The open terrain of the central section of the Weinstrasse has a very different character from the Southern part, which was hillier and more forested. Here, the Wine Road pulls closer to the Rhein River, with the Pfalzer Mountain Range now comprising the west bank. The valley floor is open wide and flat, covered with vineyards. The Weinstrasse follows a secondary road closely paralleling Autobahn 65 on the valley floor, connecting the towns along the way between Landau and Neustadt. St. Martin, the title town of this travelogue, was an exception -- located well off the Weinstrasse and nestled into the base of the mountain range.
What distinguished this section were the castles. Every few kilometers there was a town, and high above that town was a castle, palace, or other major landmark. It reminded me of the opposite side of the Rhein River Valley, where castles also followed the ridgeline (see Schriesheim and Weinheim, for example).
This part of my journey began with the large industrial town of Edenkoben, located roughly at the Weinstrasse's midpoint. I drove through it three times as I ventured among the other sites in this chapter, though I didn't stop there. It impressed me as a bustling industrial and commercial center, with huge wineries on the northern side and a large downtown with numerous landmarks, particularly the churches.
Moving further west, I took my first stop at St. Martin, a town that was every much as pretty as the towns further south on the Wine Road. It was shaped like a horseshoe, following a cut in the base of the range. The entire downtown was fabulously decorated with vines and flowers amidst the many beautiful half-timber buildings like the one in the first photo. Many of the weinstubes (wine bars) were completely covered with vines while others had some of the largest flower displays I've seen. The weinstubes were mostly around the Rathaus (town hall) Square in the center of the old city -- a truly maze-like array of tight, winding streets.
The town's name came from the huge sandstone church of St. Martin, with its statue of the saint overlording the town (see second photo). This church was perched high on a hill directly across from the Rathaus Square and was a great vista. The interior of the church was beautiful.
St. Martin also had its own local castle ruins, the Kropsburg, that was converted to an inn and restaurant. Kropsburg was on the opposing hill from St. Martin (the statue was almost facing it), accessible through a series of very steep roads and footpaths leading through the vineyards.
Departing south from St. Martin, I followed the signs through Edenkoben to the Villa Ludwigshöhe, shown in the third photograph. Standing virtually alone, isolated from any town, this palace was built by King Ludwig I of Bavaria (not the crazy one, his father), and now serves as a museum and all-around tourist attraction. The drive to the Villa was very scenic, passing between a series of vineyards, with wide bike paths following alongside. Indeed, a number of people were biking between Edenkoben and there when I went. Unlike the other castles in the area, Ludwigshöhe wasn't so much of a climb from the valley floor. The Villa is now mostly an art museum, but had plenty of cafés around.
The Villa was also the gateway to an even better attraction, the Schloss Rietsburg, shown in the fourth photo. The Rietsburg sat at the very top of the mountain above the Villa, and was accessible via a Sesselbahn (chairlift), costing about 4.50 Euro for a roundtrip. Rietsburg can also be climbed, as a footpath zigzagged up the mountain (crossing the Sesselbahn's path a couple times), and I even saw a couple folks doing their mountain bikes up the hill! The path may not have been all that steep, but it was a long, steady climb -- so those folks get high marks from me!
The Rietsburg itself is a simple castle that like so many others in Germany has been renovated and turned into a restaurant. This one was apparently a very popular one for the after-church crowd. It was around noon when I arrived and it was packed with well-dressed people, many of them families, sitting on the patio to enjoy an ice cream on a warm sunny Sunday. As the highest spot around, the view from the castle was fantastic (although the sun was malpositioned for any decent photos of Edenkoben -- all I got was haze). The top of the ridge also has plenty of hiking trails and a nearby petting zoo, but I didn't stay long as I had plenty of other places to go!
Indeed, I could see my next target from the Rietsburg. It was the Hambacher Schloss, shown in the fifth photo. This castle was far and above the most identifiable castle among any that I've seen south of the Rheintal. It's huge boxy structure, perched distinctly on a round hilltop, made it visible from miles around.
Unfortunately, I was not able to stop there, although I tried. It happened to be the day of the castle's annual Medieval Festival, and parking on the castle grounds was scarce. The roadway from the base of the hill to the top was three miles, one car wide plus parking lane, and the entire route was packed with cars -- going up the hill and down. I drove the entire route desperately looking for a spot, and finally found one about two miles below the castle, but by then I decided I needed to pass. Bottom line -- if you want to visit, don't go on a festival day (or go really early in the day!)
Assuming you can visit the Hambacher, I think the locations in this chapter make up a pretty good day. Plenty of beautiful below and great views from above, what more can one ask for?
Trips taken 7-8 June 2003 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin