A Driving Tour of the German Wine Road
Germany's oldest designated tourist route, the Deutsche Weinstrasse, runs south for 80km (50 miles) from Bockenheim, a small town 14km (8 1/2 miles) west of Worms, to Schweigen-Rechtenbach on the frontier with France. This is a land of old castles (most in ruins) and venerable vineyards. Most of the wines produced here are whites, with special emphasis on clear, aromatic Rieslings and Weissburgunders. The area also abounds in old Rhineland-Palatinate inns and wine taverns, serving hearty local specialties such as Sauerbraten (beef marinated in wine vinegar).
Armed with a map (available at the Worms tourist office), you can set out to explore the area beginning in the north at Bockenheim. From Bockenheim, follow Rte. 271 directly south to Grünstadt, where signs point the way to the village of Neuleiningen, 10km (6 miles) away. The locals here are known rather unflatteringly as Geesbocke or "billy goats," a reference to their longtime poverty -- goats (supposedly) were the only livestock they could afford. Today they bear the label with a certain pride. While here, sample the local fare at Alte Pfarrey, Untergasse 40, Neuleiningen (tel. 06359/86066; www.altepfarrey.de), where fixed-price menus cost 70€ to 90€. It is open Thursday to Monday noon to 1:30pm and 6:30 to 9:30pm.
From here, Hwy. 271 leads south to Kallstadt, a distance of 10km (6 miles), where the next stopover at Bad Dürkheim is signposted. Here you can view the remains of the Monastery of Limburg, once one of the most significant Romanesque structures in the country. The best restaurant is Weinrefugium, Schlachthausstrasse 1A (tel. 06322/8910980; www.weinrefugium-bad-duerkheim.de), which charges 29€ to 35€ for fixed-price menus of regional food. It is open Wednesday to Sunday 1 to 2:30pm and 6 to 9:30pm.
Route A65 and B9 en route to Kaiserslautern, west of Bad Dürkheim, leads to Frankenstein Schloss, a castle from the Middle Ages (now in ruins). Local legend claims it was this Schloss that inspired Mary Shelley's classic monster.
A journey 8km (5 miles) south along 271 leads to the Deidesheim, the medieval seat of the bishops of Speyer. The grounds that surround their former Schloss, now a picturesque ruin, have been turned into a lovely park. Some of the wine road's most charming half-timbered buildings are found on the main square, Marktplatz. Deidesheim is your best bet for wine tastings in this area. Our favorite place is the Basserman-Jordan Wine Estate, Kirchgasse 10 (tel. 06326/6006), dating from 1775. On-site is a Museum of Historical Wines, a collection containing wines from every year up until 1880. Admission is free and you can visit the estate Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm and Saturday from 10am to 3pm.
The most elegant hotel in the neighborhood is the very stylish Deidesheimer Hof, Am Marktplatz 1 (tel. 06326/96870; www.deidesheimerhof.de), where doubles cost 125€ to 290€. Inside are two restaurants, the Schwarzer Hahn, where fixed-price menus go from 90€ to 180€, and the more artfully rustic St.-Urban, which charges 50€ for fixed-price menus.
From Deidesheim, continue along Rte. 271 for another 15 minutes, following the signs to Neustadt-an-der-Weinstrasse, the largest town on the Weinstrasse, lying at the foot of the Haardt hills. Pass quickly through its ugly suburbs to reach the heart of the old town, with its narrow, often-crooked streets. There are some 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of vineyards within the town limits, and the main streets are lined with taverns and wine shops. For wine tastings, visit Weingut Probsthof, Probstgasse 7 (tel. 06321/6315; www.weingut-probsthof.de). Open Monday to Saturday from 8am to 6pm, this estate offers tastings for 10€. If you prefer Sekt (sparkling wine), the cost rises to 12€.
From Neustadt, you can drive 5km (3 miles) south to historic Schloss Hambach (tel. 06321/30881; www.hambacher-schloss.de), 1km (1/2 mile) outside the village of Hambach. The castle is open November to March daily 11am to 5pm, April to October daily 10am to 6pm. Admission is 5€.
An 8km (5-mile) drive south takes you into the sleepy hamlet of St. Martin, which for our money is the loveliest village along the wine road, filled with antique houses draped with flowering vines. A castle here, whose nostalgic ruins still tower over St. Martin, happens to have the best food and lodging along the wine road. Its name is St. Martiner Castell, Maikammer Strasse 2 (tel. 06323/9510; www.hotelcastell.de), and each of its 26 rooms rents for around 100€ double occupancy, with breakfast included. In its restaurant, main courses are 10€ to 25€ and fixed-price menus are 33€ to 67€.
Yet another 5km (3 miles) south (the road is signposted) takes you to Gleisweiler, a wine-producing hamlet known as the warmest village in Germany. Fig trees flourish in its rich soil and almost subtropical climate.
From Gleisweiler, it's 13km (8 miles) south along Rte. B38 to Annweiler, site of Burg Trifels (tel. 06346/8470), the Rhineland's most fabled castle, set imperiously on a jagged crag. In 1193, Richard the Lionhearted was captured and imprisoned here until he was bailed out with a huge ransom. From the panoramic peak, you can also view the ruins of Scharfenberg Castle and Anebos Castle to the south. Burg Trifels is open January to March and October to November daily 9am to 5pm, April to September daily 9am to 6pm. The last ticket (5€) is sold 30 minutes before closing.
The most idyllic place for food and lodging in the area is Landhaus Herrenberg, Lindenbergstrasse 72, 76829 Landau-Nussdorf (www.landhaus-herrenberg.de; tel. 06341/60205), 3km (2 miles) north of Landau in der Pfalz, a 15-minute drive east of Annweiler. This is a movie cliché of a charming country inn along the wine road, although its nine rooms are contemporary and well appointed, costing 95€ a night. The owners, the Lergenmüller family, have won awards for their red wines. Naturally, their bottles are the wines of choice in the excellent on-site regional restaurant, which offers three- or four-course menus for lunch Friday to Wednesday; meals cost from 35€. The inn is closed 3 weeks in January. American Express, MasterCard, and Visa are accepted.
The B38 leads next to Klingenmünster, a journey of only 8km (5 miles) south. From here, a sign points the way to the ruins of Burg Landeck, reached after a 30- to 40-minute stroll through a chestnut-tree forest. At the end, the castle ruins stand at one of the most scenic spots along the wine road, with views extending as far as the Black Forest.
From here, B38 goes yet another 8km (5 miles) to reach Bad Bergzabern, an old spa, without equal for its old half-timbered houses.
From Bad Bergzabern, a 10km (6-mile) drive along Highway B38 (the final lap of your journey) will deliver you to Schweigen-Rechtenbach, a village at the French frontier. In the summer of 1935, local vintners constructed a gargantuan stone arch, the Deutsches Weintor (German Wine Gate), marking the southern end of this oft-traveled tourist route. From a gallery atop the gate, you can view miles of vineyards and even see a panorama of the Vosges in France. Visitors can cross the border, about 250m (800 ft.) from the arch, to sample the vintages on the French side as well, as there are no border formalities here. You can follow a trail known as the Weinlehrpfad (wine inspection path), going on for 1.5km (1 mile) until you reach the vineyards at the hamlet of Sonnenberg. This is one of the most rewarding walks along the wine route.
In Schweigen-Rechtenbach, one of the best values for lodging is found in the town center at Am Deutschen Weintor, Bacchusstrasse 1 (www.hotelgarni-amdeutschenweintor.de; tel. 06342/7335), which charges 52€ to 75€ for a double room, breakfast included. We suggest getting a meal at the Hotel Schweigener Hof, Hauptstrasse 2 (tel. 06342/9250; www.schweigener-hof.com), open daily 11:30am to 3pm and 5 to 9pm. A fixed-price lunch or dinner is 16€ to 24€; wine is extra.