My favourite sections of the Malerweg
The Malerweg is one of Germany’s most beautiful trails, and the first walk in the gorgeous Wanderlust book I treated myself to in the midst of moving chaos when I arrived in Berlin. It’s an 8 day trail through dizzying sandstone formations, tall woods, lovely viewpoints over the Elbe valley and cute villages in a part of Germany I’ve never been to: Saxony! The walk is especially recommended in fall for it’s autumnal colours. And since my adored hiking pal Julia just started a new job and couldn’t take a week off to romp through the woods with me this fall I decided to go at it alone! So yes, this was indeed my FIRST MULTI-DAY SOLO HIKE. Woohoo!
As an 8-day hike covering 115km, the Malerweg is a gorgeous tour of the Elbsandsteingebirge, which is German for (don’t hold your breath) “sand-stone-mountain-range-near-the-Elbe-river”. I would absolute recommend doing the whole trail for its stunning views across varied landscapes, adrenaline-peaking climbs over ladders, bridges and more steps than you’ll want to count, and cute stays along the way in homely guest houses. Here are my favourite sections of the Malerweg if you want to get a feel for it, or are stuck for time and can only manage a long weekend. It’s still totally doable and so worth it!
If you want to get planning your own Malerweg or Mini-Malerweg hike skip down to the bottom of the post where you’ll find handy planning tips after the keyword BALONEY.
Stage 2: the Bastei Bridge and Hohnstein – the epic-est of views
Most long-distance trails start off with a gentle introduction to the landscape as you work your way into the centre of the area you’re about to explore. The Malerweg is no different, with the first day consisting of a lovely meandering introduction to tall sandstone formations and downright fairytail-looking woods. By the second day’s section, starting from Wehlen, it’s a steep climb up towards the Bastei Bridge, Saxon Switzerland’s most famous, and visited, landmark and then onto Hohnstein, my possible favourite viewpoint of the whole hike.
I personally dislike two things more than most in the world. Crowds is one, and as readers of this here ol’ blog will know plenty about, HEIGHTS is the other. The Bastei bridge combines both at an impressive scale. I got there around 11 am and it was packed with tourists and hikers alike, but nonetheless it offers beautiful views across the sandstone formations, and you can catch beautiful views of the bridge, which has been made famous by paintings by German romanticists since the 1850s. The Malerweg goes across this stunning… old… VERY high bridge… so I had no choice but to suck it up, hold my breath and all but run across to get to the other side.
After the morning’s excitement the rest of the day’s walk is calmer and a LOT more quiet. After a long walk to Kurort Rathen and past a lovely water reserve there’s a lunch stop at a gorgeous little hut in the woods not to miss. Expecting little of the rest of the walk and fully satisfied with my views and fries so far I came to the real hum-dinger of this section: the Lehrpfad Hohnstein. 36 signs explain local wildlife and more about the geology of this amazing area, and you up and over the dizzying Hockstein, which offers all the views of the Bastei Bridge, minus the crowds. I reached a small bridge called the “Devil’s bridge” leading to the top of this tiny peak just as “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” snuck its way into my Spotify, and I can tell you I sure could feel the love that afternoon. There were maybe 8 people at the top enjoying the views and lying in the sun, and a very friendly couple that offered to hold my hand while I crawled my way to the edge of a rather spectacular viewpoint (really not my strong suit). From the top of the Hockstein the walk down leads through the Wolfsschlucht, or wolf’s ravine, which leads 508 steps through a gothic rock gate, parts of which you may want to “butt shuffle” down if you’re anything above 1m55 tall. Absolutely 10 out of 10 recommended.
Stage 4: the Schrammsteine – stairs, ladders, bridges and views views views
Day 4 of the Malerweg is as far east as you’ll be going on this route, and into some of the most remote areas of the hike. I had little to no phone reception during stages 4 and 5 of the hike, leading to a rather funny incident where my parents called the lovely hut I was staying in at dinner to see if I was alive, which the ENTIRE restaurant overheard. But more on that later.
The highlight of Stage 4 is definitely the view of the Schrammsteine, which is totally not to be missed. But not just for the view itself from a precarious platform on a 400-metre high rock (yep), it’s the CLIMB up there that really made my hiker heart skip a beat. You climb up metal ladders and along thin passageways, over, under and between sandstone rocks, and it is SO much fun. The top of the viewpoint was a little on the busy side but as the Malerweg carried on away from the bigger crowds there was a second and more open viewpoint and more spindly high bridges and metal steps up rocks. Swoon. The rest of the walk leads deeper into the woods of the National park, including more bonkers rock formations and a gentle meandering walk along water, where I spotted a bright blue Kingfisher bird. Talking about idyllic!
Another reason this walk was a huge highlight for me was my stay at the Neumannmühle, a friendly hiker guest house with warm food, big shared tables full of happy hikers, and a communal sleeping room. I was a bit concerned about the sleeping arrangements at first never having slept in a “hut-style” shared room before but was really impressed with how respectful and quiet everyone was. Handy tip: bring along a sleeping bag liner and ear plugs and you’ll feel snug as a bug in a rug. And don’t give your parents the phone number unless you want to be asked by 5 people the next morning if you’re under age.
Stage 6: Schmilka to Gorisch – bonus views!
Schmilka was probably my favourite place to stay on the Malerweg. It’s a teeeny tiny village right on the Czech border and I stayed in no less than a wooden cabin with a bunk bed! I set off bright and early after yet another night of 11 hours of blissful sleep (a bit of a recurring theme on my longer hikes as it turns out) and crossed the Elbe on a boat before climbing up to a bonus hilltop that’s not technially part of the Malerweg: the Kaiserkrone. And LORDY was it worth it. I had all 3 viewpoints from the Kaiserkrone to myself, and got an incredible view across the Elbe valley, which after all I had just walked across! A really rewarding moment, and a view I’d really encourage Malerweg hikers to snatch while you’re out there. The rest of the day felt a lot calmer than the first half of the Malerweg: more rolling fields and less sandstone to climb. This part of the walk also features in a lot of paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, the romantic German painter who made this region famous. And the cheese Spätzle (a fancy articulation of a delicious dough ball) on the Papststein were absolutely killer, and believe me… by now you’ll have deserved them.
How to organise your Malerweg hike
The Malerweg is accessible from Dresden, Germany, which is a cheap 2-hour train or bus ride from Berlin. From there you get a half your S-Bahn to Pirna, and boom you’re off! The actual walk starts in Liebesgrund, which is an HOURLY 15-min bus ride from Pirna.
There are baggage transfer services available, which your brave and ultralight-as-fuck author decided to forgo this time around. The most important piece of advice I can give you is to book all accomodation well in advance. I booked in June for an October hike and let me tell you it was a little tricky! I (of course) made a spreadsheet of the 9 required nights and their locations, and called pretty much every guesthouse available to ask for a room. Calling is definitely better than emailing es a lot of these places are a little on the old school side (ie are less hard of hearing than in search of reading glasses to check their emails). This incredible website has all accomodation options all laid out for ya.
I used this book (note: it’s in German) to navigate the entire Malerweg and found it excellent. I also quickly became a point of reference for other hikers who had less reliable sources to compare maps with, so this is definitely a winner. Bonus fun fact: I don’t know if HikeLine know this but their books fit perfectly into a Patagonia Torrentshell jacket pocket. LOVE.
I had a small supply of snackage with me which I was really grateful for as there aren’t that many opportunities for a resupply shop along the route. Most days there was a lunch stop along the way, which more people than not seemed to eat cake at instead of fries??? Silly Germans. All the places I stayed at served a carb-tastic breakfast of breadrolls, breadrolls, and a breadroll, so frankly I didn’t need a big lunch most days and was fine with nuts and dried fruit. And a piece of cake, you know, to fit in.
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