Multi-day Beer Trekking in the Altmuhltal is experiencing one of Germany’s largest National Park‘s views and brews with stays in cozy inns all along the way. I spent 12 days on the trails in this beautiful area spread over eight overnight lodgings – and I did not go thirsty.
Altmühltal is situated between Munich and Nuremberg – about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Munich and 50 km (30 miles) south of Nuremberg. It is a large area of nearly 1200 square miles – bigger than the land area of Rhode Island. My hiking was mostly focused on a hiking route called the Altmühltal Panoramaweg traveling around 200 kilometers from Gunzenhausen to Kelheim. The route follows a river called the Altmühl (“old mill’) as it winds lazily through the steep-sided valley until it flows into the Danube. The western portion of the area is the southwestern reach of Franconia, so the beers are Franconian for a good portion of the way. Wheat beers seem very popular in the area and there are a bunch of good ones here. The eastern portion identifies as Upper Bavarian.
When people talk about the Bavarian Jura it always throws me off a bit because I’m never sure what or just where they are speaking of. I haven’t ever seen it depicted on a map. Then someone will mention the Franconian Jura to further confuse me. Well, given that this adventure placed me solidly in the Bavarian (and Franconian) Jura the time was ripe to study this a bit. Google Translate was no help – it says that “jura” means “law” which made no sense at all. With a bit more digging, I discovered that this use of the term “jura” derives from Celtic usage and means “mountain” or “woody mountains”. This makes sense as my route was laced with archaeological sites left behind by Celtic and later Roman inhabitants. The Altmühltal is undergirded by a massive limestome plate formed in the Jurassic period. The route passes large limestone quarries famous as fossil hunting places. The Franconian Jura is an extension of the Schwabian Jura to the west and it curls around Nuremburg to the north and up into the Oberpfalz to the east. The Altmühl river dug a valley into the formation over the eons to create the “tal” or valley.
The valley is consistently rimmed by steep cliffs, often with craggy limestone outcrops. The cliffs were perfect places for the nobility of old to wedge in their fortresses and there is at least one castle in view from most places along the route. You also pass lots of ruins and arch-sites. The route features plenty of up and down as you generally take a highline on the cliffs between towns and villages and then dip down to visit them on the valley floor before climbing once again. Panoramaweg is an apt name as you are never far from a big view. There are meadows, scrub pine, charming village, and dense forest segments. Most of the time the tread is single-track dirt pathway but it can be overgrown in the meadows and there are segments that use farm roads. If you are handy as an orienteer, there are countless detours and shortcuts available.
My beer trek was adjusted to my preferences for daily distances, places to stay, and beers to experience but the possible variations in the number of days and the sequence of stops are limited by only your imagination. I like a cozy inn or pension to sleep so the places I stayed (that are indicated on the interactive map) were of the small, modestly priced variety. I made reservations about a month in advance and used a service (Radweg-Reisen GmbH “Gepackservice”) to pick up and transport my bag each day to my next overnight stop – I only carried my daypack, camera, stick, and bottle opener. I also reduced some segments by using inexpensive public transport.
The western portion has decent train service between Ingolstadt and Gunzenhausen with a spur between Treuchtlingen and Nuremberg. The only stop in the area on the train between Munich and Nuremberg is at Kinding. There is a country bus service along the parts of the route with no train and I used buses several times to shorten segments of the hike to manageable distances for me. The bus service is a bit tricky though because the area is fragmented into several transit districts. There is a weekend “leisure bus” that runs a good deal of the length of the route but it looked to be more useful to bicyclers than hikers.
Beers & Breweries
This area may not be considered a brewery hotbed, but there is plenty of interesting beer culture here that matched up nicely with my Multi-day Beer Trekking in the Altmuhltal. My path crossed with the beers of more than twenty different breweries (and many more varieties of beer) during the twelve days I spent along the route.
Furst Carl Schlossbrauerei is a castle brewery in the village of Ellingen that I made part of a day hike. I took the train to Ellingen in the morning and hiked back to Treuchtlingen via the picturesque walled town of Weißenburg and the classic beer garden that is Wettelsheimerkeller. Furst Carl is a private brewery operated by the nobility that owns and occupies the place. There is a cheery beer garden on the grassy lawn between the brewery and the residence where their full range of traditional beers are served. Furst Carl also makes what they call their “Franken Ale”, a non-traditional top-fermented ale dry-hopped with house-grown Mittelfrüh hops.
Hotel Gasthof Schwarzer Bär is a farm-to-table inn in one of the oldest houses in Weißenburg that brews its own house beers. In the early 1800’s there were 30 brewery inns in the town and one was located in this old house and the cellar beneath.
Bräustüberl Zur Kanne – Brauerei Schneider in Weißenburg seems like the largest remaining brewery there. Their pub also houses a small brewing museum. The Schneider range includes a marzen, helles, weizen, and a pils.
Sigwart Braustuberl in Weißenburg operated a brewery up until 2019, but now they serve haus beers (a helles and a pils) made for them by Hofmuhl Brauerei in Eichstatt. “Sigwart” translates to “Red Horse.”
Wettelsheimer Keller – Brauerei Karl Strauß near Treuchtlingen is a classic beer garden. Set on a forested hillside overlooking a valley, Wettelsheimer beers brewed by the nearby Strauß Brewery are drawn from wooden kegs to satisfy the clientele. Strauß brews a full range of traditional beer styles. As I passed the cars parked out front I noticed multiple farm tractors mixed amongst the Audis and BMW’s – I don’t know if that is a normal mode of transportation to this place but I wouldn’t doubt it. I shared a table with some friendly locals and enjoyed the excellent Marzen “aus dem holzfass” as the sun set on the valley.
Hechtbräu is a small father/son brewery at Papenheim (near Treuchtlingen) that doesn’t have its own brewery taproom so I went searching to try their beer in town. The father, Bernhard Hecht makes classic styles and his son Florian makes a variety of craft selections. I lucked out and came across Herr Hecht selling their beers out of the back of his van at the local Farmers’ Market and he told me where to find his beer on tap at a local restaurant. He also sent me over to a nearby shop called Feine Biere.
Feine Biere is a beer shop in Treuchtlingen owned and run by a pair of obvious beer lovers, Willi Ruppert & Tine Grubert. Both Willi and Tine were wonderfully friendly and hospitable as I told them what I was doing. They are also beer bloggers (Blog-ums-bier.de) so we have that in common as well. I’d love to have a shop like this in my town. They feature a couple of beers on tap and a nice assortment in coolers that you can sit and enjoy in their mini-beer garden behind the shop. They carry an extensive assortment of beers ranging from traditional to craft. Willi told me that his folks had operated a butcher shop in the space and it stayed in the family after they passed away. Willi is an IT guy I think and did not have any thoughts of becoming a butcher. A butcher shop has lots of the right stuff though that can translate into a fine beer shop – think location, big storefront windows, coolers, etc. The shop opened in 2000 and I hope to find it still there next time I visit Treuchtlingen.
Willi took me on an interesting beer exploration starting with a beer from Schorschbräu up the road in Gunzenhausen. Schorschbräu makes some of the world’s strongest beers and their SchorschBock (ABV 57%!) is their strongest. If I understand correctly, Schorschbrau and craft brewery Brewdog collaborated on a beer called “Strength in Numbers” which has the record for highest ABV beer you can buy at ABV 57.8% – I saw it for sale online in a shot-sized flip-top bottle for about $37.50.
I sat down with a wimpy ABV 13% Eisbock (I imagine they consider this their session beer) and sipped while getting a bunch of useful tidbits and insights for my days to come. Willi and Tine were generous with their time, knowledge, and another beer or two before I needed to get on down the trail
Wurm Bier is a small brewery near Papenheim that brews a traditional range year-round as well as several seasonals. I found their beer at an inn along the route in Papenheim and tried a couple of very nice examples. I would try several more if given the opportunity.
Hochholzer Brauhaus is a microbrewery off the trail near Solnhausen. They specialize in conducting Saturday beer and brewing seminars. I wasn’t able to see if I could try their beer or get them to respond, but I wasn’t in their area on a Saturday.
RS Brau is a homebrewer near Eichstatt that I didn’t learn much about and I was unable to get a response from. I understand that their range includes a wheat bock and a stout.
Privatbrauerei Hofmühl is a bigger-scale brewery in Eichstatt with more than 500 years of brewing history behind them. I stayed at what I guess was a former brewery called Braugasthof Trompete that prominently featured Hofmuhl beers. I read that Eichstatt was a famous place for witch hunts back in the day (1500’s) and the wives of brewers were often targets – occupational hazard I guess.
Brauerei Gutmann in nearby Titing has been brewing for more than 300 years and brews mostly wheat beers. The brewery has its own in-house malting operation. I am no wheat beer connoisseur but I found their Hefeweizen among the best I have experienced. The brewery has a pub in Eichstatt where you can find their beers along the route.
Schattenhofer Brau is another brewery with a long history located along the route in Beilngries. At the time I visited, they seemed to be just finishing up on a major remodel project. A local festival was underway and the Schattenhofer Festbier was flowing all around town.
Brauerei Friedrich Riemhofer in Riedenburg grew from a brewery inn in the town center called the Swan and now has a brewing plant close upriver. They make a full, traditional range. The Schwan Gasthaus & Hotel remains a lively spot for trying Riemhofer beers as well as interesting beers from other area breweries. The proprietress is a beer sommelier who leads tastings and beer dinners by appointment.
Riedenburger Brauhaus dating back to the 1700’s is a noted bio-beer brewery. They were the first Bavarian brewery to go 100% organic (1994). Their gorgeous and laid-back beer garden across the river from the town center is a classic spot to enjoy their beers. Riedenburger has a big range with multiple lines. In addition to their full range of traditional beers, they brew craft beers (think IPA, Porter, and other ales) and also have a line of “ancient grain” beers made using grains like emmer, spalt, einkorn, and millet.
Brauereigasthof Schneider is a gem I learned about from reading a post by my kindred friend Rich Carbonara – the Beerwanderer. This brewery is set in the excruciatingly picturesque village of Essing. It is the second of three unrelated breweries named “Schneider” that I would encounter on the trek. This Schneider has been around since the 1600’s and features a tasty, traditional range.
I made Klosterbrauerei Weltenburg a dayhike from Essing and then took the boat from there to Kelheim. There was frequent bus service between Kelheim and Essing and it was good to stay in the same place for a few nights after many days on the trail. Weltenburg is a beautiful, historic spot on the Danube where you can get one of the world’s great Dunkels – it is a place where if you just ask for a “beer” you will be brought their Dunkel. There is a tour of the brewery available on certain days but try as I might, I couldn’t get the reservation website to work for me. It was a great reason to show up early to relax and have a beer and a snack. A shopkeeper told me to go stand around the locked door to the brewery about fifteen minutes before the scheduled tour and talk to the guide about what could be arranged.
That is what I did – before long it was apparent that it was just me and one other guy hanging out there. After a bit, I struck up a conversation and learned that the other guy was in fact the tour guide, Ole. I explained my predicament and he told me he was expecting several other tourists but that I could pay and tag along as long as I didn’t mind that the tour would be in German. We waited for a while and no one else showed up. That is how I got my private tour and tasting – in English.
I have seen some confusion about where Weltenburg beers are brewed. I’ve read that Weltenburg has a deal with Brauerei Bischofshof in Regensburg to brew beers for them so I asked Ole about it. He explained that the dark beers are brewed at the Kloster brewery while other beers are made at Regensburg. He spoke with reverence about the Abbott of Regensburg who he said has been a strong supporter of the enterprise. Beer has been brewed at Weltenburg since 1050 making this the oldest monastery brewery in the world.
Weisses Bräuhaus Kelheim is owned and operated by yet another Schneider and a short boat ride away from Weltenburg. The Weisses Bräuhaus is the oldest wheat beer brewery in Bavaria. dating to the early 1600’s. This is a very well-known beer owing to their classic Schneider Weisse beer hall in the center of Munich. Schneider Weisse is also heavily exported into the U.S. market.
Brauerei & Gasthof Frischeisen is a family run inn in the Kelheim suburb of Affecking. They offer a traditional beer range.
Schlossbrauerei Eichhofen is just north of Kelheim and I encountered their beers several times along the trek. I even had a worker at another brewery tell me I should seek them out. I remember a clean, crisp a Pils.
Other Thoughts About Multi-day Beer Trekking in the Altmuhltal
I was surprised not to encounter that many other hikers over the days on the Altmühltal Panoramaweg. It was easy to be alone and be lost in solitary thoughts. Sometimes though it is cheery to commune with others and as it happened I encountered a group of three friends who were also on a multi-day adventure several times along the way. Phil, Dirk, and Timo are from near Ehingen – a place I had visited on another beer hike some years ago. They had also noticed how few hikers there seemed to be. All of the heavy action seemed to be on the Altmühltal Cycle Path on the valley floor below. I have to admit – this does also look like a great place for biking.
Phil, Dirk, and Timo were mixing up their hiking with days of kayaking and canoeing which also strikes me as another attractive option for exploring the Altmühltal. We crossed paths several times over a beer or dinner and the conversation enriched my time. One of the guys asked our waitress in Eichstatt about the upcoming highlights along the route and the only thing she came up with was to not miss the “Windbeutel Mit Eis Und Sahne” (a giant cream puff filled with ice cream and topped with fruit and cream) at Bauer’s in Kipfenberg.
When we met up in Kipfenberg next afternoon and got to Bauer’s we learned that the place would be closed by the time we finished dinner. I was staying at Bauer’s and had the bright idea to talk the landlady into figuring out how we might get one of her legendary desserts after dinner. I think she was rightfully proud of her creation’s legendary status and she told me to go to the green house at the end of the alley next to the cafe after we finished dinner and knock – she would come and fix us dessert. We enjoyed a fine dinner together and I told the guys I had arranged for us to get out treat. We walked to the green house at the end of the alley, knocked, and a somewhat frazzled young mom with a baby answered. I tried to explain why we were there and was met with a look of astonishment – how awkward! It was obviously the wrong green house. The German guys baled me out gracefully and as we made our way back up the alley we managed a correct guess at another house to try. The landlady was expecting us and led us the back way into the bakery where she fixed us a mountain of carbs with four spoons.
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