Hiking long-distance trails fascinates me because it is so simple yet so rich in treasures. It's not a race, so one just needs to take one's time, let things take their course and enjoy the experiences whilst following the trail. I particularly enjoy walking the certified trails in Germany, either Premiumwanderwege or Qualitätswege, both of which meet established criteria, ensuring hikers enjoy a good walking experience. The Altmühltal Panoramaweg is a Qualitätsweg and has also earned its place amongst the "Top Trails of Germany". Like most German distance trails, it isn't a walk in the wilderness (I'm much too old for that, anyway) and one is never far from civilization. Due to this proximity, traffic sounds can sometimes be an accompaniment on these trails and some stretches of the Panoramaweg was no exception. However, although lacking in grand vistas of wild scenery and feelings of solitude in the outdoors, there is a pastoral beauty to be experienced walking through the forests and along the rivers of Germany which I find quite satisfying. Most trails in Germany have been used for a long time, often as old trading routes, and over the centuries have left traces of their use with many artefacts, such as memorials, chapels, marker stones and statues.

The Panoramaweg provided me with yet another walking history lesson which added interest to each day. As well as being impressed by the jurassic fossils, it was also very interesting to see the traces of Celtic civilization and Roman occupation. German medieval town centres with their market squares, usually ringed by Fachwerkhäuser are always a joy to visit and the ones in the Naturpark Altmühl with their many cultural attractions, certainly didn't disappoint.
Stopping for a lunch of Brotzeit and beer at biergartens along the trail added to the pleasure of each day's stage, although at times my trek resembled a degenerate pub crawl across Bavaria. I also enjoyed my overnight stays at the towns and villages along the Altmühltal. It's fun to walk into a new town or village, explore it then find a gemütlicher Gasthof where a Bavarian "Schmankerl" and good local beer is served. I found both accommodation and eating out in the Naturpark Altmühltal to be generally less expensive than on the last few trails I'd walked. Free Wifi was available at all of my overnight stops.
Although my overnight stays were close to the trail, public transport links along every stage of the Panoramaweg are excellent, enabling me to bypass some stretches when it was necessary. However, my trip coincided with the Whitsun school holidays (21st-31st May), which reduced the amount of buses available at useful times.

Hiking nowadays is quite a commercialized activity in Germany, so as a necessity to compete with other "premium trails", the Panoramaweg was well maintained. Signposting along the trail was excellent and I never experienced any confusion. The red and yellow trail markers are quite distincive and in abundance. There is variety in the stages, alternating usually between open hillsides and beech forests, although I'm not completely convinced by the routing of the trail. It does seem to bypass many villages and I was often taking detours for lunch or sightseeing. Luckily, I had planned my itinerary to allow for this. I enjoyed most of the stages and found some of the best scenery to be between Pappenheim and Kipfenberg. Some of the old towns along the trail were also big highlights of the Panoramaweg. Although I was disappointed at missing out the walk through the Klamm between Riedenburg and Essing, the scenery on the final stage was suitable recompense and was a great finish to the Panoramaweg. However, I do have mixed feelings about this trail. Despite being a "Top Trail of Germany", it doesn't make it into my top 3 trails that I've walked (my favourites so far are Schluchtensteig, Malerweg, Saar-Hunsrück-Steig). A few months after completion, I looked back on the walk with some indifference, so possibly it is now time to consider different ventures.
Logistics Notes
For this trek*, my objective again was to try and keep dryweight around 5 Kilos, excluding camera equipment, so I followed the same regime as on my Soonwaldsteig walk by discarding items that were deemed either unnecessary or had been unused on previous walks, packing only one change of clothing (for evening wear) and reducing further the contents of my toiletry, laundry and first aid bags. My Deuter Speed Lite backpack is a good compromise of capacity (30L) and weight (850gm). Nowadays, many distance hikers are wearing trail-running shoes instead of boots. This option would also further reduce weight, as with no boots I would no longer need to carry an extra pair of shoes for evening wear. My pack wasn't heavy, so I left my boots at home and wore a pair of Meindl Vegas hiking shoes instead, which were quite lighter on my feet. Worn with Superfeet insoles and merino wool socks, my feet were quite comfortable, although thicker socks would have been a better choice. I'm now a complete convert to merino wool and as well as my socks, I also wore merino wool baselayers. Again, I debated whether to pack a poncho and umbrella, or a waterproof jacket and overtrousers for wet weather. A poncho does have the advantage of completely covering both the backpack and myself. However, as much of the trail is on exposed high ridges along the river, the thought of trying to control a poncho being ballooned by winds didn't appeal to me. Also, as a fashion item, a poncho would not look too elegant when walking into a local Kneipe on rainy evenings and such appearance could negatively impact my credibility as a serious beer drinker. This sartorial consideration resulted in the decision to forego the poncho/umbrella option and take my Goretex Paclite jacket and overtrousers instead.

Unfortunately, my excellent little Lumix DMC-LX5 camera died on me sometime after my Soonwaldsteig walk in 2015. This was a big disappointment because its Leica lens took very sharp pictures, but I decided not to replace it with another fixed-lens camera. As I already owned some Micro Four Thirds equipment, I brought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3. To reduce the weight of photography equipment, I purchased the Panasonic 12-32mm and Panasonic 35-100mm lenses. These two compact, lightweight lenses are very sharp and provide me with a 35mm equivalent coverage of 24-200mm. I also packed some ND and Polarizing filters and a lightweight travel tripod. The weight and convenience of the M43 kit would be impossible to match with any of my DSLR equipment, although my lightweight equipment still contributed over a kilo of added pack weight.

Earlier in 2018, I replaced my iPhone 5C with a Moto G5 Android smartphone because I needed more memory for apps etc. This change meant I no longer needed to take my Nexus7 tablet as well, because the Moto's large screen made it quite adequate for use in backing up photos, reading books, watching videos and making notes for this trip report. I make great use of Microsoft's Onenote to store and synchronize all information and documentation needed for a hiking holiday. Deuter seem to have discontinued their free App which used the maps from OutdoorActive, so I purchased the OutdoorActive app and downloaded the trail stages. The Outdooractive offline large-scale maps work well with the smartphone's internal GPS. However, I also brought my Garmin GPS because it's both rugged and weatherproof and was loaded with tracks which I had previously edited that included various deviations and shortcuts from the normal route, although I hardly used it, preferring the much better maps on the smartphone.

*trek - An extended form of hiking in which people carry double the amount of gear they need for half the distance they planned to go in twice the time it should take.

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