The Pfalz and Rhine Terrace Feature
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Driving the German Wine Road
Due to its sunny skies, warm weather, and fertile fields, many Germans consider the Pfalz their version of Tuscany. In addition to vineyards, the mild climate fosters fig, lemon, and chestnut trees.
The best time for a drive is early spring, when the path is awash in pink and white almond blossoms or early fall when you can sample sweet, young wines. The Deutsche Weinstrasse begins in Schweigen-Rechtenbach and runs alongside the Bundesstrassen (highways) B-38 and B-271. Yellow signs depicting a cluster of grapes guide visitors along a picturesque path of villages and vineyards north, to the end of the route at the "House of the German Wine Road" in Bockenheim. The entire road is just a little more than 50 mi and can be driven in a few hours. However, if you take time to stop at roadside stands to savor seasonal produce and local wines, it can easily turn into a two-day drive. Get an early start and allow yourself to get lost in the charming villages along the way.
Drinking and Driving
Germany has strict laws against driving (and biking) under the influence, so if you're planning to take advantage of the numerous Weinprobe (wine samples) offered along the route, make sure you have a designated driver. Alternatively, just let the vintner know what you like, and he can help you pick a bottle to enjoy when you reach your final destination.
The entire route is scenic, but if you're short on time, the stretch between Gleiszellen and Bad Dürkheim is particularly rich with castles, vineyards, and vistas. If you opt to start at Schweigen-Rechtenbach on the French border, the southernmost point of the route, you can begin by snapping a photo in front of the Deutsches Weintor (German Wine Gate). Otherwise, pick up the route in Gleiszellen, where you should stop to savor a glass of the hard-to-find Muskakeller wine, with its distinctly sweet aroma. Weinstube Wissing has a homey atmosphere and offers Muskateller in red, yellow, and rosé varieties.
Depending on the time of year, your trip may coincide with a local wine or produce festival—as you drive, keep your eyes peeled for signs advertising "Weinfest." Summer is the best time for festivals, but roadside stands offering fresh seasonal produce are present year-round. When you arrive in Edenkoben, stretch your legs at the Pompeian-style palace Schloss Villa Ludwigshöhe, then continue uphill via the Rietburgbahn chairlift to the vantage point at the Rietburg Castle Ruins. Evening is the perfect time for the journey, when the pathway is illuminated by Chinese lanterns (the chairlift is open until midnight in summer). If you plan to split the drive into two days, the neighboring village of St. Martin is an ideal place to overnight because it's about halfway through the drive. Spend the next morning exploring the winding streets of this charming village on foot.
Continue north, driving leisurely through the vineyards of Deidesheim and Forst, and stopping off at the imposing ruins of Burgruine Hardenburg (Hardenburg Fortress). End your day with a visit to the world's biggest wine barrel in Bad Dürkheim.
Alter Kastanienhof. For a delicious rendition of the regional specialty Saumagen (meat and potatoes cooked in a sow's stomach), stop here. The restaurant has a charming interior courtyard and sunny south-facing terrace, and the staff make knowledgeable recommendations from the small but excellent list of local wines. Theresienstr. 79, Rhodt u. Rietburg, 76835. 06323/81752. No credit cards.
Consulat des Weines. Oenophiles won't want to miss this Vinothek in the charming village of St. Martin. It offers more than 80 varieties of wine from its vineyards in St. Martin and nearby Edenkoben (cash only). The sheer variety makes it easy to overindulge—good thing there's a hotel and restaurant on-site. There's a second location, also on Maikammerer Strasse near the St. Martiner Castell hotel. Maikammerer Str. 44, St. Martin, 67487. 06323/8040. www.schneider-pfalz.de. No credit cards. Closed Sun. after noon.
Wochenmarkt. If you're in Bad Dürkheim on a Saturday, head to this farmers' market for flowers, bread, wine, meats, cheeses, and vinegars. Am Obermarkt, Bad Dürkheim, 67098. 06323/8040. www.wochenmarkt-duerkheim.de. Sat. 7 am–1 pm.
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