In Franconia: All Paths lead to Beer

Working as an English teacher here in Munich has exposed me to a lot of new people and new beers. Since I’m in fair shape and on the thin side, my German students often comment that I don’t look like I’m such a big beer drinker. Of course, they get the idea I am because I talk about the subject a lot and even use it in my teaching. The truth is, I talk about beer a lot more than I drink it. Not that I don’t like drinking beer. I love it but what I love more is finding new beers. When they ask me what my favorite beer is, I always say the next beer, which gets a few laughs but then I explain it’s the beer I haven’t had, I know about but is hard to get to. That’s what I love about Germany. There are lots of those.

These hard to get beers are produced by small breweries, primarily in the northern part of Bavaria known as Franconia. Generally speaking, the smaller the village they come from, the harder it is to get there. Of course, if you have a car, it’s not all that difficult. From Munich, it’s only a few hours drive. With strict drinking and driving laws in Germany, it’s not so easy to get back, of course. Staying overnight is sometimes an option but some of these villages are so small, the brewery is the only business there. They are commonly family affairs going back many generations and can be part of farms and hence double as the butcher and sometimes even the baker.

Getting there by public transit is possible if a bit convoluted. A bus might only go once a day, long before the brewery opens and the next one out comes the same time the next day. Walking or biking is often your best option but even with the latter, you have to be careful how much you drink as there are drinking and riding laws, too. I’ve been an avid hiker for about 30 years now and though I’ve walked from the Rockies to the Andes to the Himalayas, I now find myself increasingly drawn to the gentle landscapes of the brewing heartland of Franconia. Living in Munich, I’m close to the Alps and hike down there a fair amount but unfortunately the village breweries aren’t as prevalent nor as good.

There are lots of trails in Franconia delegated for getting from one brewery to another with at least a few noted (well, at least in Franconia!) circuits that draw lots of beer-loving walkers mostly from around the region. These pass through about as authentic a piece of Germany as you are likely to find anywhere. I’ve done at least parts of all of them but there are trails going everywhere and in Franconia, the next brewery is not far off.

So, I’ve devised a four-day route that will connect five major beer trails with some open farmland in between that I’ll tackle next week. It’s about 50 miles/80 kilometers and passes by 22 small breweries. I actually was just planning this for fun, a kind of pipe dream I didn’t think I’d actually do but I sent out a few e-mails requesting rooms and surprisingly got positive replies from all including two very popular breweries so I figured now is as good a time as any. There’s no turning back but why would I want to when I have four days walking through the rolling hills and rocky outcroppings of what is affectionately called the Little Switzerland of Franconia (die Fränkische Schweiz), past hilltop castles from one small village brewery to another. In each place, I’ll find local food delicacies at very reasonable prices and a beer only available in that area, often only at the very brewery I’ll be sitting in.

Please check back for updates of my beery adventure!

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