It all started with a big bang more than 14 million years ago. An asteroid crashed into the earth, hurled millions of tonnes of earth and stones into the air and left behind an around 24 kilometre crater, traces of which can still be seen today. Where did all of this take place? In the heart of Germany – more specifically in the Ries, as the area is known today. It lies between the towns of Nördlingen, Oettingen, Wemding and Harburg in the northernmost district of the Bavarian administrative district of Swabia, called Danube-Ries.
Take a leisurely hike through nature – that is relaxation.
As soon as you arrive, you notice that the landscape here is unique: shaped by picturesque river valleys, hilly forests, heaths and barren mountainous areas, it radiates vastness and peace. The towns also exude traditional conviviality. Nördlingen, for example, is surrounded by Germany’s only fully preserved town wall. A walk on the fortifications with their numerous tours and gates provides a wonderful view of the Ries and the winding alleyways with the bell tower of St. George’s Church known as the “Daniel”. From here, the “watchman” still makes his nightly call “So G’sell so”. In the Middle Ages, this call was supposed to ensure that all the guards were at their posts and not asleep. To this day, it is a lovingly preserved tradition which gives the town a special character.
The hiking tours also have a character of their own. The Shepherd’s Trail (Schäferweg) starts outside the gates of Nördlingen. It follows the traditional paths of the migratory shepherds. Their occupation had almost died out, but today you can see them moving through the Ries more frequently again. Which is a blessing, as the natural landscape would lose its face without the grazing by the sheep. A landscape in which even whole streams can disappear to then emerge from the karst ground again a few kilometres further on, like the Gailach near Monheim.
The Shepherd’s Trail leads gently up and down through extensive heaths interlarded with neglected grassland, broom bushes and greyish white rocks. The 20 kilometres run smoothly. You become lost in your thoughts and admire the unusual nature – a real pleasure and a successful start to experiencing Bavaria’s landscape in a very different way.