Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Germany Holidays: Walker’s Paradise

Julia Bradbury cheerfully bouncing along the Rheinsteig in the BBC’s very successful German Wanderlust programme, and learning about the Romantic movement along the way, certainly didn’t harm the popularity of this famous Rhineland-Palatinate hiking trail. However, the region that they’re calling ‘Romantic Germany’ has a lot more to offer for the discerning rambler. Venture off the beaten track and you’ll be rewarded with some fabulous sights and unexpected treasures.

A fair few of the hiking trails in this area revolve around the region’s special juice: the Rhineland-Palatinate is Germany’s largest wine producer and opposite the Rheinsteig, on the left bank of the Rhine, the Rheinburgenweg – Rhine Castle Trail – takes hikers from the Riesling-growing Rhine valley up north to the Ahr valley, Germany’s red wine paradise. Along the way, there are wonderful views across the river to the Loreley, atmospheric guest houses offering local wines and food and the last stretch of the route features, quite literally, a very special highlight: the world’s tallest cold water geyser near Andernach on the Namedyer Werth peninsula. The water here is hurled 60 metres into the air.
The 220km trail is challenging in parts but rewards hikers with forests, meadows, and vineyard walks. There are also some alternative climb possibilities for the more sportively inclined. Not to forget all the castles that give the trail its name in this UNESCO-listed landscape, such as the Marksburg in Braubach or Castle Rheinfels in St Goar.
If you like wine, you’ll love hiking here
A bit further south-west, the Pfälzer Weinsteig – Palatinate Wine Trail –  running parallel to the German Wine Route, is lined with castle ruins, picturesque wine villages and features stunning views of the beautiful wine region. From the narrow streets of Neuleiningen, in the shadows of Castle Neulingen, the trail leads to Bad Dürkheim and the world’s largest wine barrel (don’t get lost here), onwards to Wachenheim with its castle ruin Wachtenburg and Deidesheim, one of Germany’s most famous wine villages and a truly picture-perfect one. Hikers should take a rest here and enjoy the beautifully kept old houses or visit some of the famous local wine makers. Other highlights on the way are Neustadt and Hambach Castle, the birthplace of German democracy, and lots more pretty wine villages such as St. Martin or Edenkoben. After 153km the trail ends in Schweigen and right next to France.
However tempting the neighbour country may be, stay in the Rhineland-Palatinate because there’s more to discover, such as the hidden gem of the Saar-Hunsrück-Steig further west, a trail which crosses over to the neighbouring Saarland and takes in the famous Saar Bow. And then there’s the unique ‘water and rocks’ experience that the Eifelsteig offers, up to the north, where unexpected dormant volcanoes are characteristic features of the region. Or in other words, there’s a lot of walking to be done here. If Julia Bradbury can, so can you.