Hiking the Lechweg – Castles, Cows and Lüftlmalereien.

The Lechweg is a 124km trail which begins close to the spring of the Lech River near the Formarinsee in the Austrian state of Vorarlberg and finishes at the Lechfall in Fussen, Germany. Hiking the trail in late spring, early summer provides all of the benefits of hiking in the Alps – alpine flowers, cow bells, butterflies and huts where you can sit in the sun with a rewarding beer. Before hiking the Lechweg I had never given the phrase ‘make hay while the sun shines’ much thought – living in Western Australia the sun shines pretty much all of the time. But as we hiked through the Lech valley we gained a fresh appreciation for the phrase as we watched farmers busily making hay while the cows enjoyed the high pastures. The hiker on the Lechweg gets to experience all of this without the usual attendant exhaustion of hiking up and over a summit or high pass each day. Instead, the Lechweg follows the path of the Lech – sometimes at the bottom of the valley, but more often along the hillside to provide a view over the valley below. With the entire route serviced by buses there is no need to carry a heavy pack  to your accommodation each day. Instead pick a base and catch a bus to and from the start and end of each day’s walk.

One of the locals on the Lechweg
One of the locals on the Lechweg

Getting there and around. Trains link Fussen with Munich and Reutte with Innsbruck. Fussen connects to Reutte by bus (lines 74 and 4258 – free with the Koenigscard issued with our Fussen accommodation). All other towns on the Lechweg can be reached by taking bus 4268 which travels along the Lech valley between Reutte and Lech am Arlberg. To reach the Formarinsee it is necessary to take an additional hiker’s bus from Lech am Arlberg. The Lechtal Aktiv card provided with our accommodation in Holzgau entitled us to free transport between Reutte and Lech am Arlberg (where sections 1 to 14 of the Lechweg can be accessed).

Website. The official website for the trail is the Lechweg. The site provides notes on the trail, information on accommodation providers and details of places for refreshment along the trail.

Map/Signage. We used the Kompass Wanderführer and Karte. Whilst the booklet was in German it provided profile diagrams and information about the location of refreshments for each stage. The map and booklet were useful for planning where we wanted to start and finish and stop for lunch, but were not otherwise really required as the trail was very well marked with a white “L” appearing on signs, rocks and trees.

Time of year. As the Lechweg starts at the Formarinsee which sits at 1,793 meters above sea level the entire trail can only be walked between the end of June and the beginning of October. For those wanting to begin earlier, the season for the sections between Steeg and Fussen starts in May. 

Start of the Lechweg
Start of the Lechweg

Accommodation/Bases. We decided to use two bases: Fussen, Germany and Holzgau, Austria.

Fussen was chosen as our first base because it is a picturesque town dating back more than 700 years and has many accommodation and dining options (we stayed at a lovely apartment booked through airbnb: Fussen alstadt villa). On a small hill above the medieval lanes sits the Hohes Schloss, the former summer palace of the Princes of Augsburg. Below the Hohes Schloss is the baroque Benedectine Monastery of St Mang. A further 3.5km out of town are the castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein. The latter castle was built in 1869 by King Ludwig II and is most famously the castle upon which Walt Disney based the design for the Disneyland castle. Sadly for King Ludwig his penchant for profligate spending on pretty but largely impractical castles led to his State ministry declaring him insane and probably to his assassination (the official cause of death was recorded as suicide by drowning). While very picturesque, Fussen is, however, only really useful as a base to access the last section of the Lechweg. To reach any other section of the Lechweg it is necessary to change buses in Reutte. With plenty of time and numerous other hikes in the area, Fussen was a base which suited us. For those who are only hiking the Lechweg other towns may be more suitable.

View over the Lech to Fussen
View over the Lech to Fussen

We chose Holzgau as our second base as it sits roughly half way along the trail and, whilst not a large town, had a number of dining and accommodation options (we stayed at the excellent apartment hotel, Ferienschlössl Harmonie). Holzgau is famous for its 18th century Lüftlmalereien (frescoes) which appear on many of the town buildings. It was purely coincidental that our choice of a second base also had its own brewery.

Lüftlmalereien in Holzgau
Lüftlmalereien in Holzgau

Sections. The Lechweg is divided up into 15 stages of varying lengths. The official site suggests those stages be done in 6 (athletic), 7 (classic) or 8 days (unhurried). We, naturally, selected the unhurried variant and walked the sections below in no particular order. Whilst much of the Lechweg was very scenic it has to be said that there were still some less interesting sections. As a general rule those sections in the valley which travel alongside the Lech are fairly uninteresting and given that there are many other walks in the area it is worth considering some deviations from the official route (we sometimes did loop walks or abandoned the path early in favour of an afternoon walk elsewhere).

Section 1: Formarinsee to Lech am Arlberg (14km, 190m up, 620m down).

This was my favourite stage of the Lechweg and not just because it was basically a downhill romp. The day started with a bus trip up to the ski town of Lech where we changed to the hiker’s bus up to Formarinsee (a bus shelter, toilets and official marker for the start of the Lechweg). To begin with the path was narrow and rough but gradually widened and became more even. The most fascinating part of the day’s walk was to witness the development of the river. At the start there is not much except for a few springs. It then becomes a stream and eventually matures into the young Lech River. After a few hours we reached the small settlement of Zug where we stopped at a trout farm for lunch. From Zug the path took us past a local swimming area (very popular on a hot spring day) and onto the tarmac for the short walk into Lech for an ice-cream before catching the return bus to Holzgau.

The Lechweg near Formarinsee
The Lechweg near Formarinsee

Section 2: Lech am Arlberg  to Lechleiten (14km, 730m up, 630m down).

The trail headed out of Lech behind the cable station and up hill along a farm road. Eventually the road narrowed to a track giving great views to the Lech in the ravine below. After following along the edge of the hillside the track headed downhill steeply where it crossed a bridge over the Lech. Unfortunately, as always seems to be the case when hiking, any path that goes down must go back up again. Once over the bridge the path headed back up through the forest – first on a forestry road and then on a damp and slippery narrow path. As the path emerged out of the wood the small village of Warth, our lunchtime stop, came into view. Suitably refreshed we head out from Warth and away from the Lech River taking the trail down to a small wooden hanging bridge where we crossed over the border from Vorarlberg to Tirol. From there we headed up and along the mountainside coming out at the small farming hamlet of Lechleiten. We left the Lechweg at Lechleiten and headed down hill along the road so that we could catch the bus from the main road below.

View down to the Lech between Lech and Lechleiten
View down to the Lech between Lech and Lechleiten

Sections 3 and 4: Lechleiten to Steeg to Holzgau (16km, 420m up, 850m down).

To get to the start of the day’s walk we had to first catch the bus from Holzgau to the bus stop below Lechleiten and hike back up the road to where we had left the Lechweg the previous day (adding another 150m or so of elevation gain). Once out of Lechleiten the path narrowed and hugged the hillside providing views over the Lech below. All good things must, however, come to an end and the narrow path ended at a forestry road. From here it was a series of switchbacks along the forestry road down into the Lech ravine where the path crossed and continued along the river until it once again widened out into a valley and reached the small village of Prenten. From Prenten the Lechweg followed a series of farm roads before heading off on to a track in the forest until the track came out at the town of Steeg (if you want to shorten the walk just keep following the farm roads into Steeg). After Steeg it was a gentle amble along the river valley to Holzgau.

Hiking on the Lechweg
Hiking on the Lechweg

Sections 5 and 6: Holzgau to Bach to Elbigenalp (12.5km, 735m up, 802m down).

Leaving Holzgau, the hiker has two alternate paths. The first leads up some farm roads to the Hangingbrucke, the highest and second longest suspension bridge in Austria and uses the Hangingbrucke to cross the ravine where the path continues. The second option heads up underneath the Hangingbrucke and follows the ravine past a waterfall to Cafe Uta (one of our favourite huts in Austria). From Cafe Uta you head back the way you came, this time above the ravine until the path comes out at the opposite side of the Hangingbrucke. We recommend taking the second option because it gives you the best of both worlds and means that the faint hearted don’t have to cross the suspension bridge if they don’t feel up to it (we bumped into one hiker who only realised she couldn’t cross the bridge once she had taken the first option and then had to backtrack and take the second option). From the Hangingbrucke the Lechweg headed up and down the hillside alternating between tracks, forestry roads and mountain paths until we eventually reached the base station of the Joechelspitzbahn. From here we followed the trail through Seesumpf, past a series of alpine farms and into another forest. However, once the trail started to descend to head down into the valley where it would follow the Lech into Elbigenalp we decided to reverse our direction back to the base station of the Joechelspitzbahn. Once there we took the chairlift up to the Sonnalm restaurant and after lunch hiked further up to the Jochelspitze before taking a steep mountain path back down to Holzgau.

Hangingbrucke on the Lechweg
Hangingbrucke on the Lechweg
Jochelspitze
Jochelspitze

Sections 7, 8 and 9: Elbigenalp to Haselgehr to Elmen to Vorderhornbach (19.5km, 740m up, 810m down).

We caught the bus to Elbigenalp, getting off at a stop just before the town and followed trail signs past some houses before ascending up a dirt road. After we gained a bit of elevation the trail signs took us on to a walking path which went along the hillside before descending to bring us out once again at the main road.  From here we crossed  bridge over the Lech at Griessau,  passing through a small, but pretty forest, before continuing along a flat, dirt road towards Häselgehr. At Haselgahr we stopped in at the cafe of the local pool for some lunch and whilst in the cafe we saw a couple of girls who had passed us on the trail earlier reverse direction and come back into the cafe where they had a detailed conversation (in German) with the owner. We left the cafe at the same time as them only to see them head off on a path along the river whilst we followed the Lechweg signs into the forest. The reason for their return to the cafe and subsequent diversion on a different path became apparent to us in about 200m – a sign on a fence indicated that entry was forbidden due to the presence of a bull in the field over which the Lechweg crossed. Our group had a brief debate – the more interesting trail which beckoned ahead of us vs. the fear of being gored by a bull. Rationalising that the sign was metal and had obviously been affixed to the fence for some time we pressed ahead. After about 10 minutes we were clear of the field without having encountered the bull. From there we headed up and along a very pleasant mountain path through the forest before coming out on old dirt road. The dirt road continued to traverse along the side of the hill but losing interest in the day’s walk we decided to take a narrow trail down to ‘Klimmer Gemutlichkeit’ for some refreshment before heading into Elmen for our return bus.

Flowers in the forest on the Lechweg

Flowers in the forest on the Lechweg

Sections 10, 11 and 12: Vorderhornbach to Steinzach to Forbach to Weissenbach (16km, 200m up, 288m down).

The walk for stages 10, 11 and 12 was not very interesting, mainly because the day was spent in the river valley. The trail was basically flat and followed a mix of cycle paths and roads to Weissenbach. Whilst you could take a diversion to a suspension bridge, the one at Holzgau is higher and more spectacular and so if pressed for time it is worth considering skipping these sections.

The Lech River
The Lech River

Sections 13 and 14: Weissenbach to Waengle to Plfach (17.75km, 558m up, 605m down).

The start of the day’s walk was not an improvement on the previous sections.  From Weissenbach we headed along some tarmac to the hamlet of Reiden, before the trail returned to the Lech. From here it was along a straight, hard gravel path to a bridge crossing at Hofen. The trail then followed roads though Hofen before joining a track to the farming hamlet of Waengle. After Waengle we ascended up along some forestry roads and then onto a very steep mountain path up to Costaries Chapel (for those without the energy for the steep jaunt up to the Chapel there is an alternative route which skips this last ascent). From the chapel it was all downhill, this time on a much easier, wider path to Frauensee, a small lake, where it was obviously time for a refreshment stop. After lunch we again headed down hill, first on a dirt road and then on a walking path until we hit the valley floor. At this point instead of heading to Plfach we decided to follow the signs into Reutte for ice-cream and the bus to Fussen.

Costaries Chapel on the Lechweg
Costaries Chapel on the Lechweg

Section 15: Pflach to Fussen (15km, 704m up, 748m down).

The last section and one of the best on the Lechweg, began with a bus trip to Pflach where we fairly easily located the trail and headed out of town and into the forest alternating between walking paths and dirt roads until we reached Sternschanze (a star shaped entrenchment with the remains of an upstream fortification for Ehrenberg Castle). The trail went down through the trees from Sternschanze to meet a forest road. The road then wound it’s way upwards through a forest crossing from Austria into Germany. Once over the crest of the hill we were back on to a mountain trail through a beautiful beech forest. At some point we managed to lose the trail, but as we could see the Alpsee below us it was a simple matter to wend our way down through the forest to pick up the trail again as it worked its way around the lake from where we were provided with views across the water to Schloss Neuschwanstein perched on a rocky outcrop in the distance. About half an hour around the lake and we came out into civilisation and the hordes of tourists at the castle end of the lake. At this point we had a choice: continue on the Lechweg or head off trail to get a better view of Schlosser Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. We opted for the castles and walked up along the the steep path past Neuschwanstein to Marienbrucke (which provides the best view of Neuschwanstein but adds another couple of hundred metres in elevation gain). Once we had joined the throngs on the bridge and taken the obligatory photos it was back down the hill and, instead of retracing our steps to where we had left the Lechweg, we took another trail around a smaller lake, Schwansee, and on to Fussen. For those who by this time have had enough of walking there are regular buses between the carpark below Neuschwanstein and Fussen.

Hiking in the forest near Neuschwanstein on the Lechweg
Hiking in the forest near Neuschwanstein on the Lechweg
View across Alpsee
View across Alpsee

In Summary. A great walk which lives up to its billing as a leading quality trail. The few relatively uninteresting bits can easily be skipped and substituted with other walks in the area such as the hike from Fussen up to Salober Alm or a trip up in the Tegelbergbahn and hike down to Neuschwanstein.

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