Climbing in Frankenjura

Pottenstein Castle
Pottenstein Castle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
MILTENBERG/ODENWALD (Photo credit: yilmaz ovunc)

I’ve been on two short climbing trips recently – or more accurately one climbing trip and one bouldering.

We decided on a long weekend in the Frankenjura, a part of German that is known in German as the “Fränkische Schweiz”, not to be confused with “Sächsische Schweiz”, which is another big climbing area, but is on the other side of the country. It is in North Bavaria.

The cost and availability of short notice flights made Frankfurt a more viable airport than Nürnberg, although it’s a 200km drive away. Since we took the 7 pm flight out of City, it was more feasible to stay over in Heidelberg, about an hours’ drive south of Frankfurt. It’s a nice place, the most touristy in Germany probably, but there’s not much climbing around: the Odenwald supposedly has some bouldering, but it’s pretty remote and hard to find, so it didn’t seem worth it. We set off from Heidelberg to Pottenstein, a small town s about 30km from Bayreuth, in the afternoon the next day. The drive was relatively easy, although German motorways take some getting used to – if you’re doing less than 150 km/h you’ll be overtaken by everything.

Once we got to Pottenstein, we scoped out the large, rather dated 1970s hotel called Der Schwan. We got the last room at a very affordable €80 for a double room including a huge buffet breakfast. The rooms were very clean, amusingly decorated (a bit like a conference centre, with a freaky spotlight arrangement above the bed), and clearly the locals viewed the hotel’s spa and sauna as state-of-the-art. I viewed it as hilariously old-fashioned, but of course extremely clean. So clean, in fact, that when we walked into the sauna, the older couple already occupying the top bench insisted that we had to a) remove all our swimwear, and b) sit on the towels, as opposed to using them to cover ourselves up. Since I was the only one who spoke German, they were extremely irritated when they couldn’t easily convey these instructions to my rather confused English boyfriend. Apparently, one should under no account ever get the wood wet, or let it get in contact with one’s body. Rather takes the fun away from the whole exercise.

The climbing is relatively hard to find, as it’s very spread out, with crags dotted all over the forest, and often having no more than 5 routes on each one. I was terrified of most of them, even easy 5s, as they’re all reasonably overhanging, and the bolt spacing makes leading the routes rather adventurous. Frequent rain showers were therefore not too disappointing.

The food in Pottenstein was delicious; in particular the fresh trout, which was served “blau”, which seems to mean poached. The best restaurant was I think called “Das goldene Lamm”, and was right opposite the climbing shop. Further down the road was a brewery that served wonderfully fresh dark beer, and reasonable food.

We drove back via Darmstadt, where we stayed in a nice cheap Ibis, and ate tacos in a Mexican tequila bar.

The bouldering was another trip to Fontainebleau, which I first went to last year. I loved it so much then, particularly the big popular clearings like Bois Rond. This year we went on the long Jubilee weekend, and upgraded from the extremely basic Formule 1 to the Novotel in Ury. It felt a little weird spending money on a “real” hotel while on a climbing trip, but it did make things much more enjoyable, particularly as it rained for some of the time. In the end, out of the three couples who came along on the trip, we seemed to have four great days of climbing, lazing around and eating strange French things like andouilette (tripe sausage), which I usually like, but was too strong-tasting this time. It was disappointing for the family whose children were ill, and who therefore couldn’t climb very much, and for the girl who twisted her ankle on the third route. Still, in theory it’s a great way of keeping kids over four entertained on the specifically designed kids’ circuits at the same time as getting some very nice routes done yourself.

We drove there, using the Eurotunnel, and avoiding the Paris Boulevard périphérique – it means ring road, so one always thinks this should  mean it will avoid the Paris traffic, but it’s pretty much hell on earth. We took a big detour all the way round to Charles de Gaulle instead, and probably did the whole trip from central London in about 6 hours total.

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