Roaming the Steigerwald

SteigerwaldI’ve had a fond place in my memories for many decades for the graceful slopes, valleys, and forests of the Steigerwald in northern Bavaria. As a young man fresh out of high school in the mid-seventies I joined the army and was stationed here for several years. Like the Army said in their TV commercials, it was a great place to start.

My buddies and I would buy a train ticket on a weekend for as far away as we thought we could walk back from in a couple of days and we explored this beautiful countryside. Picturesque fields, medieval walled villages, quaint country breweries, vineyards stretching over horizons … this area will always be special to me. I hope we weren’t too much of a pain in the ass to the locals, though!

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Steigerwald Panoramaweg Route

The hiking here is classic — the routes a mixture of farm roads, forest trails, steep grades, and gentle valleys. A romantic, picturesque village is never far away. There are steep grades that strain the muscles and sweet meanders through vines and flowers that couldn’t be any more picturesque. The Steigerwald Panormaweg is a long-distance hiking route (shown on map above) of nearly 100 miles (160 km) that winds its way between Bamberg and Bad Windesheim.

SteigerwaldThe Steigerwald is a Bavarian State Nature Park meaning that much of its landscape is protected.  It roughly lies in the triangular area between the cities of Bamberg, Wurzburg, and Nuremberg.  The Main River is to the North and West, the Regnitz to the East, and the Aisch is to the South.

For this trip I visited and hiked at Rodelsee, a village at the foot of the Schwanberg (or Swan Mountain), a striking, castled mountain feature rising above the Main River valley. Rodelsee is a beautiful small village filled noted for its wine culture. Centuries old wineries dot the village and there are several wine galleries … places where wine is tasted and sold. This is Franken wine country — very high quality German wines that as far as I can tell have never been broadly marketed in the U.S. These wines are often bottled in the distinctive “bocksbeutel” (a flat, green bottle), a trademarked packaging that is distinctive to wines from this area.

I wander out of Rodelsee through the vineyards that cover the slope of the Schwanberg (Swan Mountain) and enter the forest that hides the castle on the summit above. The slopes are alive with the vines that are heavily laden with several varieties of grapes. They are fully formed and heavy as the harvest is nearing within the next couple of weeks. I learned later that the hillside is carved into small plots, each with their distinctive micro-climate. The grapes are closely tracked to thier “terroir” of origin.Steigerwald

Following are more images to give you an idea of what roaming and hiking is like in the Steigerwald area (captions, where provided, precede the photos):

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Sunflower fields were at their peak during my visit.

SteigerwaldSteigerwaldThe lower slopes of the Schwanberg are blanketed with vineyards:

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One of the entry gates into Iphofen — a pretty walled village in the area

Every village seems to feature interesting, historic architecture — many were walled in medieval times and have multiple gateways leading to their centers:
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The leaning tower of …………….. Kitzingen.  Legend has it that this structure was built during a drought and wine had to be used to make the mortar instead of water — the result being a distinctive tilt of the tower.  Kitzingen is one of the larger towns in the area.

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A car show I happened across in Kitzingen:

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Grape vines grow on the side of a house in Rödelsee:

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Street art tells the story of the village:

SteigerwaldSteigerwaldI lucked into a kerwa, or local church festival in Rödelsee … tasty street foods ….

SteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteckelfisch … fish roasting over open coals ….

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Wine barrel racing across the “Rödel Sea”

SteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteigerwaldStarting the hike up the Schwanberg the castle above is visible:

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The hike proceeds up through the picturesque vineyards that blanket the lower slopes:

SteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteigerwaldThe Steigerwald community of Rödelsee is home to the historic Schloss Crailsheim built in the 1600’s.  It now houses a wine gallery steeped in historic ambiance.  You can taste wines under the shady trees in the courtyard.

This area has produced fine wines for more than 1200 years and has many historic vineyards and wine cellars. The region produces about 85 percent white wines – Silvaner and Müller-Thurgau are prominent varieties.

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The hike from Rödelsee to Castell and back utilized the Steigerwald Panoramaweg route for much of the trip:

hike route
Click for interactive map of hike route

SteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteigerwaldReaching the castle on the Schwanberg:

SteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteigerwaldForest trails run along the high ridge toward Castell:

SteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteigerwaldA panoramic view from the trail:

SteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteigerwaldDescending toward the village of Castell:

SteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteigerwaldSteigerwaldAs it happened, there was a wine festival taking place in Castell:

SteigerwaldSteigerwaldWine instead of beer …..

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A few images from a day visit to the nearby city of Wurzburg ….

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