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4,500 km hike across Western Europe
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Christine Thuermer
(GermanTourist) - F - M

Locale: in my tent
4,500 km hike across Western Europe on 02/23/2013 02:35:46 MST Print View

In summer 2012 I did my longest continuous hike so far beside the CDT: A 4,500 km hike across Western Europe (Germany, France and Spain). The whole trip took me 5 months and 3 weeks and has been one of the best hikes I have ever undertaken. I liked it so much that I am already planning a similar hike for 2013.

This hike has been far too long to post a detailed trip report here. You'll find the whole trip report including pictures here on my blog.

I have created the route for this hike by linking together existing long-distance trails. For an overview over the route look here.

Germany: This hike has been part one of a much longer hike across the whole of Europe, but in summer 2012 I just wanted to cover WESTERN Europe. Therefore I started at a former West-East border at Zinnwald on the German-Czech border. From there I hiked 1 ½ months across my home country Germany. I had started my hike on April 1st and I still encountered lots of snow and low temperatures in the German mountain ranges. You'll find all the posts for the German section of my hike here.

France: My route through France has been the highlight of this trip. I had avoided the popular French Alps and had hiked instead along the Vosges mountains, the Jura and then the Chartreuse and Vercors - all of them veritable gems and still secret tips outside France. The only downside of this section was that I had to hike across Southern France in the height of summer temperatures and tourist season. You can find my tips for hiking in France here.

Pyrenees: I had planned to hike almost the complete Pyrenean mountain range on the GR 11 on the Spanish side. I had the Pyrenees expected to be a real highlight of this trip, but found them too demanding for my purposes. Although very beautiful and spectacular I did not feel very comfortable on the constant steep ups and downs. You can find my personal conclusion on the Pyrenees here.

Spain: I hiked through Spain entirely on pilgrimage trails, the so called caminos. I had chosen the Camino del Norte following the coast line and the „wild“ Camino Primitivo. I had known from various trip reports that the caminos would not provide the best hiking ever, but the Camino del Norte turned out to be the worst hiking I have done in my entire hiking career. I found the Spanish caminos and the whole pilgrimage experience very disappointing and you can find my personal conclusion on pilgrimage trails here.

I free camped almost the entire way and never encountered any problem, although free camping was a bit difficult along the Camino del Norte. I also used couchsurfing and youth hostels for town stays and only occasionally a cheap hotel. Except for the Pyrenees resupplying was easy and I came across a little supermarket almost every other day. The culinary experiences were actually one of the highlights of this trip and I have never eaten so well on any other hike. Costs of food are about the same as in the US, but accommodation will even be a bit cheaper, especially in Spain.

I have hiked all over the world inlcuding the Triple Crown in the US and I still like hiking in Europe. Although you won't find any wilderness in countries like Germany, France or Spain the hiking is still very pleasant and rewarding. Hiking in Europe is more of a cultural experience than a wilderness experience. Hiking opportunities in Europe are almost endless because you can legally hike anywhere where there is a trail or forest road even if it is on private property. Germany alone which is the size of the state of Montana has more than 400,000 km of hiking trails. That is 250,000 miles of hiking opportunities!

Edited by GermanTourist on 02/23/2013 02:38:14 MST.

Ron D
(dillonr) - MLife

Locale: Colorado
Re: 4,500 km hike across Western Europe on 02/23/2013 09:20:40 MST Print View

Wow, you've done a lot of hiking all over the world. I've bookmarked your blog so I can follow it in the future.

Amy Lauterbach
(drongobird) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
great info - 4,500 km hike across Western Europe on 03/06/2013 22:44:08 MST Print View

Christine - Thanks again for another great write-up. We continue to benefit from your concise and articulate assessments. Your route across France is intriguing, as we are looking for a route for a 2013 Sept-Oct hike. I'll send you a PM/email to ask for route details.
The have taken only two hikes in France: Brittany Coastal Path and HRP. Your route would cover entire regions we haven't visited, and the idea of leveraging all of your research is appealing :)
-- AmyL and James

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
Clearly I was doing something wrong on 03/07/2013 10:52:38 MST Print View

Wow. Clearly I was doing something wrong, or perhaps I was just unable to adequately research. I lived in Landstuhl from 2007-2009 and had a very tough time "free" camping in that region. It was illegal to simply pitch a tent almost anywhere- lots of worries about gypsies and squatters on the part of the locals. There were fee campgrounds, but most were targeted at people with caravans. Or you could try to find the local trek club who "owned" some remote campsites and ask their permission, and hope that the leader liked you and didn't charge 80 Euro for the priviledge. And pray that you didn't find yourself on a trail "owned" by an equestrian club- they'll call the polizei on you.

I had to commando camp just about every time I did it, and I felt like a criminal.

Is it around these recognized trails that camping is easier, or was I just incompetent?

Christine Thuermer
(GermanTourist) - F - M

Locale: in my tent
Stealth camping in Germany on 03/08/2013 16:29:31 MST Print View

we have had this discusion on BPL already several years ago. Free camping in Germany is complex from a legal view point. On private property you need the consent of the land owner and on public land it is more or less forbidden depending on the state. This is the strictly legal view point. In practice I have free camped in Germany for years now and never had a problem. You'll never even know whether you are on private or public land and it does not make a difference either. According to German forest law every forest has to have public access - even if it is private property. You can legally enter any forest in Germany for hiking and other recreational uses. 95% of German forest is commercially used. That means harvesters go into the forest and they do by far more damage to the ground than any stealth camper. Therefore land owners do not usually bother about free campers as long as you are discret, don't make a fire and don't leave trash. Also there not many hikers free camping in the forest, because you are always close to civilisation and most people prefer to stay in hotels or B&B. Free camping is very rare and therefore not considered a problem. You will only run into a problem and potential fines if you camp in a conservation area.
Your problem was that you ASKED and then you will usually get the answer "no", because this is usually the only offically possible answer.
The trick is "Don't ask, don't tell - and be discret"

Edited by GermanTourist on 03/08/2013 16:32:43 MST.

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
Re: Stealth camping in Germany on 03/09/2013 18:22:40 MST Print View

@ "Dean, we have had this discusion on BPL already several years ago."

Oh, was that you? Here I thought I might be able to get another outlook...

Edited by acrosome on 03/09/2013 18:23:32 MST.

Jan S
Re: Re: Stealth camping in Germany on 03/30/2013 16:39:11 MDT Print View

"Here I thought I might be able to get another outlook..."

What Christine said. Not much to add to that, except you're usually fine even if you get caught, provided you did not make a fire. Someone might tell you that it is forbidden and you would have to pay a fine, if the person telling you that actually cared. Additionally are so many wild boars in my area and they do such a huge amount of damage, that you would have to bring a chainsaw and a small excavator (I hope that is the word) to make enough damage for someone to care.

I agree on the feeling like a criminal though. And the lack of water is annoying.

Edited by karl-ton on 03/30/2013 16:40:13 MDT.