Arizona’s amazing natural wonder – the Horseshoe Bend gets so much attention that we sometimes forget that there are multiple beautiful river loops all around the world. Sometimes right under your nose. In case of my nose, it’s the spectacular Saarschleife (= the Saar loop or bend) in Germany. It’s also not very far from the famous Eltz Castle I photographed in spring 2018.
When I realized, how close to Frankfurt it is, and that I can get there by train within a few hours, I seriously wanted to kick myself in the butt. But since kicking myself in the butt proved to be an extremely difficult, almost circus-like act, I just planned the trip instead.
Getting to Saarschleife from Frankfurt
Even without a car, it’s really not difficult to get to the Saar river bend. Especially, if you enjoy a bit of hiking.
Take a train to Mettlach. There are several train connections from Frankfurt – the best ones are via Saarbrücken or via Mannheim. You’ll always have to change but nothing crazy you wouldn’t manage.
You can easily book your tickets online on bahn.de. Print them out or download into your bahn.de app.
Once you are in Mettlach, you have 2 options. The first option is taking a taxi to Orscholz, the actual Saarschleife ‘base camp’ (taxi is by far the easiest way – it’s only about 6 km / 4 miles). The second option is a pleasant, not too difficult forest hike to the village of Orscholz.
Hiking from Mettlach to Orscholz
The hike is neither very difficult (uphill, though!) nor very long (ca. 6 km / 4 miles). It took me about 3 hours, mainly due to my numerous photography stops. There is also a couple of benches on the path (often with a view), where you can enjoy the landscape and let your muscles relax a bit.
The hiking markers were not always great but if you make sure that you follow these two – ‘Saar-Hunsrück Steig’ and ‘Tafeltour’, you’ll be fine as this hike is part of both of them. You will also see your goal for most of the time – an odd construction on the top of a hill in front of you. It reminds a huge water slide. In fact, it is a treetop path, right above the Saarschleife viewpoint.
The Saar Loop from the Cloef Viewpoint, Orscholz – how to get there and when to photograph
Although the images of Saarschleife might look like the place is pure wilderness, and incredibly difficult to reach, the truth is the exact opposite.
The infrastructure is pretty amazing – there is a nice asphalt path leading from Landhotel Saarschleife in Orscholz to the Cloef viewpoint (Aussichtspunkt Cloef) and to the treetop path attraction (Baumwipfelpfad). The walk takes about 10 minutes and the path is illuminated so it’s totally safe to walk around during late evening or early morning hours. No need to use my headlamp this time.
At the viewpoint, there is the main viewing platform and a smaller one with a couple of benches on the right. Both are equally good in terms of photography, I preferred the smaller one which is a bit quieter. If you go further to the right, you may explore the hiking trail going down the hill. It offers different angles but also significantly more clutter.
As one of the main attractions in the area, the place is busy. Not crazy busy but especially during the day there is a constant stream of incoming people and people leaving.
I highly recommend visiting the viewpoint in the evening in order to explore the area. Get the feeling about the scale, the focal length you might want to use and simply enjoy a nice evening.
From the photography perspective – unless an incredible cloud situation happens and the sky is on fire (or you get some unusual weather conditions), don’t expect too much. Don’t get me wrong – it’s very beautiful there at any time of the day but it is a sunrise location for photographers!
While sunset might keep you quite calm, with a bit of luck, you’ll love the sunrise! There is a great chance of thick fog rolling through the valley of river Saar. You may get some sun streaks, too.
One of the sunrise photos even made it into my “Best of 2018” selection.
Recommended Gear for photographing the Saar Loop
Tripod is always a great idea whenever you’re out there shooting the sunrise.
Even though here you could simply put a camera on one of the viewpoint’s walls, a nice tripod can improve the angle of your shot, provides extra stability and you don’t have to worry about your gear falling down off the wall.
This one is a bit tricky – your intuition tells you to go as wide as possible. And yes, you want to try and get the iconic shot (which will get you somewhere 10-18 mm). I currently use this Canon EF-S lens which I find superb for all my occasional wide-angle work. Don’t forget a lens hood to avoid unwanted lens flare!
But I can highly recommend bringing a longer lens, too. That will allow you to pick up some beautiful details of the scene. If you’re a Canon user looking for a new long lens, you might want to consider the second version of the 70-300 mm USM lens which in my humble opinion, is in its price range an absolute masterpiece.
By the way, I also wrote more about shooting iconic scenes (mostly wide angle) vs. trying something different in my free ebook.
Detachable camera strap
Feel free to skip the paragraph if you’re not as clumsy as I am. The last piece of gear I’d like to recommend for this particular location is a detachable camera strap. It may save your gear from falling down from the viewing
The idea is to hold your camera in your hand with the strap around your wrist until your 100% sure that it’s safely attached to your tripod. Then you can detach the wrist strap. It happened to me so many times that it just slipped off my hand in the least expected moment.
Where to stay around the Saar Loop and where to eat
I highly recommend Landhotel Saarschleife, which is positioned right at the footpath leading to the Saar Loop viewpoint. And if you feel like spending some time in a sauna after hiking from Mettlach would be a nice thing to do, guess what – they have a spa area! You also shouldn’t miss the breakfast which is awesome.
Orscholz is maybe not the culinary center of Germany but I’m quite sure that nobody has ever starved to death there. You can find at least 2 pizzerias there – Porta Romana and Da Pino. The hotel I mentioned above – Landhotel Saarschleife – also has a restaurant (apparently a very good one since the prices are quite high).
And that’s it, friends. If you plan to travel around the area, make sure to check out my photography guide to the Eltz Castle and Cochem.