Fresh figs aplenty, almond blossoms, a long lineage of some of the world’s most in-demand wines, and enough Michelin starred restaurants to count on both hands. You’d be forgiven, naturally, for assuming we’re in French or Italy but no, we’re on the German Wine Route (Deutsche Weinstraße) - a picturesque journey intersecting Germany’s Palatinate (Pfalz) wine region. One in every three bottles of wine drunk in Germany comes from Palatinate, a uniquely mild area in the country’s southwestern corner that boasts over 23,000 hectares of vines. It’s Germany’s second-largest wine growing region and our pilgrim’s path – founded in 1935 – is the oldest wine route worldwide.
From the South to the North
The route is just a couple of kilometers wide but the endless vineyards along it are exceptionally well signposted. Arriving from the south, the ceremonial German Wine Gate marks the start of the road in Schweigen-Rechtenbach, close to the French border. Coming from the north you’ll find yourself at the House of the German Wine Route in the town of Bockenheim, slightly north-west of Mannheim. The 85 km stretch of road can then be driven (best in winter), hiked or cycled (preferable options in spring and autumn) in either direction.
Famous in wine circles for forests, villages, cathedrals, wine trails, panoramas and castles as well as superlatives including the “the world’s biggest wine barrel”, the route is also full of surprising delights for gastronomes. The area’s unique climate allows for the cultivation of almonds, lemons, chestnuts, kiwis and even the occasional banana, making the wine route a hive of culinary festivity all the way from spring Almond Blossom Festival through July’s sausage markets in Bad Dürkheim, and Deidesheim’s wine fair in August. Come autumn and as the chestnuts and mushrooms are harvested, so too are Palatinate’s grapes which are celebrated annually at Neustadt’s German Wine Harvest Festival during until mid-October.
Fine Dining Stops along the German Wine Route
There are also a whole host of great restaurants along the route that are worthy of a visit at any time of year, although especially so during a winter wine expedition. Going from North to the South of the route, here’s our pick for pit stops.
Grϋnstadt/Neuleiningen. On the northern border of the Palatine forest lies this leafy town with its own mountain (Grünstadter Berg). Refuel with some classic German fine dining at Alte Pfarrey.
Untergasse 54, 67271 Neuleiningen
Kirchheim an der Weinstrasse. Stop off for a modern take on Palatine excellence at laid-back Schwarz Restaurant.
Weinstraße Süd 1, 67281 Kirchheim an der Weinstraße
Kallstadt. Curious about German Omakase? Kallstadt’s Intense restaurant is a mix of regional tastes, local produce, and a subtle yet high-end cuisine.
Weinstraße 80, 67169 Kallstadt
Bad Dϋrkheim. Famous for its annual Wurstmarkt (sausage market) as well as the world’s biggest wine festival, this spa town also offers traditional, old-school Palatine hospitality at Käsbϋro.
Dorfpl. 1, 67098 Bad Dürkheim
Deidesheim. Deidesheim’s two biggest annual festivities both revolve around wine. When not drinking try the opulence of the town’s two most celebrated restaurants.
Ketschauerhofstraße 1, 67146 Deidesheim Schwatzer
Marktpl. 1, 67146 Deidesheim
Neustadt an der Weinstrasse. This beautiful old town center with traditional timber houses is also home to Urgestein which fuses Palatine products with international influences.
Urgestein im Steinhäuser Hof
Rathausstraße 6a, 67433 Neustadt an der Weinstraße
Herxheim. A slight 10 km detour off the wine route will deliver you into the very capable and hospitable hands at Krone Restaurant.
Hauptstraße 62-64, 76863 Herxheim bei Landau (Pfalz)