For centuries the red-sandstone studded hills and forested valleys of Spessart (English: Woodpecker Forest) were the private hunting domains of Germany’s nobility and bishops, and remained more or less untouched by the outside world. Today, you will benefit from that lack of development by vacationing in the forests of Spessart, which has become a favorite destination for both hikers and horsebackers.
The region’s famous Donkey Trail (Eselweg) will lead you through 111 km (68 miles) of the area’s woodlands, along the same path followed by the donkey caravans which transported salt from the medieval salt works at Orb and Fulda to the shipping ports along the River Main. This ridge trail passes through Germany’s largest continuous stretch of forest, where you’ll be shaded by some of the old growth oak trees which have made the region’s oak wood prized by builders around the globe.
In the days when salt production was at its peak, the valleys of Spessart hid bands of highwaymen, necessitating a caravan route in the highland. The Donkey Trail has a consistent elevation of between 400 and 500 m (1300 to 1800 feet), passing through six distinct stages with hotels and guesthouses to provide shelter and food (for both hikers and horsebackers!) at the end of each day’s trek.
The Donkey Trail starts at Schlüchtern‘s railway station, which is situated high above the town. Along the way, it passes by several old cloisters, hillside crucifixes, and chapels. In its later stages, it will take you to the legendary Mespelbrunn moated castle, the setting for the notable 1950s German film, “The Spessart Inn.”
Another legendary castle is at Aschaffenburg. Built from the red sandstone of the Spessart hills, the castle contains a dazzling art collection
The city also has a basilica dating back to 974 which now houses the relics of St. Margaret, a Roman villa replicating one discovered in the ruins of Pompeii, and some magnificent Mediterranean-style gardens overlooking the main river. If you arrived here weary from your hiking, take time to enjoy the world’s largest collection of sports cars, and consider alternative transportation for your return trip!
For all its charms, the Donkey Trail is not the only path meandering through the Spessart. The Schneewichtenwanderweg (Snow White Trail) will lead you into the charming village Lohr on the banks of the Rivers Main. Here, in the Lohrer Schloss (the city castle) you’ll find the evidence collected to prove that the actual Snow White came from Spessart and possibly from Lohr.
Lohr has long been a center of mirror production, with the minerals used to create the mirror glass once mined nearby. At one time, the miners had to be exceptionally small, and were housed in huts close to the mines — just like the Seven Dwarves!
Do you prefer cycling to hiking? Then head for the Frammersbach hills where the mountain biking trails are challenging enough to attract cyclists for the annual international mountain biking trials. For something a little less strenuous but equally scenic outing, rent a bike for one day tour of the Hafenlohr Valley.
With the lovely River Main coursing along its border, Spessart is a great place to enjoy a river cruise beginning at either Aschaffenburg or Miltenberg. Miltenberg is the home of the Zum Reisen, Germany’s oldest inn, and a great place to sample some of the locally produced red wine for which the Spessart region is acclaimed!