Follow the footsteps of the Waldensians - Protestant religious refugees who emigrated from Lyon in France to Baden Wurrtemberg in Germany - on the Huguenot and Waldesian Cultural Route.
The Waldensians were of humble means and, while not rich in money, were very skilled with manufacturing and sewing intricate clothing made out of silks and wool. Additionally, they planted the seeds of what has become a famous wine region today.
For history buffs and those interested in learning more about European culture, traveling along the same routes the Waldensians took back in the 1100s provides a peek into the past while enjoying beautiful sites all along the way, both ancient and modern.
The walk from Hohentwiel to Hilzingen in Germany, near Lake Constance and the Swiss border, is a gorgeous part of the route that runs from an old medieval fortress in Hohentwiel through small villages and wine plantations to the town of Hilzingen. Showcasing vineyards and sheep farms along the way, it's the perfect display of the enduring Waldensian culture that lives on today.
Begin the walk at the Hohentwiel Fortress Ruins (Staatliche Schlösser), which sits atop the rocky outcrop of Hohentweil that was formed by volcanoes, meaning the area is full of steep crags and jutting rocks.
The first castle there was built in 914 and held particular significance as the seat of Swabian Dukes. Like most castles, it changed hands and had various buildings added on over time. Eventually it even became a prison until Napoleon ordered that it be destroyed in 1801.
The Church tower was eventually rebuilt and a viewpoint platform was constructed.
The ruins gained more fame when, in 1855, author Josef Victor von Scheffel published Ekkehard, a love story between a monk from St. Gallen, Ekkehard, and a duke’s widow, Hadwig, which he set in Hohentwiel.
Today the ruins receive more than 80,000 visitors per year and even plays host to the occasional music festival.
The views from the top of the fortress offer a panoramic view of the Alps all the way to Lake Constance, including the rolling hills with vineyards and farmland in between.
From the fortress, several trails run through these very farms and vineyards, offering both an overhead and eye-level view of the vineyards and sheep farms.
Thanks to the volcanic activity that produced the impressive rocks that created a perfect place for the fortress, a lush environment was created which now serves as a nature reserve with plenty of unique flora and fauna - perfect for history buffs and nature lovers.
This part of the trail takes about three hours to walk along, through partial forest and vineyards. It is mainly flat and along a dirt road.
A few practical tips:
Though there are some trees in the beginning, the walk is mainly un-shaded, so if walking in the summer, prepare for the sun by bringing along a hat and sunblock. The valleys are dry and arid and can reach over 30 degrees during the warmest months in July and August.
Hotel Hohentwiel sits just 15 minutes from the fortress and is the perfect place to overnight prior to starting the walk the next morning.
For more information:
The Cultural Routes were developed by the Council of Europe to demonstrate, by means of a journey through space and time, how the heritage of the different countries and cultures of Europe contributes to a shared cultural heritage. Check out culture-routes.net for more information about the routes.
*Our Cultural Routes experience was provided by Visit Europe, a non-profit organization responsible for the promotion of Europe as a tourist destination. All opinions are our own.