The Walberla is considered the gateway to Franconian Switzerland. The view from the 513 metre high mountain is never better than at cherry blossom time. Roland Schmitt is one of the fruit growers who will be harvesting the red fruits two months later from his well-preserved mixed orchards
Fruit farmer Roland Schmitt
For a mountain, the Walberla in Franconia has quite modest proportions. But ist importance for the region is huge. To the east of Forchheim, the 513 metre high mountain range towers over the towns of Kirchehrenbach, Leutenbach and Wiesenthau.
The Walberla is home to the Sankt-Walburgis-Kapelle, a chapel which was built in the 17th century. A magnificent track leads up to it through the dry grasslands that are typical for this area. Trees, bushes and flowers adorn the path.
Every so often, walkers pause to admire the wonderful view. Rare orchids can also be found high up on the mountain range. The chapel gives the mountain, which is actually called the Ehrenbürg, its popular name.
Fruit growing between the cities of Franconia
Outside of the region the Walberla is known as the “Gateway to Franconian Switzerland”. A name that the mountain lives up to, as the Walberla offers visitors a fantastic panorama of the natural and cultural landscape.
Picturesque orchards are dotted along the valley at the foot of the Walberla. They characterise the landscape of Franconian Switzerland every bit as much as the medieval castles, ruined fortresses and churches.
For hikers, cyclists and culture lovers, charming destinations beckon at every turn. Franconian Switzerland lies within the confines of the city triangle of Bamberg, Nuremberg and Bayreuth. This is where the local farmers grow apples, cherries, soft fruit and pears, as well as apricots, peaches and damsons.
Roland Schmitt has turned growing fruit into his second job. The farmer, who is a native Franconian, runs the “Obstwiese Schmitt” in Leutenbach, together with his family. He is passionate about the fruit that he grows on his land.
It is used to make jams, juices, liqueurs, brandies and fruit vinegars for the family business. The family sells these delicacies in their farm shop as well as the fresh fruit.
Cherry growing for many generations
The family has been “associated with fruit growing for generations,” says Roland Schmitt. His father and grandfather grew cherries, apples, pears and many other fruit varieties on the farm.
And just as in former times, the whole family joins in all the activity. Roland Schmitt’s wife Andrea manages the farm shop while the three children help with the work in the orchards and harvesting the fruit.
Sakura in Franconian
Towards the end of April and the beginning of May, visitors to Franconian Switzerland witness a unique natural spectacle. This is cherry-blossom time. The blossoms bathe the valleys and plains of the Walberla in a glowing white mantle – a truly stupendous sight.
After about two months the sweet fruit is ready for harvesting. There are more than 200,000 cherry trees in Franconian Switzerland in an area of some 1,400 hectares. This makes the region, a conservation area, one of the largest enclosed cherry growing areas in Germany.
When more than 200,000 cherry trees blossom ...
Roland Schmitt describes cherry blossom time as the “most beautiful time” of the year. He is adamant that the oasis of nature that is Franconian Switzerland should be preserved. “As well as the love of growing fruit, it was also the love of nature that had me hooked from an early age.
The landscape shapes me and my work 100 percent,” he says. Around one third of his fruit varieties grow in the original orchards from his grandfather’s time.
Orchard meadows: Valuable biotopes
“I leave a lot of the elements to nature. In our orchards there are plenty of older varieties or hollow trees that provide nesting spaces for birds and other animals. We would never cut them down. In our orchards there are also stones and piles of wood which haven’t been moved for years,” says Roland Schmitt.
This type of fruit growing is kind to nature but it’s not really cost-effective. That’s why a great many orchards were dug up in the past. They had to give way to monotonous fields with more productive yields. Roland Schmitt, in contrast, deliberately leaves some areas for nature.
His philosophy is simple: “Every creature needs the space to live and I’m determined to maintain this by creating a space for nature, where nature can thrive.”
... from Roland
Hike to the Walberla
Climbing the Walberla and enjoying the view from there is an absolute must. The correct name of the mountain massif is actually Ehrenbürg, but here everyone calls the striking table mountain east of Forchheim Walberla.
walberla.de (only in German)
Rabenstein Castle and Sophie's Cave
An impressive, still active dripstone cave not far from the over 800-year-old Rabenstein Castle in the Ailsbach Valley.
A ride on the historic steam railway between Ebermannstadt and Behringersmühle is an experience. The 16-kilometre route offers great insights into Franconian Switzerland.
dampfbahn.net (only in German)