What makes the Black Forest so great is how many little secrets and unexpected discoveries it holds. There is always something to explore, photograph, and stumble upon. This is especially true in winter. Wrapped in a soft snow blanket, the woods and hills look festive and beautiful. In this second installment of my mini-series about the Black Forest in winter I would like to invite you to a place where history, legend, and natural beauty blend together into something unique and charming. Join me on a tour of Lierbachtal valley to learn all about the ruins of All Saints’ Abbey and the incredible All Saints Waterfalls.
All Saints’ Abbey
Our today’s journey starts on an inconspicuous parking lot deep within the Black Forest. Like with so many others in Schwarzwald, it’s a place you would otherwise probably just drive by without taking much notice. By the way, let me briefly mention here that just driving through this part of Black Forest is pure pleasure. Curly roads with numerous uphill and downhill sections are insanely picturesque.
Let’s get back to the parking, however. If you’re like me and into all things medieval, you’ll definitely want to stop here. Even if history doesn’t interest you, trust me, it’s still a cool area well worth exploring. What we’re about to encounter is an impressive ruin of an early-gothic monastery that withstood the test of ages. The site is well-preserved and even though much of it is gone, what remains is still awe-inspiring.
The parking is free, but space is limited. During high season you might need to wait a bit or try your luck further down the road. From here, just follow the signs to the monastery ruins (Kloster-Ruine). You won’t need to go too far. The abbey is literally five minutes walk away from where you left the car. It’s massive, too, so you definitely won’t miss it.
What you’re looking at is all that remains of the All Saints’ Abbey (Kloster Allerheiligen), a medieval monastery founded in the late 12th century. The ruins are open to everyone, and there is no entry charge, so feel free to come in and examine the ancient walls and towers from up close. It’s pretty fascinating. And while you’re busy with that, let me bring you back in time.
The history of All Saints’ Abbey
Like any proper medieval church, All Saints’ Abbey has its legend. Around 1191-1192 the Dutchess Uta von Schauenburg was looking to build a monastery after her husband passed away. Since she couldn’t decide on a location, she did the obvious – attached a bag of gold to a mule and let the animal roam around. When the donkey got tired, it threw off the bag that then rolled down into the valley. The exact spot where it finally stopped was chosen to construct the chapel.
Even though I’m a little skeptical about this tale, it sure is an entertaining story. Either way, the chapel grew and expanded, and soon the original wooden structure was replaced with stone. The building survived two big fires in 1470 and 1555 that destroyed most of the structure, causing extensive repairs. At some point, there was even talk of moving the monastery to a less remote and climate-friendly location. However, by 1484 the canons swore an oath to never do that.
In 1657 All Saints was granted the status of an abbey. The next century saw the peak of its prosperity and influence. Unfortunately, it all ended in 1802 when Karl Friedrich von Baden claimed the ownership of the grounds and disbanded the abbey. Just two years later, lightning struck the monastery, causing another fire. With no one to rebuild it now, the abbey slowly fell into disarray.
It crumbled away for a few decades but started gaining attention in the second half of the nineteenth century as a tourist attraction. A fun fact to wrap up this section: Mark Twain paid a visit to the ruins in 1878 during his trip to Europe. He even mentioned them in his book “A Tramp Abroad”.
All Saints Waterfalls
I hope you enjoyed this little dive into history. But the ruins aren’t the only thing of interest around here. After touring the abbey, let’s follow the river Lierbach further south. An easy well-marked path follows the stream for around 800 meters before descending into a lovely gorge. Here, you will find a ton of cascades and rapids that create some excellent photo opportunities.
What follows is a series of stairs and wooden pathways leading to the bottom of the gorge. The area is called All Saints Waterfalls (Allerheilig Wasserfälle) and is definitely true to the name. The larger waterfalls are closer to the bottom, but you will discover all sorts of smaller rapids along the way. These are equally, if not more, picturesque, so don’t go rushing for the big payoff in the end.
And while we’re on the subject of rushing, an important warning. In winter, snow and ice make the descent rather challenging and even dangerous at times. There might even be a sign saying that All Saints waterfalls are off-limits due to safety reasons. While I don’t suggest you ignore it, be aware that many people do just that. If that’s what you decide on, proceed at your own risk. Expect slippery and treacherous terrain, so have good shoes and be careful. That said, there are rails and stairs to help you, and unless you do anything silly, you should be ok.
If you’re a photographer, make sure to have plenty of time. With the water rushing all around, you will find yourself snapping one image after another. The next thing you notice is two hours have gone by. Yep – been there, done that.
A Splendid Winter Day
If you look at the map, the entire stretch from the abbey to the All Saints Waterfalls is hardly 1.5 kilometers long. That might not feel like much, but let me assure you, it’s a lot of ground to cover. We spent several hours walking around the abbey, strolling down to the gorge, stopping for photos every step of the way, and enjoying a fantastic winter day outside.
Everything I told about Schwarzwald previously still holds in this location. It’s absolutely stunning in winter. Snow turns the surroundings into a gorgeous white dream. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be in no rush to leave such a marvelous setting behind. I guess all I’m saying is this. If you’re heading to the area, don’t plan too much on top of it. It can even be enough for a day trip in its own right. As a photographer, you’ll have plenty of opportunities here and will probably not leave disappointed.
A quick note to my fellow photographers. I highly recommend a wide-angle zoom lens for this location. In fact, that’s pretty much the only lens I used for all my images. Unless you’re also doing some winter portraiture here, there’s not too much to zoom in on. But I do suggest bringing a tripod to capture the smooth water motion at the All Saints Waterfalls.
Visiting All Saints’ Abbey was one of my favorite outings in the Black Forest so far. It’s such a fascinating spot that if you live nearby I really can’t recommend it enough. And if you want more out of your journey, you can easily combine it with other beautiful sites nearby. But I’ll talk more about those in the next article.
For now, let’s sum it all up. Here are some quick facts you might want to know about the All Saints’ Abbey and the waterfalls to plan the visit:
- Length of the hike: 1.5 km
- Total elevation gain: 110 meters when climbing out of the ravine
- Duration: 2-4 hours depending on your exploration style
- Difficulty: easy around the ruins, moderate for the waterfalls
- What to bring: something to drink, light snacks, warm clothes, and moisture-resistant shoes
- Photo gear: camera, wide-angle lens, tripod for the water motion
- Doable with a dog: yes
If you enjoyed this tour of the All Saints’ Abbey and the waterfalls, be sure to also check out other parts of this Schwarzwald mini-series. There, I explore a more challenging but immensely picturesque hike around Karlsruher Grat and other little hidden gems of the northern Black Forest. Other than that, have a look around the blog and follow us on Instagram and Facebook to always know what we’re up to. Hope to see you there.