South of Frankfurt, the economic and financial center of Germany (and Europe), there’s the smallest wine-producing area of the entire country, HessischevBergstrasse. Here fine varieties of white wine are produced thanks to the mild climate. The vineyards are located throughout a hilly landscape where ancient castles and abbeys are also hidden.
Where is Hessische Bergstrasse Wine Region Located?
Hessische Bergstrasse wine region is located in Germany, in the state of Hesse, bounded by the Odenwald mountain chain. It is the smallest wine-producing region of Germany and bordered by the Rhine on the west and Oden Forest on the east. In the northeast part of the region, you will find the “Odenwald wine island” around the town of Gross-Umstadt.
Amongst the natural waters of the Neckar, Rhine and Main Rivers, there is a small wine producing region named Hassische Bergrasse. Just over 450 hectares of high quality grapes are grown in this region. During harvesting, the fruit is collected manually so that only the best grapes are selected to produce full-bodied and medium-bodied wines. Centuries back, Romans made their trade route through this part of Germany and named it as “Strata Montana” (Mountain Road or Bergstrasse in German).
The climate of Hessische Bergstrasse wine region favors the production of one of the best German wines. Along with that, warm temperature, adequate precipitation levels (an average of 28 inches of rainfall) and irrigation facilities promote the autochthonous characteristics of grapes.
Vineyards & Grape Varieties
The microclimate and an extended growing season of Hessische Bergstrasse wine region assures the quality production of Rieslings. The other renowned wine variety of this region is Müller-Thurgau. Both these white varieties are the heart and soul of the vineyards, accounting for 50% and 9%, respectively. Some other grape types include Spätburgunder, a leading red variety in Germany. You might also discover a rare Dornfelder, grown in between Riesling wine rows.
In Bensheim, a town in Bergstrasse (also spelled as Bergstraße), a great number of vineyards form the Odenwald wine island. This wine region is authorized for the production of Reisling, Merlot, Spätburgunder grapes, all within a certified wine-growing area. When you visit, you will witness the slopes of the Odenwald foothills covered with wine rows – a sight worth cherishing.
Styles of Wines
In this smallest of the 13 wine-regions of Germany, the winemakers focus on the production of white grapes, accounting for about 79% of the land. They also give importance to rare red grapes (21%) in order to deliver top-class red wines and to Eiswein, a luscious ice wine made with the fermentation of frozen grapes, belonging to the category of dessert wines. The Hessische Bergstrasse wine region is famous for its dry wines, a style similar to that of the Rheingau region.
You may want to begin your tasting at Hessische Staatsweingüter Domaine Bergstrasse, a beautiful state wine Domaine. You can as well make your trip memorable by visiting a tasting room of Bensheim or stop by the wine pavilion in Heppenheim, where Reisling wines are perfectly paired with traditional products.
WHAT TO VISIT NEAR HESSISCHE BERGSTRASSE
Frankfurt – tradition vs modernity
The image of Frankfurt, the capital city of Hesse, is that of a modern, vibrant and financial city that has a lot to see beyond the skyscrapers. The centre of the old town is the Römerberg square, a colourful spot great for instagrammable pictures. The square hosted administrative buildings, like the city hall during the 15th century, churches and houses.
The Museumufer (Museum Bank) is the neighbourhood that hosts almost all the city’s museums and it was created between the 1980s and 1990s. From the left bank of the Main river, near the museums, the view shows the dualistic soul of Frankfurt: the skyscrapers stand out against the old buildings.
Darmstadt – Grand Duchy of Art Nouveau
The former capital city of the Grand Duchy of Hesse is located between the city of Frankfurt and the wine-town of Benshein. First thing to know about Darmstadt is its title of “City of Science” (Wissenschaftsstadt) as it is the seat of many science institutions.
Darmstadt it’s actually not just about science. The Mathildenhöhe neighbourhood is probably the most interesting and fascinating part of the city. The “main building” is the Hochzeitsturm (Wedding Tower) built in 1908 to celebrate the Grand Duke’s marriage to a princess. The tower and of the whole neighbourhood are designed following the ideals of the Art Nouveau, called Jugendstil in German.
If you are interested in knowing more about the history of Hesse, check out the Hessische Landsmuseum. Best known for being a natural history museum, it also contains various types of artworks.
Frankenstein Castle – the monster awaits
Located on a peak of the Odenwald mountain range south of Darmstad, this castle is said to have inspired the English writer Mary Shelley in writing her famous gothic novel Frankenstein.
The castle was built in 1250 by a member of the Frankenstein’s family who kept it until almost the 17th century and then it fell into ruins. More interesting though are all the legends related to this mysterious castle surrounded by the woods. Apart from the myth related to Frankenstein, there should be a fountain of youth in the garden behind the castle. Many ghost hunters have gone to the castle to register and witness paranormal activity.
Today the castle is open to the public and it’s a popular stop while hiking or doing MTB on the Odenwald.
Lorsch Abbey – where the Carolingians still live
This abbey right in the middle of the Hessische Bergstrasse wine region, is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List because of its architectural, historical and philological importance. Indeed, its foundation dates back to the Carolingian Empire (800-888).
The most peculiar building, that is still fully visible, is the gatehouse consisting of three arches supporting a hall. The entire complex of the abbey gives testimony of the pre-Romanesque Carolingian architecture that flourished under the King and Emperor Charlemagne.
WHAT TO DO IN NATURE
The Odenwald mountain range, shared between Bavaria, Hesse and Baden-Württenberg, is full of different trails that run inside greeny woods, on top of hills and connect towns. You can decide to bike through the area, hike or even do Nordic walking. Sometimes while walking, you might unexpectedly encounter ruins or castles, proof that these mountain tops were inhabited for many years.
The Niebelungensteig – hiking with the heros
The Geopark Berstraße-Odenwald is perfect for a hike or an MTB ride, especially if you like long distance trails. The Niebelungensteig Trail is 130km long between Zwingenberg and Freudenberg am Mein and consists of 7 stops in between.
Apart from profiting from amazing landscapes, this trail tells you the story of the Niebelung, a tribe who are cited in the famous German epic poem Niebelungeslied (The Song of the Niebelung). While hiking, the heroic figure of Sigurd, very prominent in the poem, keeps you company and gives you strength through the legends related to his name.
FOOD AND DRINK
Handkäse – the cheese that comes with “music”
Typical of the Frankfurt and Darmstadt areas, this Hessian speciality is a sour milk cheese often served with onions on top and apple cider.
When served this cheese, people can be told by the waiter that Die Musik kommt später (The music comes later); this can mean two things: the music could be the flatulence produced by the onions, or related to the fact that before all the seasonings (oil, vinegar and the onions) were served in small jars that caused a sound while being brought to the table.
Frankfurter Kranz – a royal cake
Literally “The Frankfurt Crown”, the name of this cake might indicate the fact that it was first baked for the German emperors, who were crowned in Frankfurt.
It consists of a sponge cake horizontally cut and filled with buttercream and jam. Normally the cake has three layers so it’s a bliss for cake-lovers. Buttercream is also used on top and it is sprinkled with crunchy nuts, hazelnuts and toasted almonds. Must say it is a perfect cake for a royal break!
Apple wine – a different taste
If you already had too much beer and been to various wine tastings in the Hessische Bergstrasse wine region, you might want to try apple wine for a change.
Made with the fermentation of local apples, mainly Granny Smith or Bramely, it has a maximum 7% of alcohol and served cold can be very refreshing. It is usually served in a traditional glass called “gerippte” that is knurled and reflects the lights.
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