The new "Sommerfrische"

Schwarza Valley Panorama Trail

The wild and romantic Schwarza Valley is a natural treasure – and not just because a lot of precious stones and gold have been found there. On the Panorama Trail, hikers can get an idea of it. In the “Sommerfrische valley”, they will see not only scenic highlights, but also other attractions such as the refurbished Schwarzburg Palace or the world’s steepest funicular.

The term “Sommerfrische” appeared for the first time in the German dictionary compiled by the Brothers Grimm. It was defined as: “a holiday that city dwellers take in the country in the summer”. The magical Schwarza Valley seemed to be made for this! Following the expansion of the Schwarzatalbahn (Schwarza Valley railway), the wild and romantic valley at the northern edge of the Thuringian Highlands attracted crowds of holidaymakers from the beginning of the 20th century. And many of them increasingly wanted to do more than “just” relax in a guest house. They wanted to get out and about – alone, in a group, with a guide. The advantage of having a knowledgeable local guide is that hikers generally get a couple of extras with their tour, especially, as in our case, with Andrea and Gunter Werrmann.

After all, these two pensioners have deep roots in the region and are well-versed in its history and stories. They are also enthusiastic runners. She is the deputy chair of the rambling club in Saalfeld, and he is on the management board of the Thuringian Mountain and Rambling Association. 


Many stages, many possibilities

The moderately difficult trail, which involves a cumulative elevation gain of 3,800 metres, is expected to take about a week. If you do not have that much time, you can choose individual stages in the trail portal. You can still incorporate many highlights (and digital hiking stamping points) into your route!

The Werrmanns’ special tour does not meet at the trail’s official starting point in the Schwarza district of Rudolstadt, but in nearby Bad Blankenburg, specifically at the 200-year-old Chrysopras-Wehr waterfall, named after the light green semi-precious stones (chrysoprase) that were sought, albeit in vain, not far from here. “Other sparkling finds were and are actually hidden amongst the gravel on the river bed, but gold is generally only found as tiny specks,” say the Werrmanns. And they also tell us about other (bathing) delights of the Schwarza River, such as the whirlpools upriver. “When the water level is right, the ancient shale hollows produce whirlpool-like pools.”

Intoxicating valley views

Refreshments taste even better when you have earned them. So “look lively!” because the red triangles on a white background soon branch away from the popular riverside path and line an ascent through the deciduous forest to the “Scheesenweg”. On this path, carriages once carried noble lords, wine and boar meat to the Eberstein hunting lodge, which was kept in the style of Moorish ruins. A majestic location for lively parties – and for a bite to eat. Its location on a spur comes with a 270-degree view of the Schwarza loop!

Well refreshed, we go downhill at a leisurely pace, past the whirlpools, to the “Schweizerhaus”, one of the few eateries on the trail, which then leads up and down until we reach Schwarzburg. These ten kilometres are one of the most beautiful sections of the Panorama Trail,” says Gunter. And immediately corrects himself: “Although all eight stages are actually beautiful.”

Wonderful views, steeped in history

If there ever was a main location for the Schwarza Valley Sommerfrische, it was here. When Germany was divided, thousands of East Germans spent their holidays in historic Sommerfrische houses in this area. It does not get quite as busy anymore, but talks, musical events, hiking offers and a “Sommerfrische Day” establish a connection to the golden age. Speaking of history, Friedrich Ebert signed the Weimar Constitution, Germany’s first democratic constitution, at Schwarzburg Palace on 11 August 1919. 

After the refurbishment work in 2021, the centuries-old palace is all the more worth visiting, especially the Emperor’s Hall and the weapons collection containing more than 5,000 items. There is also a charming view down to the village and the Schwarza River curving around the castle rocks. And what is that red colour back there, amongst extensive areas of forest and meadows? The Werrmanns know what it is – “the Fürstenkutsche (prince’s carriage)!” – and where the name comes from: “The Schwarzatalbahn is commemorating the princes of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt with stickers, information and a quiz.”

A ride on the train becomes a journey through time 

These trains run every hour, connecting eight stations – useful for locals and (hiking) tourists who want to save energy. The Werrmanns’ tip: get out in Obstfelderschmiede and change to the Thuringian Mountain Railway, a symbol of the Thuringian Forest’s identity. And a record holder. With a 25 % gradient, the funicular, which opened for passenger transport in 1923, is regarded as the world’s steepest railway for standard-gauge railway carriages. It’s a shame that the 17 minutes up to Lichtenhain are over so quickly! But there is good news: after a brief visit to the Maschinarium, which provides an insight into the environmentally friendly and energy-saving technology used for the two carriages – one of which is open-topped, the railway continues on the “flat section”.

Here it is all about distant views rather than valley scenery! In Cursdorf, it is time for everyone to alight! A half-hour walk takes us to the 30-metre-high Fröbel Tower, which provides an excellent view over the “mountain villages”. The “white giant” was erected in 1888 in honour of Friedrich Fröbel. We are constantly encountering the inventor of the kindergarten on a purely thematic level. For example in the Fröbel museums in Bad Blankenburg and Oberweissbach, his place of birth, in the Fröbel Forest with its extra-large play area, and on the Fröbel Hiking Trail between Bad Blankenburg and Keilhau.

Heading for the source

The keyword is hiking. There is one more highlight of the Panorama Trail that we definitely want to explore: the stage that leads along meandering mini-streams from the Scheibe-Alsbach  dam to the source of the Schwarza River. This is located beneath the famous Rennsteig, which runs along the ridges of the Thuringian Forest. The source, where the water comes out of a crevice, is a good place to fortify ourselves again. And to ponder: what will happen to the water that has just emerged on its 53-kilometre journey until it flows into the Saale? And: what other treats could we enjoy today?

A detour to the sculpture trail at the Leibis/Lichte drinking water dam? A flying visit to the “Haus der Natur” (House of Nature) in Goldisthal, which surely did not come second in the rankings for the most popular excursion destinations in Thuringia in 2023 without good reason? Or down to Katzhütte and via the “Fürstenkutsche” to Rottenbach, the “Station of the Year 2020”! Insight on the spot: the award is well-deserved, not only with respect to the authentic renovation of this gem, but also because of its intrinsic value. The light and modern railway farm shop acts as a café, a meeting point and a mini-shop for regional products. When drinking “coffee with grounds” and a butter-cream LPG cake, we almost hope that the connecting train to Erfurt might be late ...

Herbal remedy tradition
Around 400 years ago, a unique industry developed in the Schwarza Valley, dedicated to the production of herbal remedies. Women with an understanding of herbs collected wild mountain resources, which travelling apothecaries used to create precious oils, salves and tinctures, which they carried on their backs through the country and sold. And now? People are taught about herbs in talks, courses and museums – and in the “Olitätenwagen” (herbal remedies carriage) that runs on the “flat section” in the summer months.



Header Picture: ©Dominik Ketz, Regionalverbund Thüringer Wald e.V. 


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