We rarely plan much when it comes to our trips around Europe, so much depends on what we want to do, how we feel and the weather. And so we rolled in to Hofgut Hopfenburg campsite near to the pretty town of Münsingen in Baden-Württemberg and south of Ulm expecting little more than a comfortable place to overnight. We received a friendly welcome and I left reception with a local cycling map and information about the nearby Swabian Alb biosphere, a local nature reserve. This looked promising so we decided to stay and explore.
The campsite is terraced and so pitches have a view across the town to the gentle green hills beyond. The facilities are excellent with good hot showers, indoor washing up area [you remember how important I think that is] and were clean and modern. Wonderful fresh bread was available every day and the campsite runs a small shop selling local products. As well as touring pitches the site has a collection of wooden Romany caravans, yurts, tipis and some chalets so visitors have a choice of accommodation. While we were staying a wedding was held in the garden.
If you are using this marvellous campsite as a stop-over there is a nature reserve accessible from the site where you can stretch your legs for an hour or so after a day of driving. This hillside reserve with meadows, woodland and an arboretum has views over the town and is also a pretty walk in to Münsingen.
For around 100 years [until 2005] the undulating meadows and woodland to the east of Münsingen were used as a military training ground. Initially by the German army and after 1945 by the French army who, in particular, used the area for tank manoeuvres. Inaccessible to the public the area in some ways stood still and the wildlife was protected, although always at risk of being blown up. Today this area is once again accessible and managed to protect the wildlife, although visitors need to stick to the paths because of the risk of un-exploded ordnance.
We began at the Biosphere Centre in the old military barracks which are surprisingly charming buildings. As well as the information centre there is an art gallery here but as we cycled around most of the buildings appeared to be empty. The Biosphere Centre has headphones with an English tour and we learnt a lot about the wildlife, geology, culture and the management of the area.
The tarmac paths around the reserve are perfect for cycling and are all way-marked and numbered. The area is fairly flat with only small hills to conquer and cycling is just the right pace to enjoy this landscape. On a sunny weekday there were few people around and we were happy cycling on these traffic-free routes lined with trees rich with blossom. In the fields are large herds of sheep that are managed to maintain the diversity of plants in the grassland and kestrels and buzzards hunted over the fields.
On a hilltop is the abandoned village of Gruorn. The villagers were forced from their homes to make way for the military training in 1939 and the houses were used for practice. Today the church and old school house have been restored and both can be visited. The schoolhouse has a museum about the village and a cafe. The churchyard is attractive and colourful with flowers and we sat in the sunshine enjoying a beer before continuing back to the excellent campsite.