50km family hike in the Northern Vosges Regional Nature Park, France

Northern Vosges 001Grande Traversée des Vosges(Vosges Grand Trail) is a 17 days hike through the Northern Vosges Regional Nature Park and Ballons des Vosges Nature Park. The 298km long trail follows the long distance footpaths (Grande Randonnées) GR 53-5, GR 531 and GR 532. Having 4 days free we decided to hike from Wissembourg to Obersteinbach, which is stage 2,3,4 of the Vosges Grand Trail. The trails leads through beautiful forrests of the Vosges Regional Nature Park with lots of castles on the way and the Maginot Line. About 50km hiking in 3 days in a relatively small mountains is not really a big challenge but it is quite a challenging adventure for a family with 2 kids ages 6 and 9 !

DAY 1: Wissembourg-Col Pigeonnier-Climbach-Col du Pfaffenschlick-Pfaffenbronn-Lembach (18km)
After leaving our car in Wissembourg and a quick visit in city centre we started our tour heading direction Col Pigeonnier via the GR 532 trail. Finding the trail in the city was not easy but we finally got on the right path and got out of the city… Wissembourg is a nice city but we had no time for the city visit because we were already late and there was 18km to Lembach where we booked a room in Hotel Au Heimbach.

Vosges Day1 Map

Day 1: Wissembourg – Lembach. Hiking Map

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Hunting Tower in the forrest

The trail was leading mainly through the forest. The weather forecast guaranteed 4 days of sun with only 10% risk of rain. The only side-effect of the great weather was the roar of motorcycle engines which can be heard whenever the trail was leading close to the road. This area is quite popular among bikers. A guy serving our “power-soup” at Refugee Refuge du Pigeonnier told us: “This is a highway. We go biking to Germany and the Germans come to us….”.
The bean soup served in a very stylish pot was really great! I call “power-soup” because it provides power for your body and soul 🙂

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Homemade “Power Soup” at Refuge du Pigeonnier

On the way to Lembach we came across the fortifications Ouvrage Hochwald which is one of the largest fortifications in the Maginot Line. It was large artillery work (Gros ouvrage), part of the Fortified Sector of Haguenau. Unfortunately we could not explore this area further, because it was getting late and we still had a few kilometers to go, so after visiting Hochwald C2 area we went off leaving this great piece of history behind. Next time maybe…

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Ouvrage Hochwald – Hochwald C2 (Casemate infanterie)

It was getting late when we passed Col du Pfaffenschlick and the sun was low at the horizon. There was a risk that when we continue on the 531 trail we may be hiking in the dark the last part to Lembach. Kids were also quite tired after the first intense day so we decided to take a shortcut, go along the road and try to hitchhike as in the old days … We got lucky after passing Pfaffenbronn and got a lift to the hotel in Lembach. Good people, thanks for the lift !

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Pfaffenbronn. The sun is low at the horizon and we still have 3km to Lembach.

DAY 2: Lembach-Gimbelhof-Climbach-Château de Fleckenstein-Château de Frœnsbourg-Niedersteinbach-Obersteinbach (19km)

Another beautiful city and again, no time to discover it’s beauty… The breakfast at the Hotel Au Heimbach was grandiose! The owner told us that they have the best breakfast in town. She was probably right….
From Lembach we took the red/white/red trail direction Gimbelhof. This part of the trail was only forest trail with little people on the way. There most be a lot of animals in this forest, lots of hunter towers on the way. We have seen a roe on the path.

Vosges Day2 Map

Day 2: Lembach – Obersteinbach. Hiking Map

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Day 2. Starting from Lembach village centre

Gimbelhof was the first place where we stopped for a little longer. It is hotel-restaurant located in the forest away from main roads. It is overlooking the Château de Fleckenstein and other 2 castles which can be reached within 30 minutes walk. We walked further to Château de Fleckenstein but decided to skip this attraction and continued direction Château de Frœnsbourg. Château de Fleckenstein is one of the famous castles in the area and is certainly worth a visit. It also offers some great activities for kids in English,French and German language. But it is not on our list today… Off we go the GR 53 red trail towards Fleckenstein lake.

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View at the Château de Fleckenstein from Gimbelhof

After passing the Fleckenstein lake where the Fleckenstein Camping is located we continued the GR 53 trail through beautiful forest scenery towards Château de Frœnsbourg. Château de Frœnsbourg has great location and offers beautiful views over the sourrounding mountains. No mass tourism, no tickets. Just a ruined castle standing in the middle of the forest. It also have good spots suitable for open fire: one at the top of the castel and one at midheight. The one at midheight is sheltered by a rock wall which turned black after all the years of sheltering the fire… If we only knew that there is a fireplace just above us, we would had a great barbecue instead of cooking dinner on a gas cooker near the entrance to the castle.

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Arriving at Château de Frœnsbourg

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A typical sign post with trail marking. Do not trust fully the time indicated !
Sometimes a factor of 2 need to be applied for a family hike

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Château de Frœnsbourg

From Château de Frœnsbourg we took the yellow-diamond trail direction Niedersteinbach. Niedersteinbach was the only place where I have not made any hotel booking. I was hoping to find something when we arrive to Niedersteinbach. I was wrong … Niedersteinbach is a small village with limited overnight possibilites. After trying to get a room at 2 different Gîtes and Hotel Hoefler I went to Hôtel Restaurant Au Cheval Blanc which was my plan B for accommodation in Niedersteinbach. Unfortunatelly plan B didn’t work … No room available for us… When I announced that “We do not have a room for today’s night. We keep walking another 2km to Obersteinbach” everybody got little bit nervous and the 6 years old shown some tears in his eyes but he quickly recovered and went off toward Obersteinbach. He is a tough boy!
We had a hotel booked in Obersteinbach for the following night so I called them asking for a room for today. They had no free room for us but her neighbour would have a room for us. This was a great news for the team which released some additional energy which was needed to walk 2km to Obersteinbach.
The road to Obersteinbach leads along the Steinbach river where highland cattle lives in a Park. This area has a very unique scenery and while walking face-to-face with these beautiful animals in gives you a small thrill and a feeling of being either in a different country or in a different century… Later on it turned out that highland cattle meat is a local speciality…
It was almost dark when we arrived in Obersteinbach and was welcomed by a 82 years old lady who had a small room for us. We left our hings in the room and went for a dinner to Hotel-Restaurant Alsace-Village. The atmosfear in the restaurant is just great! It is a small, charming family run hotel-restaurant. Well decorated room with tiny tables and great homemade, traditional food.

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Highland cattle on the way to Obersteinbach

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Highland cow with its calf

DAY 3,4: Obersteinbach-Schlossberg-Wachtfels-Obersteinbach (ca.13km)
We took our last day pretty easy and did some small hiking tour to Château du Petit-Arnsberg and rock formation called Wachtfels which offer stunning view over the area. We also visited Ferme du Steinbach which has a small shop with various local products such as goat cheese, wine, bio-beer, meat etc. They have a small playground area and tables in front of the farm where you can sit down and relax while tasting all the local products. A great place for a family !
We also did some walks on the fields around the area where we met lots of horses. Obersteinbach seems to be a popular horse riding destination.
We also spent some time in the beautiful garden of the Alsace-Village Hotel. There are lots of animals around including goose and bees whose bee house is located in the garden itself.
On the 4th day in the morning I took bus 317 from Château de Fleckenstein to Wissembourg (ticket price 2 EUR),picked up our car (it was standing untouched in the same place where I left it), drove to Obersteinbach, took my family on board and drove off from this beautiful place. I hope we can visit this place again and maybe to some other parts of the Grande Traversée des Vosges trail.

Vosges Day3 Map

Day 3: Obersteinbach. Hiking Map

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Panoramic view over Obersteinbach from Wachtfels

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Sondereinheiten at Wachtfels

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Under the trees…

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Obersteinbach is a popular horse riding destination

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Enjoying bio-beer and goat cheese at Ferme du Steinbach in Obersteinbach

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Breakfast at Alsace Village hotel

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View from our room into the garden of the Alsace Village hotel

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Goose sitting on my hiking map

Map Grande Traversée des Vosges

Full map of the 17 days hike GRANDE TRAVERSÉE DES VOSGES
(Full brochure can be downloaded from www.tourisme-alsace.com)

Tourist Information
www.tourisme67.com – online information about Alsace region
www.tourisme-alsace.com – online information about Alsace region
www.parc-vosges-nord.fr – The Regional Nature Park of the Northern Vosges
www.parc-ballons-vosges.fr – Ballons des Vosges Nature Park
www.club-vosgien.eu – Fédération du Club Vosgien
www.club-vosgien-wissembourg.com – Club Vosgien Wissembourg
www.wikimaginot.eu – Encyclopedia of the Maginot Line
www.ffrandonnee.fr – Long distance walks in France
walkinginfrance.info – Walking in France
www.gr-infos.com – Info about long distance footpaths (Grande Randonnées)
christine-on-big-trip.blogspot.ch – Blog with some useful information
www.alsace-village.com – Hotel-Restaurant Alsace-Village
www.gites-refuges.com – Gîtes & Refuges in France
www.gimbelhof.com – Hotel-Restaurant Gimbelhof
www.fermedusteinbach.fr – Ferme du Steinbach in Obersteinbach
tab.geoportail.fr – Map of France

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