Hiking in Germany
Hiking and Riesling in the Palatinate
There are certainly regions in Germany with a higher profile than the Palatinate – even the natives of this part of southwestern Germany would probably accept that without objections. The Palatinate’s problem is that it is a little “stashed away” at some distance from the busy transport routes that link Germany’s main economic regions.
Opportunities of first encountering the Palatinate by just “passing through” are therefore rare: you must actively, positively want to visit the place, and many people simply do not know enough about the Palatinate to make such a commitment. Even in Germany, many people know little about the Palatinate.
What do they know?
- That this is the region where the former Chancellor Helmut Kohl comes from, the engineer of Germany’s reunification;
- That its local culinary specialty is the terrifyingly labeled Saumagen (the “sow’s stomach”);
- And, that the Palatinate once produced a bunch of world-beating soccer players (the local team provided the backbone of Germany’s legendary world-cup winning team from 1954).
The average foreigner, meanwhile, will know a great deal less than that. Most Anglo-Saxons would probably be hard pressed to show it on a map of Germany, if they have heard about it at all.
This is their loss, not the Palatinate’s, because the region is a great place to visit. For hikers in particular, it is very nearly perfect.
Just consider this: The Palatinate is pastoral. Unlike in many other German hiking areas, your hikes will rarely be disturbed by the whooshing noises of approaching fast-speed trains or the constant murmur of a near-by autobahn – but never lonely or isolated, and public transport facilities are generally good to excellent.
The area is large enough for a broad variety of easy hiking experiences. There are three major trails, each with its own character, and small enough for you to travel from one trail to the other within little more than an hour, still leaving you the time to get some serious hiking done on your “travel days”.
The trails themselves provide some sportive challenges without ever becoming too demanding (in the evenings, you will be tired but not exhausted).
The villages through which you will pass are generally well-kept and pretty while some of the medium-sized towns along your way (and a little off it) are full of magnificent buildings from the region’s long and distinguished history.
What more could an “easy hiker” possibly want?
And if that is not enough to convince you:
The Palatinate enjoys the warmest as well as the driest climate in Germany and – perhaps most importantly for hikers – it is one of the few German regions where the weather is actually quite reliable.
Most of the rain during the high hiking season (between April and October) falls in the form of sudden downpours, and while it is true that you will have to run for cover, and quickly, if you are caught in one of those, you always have the assurance that it will all be over in 15 or 20 minutes and that the skies will be as blue again as they were before, no matter how bad things may look. (We were actually caught twice in three days – which is, we were told, way more than par for the course – and on both times, the storms went as quickly as they had come.)
The east of the region is particularly favoured by the weather – through a combination of deep valleys, distant mountain ranges and near-by slopes that maximize the number of sunlight hours, obstruct rain clouds and ensure the inflow of warm air from the Mediterranean.
This is why you can find plants over here that normally do not easily flourish north of the Alps – such as almond trees, fig trees and, of course, wines, the region’s no. 1 industry.
The Palatinate produces 250 million litres of wine annually, enough to provide every inhabitant with half a liter every day of the year.(That might go a long way in explaining why the locals are always so friendly.)
Our trip, which featured stages on all three main hiking trails of the Palatinate started here, on the Pfälzer Weinsteig (the Palatine Wine Trail), with a 10 km walk from Wachenheim to Deidesheim.
The trail is excellently marked: simply follow the signs on the road behind Wachenheim train station …
… initially to Wachenheim Castle, one of the area’s most famous landmarks, a mighty fortress from the 12th century that was destroyed in 1471, partly rebuilt and finally blown to bits (by the French) in 1689.
The trail will then guide you past vineyards on the left and hilly slopes on your right …
… straight into the Palatine Forest. Just follow the trail markers from here and leave the Weinsteig when you reach the outskirts of Deidesheim.
Leave some time in your schedule to explore the place, one of the most picturesque villages along the entire trail, before returning by train. (More pictures from Deidesheim to follow some time soon.)
Both Wachenheim and Deidesheim are stops on the very busy train line between Freinsheim and Neustadt (2 trains per hour), which is itself very conveniently interconnected with the suburban train networks of the near-by industrial cities of Mannheim and Ludwigshafen (where you can find the HQs of companies such a SAP and BASF).
You can reach Wachenheim from Mannheim in less than one hour – making this short hike the perfect one-day excursion for stressed-out executives who are looking for a breath of clean air in between two long days of business meetings.
More coming soon from our trip to the Palatinate!