Europe Quick Trips
Rhine trail showcases vineyards and picturesque landscapes
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 21, 2017
The grapevines are just starting to pop in Germany’s Rheinhessen, a valley of rolling hills comprising the country’s largest wine region, between Bingen, Mainz and Worms.
The appearance of the tiny buds on the winter-bare woody creepers means spring has sprung, and there are few better ways to enjoy the season than a stroll through vineyards that have been producing grapes since Roman times.
Such a walk is made possible by the River Rhine Terrace Trail — in German, it’s called RheinTerrassenWeg — a meandering footpath about 37 miles long from Worms to Mainz.
The route, which includes paved trails, cobblestone streets and dirt paths, combines the charm of idyllic countryside and wine villages with quaint houses, pretty churches and plenty of longtime winemakers selling their goods.
The trail can be walked in six stages. Lengths vary from about 6 miles to just over 10 miles one way. The trail’s proximity to a parallel railway makes it easy to complete a leg and hop on the train to return to one’s starting point.
On one of the many recent warm sunny days that have brought an early spring this year, my friend and I did just that. We walked over 5 miles, from Oppenheim to Nierstein and then on to Nackenheim. Short on time, we had to catch the train back to Oppenheim, lopping off the last part of the trail’s Stage No. 5 to Bodenheim.
We hardly felt cheated, though. The trail after Nierstein led to the steep, terraced vineyards the Rheinhessen region is known for, a moderate climb for which one’s effort is rewarded with sweeping views of the mighty Rhine sparkling in the sun.
It was a Tuesday, and not many hikers were out, but the local farmers were, riding between the vineyards on tractors, giving us a glimpse into the not-so glamorous work of grape growing. The red, clay-like soil between the rows of vines looked recently tilled, part of a microclimate protected from the wind and warmed by the sun reflected off the Rhine. These are factors that, according to a sign on the trail, contribute “to an elegant wine,” mostly Riesling.
Oh, the wine! All around us, but none to drink. The area is known for its mostly white grape varieties, but it also produces some reds, such as Portugieser and Spaetburgunder. Winemakers sell their product throughout the villages. But many are closed on weekdays or open odd hours. We stumbled upon more than one locked gate.
Hence our picnic lunch was a watery affair, but with a panoramic view of the Rhine. Our only company was a hiker sleeping on a nearby bench. It was hard to complain.
According to one sign, the River Rhine Terrace Trail has been used by hikers since 1907, a tradition not as old as the winemaking but one definitely worth checking out, with or without vino.
River Rhine Terrace Trail
The 37-mile trail can be accessed at numerous points along the Rhine River between Worms and Mainz, but the most convenient access points align with the trail’s six stages. Along Stage 5, there are access points near the train stations in Oppenheim, Nierstein and Nackenheim. Take the train or look for public parking in the nearby villages.
Stock up on food at bakeries and cafes in the villages along the way. It’s a good idea to pack some water and snacks, however, in case the shops are closed. Sample the many varieties of wine grown in the region at a Weingut, an establishment that usually cultivates and sells its own wine. Most wine sellers are closed during weekdays. Check online for hours.
The Rheinhessen region served by the trail hosts many organized walking tours and festivals celebrating wine culture throughout the spring, summer and autumn. Two annual events beckon guests to experience the vineyards surrounding Nierstein firsthand. The 3-Tuerme-Wanderung (Three Tower Hike) takes place May 1. From the Marktplatz, hikers set off along a well-marked 7-mile route that affords fantastic views of the Rhine. Numerous wine stands along the way keep hikers’ spirits high. The start time is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and the cost is 2.50 euros ($2.70) for adults and 50 cents for children. Fans of Rieslings will enjoy the annual presentation of the wines grown on the Roter Hang. From 11 a.m. until dusk on June 10 and 11, some 30 vintners present more than 60 wines at six booths set up alongside trails running through the steep red slope upon which the grapes are cultivated. Wines to try range from the bone dry to the sweetest of dessert wines. Entry is free.