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June 2003

King of Trails

Discover some of Bavaria’s most beautiful landscapes-on foot

It dips in and out of quaint little towns, virtually unnoticed to the untrained eye, winding around corners, over hills and through fields, often disappearing into the woods and glades. Inviting and intriguing, it’s impossible to resist the lure of the König-Ludwig-Weg (King Ludwig Path).

Curious travelers have enjoyed the 120-kilometer-long path for more than a quarter of a century thanks to a group of farsighted decision-makers. Heinrich Vogler, one of the path’s founding fathers, remembers how back in the 1970s each of southern Bavaria’s regions had its own network of recreational paths. Tourism officials wanted to turn this hodgepodge into a single path with one signposting demarcation system. In addition, Vogler, former traffic director at what has become the Tourismusverband Pfaffenwinkel (Pfaffenwinkel Tourism Association), explained that he and his colleagues from East Allgau, Starnberg and Landsberg also wanted to create a path that would establish a link between each region’s beautiful countryside and attractions. The visionary leaders have succeeded on all fronts. Vogler said that, when the idea for the path was being discussed, a number of names were suggested but only one made sense since the trail’s starting and finishing points are so closely connected with the life and death of King Ludwig II of Bavaria.

The path begins at its northernmost point, in Berg am See by Starnberger See (Lake Starnberg). This is where King Ludwig died on June 13, 1886, shortly after he had been deposed and declared insane. To this day, no one knows whether the king’s death was an accident, suicide or murder. A cross in the water marks the historic site. Nearby there are signs featuring a crowned “K” in the color of a clear Bavarian sky, marking the northern end of the king’s path. Those who travel the trail from north to south conclude their journey near Füssen, where the king spent much of his childhood. Though he was born in Munich’s Nymphenburg Palace on August 25, 1845, Ludwig II and his brother Otto grew up just outside Füssen, at Hohenschwangau Castle. When he became King of Bavaria, Ludwig II commissioned a castle, Neuschwanstein, that stood both literally and figuratively above his principal childhood residence. The castle remains one of the world’s most popular attractions.

I recently explored the Ammerschlucht (Ammer Ravine), a hiking-only portion between Peiting and Rottenbuch in Weilheim/Schongau County, which is considered by some tourism officials to be the most beautiful section of the trail. Though it was difficult to find the path by car because many of the signs are very small, Andreas Schmid, acting managing director of the Pfaffenwinkel Tourism Association, said the 26-year-old path is not exactly an insider’s secret, especially in Bavaria where it is the state’s most renowned recreational route. Because portions of the trail are connected via regional roadways, hundreds of motorists unknowingly travel along sections of it every day in places such as Hohenpeissenberg, Schwangau, Steingaden and Rottenbuch. Also many horseback riders use the trail in St. Leonhard im Forst and Pähl. But, for many, the trail remains unknown or is simply overlooked because of its proximity. Schmid pointed out that it is not uncommon for people who live within a few miles of a famous attraction never to have visited it. So, as someone who lives almost within a stone’s throw of the trail I was determined to become the first in my household of German natives to discover the path.

The Ammer Ravine is essentially the path’s midpoint. Once I arrived in Rottenbuch and had parked my car, I quickly located the blue uppercase “K” with a crown on top and wondered how I could have missed the signs before. The main road into Rottenbuch, which doubles as the King Ludwig Path, passes right through a building as it enters the town. Rottenbuch was home to a world-famous Augustinian monastery founded in 1073 under Duke Welf IV. Though it was largely destroyed in the early 19th century as a result of secularization, its influence is still strongly felt. In fact, the trail is littered with holy sites. There is the Benedictine monastery in Wessobrunn, founded around 753 by Duke Tassilo and named after the duke’s hunting companion, Wesso, who discovered three springs, which can still be visited today. Daily tours are offered from March until November, allowing visitors to view the intricate stuccowork carried out by master builders from the renowned Schmuzer family. Tour times are Tuesday to Saturday at 10 am, 3 pm and 4 pm, and on Sunday at 3 pm and 4 pm. Anyone, by the way, who pays a visit to the monastery, should take the time to look at the Tassilolinde, an ancient linden tree that is named after the Duke. Follow the Tassiloweg (Tassilo Path), a sloping road along the monastery’s outside wall, to a set of stairs that descend to the tree. According to legend, it was while sleeping under the cover of this great linden tree that Tassilo dreamt about three springs, all of which had ladders leading to heaven. The next day the springs were discovered. More than 1,000 years old, this natural monument needs some man-made reinforcement to keep its shape. A network of wires and metal rods helps prevent the tree from collapsing. Other highlights on the king’s path include Andechs, a functioning Benedictine monastery, which continues to be a popular place of pilgrimage, and the celebrated Rococo Wieskirche (Wies Church) near the village of Steingaden, which was built by the brothers Dominikus and Johann Baptist Zimmermann in the mid-18th century. While most of Rottenbuch’s monastery has been destroyed, the church survives. It features a mixture of Romanesque, Gothic and Rococo styles and is well worth visiting.

After admiring the church, I continued along the trail across a large courtyard and archway that mark the intersection of the King Ludwig Path and the Prälatenweg (Prelates’ Path), a 140-km-long trail that stretches from Marktoberdorf to Kochel. A unique feature of the King Ludwig Path is that it is connected by other footpaths to most of the major towns in the region. This allows walkers and cyclists from Landsberg, Weilheim or Schongau, for example to join the king’s path at many different points.

Beyond the archway, the two trails split again. At this point, the Prälatenweg heads toward Schönberg, whereas the king’s trail continues to the Ammerschlucht. The entrance is posted with signs prohibiting cycling and informing hikers that they should be wearing suitable shoes. Hiking boots or sturdy shoes are a must because the trail can be tricky. For instance, the path down to the ravine is covered in dead leaves and requires particular care. Once at river level, I crossed a bridge and settled down on the banks of the Ammer for a rest. The day of my visit, a Friday, the river was being stocked with rainbow trout. The six men who lugged down the heavy plastic basins of fish to the riverbank were the only people I saw during my sojourn.

I later learned that having the trail to myself was exceptional. While visiting another section of it on a separate occasion, I met Ralf Rummel and Sonja Lorey. They had decided to spend their Saturday afternoon biking from Andechs to the town of Pähl. Rummel said the path is so popular that on warm summer weekends it is often crowded with walkers and cyclists. Both commented on the trail’s challenging nature. Though some sections are very hilly, the couple were still able to complete the eight-kilometer stretch in about an hour. They ended up at one of the many perfectly positioned benches along the trail. Despite hazy spring weather their bench still afforded a view across rolling green hills to the Alps.

As there are no statistics on the King Ludwig Path, Schmid said it is impossible to determine how many people use the trail and how much money it brings into the area each year. He did mention, however, that tourism officials are aware that while most of the path’s visitors come from Germany the trail also attracts visitors from other parts of Europe, North America and even the Far East.

I found the trail through the Ammer Ravine to be both exhausting and energizing. After an hour and a half spent climbing up and down steps, crossing streams and gorges on sturdy wooden bridges and bounding along the trail in anticipation of what I’d see next, my leg muscles were sore but I was loathe to stop. The Ammer provided a continuous lulling sound accompanied by the singing of birds, the creaking of trees and the stirring of leaves. The strength and the temperature of the wind changed as I ascended and descended. Sometimes the breeze felt warm and comforting, at other times it was cool and invigorating. And, when I was lucky, a perfectly timed breath of wind provided me with the sweet scent of a wild flower.

This section of the path is literally built into the side of the hill that leads down to the river. I was amazed at how high up I was—at least 100 to 150 meters at some points. One sign I passed marked a shortcut that could be used to get an injured person to safety faster. It was a sobering reminder that injury is often just a footfall away. Overall, however, the trail is impeccably maintained. There are few obstructions and many locations have been recently upgraded.

The Pfaffenwinkel Tourism Association maintains the path. Schmid said it can take weeks to check some sections of the trail. Each March or April, Schmid and his crew walk the entire route to make sure all the signs and markings are still in tact. Some of the signs need to be replaced because they simply fade over time, some signs are destroyed by the elements or vandals and others are removed by visitors who want a unique souvenir. Tourism officials also use their annual trip to make sure the trail is passable. Bavaria’s harsh weather is one of the biggest problems, said Schmid. Overturned trees, washed out paths and other obstacles are just some of the damage wreaked by this particular vandal.

Unfortunately, dusk descended before I had managed to reach the village of Peiting, so after 90 minutes I reluctantly turned back. While some extreme athletes can complete the entire trail in about 18 hours, it takes most mortals about a week. For those who are interested in experiencing the entire path—including the Ammer Ravine—without having the inconvenience of carrying cumbersome bags and backpacks, there are a number of seven-day trips organized by tour operators from May to mid-October (for details see below). Prices start at € 318 per person.

Path pioneer Vogler is sure that King Ludwig would be proud of the trail that bears his name. Tourism official Schmid agrees, adding that what makes the trail so special is that it connects people to all of the area’s sights: enchanting castles, unspoiled forests and ravines, picturesque villages, unforgettable churches, centuries-old monasteries, breathtaking lakes and more. It is possible to learn a great deal about Upper Southern Bavaria all while getting a fantastic workout. When I returned to the car from my trip to the Ammer Ravine I was tired but content with what I had seen and done. A year ago I didn’t know the King Ludwig Path existed. Now I would feel cheated at the thought that I may never have discovered it.
King Ludwig Path Fast Facts:
Opened: May 1977
Distance: 120 kilometers
Highlights: Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles, Andechs monastery, Wessobrunn wells, Rottenbuch church, Ammer Ravine, Lake Starnberg, Wies Church
Towns the trail passes through: Berg am See, Pähl, Raisting, Wessobrunn, Rottenbuch, Steingaden, Schwangau, Füssen
Tourist Information: Pfaffenwinkel Tourism Association, Bauerngasse 5, 86956 Schongau; Tel. (08861) 77 73; email: Website:
Organized trips: Alpenland-Touristik, Postfach 10 13 13, 86883 Landsberg am Lech; Tel. (08191) 30 86 20; email:; Website:

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