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Rambling fun on Germany's Swabian Alps

Over 30 years ago, millions of cubic meters of stones came loose in Mössingen not far from the German city of Tübingen. Now the area is a protected biotope - and well worth a visit.

The Swabian Alps have been on a "weight-loss program" for the past 200 million years - constant wind and rain are slowly corroding and loosening the limestone range. One particularly spectacular landslide happened here in 1983. In the following three decades it transformed from four million cubic meters of stony wasteland into a precious biotope.

Armin Dieter, who works as a guide here, experienced that landslide firsthand and he likes to tell visitors on his tours what it was like to have the earth move under his feet and to look up and see trees passing by. "The small scrapes have long since healed," says the Mössingen expert.

Not for the faint-hearted

In May 2006, this biggest landslide area in the Swabian Alps was declared a national biotope. Visitors on a guided tour with Dieter can venture right into the middle of it, while those fond of hiking can even climb to the top for a great view of the landslide area - in fact, if visibility is good they can see most of the Stuttgart region. But be warned! It isn't the steep climb from the car park to the viewing platform that requires nerves of steel - those are needed for the climb past the landslide area on the Dreifürstensteig foot path. All of a sudden, at hundreds of meters altitude, the path leads you along the edge of the ridge where there is a sheer drop - not a sight for the faint-hearted.

Bildergalerie Tipps für Baden-Württemberg

Hohenzollern Castle near Hechingen in the Swabian Alps

But those who pluck up the courage to venture along this path are handsomely rewarded with an impressive view covering the whole area - including the Hohenzollern Castle and even the Black Forest. "That's the point when people understand why the Dreifürstensteig was awarded Germany's second best footpath in 2012 and has also been given the title of most attractive hiking trail in Baden-Württemberg," Uwe Walz, head of the Mössingen tourist office, told DW.

A princely name

This path, which leads up to an altitude of 854 meters (2800 feet), was inaugurated by Baden-Württemberg state premier, and passionate hiker Winfried Kretschmann. The footpath has no fewer than three princes to thank for its royal name - the princes of the houses Fürstenberg, Hohenzollern, and Württemberg, who used to meet here to enjoy the panoramic view together. These royal families still own land in Baden-Württemberg, even if the power structures have long since changed.

Rambling through three vegetation areas

Streuwiesenlandschaft in der schwäbischen Alb

The wild orchards turn into a sea of blooms in spring on the Swabian Alps

This award-winning footpath is all about variety - the clearly marked route leads you through meadows and forests. You can enjoy grasslands and juniper heaths, but you also get to travel through time as the limestone takes you all the way back to the Jurassic period, evident in fossils brought to the surface by several landslides along the Dreifürstensteig in 2013.

En route, you also get to cross three zones of vegetation: from the wild orchards, which form a belt of some 40,000 fruit trees, to the mountain forests all the way to the rough Alb plateau. This includes the Farrenberg hill, known throughout Germany for its glider airfield. Along the path you can enjoy a welcome break and make use of sun loungers, a swing and several picnic and barbecue stations with fabulous views. Uwe Walz says that Mössingen is planning to create another footpath - this one will start in the ancient forests at the foot of the Swabian Alps, lead over small bridges and a few ravines, and promises to offer great views of the wild orchards.

By Christoph Ludwig (epd)

Guided tours take place on the first Sunday of the month from May until October. The Dreifürstensteig is a 13.3-kilometer (8.4-mile) circular route involving an elevation climb and descent of 568 meters. It takes someone of average fitness an estimated four-and-a-half hours to complete the course. Special tours for families, old-age pensioners, school and kindergarten groups are possible.

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