How To Survive The Esslingen Wine Walk

Another wine-related post?  Well, it is that time of year!  And instead of my typical boring post just telling you what something is, I'm going to give you actual, practical advice you can use for one of the most popular events in the Stuttgart region: The Esslingen Wine Walk.

For those who aren't familiar, however, the wine walk (or weinwanderweg in German) is an event where the local winemakers set up booths in the vineyards where the grapes are grown, over a course of several miles.  For a refundable fee, you are given an adorably tiny wine glass (complete with cord to hang it around your neck!) and let loose to hike from station to station, sampling wines as you go.  At the end of the route, there is a huge fest with a traditional band, wurst, and even more wine.

Sounds great, right?  It is - but a lot of first (or let's be honest, second or third!) timers make some basic mistakes, and end up in rough shape afterwards.  So I'm going to give you some important tips to making sure you have a great time.

  1. Choose the right outfit.  Spring weather in Stuttgart is notoriously changeable, as you can see from the picture above, and we all know how accurate the forecast is here!  Dressing in layers is a must.  And tick season is in full effect, meaning pants are your best option.  This is a hike, so forget the cute shoes and wear something sensible.
  2. WEAR SUNSCREEN.  Then bring more with you.  I'm serious about this!  Also bring water, and buy more along the way.  Dehydration isn't fun for anyone.
  3. Go early or late!  This event seems to get more crowded every year, with 6,000 participants expected.  This means long lines to sample wine and feeling a bit like cattle as you slowly move from one station to the next.  You can avoid this by starting between 11:00-12:00, or waiting until the main rush has passed by starting after 15:00.  Another way to avoid the crowds is to do the hike "backwards" by starting in Mettingen (although if you want to join in the fest at the end, you'll have to take the S-Bahn one stop back to Mettingen)
  4. Try to stick to one taste per station.  The tasting size may seem small by local standards, but think of it this way - if you have one glass per station, you'll have drank nearly a full bottle of wine by the end of the hike, and you want to be in good shape for bench dancing at the party after!
  5. Some people decide to buy bottles along the hike, which can save time standing in line, but can also lead to drinking too much, too fast.  It's best to go this route only if you're with a large group of friends.
  6. Take public transit.  The wine walk is considerably less fun for a designated driver, and it's hard to tell just how much you're drinking along the way, so avoid any chance of a DUI.  The hike starts and ends within a 10 minute walk of the S-bahn line.
  7. Eat!  I can't stress this one enough.  Start with a big breakfast or lunch, and get a snack at one of the booths along the way.  
  8. Avoid shortcuts.  Sure, it might be tempting to walk down the hillside through the vineyards, or even down one of those ancient narrow staircases, but given all the rain recently, the steep ground is likely to be slick, and after a few glasses your coordination may not be the best.  Just stick to the path!
  9. Don't forget to get your stamps!  If you have one taste at every station, you are entitled to a free tasting at the fest at the end.  
  10. Take my brand-new Esslingen walking tour before the wine hike!  We'll start at 10:00 a.m., and finish at the starting point by 11:30 - perfect timing!  You'll learn about the origins of one of Germany's oldest cities, why Esslingen was bigger and more important that Stuttgart for nearly 1,000 years, and all about the local wine culture.  Impress the new friends you meet on the weinwanderweg with this trivia!  Did I mention that this tour is 2 euros off the regular price per person?  What a deal!

That about sums it up!  If you'd like a little more information on why Esslingen was so important, read about Free Imperial Cities in this previous blog post. Hope to see you either at my tour or up in the vineyards on Sunday, May 18th!

Hiking The Vineyards!

One of the things I absolutely love most about Germany is the focus on being outdoors.  The minute the weather is decent (which for Germans seems to be anytime the thermometer tops 50 degrees Fahrenheit!) you will see locals sitting outside at cafes, spilling out into the many squares, and of course, hiking!

Ready for some walking and some wine!

Ready for some walking and some wine!

Germans do take hiking seriously, but that doesn't mean they aren't into having fun while doing so.  Seems at the top of nearly every hill is a biergarten or restaurant just waiting to satiate your hunger and thirst.  It's a great motivator!

This is why I'm so excited to introduce my newest tour: the Stuttgart vineyard wine hike!  If you love the outdoors and love wine, you really owe it to yourself to take this tour, which "officially" premieres this Sunday, April 13th.  I'll give you an in-depth virtual tour of what you'll see:

We start in the suburb of Oberturkheim, which is an easy, 10-minute ride on the S-bahn from the Stuttgart main train station.  We meet right outside the station at 12:10 p.m.  From there, we walk just a few blocks to the restaurant of the Winery Zaiss.  This restaurant, the "Sonnenbesen", is not only a great place to get a viertel of their excellent wine, but also has some of the best Swabian food in the whole area at very reasonable prices.  

Panoramic view from the Rotenberg

Thus fortified, we begin our climb - just about 15 minutes uphill, past the beautiful 15th-century church, up into the vineyards.  From there, we'll descend through fruit orchards in full bloom to the charming village of Ulbach, which has been a center of wine production for over 500 years, and is home to some of the region's most prestigious wineries.  Here we'll either stop for a private tasting, or enjoy a glass of local wine on the leafy patio of a local restaurant, and take a brief tour of the Weinbau wine museum, with ancient presses. 

The Grabkappelle

Then it's time to climb uphill again, as we skirt up the vineyard-covered sides of the Rotenberg mountain (more of a big hill, really!)  This used to be the site of the Wurttemberg's ancestral castle, before it was destroyed in a war in the 1300's forcing the Wurttembergs to relocate to what is now downtown Stuttgart's Alte Schloss.  At the top of the hill today is the Grabkapelle, a beautiful mausoleum created by King Wilhelm I as tribute to his beloved wife Queen Katharina, who died tragically young.  Admission to the Grabkapelle is included in the tour price.

After enjoying both the views and this moving tribute to eternal love, we'll start our descent to our next stop, a lovely outdoor besen for a glass overlooking the Neckar valley.  It's all downhill from there!  We'll finish at the Unterturkheim train station sometime between 5:00-6:00 p.m., where we'll hop back on the S-bahn towards the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof.

I've personally done this hike four times in three different seasons, but in my opinion, Spring is when the scenery is at its best!  So grab your hiking shoes and make a reservation!  Space is limited on a first-come, first-serve basis.  All the details can be found here.  Hope to see you on Sunday!

A Visit To The Biergarten!

Thanks to the fact that Stuttgart is having an unseasonably warm Spring, my very favorite place in the entire city is up and running earlier than expected!  That's right, I'm talking about the Biergarten am Schlossgarten, the most traditional Biergarten in the city proper.

A biergarten in Munich

A biergarten in Munich

What do I love so much about the Biergarten? It's not the food, which is serviceable but nothing to write home about.  The fact that they have my favorite beverage, Swabischer Bauernmost* on the menu certainly helps.  But at the end of the day it's because I've been infected with the European mania for sitting outside once the thermometer rises above 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

But a biergarten isn't just any old place to sit outside.  The roots of the biergarten tradition goes back hundreds of years.  They originated in the Bavarian capital of Munich.  Beer needed to be stored somewhere cool during the warm summer months, so brewers dug beer cellars on the banks of the Isar River, relying on the cold Alpine runoff to chill the beer and keep it from spoiling.  They spread the grounds above the cellars with gravel and planted chestnut trees to further cool the cellars with their shade.  It was convenient to serve the beer where it was stored, and the biergarten was born.

You are most likely to find a traditional biergarten in Bavaria, but they exist all over Germany, and there are several in Stuttgart.  To be traditional, a biergarten must have gravel on the ground, benches for seating, and chestnut trees for shade.  There is no table service, you order your beer from the counter.  Biergartens serve simple regional and Bavarian food, but you are allowed to bring your own food to many, as that is also part of the tradition.

Yours truly enjoying the public viewing of the EUFA Championships in 2012

Yours truly enjoying the public viewing of the EUFA Championships in 2012

As for the Biergarten am Schlossgarten, it had a formerly lovely setting, very close to the main train station, but surrounded by park and trees on all sides.  Sadly, the Stuttgart 21 train station construction has besmirched one edge of park, but it's still a pleasant place to relax after a hard day at work, or listen to live music at lunchtime on a Sunday.  And it's a great place to cheer on Germany during this summer's World Cup!  

Starting tomorrow, Thursday March 20th, all tours will end with an optional stop at the Biergarten am Schlossgarten where I'll be happy to explain more about the local food and beer you can obtain there!  Prost!


*Swabischer Bauernmost means "Swabian Farmer's Juice" but it's actually a kind of apple cider.  It's hard to find, so come with me to try some!

Springtime in Stuttgart!

After an amazingly mild winter (and if you are complaining about the lack of snow, you didn't live here last winter...) an early and sunny spring is upon us!  Which is just the right time for a tour.

I'm especially excited for Saturday, as it's predicted to be sunny and about 60 degrees Fahrenheit.  No need for boots or an umbrella this time!  The sunshine will make for great photo opportunities!

When the weather is nice, I like to end my tours with an optional trip to Stuttgart's largest biergarten, Biergarten am Schlossgarten.  This is a perfect way to enjoy traditional local beer and food and beautiful weather.  The biergarten isn't open quite yet, but until it is I'll end my tours at a local brewery with outdoor seating so those who want to can enjoy a round.


The advent of spring also means some other changes here at Stuttgart Steps!  Our Swabian wine tours will be changing radically to incorporate walks through vineyards, visits to seasonally-open Besenwirtschaft (traditional, family-run wine taverns) and a trip to Stuttgart's wine museum.  Those will be starting by the end of March, and I'll keep you posted!

Come join me to learn about Stuttgart's fascinating history and interesting places with no threat of rain or snow!  I hope to see you soon!

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

I'll be honest with you: when I left the United States, I dreaded Christmas.  That's not exactly a unique feeling for a lot of people these days, I realize, but I really dreaded it.  It was an excessively stressful time of year.  And my complaints are just as unimaginative: the excessive commercialization, the obnoxious constant stream of carols, the traffic, the inevitable lack of funds...Christmas had lost a lot of its magic for me as an adult.  

But my first Christmas in Germany changed that, because in Germany - and indeed, much of Europe, the dreary weather, constant lack of sunshine, all of that vanishes thanks to the Christmas Markets, or Weinachtsmarkten.  And why not?  For a month in the bigger cities, and at least for a couple days in even the smallest villages, everything is transformed.  Adorable huts selling ornaments, candles, and crafts spring up.  The smells of sizzling wurst, roast chestnuts, and spiced almonds fill the air.  Oh, and did I forget to mention Glühwein?

Stuttgart's Alte Schloss at Christmas

It seems silly to complain about commercialization while celebrating what is a market, where one goes to spend money, but there's something different about the European Christmas feeling.  It's not that you don't hear carols on the radio, or have sales in the malls, because that's inescapable, but the cozy feeling you get admiring the booth decorations while warming up with a beautifully decorated mug of glühwein or cider, chatting with friends and family in the cold but bustling night is something really special.

Vin Chaud is just Gluhwein by another name!

Vin Chaud is just Gluhwein by another name!

Stuttgart's Christmas market starts on November 27th, and runs every day until December 23rd.  Sadly, I'll have to suspend my regular tours of Stuttgart during this time, as the market takes up most of the route of my tour through the Mitte, and it's just crowded and narrow to navigate a group through.  I'll still be available for tours during weekday mornings, however, when crowds are more manageable.  It's a great idea for an activity if friends and family are visiting this holiday season, and I'm available on both the 24th and 25th (when most everything else will be shut down).

Esslingen's amazing Christmas Market

Esslingen's amazing Christmas Market

The exciting news is that I am starting my new tour of Esslingen, but only as a private tour reserved in advance.  Regularly scheduled public tours will begin right after Christmas.  You can reserve by contacting me or by sending me a message on Facebook!

In the meantime, you can keep up with my own travels through the regional Christmas Markets by watching this blog, or following me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter!  Have a great holiday season!