IF YOU are looking for an easy-to-get-to short break this autumn, then may I suggest you head for the Rhineland-Palatinate, just a hop away in western Germany.
The timing could not be better, with grape pickers getting ready for the 2015 harvest, and the vine-covered hillsides at their prettiest along the Rhine and tributaries, such as the Mosel, Lahn and Nahe. The climate is almost Mediterranean, so what better time to order a glass of Riesling in an ancient tavern or wine cellar, and join in a traditional wine festival!
A right royal time: September 25 to October 12 – Nowhere celebrates harvest time more enthusiastically than Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, a delightful medieval town on the German wine route. Just one of the region’s 183 annual wine festivals, the town’s own w.i.n.e.FESTival features Germany’s biggest Winegrower’s Parade that meanders along cobbled streets, past fairytale half-timbered houses. Another highlight is the election of the Palatine Wine Queen, who goes on to challenge the queens of the other twelve German wine regions for the title of German Wine Queen. Visitors come to chat with English-speaking winemakers at their traditional stalls, taste their wines… and buy if they want to.
A quality guarantee – Germans are known for being meticulous about quality, and that also applies to their wines, In 2010, the German Wine Institute picked out 40 ‘landmarks of wine culture’ across the country, outstanding for their history and tradition, as well as the quality of the wines. From the Romantic Rhine to the Moselle, six of the 40 are in the Rhineland-Palatinate. The Rheinhessen, for example, boasts Germany’s oldest vineyard (Niersteiner Glöck), and the Ahr Valley has the first wine co-operative (Mayschoss-Altenahr). The Romans made wine in the Palatinate (Speyer), and in the Nahe region, wine growing is brought to life at the Bad Sobernheim open-air museum.
Mosey down the Mosel – Whether you call it the Moselle in neighbouring France or the Mosel (in Germany), this is one of the oldest wine growing regions in northern Europe. In Piesport, across the river from Trier, you can still see a wine press where the Romans trod grapes back in the 4th century. In Trier itself, the oldest city in Germany, there are more Roman remains in the Vereinigte Hospitien, which boasts Germany’s oldest wine cellar. Near Trier is Traben-Trarbach, perhaps the Mosel’s best-kept secret. With its unusual Art Nouveau architecture, this was once one of the world’s most important wholesale wine-trading towns.
Small is beautiful – Not all harvest celebrations draw huge crowds. For many visitors, smaller communities are beautiful. Take Oberwesel’s wine festival, an excuse to eat, drink and be merry on the ancient market square on two weekends in September (11-14 and 18-19 this year). Something like 150 wines are on offer. Highlights include a 50-strong boat procession along the Rhine to the Loreley rock, with its legend of the seven Rhine maidens, as well as ‘The Rhine in Flames – Night of a Thousand Fires’, a spectacular firework display set to music.
You can gain further information by visiting www.romantic-germany.com or alternatively contact the Rhineland-Palatinate Tourist Board, c/o TourComm Germany GmbH & Co. KG