One of Europe’s greenest states, SouthWest Germany is known for hiking trails that criss-cross forests, mountains and valleys. Then there is what locals call “urban hiking” – a great way to explore the region’s charming, historic towns and cities.
There is a route for any and every fitness level. Wear layers, in case the weather changes. And if it does, you are never far from a welcoming café or tavern. So, pull on your comfy shoes and be ready to snap some photos. Expect the unexpected as you discover the secret corners of the federal state of Baden-Württemberg.
Mannheim: the city’s secret island
SouthWest Germany’s third largest city is Mannheim and right in its heart is Maulbeerinsel (Mulberry Island). Wedged between the River Neckar and the Canal, it is named for the mulberry trees, which were planted back in the 18th century, on the orders of Elector Karl-Ludwig. See it on a relaxing, 7-km / 4-mile walk that starts at the TV tower. From here, follow the bank of the river to the lock and then cross to the island. Although close to the city centre, this is an unspoiled, natural landscape, which provides a habitat for kingfishers, storks and pheasants.
Heidelberg: walk back in time on Heiligenberg hill
With Germany's oldest university, a ruined castle and ancient centre, Heidelberg is a must-see destination. For great views of all this, cross to the north side of the River Neckar, where the 440-m / 1,450-foot high Heiligenberg hill offers a variety of trails. A circular hike, the Keltenweg (Celtic Path) has a Celtic theme. It passes a defensive wall, a monastery ruins and a medieval well. Made famous by poets and thinkers, the Philosophenweg (Philosophers’ Walk) meanders past gardens planted with exotic species, such as Japanese loquat, Arizona cypress, Spanish broom and Portugal laurel. A 4-km / 2.5-mile path connects the Philosophenweg, the steep Schlangenweg alley, the Old Bridge and the main street in Heidelberg's Old Town.
Heilbronn’s Wine Panorama Path: walk, learn and taste
Overlooking Heilbronn, the wine-growing capital of Württemberg, the Wein Panorama Weg (Wine Panorama Path) invites you to hike and sip your way through the vineyards. It runs from the town’s historic 300-year-old wooden wine press to the Wartberg hill. Along its 6 km / 4 miles are 24 stations that create a sort of open-air museum, with information on winegrowing, as well as local culture and nature. Stop at the new wine bar on the Wartberg to relax, enjoy glorious vistas and savour wines produced in the surrounding vineyards. Best of all, the path is accessible to all, from families with strollers to visitors in wheelchairs.
Pforzheim: urban eco-walks in the "City of Gold”
The jewellery-making city of Pforzheim takes urban ecological tours seriously, with a choice of eight circular walks. One of the best is from the Rodgebiet area in south-west Pforzheim to the village of Dillweissstein, known for its lime/linden trees. Walkers learn about the trees that line the streets, providing shade and clean air. Locals love their gardens, which offer food and shelter to wildlife, even in the most densely populated areas. Then there is the Hinteren Tal, a wetland with rare animals and plants. Walk any of the trails with a guide or on your own.
Baden-Baden’s Panorama Trail: all about the views
“Glamorous” and “sophisticated” are the words usually associated with the famous spa city of Baden-Baden. But as well as its spas and casino, art galleries and parks, the Great Outdoors is on the doorstep. Created in 2004, the Black Forest National Park is a wilderness of some 40 square miles. But Mother Nature is even closer. Just pull on your hiking boots and follow the Panoramaweg (Panorama Trail). Start at the Kurhaus (Casino) and follow Germany’s "Trail of the Year" for 2004. This leads through the old streets and up to the rocky outcrop of the Battert, popular with rock climbers. Here, Baden-Baden's very own “Table Mountain” offers completely new perspectives of the city and far beyond.
Stuttgart’s Stäffele: up, down and all around
The state capital of Baden-Württemberg is Stuttgart. One of Germany’s greenest cities, it is surrounded by hills, forests, orchards and vineyards. In fact, a quarter of the city is green. No wonder this is a great place for urban hiking. Unique are the Stäffele, the 400 or more steep stone staircases that lead up and down the hillsides. Join a guided tour of the Stäffele; be prepared for a work out. Enjoy looking over vineyards and city – you will have earned it!
Ulm and Neu-Ulm: walk the walls
The sister cities of Ulm and Neu-Ulm face off across the River Danube. Locals joke that there are two important structures: one is vertical; the other is horizontal. The former is Ulm’s cathedral, with the world’s tallest spire. The latter is the system of 19th-century fortifications, one of Europe’s largest. Discover more by walking the Stadtmauer (City Wall). The 13-km / 8-mile circular path takes in both sides of the river. Along the ramparts, 32 information panels explain the history behind the massive watch towers. There are views over the Danube and, on a clear day, even to the Alps. For orientation, start at the information office in the Wilhelmsburg fortress in Neu-Ulm.
Konstanz: stroll along Lake Constance
If a relaxed amble sounds more appealing than hiking, then Konstanz, the largest city on Lake Constance, is the place for you. The flat, easy shore path, some 8 km / 5 miles long, starts at Imperia, the iconic statue at the entrance to the harbour. From here, it leads through the city park to Horn Beach, known to locals as the "Hörnle". Although the path is busy in peak holiday season (May to September), it is quiet the rest of the year. During autumn and winter, the shimmering lake and distant mountains create a magical scene.