As my feet dangled over the thick foliage growing on the side of a steep hill overlooking Germany’s southern wine route, my first thought was: The chairlift wouldn’t be suitable for my 1-year-old. It seems safe enough for adults and older children, but there’s too wide of a gap between the seat and bar for a small fry who likes to squirm.
But happily I discovered that traversing the zigzag of trails is another option for families with young children — who are feeling ambitious. The hike takes about 45 minutes of some steep climbing, while the chairlift, which costs 6 euros round-trip for an adult, is an easy ride of 10 minutes.
Whether you opt for labor or leisure to reach the summit, the reward is the same: a chance to walk on what’s left of the medieval-era Rietburg, the highest castle ruins in the Palatinate Forest. But the sweeping views of the wine villages and vineyards below, which seem to stretch to the horizon on a clear day, are the real treasure.
The area is part of the southern half of the German Wine Road — or Deutsche Weinstrasse — which extends for about 50 miles through the Palatinate countryside from Schweigen-Rechtenbach to Bockenheim.
One can soak in the scenery and sunshine a bit longer while sitting on the outdoor patio of a small hilltop restaurant, the only present-day attraction on what’s left of the Rietburg rock.
Oddly enough, a trail behind the ruins leads to a small animal park, where deer behind a fenced enclosure can be fed for 1 euro.
Standing in stark contrast to the fortresslike Rietburg is the stately Schloss Villa Ludwigshöhe, the former summer residence of Bavaria’s King Ludwig I, who called the retreat “the most beautiful square mile of my realm,” according to Fodor’s. Built near the base of the chairlift station and overlooking the wine village of Edenkoben, the castle rooms remain lavishly decorated inside and can only be visited on a guided tour, which must be scheduled in advance by phone, according to Fodor’s.
The countryside below Ludwig’s castle is crisscrossed with a maze of back roads and footpaths meandering through vineyards that, in early September, were ripe with green and purple grapes. While tooling around in my car in pursuit of a postcard-worthy photo, I daydreamed about riding a bicycle through the vineyards and stopping for a picnic.
Beyond the vineyards, picturesque villages with more vineyards and locally grown wine beckon.
Rhodt unter Rietburg was, according to the website germanwineroute.com, voted the prettiest village on the German Wine Road in 2002 and boasts one of the oldest vineyards in Germany.
I took a walk through neighboring Edenkoben and found several outdoor cafes, a bookstore, a shop selling unusual food items such as exotic salad oils and condiments and a bakery with the best pudding streusel I’ve tasted in Germany.
The village is host to several wine festivals, including one Sept. 21-24, during which a Palatine wine queen will be crowned. A wine and chestnut market is to be held in the woods below Villa Ludwigshöhe on Oct. 13-14. Go toedenkoben.de for more information.
On the QT
Directions: From Kaiserslautern, take A6 toward Mannheim; take exit 17 Enkenbach-Alsenborn toward Neustadt/Weinstr.; merge onto B48; turn left onto Haupstrasse/B48; take first right onto B37; make a slight right onto Neustadter Strasse/B39, continuing to follow B39; turn right onto Talstrasse/B39, continuing to follow B39; turn right onto Schillerstrasse/L512; turn left onto Dammstrasse/L512; turn right to stay on Dammstrasse/L512; turn left onto Weinstrasse/L512; take the first right to stay on Weinstrasse/L512; turn right onto Weinstrasse Sud/L512; turn right onto Klosterstrasse/Luitpoldstrasse/L512; continue onto K6; turn left toward Villastrasse/K64; turn right onto Villastrasse/K64; destination is on the right. GPS address: Rietburgbahn 67480 Edenkoben.
Times: During the summer, the Rietburg chairlifts run 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and holidays; from the end of the summer period (no date listed) to November, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. In March, the chairlifts operate Sundays only, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; from March 31 to May 31, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and holidays.
Costs: Adults pay 6 euros for round-trip; 4 euros for one way. Children ages 4 to 14 pay 2.50 euros for round-trip, and two euros for one way.
Food: A small outdoor restaurant is on a terrace on the Rietburg ruins.
Information: rietburgbahn-edenkoben.de; 063231800
— Jennifer Svan