You will have to search long and hard before finding a part of Germany as unspoiled as the Altmühltal (English: Altmühl Valley). Curving northwest from Kelheim, where the Altmühl River joins the Danube, the Altmühltal provides a panorama of sheep grazing peacefully on pastures of riverside villages over shadowed by limestone cliffs with their medieval castles.
The best way to take all of it in is at the Altmühltal Nature Park (Naturpark Altmühltal), where a network of hiking and cycling trails is waiting to send you on your way!
The Altmühltal, long before your arrival, greeted the Neanderthals who left behind funeral urns at their Kelheim burying ground, and the Romans who left behind the restored watchtowers and country houses of the UNESCO Limes World Heritage Site.
You’ll find the glory that was Rome at Weißenburg, in the north of the Altmühl Nature Park. This was the site of the largest (completely reconstructed) Roman baths in all of Bavaria.
Stop in at Weißenburg’s Roman Museum to see the 156-piece treasure of silver tablets, statuettes,and processional masks discovered here in 1979. Get a taste of what appealed to the Romans here by traveling south about 7.5 miles (12km) to Treuchtlingen and the Altmühltherme thermal baths.
Just around the next bend of the river is the sunny village of Pappenheim, with its mandatory hilltop castle (complete with torture chamber and hunting museum!). A bit further on, the river winds past a group of rocks called the Twelve Apostles, that remains of the reef of an ancient ocean.
Further east is the elegant town of Eichstätt. The shining white facade of the 14th century Willibald Castle gleams from above like a beacon, inviting you to the castle grounds and their fascinating botanical garden. The castle has a museum devoted to the Altmühltal’s geological past. Try your luck searching for fossils at the town’s public quarry!
Another 16 km or 10 miles northeast along the Altmühl is Bavaria’s geographical heart, the charming town of Kipfenberg. Although the first historical mention of Kipfenberg was in 1266, the area was so well-known to the Romans that the town is the site of an annual Limesfest!
Next is Beilngries, where you’ll enjoy an entirely different taste of the Altmühltal. Arrive thirsty, because the pure water of the town’s springs is the source of the marvelous-tasting beers brewed here! Come during the summer, and you’ll find the residents have traded their Bavarian hats for Italian ones.
Beilngries goes Mediterranean with street parties at which wine and pasta are the sustenance of choice! The Town Hall and Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) provide examples of the town’s Mediterranean architecture.
Because the Altmühltal has more breweries than any other similarly-sized area of Bavaria, you may be tempted to overindulge as you make your way. So make your next stop at Reidenburg, a recognized climactic health resort and the site of the spectacularly preserved clifftop feudal castle, Schloss Prunn. Don’t miss either the Kristallmuseum, with the world’s largest rock crystal, or the falconry demonstrations at the Schloss Rosenburg!
Oh no, I’m not done yet!
Just down the river at Essing you’ll find a marvelous medieval town with Europe’s longest wooden bridge. Climb to the Randeck Castle keep for a panoramic view of the surroundings. Stop at one of the local inns for a meal of the Altmühl’s specialty, Altmühltaler Lamm, which takes its flavor from the juniper on which the sheep are grazed.
You’re now just a stone’s throw from Kelheim, and the end of your journey through the Altmühltal Nature Park. Don’t leave without taking in the neoclassical Hall of Liberation, set on a hilltop above the confluence of the Altmühl and Danube. Ludwig I had the Hall built to commemorate Germany’s 1813 defeat of Napoleon.
At Kelheim you can set out to explore the Danube, where an entirely new set of adventures awaits!