A Very Short Introduction to
A Little-known European Gem
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Odin's Forest (Odenwald) borders on the eastern edge of the German City of Heidelberg, with its famous university and its famous castle. Odin's Forest is made up of both deciduous and conifer trees. The River Neckar, immortalized by Mark Twain in 1878, is an important feature of the landscape, a landscape in which the numerous castles testify to a rich history, stretching back to mediaeval times and beyond (when knights were bold ... etc.). It is said that Mark Twain went down the river on a logging raft, but evidence of that challenging exercise has not been verified!
Heidelberg Castle is the Gateway to Odin’s Forest and the Neckar Valley. In this area I have done numerous walks over the years. What you see here can only be a "a taster". However, I’ll try and home in on a few highlights. Walks in Odin’s Forest can typically take you from the valley floor at about 100 metres, to over 560 metres above sea level with plenty of ups and downs between. The net vertical ascent in a day can therefore often be as much as 1 Km. Good exercise in the fresh forest air! Walks can range from a few miles up to at least 16 miles if not more, depending on personal inclination and weather. The Continental climate is generally drier than the British climate. Heidelberg is about 80 Km south of Frankfurt Airport, as the crow flies. Frankfurt itself is only about 1.25 hours away from Heathrow by air.So here are some typical walks and impressions. Peruse and enjoy!
This is a circular walk of about 16 miles from my base on the edge of Odin’s Forest. After an hour or so I reach the “Roebuck Cliff” (“Bockfelsen”) high above the River Neckar. As you see, the view along the river towards our destination of the mediaeval town of Dilsberg is amazing, and definitely worth at least a short stop to soak up the landscape. The story has it that an unfortunate roebuck was followed by the equally unfortunate hunter’s dog into the depths, but the view impresses!
Onwards we go along the forest path high above the river. Eventually we reach a “Black Forest” type water mill at the foot of Dilsberg, our destination. It’s a steep climb to the old - erstwhile fortified – town itself, object of a siege by the French under Tilly in 1633 and later by the Swedes in the thirty years’ war. On top, we can take in the fine view towards Heidelberg and the "King's Chair". After this, we can stop for a short visit to the “Gasthaus” (pub) or to the nearby “Konditorei” which serves excellent coffee and cake for those with a sweet tooth.
We have time to have a quick look around the historic town before make our descent to the Neckar Valley below. The houses on the hill top are of course renovated and very much in the “des-res” bracket, especially for those working in the industrial and business centres of Mannheim and Ludwigshafen on the Rhine about an hour away to the West.
We then descend to the River Neckar and proceed along the river bank. We might have some further time to explore the historic riverside town of Neckarsteinach, before we climb up to the “Four Castles” or “Vier Burgen”. The first two castles were built about 1142 and 1165 respectively and are still lived in – with all mod-cons of course! The further 2 of these 4 castles are only slightly newer edifices, dating from about 1225 and 1335 respectively. They are not lived-in, but are readily accessible to us as walkers.
This is another of my favourite walks. Again, the starting point is my base on the edge of the Odin’s Forest, and the walk takes about five to six hours depending on how unhurried we are (why hurry if we are on holiday?), and the distance is about 14 miles. Our destination is the “King’s Chair” high above Heidelberg. The “King’s Chair” has a height of 568 metres, and we start from about 133 metres above sea level. Of course, intermediate ups and downs mean that we have a total ascent of at least 1 Km, but we can take all in our stride.
On the way to the “King’s Chair”, we come through a small hamlet nestling in a forest clearing. This hamlet is the “Kohlhof”, which is now a health resort for heart patients and for those espousing holistic medicine. We can stop here for a nourishing and wholesome wheat beer if we wish. From here we also have a distant view of Dilsberg – the mediaeval fortified town we visited in the above section.
It's not too far now to the “King’s Chair” from where we have a fine view over Heidelberg nestling at our feet. On a good day, we can see across the Rhine Valley to the Palatinate and – over the border – to the Vosges Mountains.
We can take a break of an hour or so at the “King’s Chair” to enjoy some refreshment. I mean, a hill-top in Germany would not be a proper summit without its pub (“Gasthaus”) nestling in the forest. There is also a falconry here, where a ¾ hour visit introduces us to different types of birds of prey, including eagle owls, kestrels and of course, falcons.
After our break, our return path back to base takes us through more forest with views towards the north of the River Neckar and deep into Odin’s Forest.
Going up the River Neckar we come to more quaint places nestling on the river bank. I can visit many of these, either from my base on an invigorating walk, or by public transport if I want a more relaxing day. These places include Eberbach, whose “Victoria Konditorei” (Cake Shop) sends a special cake to the British Royal Family on the occasion of special royal events like state marriages.
Another place nearby on the Neckar is Hirschhorn with its pink castle presiding on a spur above the town and the river. "Hirschhorn" translates as "Stag Horn" which suggests that hunting for game was a pursuit widely enjoyed by the occupants of those castles we mentioned. Today, hereabouts, the use of dogs is strictly forbidden when game hunting.
Heidelberg can of course be reached on foot from the north bank of the River Neckar, although a circular walk of about 20 miles from my base is a day walk for mid-summer.
Apart from the many local walks, the historic Palace of Schwetzingen (a sort of huge “national trust” property with connections to James II of England) is well worth a visit. The hills of the Palatinate are also within easy reach, and the Black Forest, as well as - just over the border with France to west - the Vosges Mountains and Strasbourg, could also feature in travel and walking plans for the day. Heritage railways are not too far away either.
Odin’s Forest and The Neckar Valley are generally off the beaten track for many who tend to seek “further shores”. However, this part of Europe is worth visiting for its splendid mixture of scenic walks and lots of history. Frankfurt Airport, to the north, is close by and coming by train is also feasible.
Of course, Wikipedia is a good source of further information. However, you are of course also welcome to visit my write-ups. Some of the items are in the local lingo, because my write-ups have evoked the interest of some of the locals, including the well-established local taxi company! I’m sure, however, that you will get even more of a flavour of what Odin’s Forest has to offer by visiting these pages. (Web-based translators (e.g. such as Google®'s offering), while not perfect, can also be helpful here.)