/125 miles, but only 50 km/30 miles wide, this rural landscape is preserved as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a UNESCO Global Geopark. There are flower-filled meadows, sparkling waterfalls and thermal springs above ground, with prehistoric caves, rich with fascinating fossils below ground. The region’s Caves and Ice Age Art are on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list, thanks to some of the world’s oldest carvings, found in the Lonetal valley and Achtal valley. At the southern end of the Alb, cutting through the limestone, is the River Danube. Base yourself in a small town, such as Bad Urach and explore.
The Alb is famous hiking country, with well-marked trails that connect castle ruins, caves, forests and rivers. Great views are guaranteed! Extra special is the Wasserfallsteig route, rated Germany's most beautiful hiking trail in 2016. From Bad Urach, this loop of 10 km / 6 miles takes in two spectacular waterfalls, the Urach and Gutersteiner.
The Swabian Alb has a comprehensive list of suggested bike trips designed for families, as well as regular bike and e-bike routes. Go for a day; go for a week. To the south is the Danube Cycle Path that follows the river on its way to medieval Ulm.
EXCURSIONS AND OUTINGS:
Who created the teddy bear - and where?
Answer: the Steiff family, 120 years ago, in Giengen an der Brenz. See how the bears and other cuddly toys are still made on a comprehensive day out at the factory with its museum, history, petting zoo, snake slide – and factory outlet! Dominating the landscape from a high rocky crag, Hohenzollern Castle is straight out of a fairy tale. The ancestral home of the Prussian royal family, this fortress also displays the glittering Prussian Crown Jewels.
LEARN SOMETHING NEW:
Near Niederstotzingen, northeast of Ulm, travel back 40,000 years at the Vogelherd Archäopark, an outdoor family-oriented park with two small caves. Artworks discovered here include 11 carved bone figures and a tiny 40,000-year-old ivory horse. And in family-friendly Ulm itself, take the challenge of climbing 768 steps to the top of the world’s tallest church spire (161.53 m / 530 ft).
For an easy way to combine two family-friendly outings, head for Sonnenbühl, where the Traumland auf der Bärenhöhle theme park is aimed at smaller children with its fairy tale forest. But there are also rides such as a roller coaster (for little ones), roundabouts, miniature sports cars and a Ferris wheel that is high enough to offer views of the Alps and the Black Forest on a clear day. Waterslides, trampolines and more guarantee a great day out. Next door is the Bärenhöhle (Bear Cave), one of the region’s best underground limestone caves, with stalagmites, stalactites and a reconstructed bear skeleton for effect! Fun and education all in one place!
In Blaubeuren, west of Ulm, visit the Blautopf, a spring with intensely-blue water that is the source of the River Blau. Nearby are yet more prehistoric caves open to the public. In Giengen an der Brenz, the Charlottenhöhle cave is 587 m/ 2,000 ft deep, with impressive stalactites and stalagmites. Learn more in the adjoining Hürben Cave House, with its Geopark Infocentre, exhibitions, themed trails and adventure playground.
500 years ago, a baker in Bad Urach invented pretzels. Soft, chewy and delicious, you can buy them anywhere – but Bad Urach’s Café BeckaBeck is famous for them!
Get more - Pay less
With the AlbCard Guest Card, holidaymakers in the region enjoy FREE entry to 130 attractions, from thermal baths and pools to palaces, castles and museums. Even canoe trips and bike rentals are free. On checking in at one of the 140 participating hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs, guests receive this complimentary guest card. All journeys on public transport are also free during their holiday. For discount shopping bargains, head for OUTLETCITY METZINGEN. While you shop, children can make new friends at Kids Camp, the professionally-run childcare facility. There is plenty to do: arts and crafts and group games, table football and face-painting, balloon modelling at special events. Boredom is banished! And Ulm has its own one or two-day tourist card with special discounts.
FUN PLACES TO STAY:
Family-friendly accommodation abounds, especially on farms. But the Hofgut Hopfenburg in Münsingen takes it to another level. Choose from yurts, tepees and a tinker’s caravan. Try a safari tent, shepherd's wagon or circus wagon. In the heart of the Swabian Alb Biosphere Reserve, the complex includes a farm, a bakery and a farm shop.