Germany’s oldest and most popular long-distance trail, the 169km Rennsteig, is a backwoodsy hike along forested mountain ridges from Hörschel (near Eisenach) to Blankenstein on the Saale River. It's one place you can pack away the guidebook and just explore the villages you ramble by. If you press ahead as far as the Bavarian border region, the local dialect becomes incomprehensible even to many Germans.
The trail is marked by signposts reading ‘R’, and is best hiked in May/June and September/October. You should be moderately fit, with good shoes, a set of strong thighs and an indomitable spirit, to carry you for six or seven days. Day hikes offer a taste of the trail with lodging options aplenty in the villages below. The Rennsteig bike trail also begins in Hörschel and travels over asphalt, soft forest soil and gravel, mostly paralleling the hiking trail.
A time-honoured tradition for Rennsteig ramblers is to pick up a pebble from the Werra River at the beginning of your hike, carry it with you and throw it back into the Saale River upon completing the trail.
The Eisenach Tourist Office has hiking and cycling brochures and maps. From the office, bus 11 or regional bus 31 will drop you at the Hohe Sonne trail head, right on the Rennsteig hiking trail, although you could also hike the 6km there (or back) via the craggily romantic Drachenschlucht gorge.