Pfalz Wine Trail winds through Germany’s vineyards, forests
The German Wine Route is billed as the country’s oldest scenic drive, winding 50 miles through the wine villages of the Pfalz region.
But for wine lovers with a love for nature and able knees, there’s something even better than driving the wine route: hiking it.
The Pfalz Wine Trail, or weinsteig, goes from Bockenheim, about 28 miles northeast of Kaiserslautern, to Schweigen-Rechtenbach on the French border. It follows the same start and end points as the paved route, traversing from the western edge of the Rhine Valley to the hills of the Pfalz Forest.
The path for walkers covers more than twice the distance, as it meanders through vineyards, villages and forest, past castle ruins and wineries that comprise the second-largest wine-growing region in Germany.
The most detail I found on the trail was on komoot, a navigation app for hikers and bikers. It divides the trail into 11 stages, with most sections less than 12 miles in length.
I chose the second leg between Neuleiningen and Bad Duerkheim, an 11.2-mile trek described as difficult, with more than 1,200 feet of elevation gain and the longest stage of the trail. Along with a friend, who hopped on the train from Oppenheim to meet me on a brilliant-blue morning on the last day of summer, we started our adventure in the nearly 800-year-old castle town of Neuleiningen.
Neuleiningen is a hilltop town, its castle ruins impossible to miss from the A6 autobahn on the way to Mannheim. From the castle’s observation tower on a clear day, you can see as far as Ludwigshafen and Frankenthal.
It would be easy to wander for hours along the village’s narrow cobblestone streets past half-timbered houses that look straight out of a fairy tale. Two museums — the Museum of the Mint and the Leiningerland Museum in the castle tower — showcase medieval town and rural life.
But with many miles to cover, we headed to the trail. We picked it up behind the 13th century St. Nikolaus castle chapel, walking down a steep hill, across a road and up another steep incline into the forest. The trail was well-marked and easy to follow as we walked through vineyards and apple orchards on the way to Battenberg.
After a steep climb under the sun into Battenberg, we found a place to sit along the outer walls of the castle’s ruins and guzzled some water, while wishing the gourmet restaurant on-site was open. The town center didn’t hold Neuleiningen’s charm, but we were delighted to find the Hahn Pahlke winery, run by a family that has been producing award-winning wine for more than 150 years. Two half-full glasses of a rose and chenin blanc came to only 5 euros.
From there, the trail passes fancy homes before diverting into the forest for 5 miles, where the next stop is the Lindemannsruhe Forest House. It’s a restaurant at 1,500 feet above sea level, where you can rest your feet and enjoy some traditional Pfalz food and beverages.
Bad Duerkheim is another 3 miles. Our plan heading out was to get as far as we could and turn back with enough time to get home to feed dinner to hungry kids. With that leg of the trail estimated to take more than five hours without stops, we looped back after several hours before reaching Bad Duerkheim. But if you don’t feel like retracing your steps, you can take a train from Bad Duerkheim to Gruenstadt and then catch a bus back to Neuleiningen.
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DIRECTIONS: The hiking route begins in Bockenheim. From Kaiserslautern, head towards Mannheim on autobahn A6. Exit at Gruenstadt and follow signs to Bockenheim or on to Neuleiningen.
TIMES: Open year-round. During the fall, the grape harvest is underway and many farmers sell bushels of freshly-picked apples by the roadside. From September to mid-October, Neuer Wein is in season, a young wine usually made out of white grapes that ripen early and served as it begins to ferment, yielding a high-sugar, low-alcohol content.
COSTS: Euros for food and drinks.
FOOD: Most villages along the Pfalzer Weinsteig have small restaurants that serve regional specialties as well as wineries open for wine and perhaps a small bite to eat. Hours vary, especially during the week.
INFORMATION: This website details the 11 stages of the trail and what to expect in terms of difficulty and hiking time: tinyurl.com/yy2rrjdf