Monday, April 23, 2012

Elisabethpfad

View of the Wartburg in Eisenach
The Rennsteig terminates in Hoerschel which is a tiny suburb of Eisenach, where the Elisabethpfad starts. I was cold and tired after the Rennsteig and decided to start my pilgrimage on the Elisabethpfad with a stay in a pilgrim’s hostel in Eisenach. This was the first pilgrimage trail I have ever hiked and I had no clue about what to expect. There is an accommodation list for the Elisabethpfad and I just called the number for one of the hostels where a sister took down my reservation and told me to arrive before 6 pm. I hurried, made it to Hoerschel in time and took a bus which took me to Eisenach centre in 17 minutes. My hostel was smack bang in the historical centre of town and at 10 to 6 pm I rang the bell there.

My first pilgrimage hostel
A lovely old sister answered and took me in. I could not believe my eyes when she showed me the pilgrim’s quarters: An incredibly nice and clean room with several beds, but only me staying there! The whole place had just recently been renovated and was sparkling clean. There was a nice kitchen and a fantastic bathroom with one of the best showers I had had in a long time. I was even asked whether I wanted to have breakfast, too! I could not believe me luck – this place was great. And I was so tired that I nearly collapsed in my bed after taking a shower. Next morning the sisters gave me breakfast and when I attended their morning prayers I was blessed and even given a small present. I wondered whether I would have to pay for all those luxuries, but the price was very moderate. When I checked out the sister asked me for a donation of 10 EUR, and I happily donated 15 EUR. This place had been paradise for a tired hiker.

After buying a new gas canister and some food I took the train back to Hoerschel and my start of the Elisabethpfad. Normally I would have had a rest day in Eisenach, but in 5 days I could stay with an internet hiker friend and therefore I decided to hike on and rest there.

Art on "Ars Natura"
The Elisabethpfad and pilgrimage trail turned out to be a mixed bag. As expected it involved a lot of road walking. On a pilgrimage trail you want to easily get from A to B involving a lot of churches, whereas on a hiking trail the emphasis is more on nice trail and nature scenery. Still, the trail was not too bad. The Elisabethpfad and a Camino are parallel for most of the time using a lot of bike paths and road walks, but occasionally the two split up and then I followed the Elisabethpfad which usually took a route through the forest. For half a day it even follows “Ars natura”, a hiking trail adorned with art objects in the forest. Although both trails are usually close to civilization stealth camping was not too difficult. I was thinking of staying in another pilgrim’s hostel, but felt more flexible with stealth camping. And although it was still unusually cold, the altitude was hardly above 500 m and there was no snow whatsoever.

Despite the high percentage of walking on pavement of all sorts the Elisabethpfad had a lot of positive aspects: Due to its nature as a pilgrimage trail it visits all the churches along the route. Almost all those churches are open during the day. They are all very pretty and some of them real gems. A lot of the churches cater for hikers and offer refreshments! Not only were the churches pretty, but also the little villages and towns. Leaving the former GDR and entering the state of Hesse on the Elisabethpfad was like entering a new world. All of a sudden the settlements were all so pretty. Even tiny little hamlets had newly restored houses and towns like Spangenberg, Homberg or Treysa were real gems. And of course they all had supermarkets….

The locals all knew about the Elisabethpfad. I was stopped several times every day and people told me how much they admired the pilgrims and how much they wanted to hike it, too. I was totally surprised how popular the trail is not only with locals, but with hikers. I met several other pilgrims and judging by the entries in church guest books there were even more pilgrims around. It is absolutely amazing how much pilgrimages are booming! Still, if you are more after hiking than doing a pilgrimage I would not overly recommend the Elisabethpfad. But if you like nice villages and towns and want to a roof over your head at night the Elisabethpfad is a nice alternative. There is a little guidebook with overview maps and lots of historical explanations. On the internet you can download an accommodation list including cheap pilgrimage hostels and normal accommodation plus a town service overview. You will need a pilgrimage "passport" to stay at the pilgrimage hostels. All is available from the Elisabethverein.

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