Explore the Ahr Valley along the Red Wine Trail

Explore the Ahr Valley along the Red Wine Trail

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

In a sea of world-renowned whites, Germany’s red wines often get swallowed up in the mix. That’s a shame because many of these varietals are unique and tasty: call to mind Trollingers and Lembergers from Württemberg and Frühburgunders from Franconia.

Another place in Germany where red wine reigns supreme is in the Ahr River Valley, a sun-kissed corner of the Rhineland-Palatinate’s northern reaches. The 55-mile long Ahr is a left-hand tributary of the Rhine, into which it flows some 16 miles south of Bonn. Downstream from the village of Altenahr, steep vineyards yielding predominantly Spätburgunder grapes, known better outside Germany as Pinot Noirs, dot the rugged, slate-hilled landscape.

While many of the Ahr wines are truly impressive, adventurers might find themselves even more bowled over by the scenery than the grape juice. On a warm spring day when COVID is on the wane, a hike through this region might be just what the doctor ordered.

Those with time on their hands could opt for the AhrSteig, a 67-mile, long-distance trail that runs between Blankenheim, the river’s source in the Eifel hills, and Sinzig, by the Rhine. For those with just two days to devote to hiking, the Rotweinwanderweg, or Red Wine Hiking Trail, will deliver the most punch per mile. The stretch between Altenahr and Dernau is considered the prettiest part of the trail.

The trail marked by signposts of red grapes on a white background runs for 22 miles through the Ahr valley’s most important wine-growing areas.  The vibrant colors of autumn make the trail a popular destination in September and October, but any time of year, it’s never short on charm. The many wine taverns found directly along the route or by means of a quick detour add to its appeal. For practical purposes, the trail is divided into five stages, each starting and ending at interconnected train stations. Each stage can be done as its own individual hike. Upon return, a cycle trail running alongside the river offers a change of scenery without all those steep ups and downs—just hopping the train back is another option. The trail is graded as easy to medium difficulty, and proper hiking shoes are a must.

Altenahr – Mayschoss (2.5 miles, 1.5 hours walking)

From the Altenahr train station, cross the river and carry along the highway until a left hand turn leads to a road named Rossberg and begin the ascent. Soon after, the trailhead juts from the right, between two houses. Already, there’s a detour here worth taking. A slate-strewn path leads to what remains of Burg Are. The castle, in ruins since 1714, once served as a state prison of the archbishops of Cologne. From here, the trail winds through steep vineyards and mixed forest. The Ümerich viewpoint offers an impressive panorama of Mayschoss and the river valley below.

Mayschoss  – Rech (2.5 miles, 1.5 hours walking)

From Mayschoss train station, cross over and cut between the two buildings belonging to the winegrower’s cooperative and follow the markers indicating the direction of Ahrweiler. Consider a break at the Michaelishof, a wine tavern with a spacious garden. Back on the trail, the ruins of the Saffenburg, the oldest fortification along the Ahr, come into view. A path through the vineyard leads down to the Rech train station.

Rech – Dernau ( 2 miles, 1 hour walking)

Behind the station, cross the small railway bridge and begin your ascent to a small woods, where you’ll find the “Mosesquelle,” a small spring. According to legend, knock your walking stick upon it, and red wine shall flow. A bit further on, a row of benches makes the ideal spot to break into that bottle of wine weighing down your backpack. Cross through another vineyard and you’ll find yourself in Dernau, a town with many “Straußwirtschafte,” a special type of wine tavern that’s only open at certain times of the year. If there’s one serving on the day of your visit, don’t miss it.

Dernau – Ahrweiler (4.5 miles, 2 hours walking)

The path picks up again by the church and leads up a steep slope to the Marienthal, home to Augustinian nuns for nearly 800 years and nowadays a modern wine estate. The next diversions are an observation tower and a pair of wine terraces. Above the town of Walporzheim is found at the “Bunte Kuh” cliff, a rock formation resembling the head of a cow. Another curiosity around these parts is a government-owned bunker that was meant to be used in the event of a nuclear war. Pass a hotel and the high ropes course before entering Ahrweiler through the impressive stone Adenbach gate.

Ahrweiler - Bad Bodendorf (8 miles, 3 - 4 hours walking)

Pass the high ropes course again and make way to a staircase next to the remains of an old bridge and past the “Ahrweiler Rosenthal” vineyards, reputed to produce some of the Ahr’s best wines. The previously narrow valley opens up as the large town of Bad Neuenahr draws near. Between Heppingen and Heimersheim, the massive bridge of the A61 highway cuts through by the Apollinaris spring. The last highlight on this stretch are the ruins of the Landskrone, a 12th century castle.

Medieval villages, castle ruins, stunning nature and world-class wines: the Red Wine Hiking Trail delivers everything that makes Germany such a hiker’s paradise. Care to explore virtually before the big day arrives? The Der-rotweinwanderweg website features videos sure to spark your wanderlust.

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