People often ask me and Merideth why we travel to Germany as often as we do. A recent sunny Sunday in Franconia provides a great answer to this question.
Searching for breweries to visit during our time in Bamberg, I noticed a cluster of five breweries to the southeast around the village of Gräfenberg in the Fränkische Schweiz. Intrigued, I researched a bit further and learned about the Fünf Seidla Steig (‘five beer mug hike’), a 10km hiking trail (15km round trip) that connects the breweries. Hiking and beer? What a brilliant idea!
Leaving Ute and Wolfie in Mannheim on Sunday morning, we sped east on the autobahn towards our first destination, the village of Weißenohe. Home to Klosterbrauerei Weißenohe, this was supposed to be our kickoff point for the hike.
Our plan somewhat hit a hitch when we reached Weißenohe. Besides the small lot at the monastery, we couldn’t really find parking in the tiny village’s winding narrow streets. Hungry and thirsty after the three hour drive, we decided park there rather than continuing to search around for a place to leave our rental car for the day.
A small lane into the monastery split the restaurant from an apple tree shaded beer garden across the street. With the day bordering on absolutely beautiful, we opted for a table in the beer garden.
There was one beer available on tap in the beer garden, their Altfränkisches Klosterbier. Two beers and two orders of bratwurst with bread and potato salad were quickly ordered. The copper-colored brew was reminiscent of a Märzen, with a slight malty sweetness.
Enjoying the brats and beer under the shade of apple trees was perfect start to the day. Even the annoying little girl on the slide couldn’t ruin the moment. Though she did make filming difficult. It was a picture postcard moment of what it means to beer travel in Germany.
The ability to adapt to changes in plans is key to successful beer travel. After lunch, we decided to drive the few kilometers to Gräfenberg to find parking and start our hike. Just before the village gate, we found the parking we were looking for. And better yet, our second stop, Brauerei Friedmann, was across the street.
Grabbing a seat in their street side beer garden, Merideth and I each ordered a Helles. From our vantage point, we watched groups of hikers enter the village and join the crowd in Friedmann’s beer garden.
We recognized a few people from our first stop. Actually, it was the dogs that we recognized first. A trend that would continue the whole day, Merideth and I realized that we were part of a whole community doing the same thing: hiking and drinking beer. The thought gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling.
With the car safely in a long-term parking spot, we could now plan our hike. Not knowing the distance of the hike, we decided Friedmann was a ‘one and done’ stop (well, two and done for me). Once our beers were finished, we walked into the village center where we assumed there would be hiking information.
In the Gräfenberg village center, we found what we were seeking, a big map of the local hiking trails. From this, we ascertained we needed to work our way to the far side of the village. There we would find the trail to Hohenschwärz and the next brewery. Brauerei Hoffman was five kilometers away.
Easily finding the trail, Merideth and I left Gräfenberg. From the edge of the village, we walked into a forest. We emerged from the woods into the open, surrounded by fields of corn. The terrain was fairly level and made for pleasant, not strenuous, hiking. We passed couples, families, groups of friends, and people of all ages. Everyone out walking on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
Reaching Hohenschwärz, we would have found Brauerei Hoffman right along the trail if we hadn’t mistakenly taken a round about route through the tiny village. The Hoffman beer garden was quite packed with hikers and bicyclists when we finally located it. Spying two seats at an otherwise full table, Merideth asked the people “Frei?” Getting a positive response, we squeezed in at the end of the table.
Looking around while waiting for our waitress, I noticed that everyone had a dark beer. Sure enough, from my request for “Zwei Bier, bitte,” our waitress delivered two deep brown, almost black half liters. Despite the dark color, the brew had a light, refreshing body.
Having just walked five kilometers, we treated ourselves by sharing a plate of the delicious Schweinebraten. From pigs I believe they raised themselves, the pork roast paired exceptionally well with the house brew. It’s great when the farm to table distance can be measured in a few meters.
Two kilometers further up the trail, there was another brewery, Thuisbrunner Eichbräu. But given advancing afternoon, we decided retrace our steps back to Gräfenberg. There was a bounce in our step as we passed through the same fields and forests on our way to Lindenbräu.
Located on a side street in the village, Lindenbräu was our fourth and last brewery stop of the day. Joining an older couple at one of the outside tables, we ordered a couple of beers. Merideth chose the refreshing, light on the banana and clove, Hefeweizen, while I went with the copper-colored, malty but not too sweet, Vollbier.
Our mood was quite jovial as we drank our beers. In a trip full of great days, our day of hiking and beer on the Fünf Seidla Steig very well may have been my favorite. Though we only visited four of the five breweries on the trail, that gives us the perfect excuse to return someday to do the full 15 kilometer loop.