The Jungfernsprung, or Virgin’s Leap, has towered over the town of Dahn for centuries.
But the ominously named sandstone cliff is just one of many bizarre reddish-yellow rock formations attracting climbers and hikers to this part of Rhineland-Palatinate in southwestern Germany known as the Dahner Felsenland.
“The area around Dahn has individual climbs that rival the quality of sport routes anywhere I’ve been,” said Mike Lydon, an American from Kaiserslautern who has been climbing in region for the past 10 years. “The routes are steep, gymnastic and interesting, and the location is beautiful.”
Although climbers come to test themselves against the rock, many visitors are simply fascinated by the spectacular landscapes and many myths surrounding the Dahner Felsenland.
Take the Jungfernsprung, it’s the perfect combination of legend and adventure; not only does it boast one of the tallest climbs around, but it has a story.
The story goes that a villain, perhaps the infamous robber baron Hans von Trotha himself, chased a local girl up the paths behind the rock formation to where the edge drops 70 metres to the forest floor. With nowhere else to run, the girl threw herself over the edge – and miraculously survived to escape the villain’s clutches. Where she landed, a gurgling spring broke from the ground. This spring still runs strong today.
“People come for the climbing and the walking,” Sandra Biehler, a representative from the Dahner Felsenland Tourist Office, said. “But they are interested in the stories, too. They go hand in hand. You can’t get one without the other.”
The area’s ability to attract visitors is unabated more than six decades after the establishment of the Pfälzerwald nature park, which was recognized by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve in 1992.
It took a lot longer for Mother Nature to create the reddish-yellow rocks speckling the region. Their special colouring comes from oxidized iron ore, deposited there over 250 million years ago. Layers upon layers were built from erosion debris, carried by wind and rivers to the Dahner Felsenland from mountain ranges further south.
To learn more about the local geology, visitors should consider visiting the two-kilometre Geo Trail in Bundenthal. The path is one of many such themed hikes in the area. Others include a Haunted Castle tour in Fischbach-Petersbächel, The Barefoot Path in Ludwigswinkel, and the epic Rockland Legends Trail that passes through Dahn – a 90-kilometre trek where hikers can maybe even catch a glimpse of the Elwetritsch bird said to populate the hills.
If castles pique your interest more than mythical flightless birds with scales and antlers, there are over 16 castles and ruins in the region to visit. Bewartstein, the Robber Baron’s castle in Erlenbach, is more complete than many, having undergone renovation from 1893 to 1896. Don’t forget to enjoy the vertiginous view down the two metre wide, 104 metre deep well that was once a key part of the castle’s life support system while under siege.
With so much to see, travellers may be surprised to note that the tourism industry in the Felsenland is still small, but growing each year, according to the Tourist Office. Light tourist traffic make the area around Dahn the ideal place to enjoy the natural beauty of Germany without having to push through crowds or swallow jacked-up tourist prices.
While some of the sights like indoor spas, are available year-round, it is best to experience the Felsenland in the summer, while the warmth and the sun is there to keep you company.
Whether you are looking for a looking for a pleasant day trip or a serious climber looking to tackle the rocks, the Dahner Felsenland presents the perfect mix of outdoor recreation and cultural heritage to please almost everyone.