Only 20 minutes north of Heidelberg, Weinheim ticks all the boxes: a romantic ruined fortress, a medieval Tanners' Quarter and the Marktplatz, the main square with its 16th-century buildings. Easy to explore on foot, it has lively bistros, pubs for lingering over a beer and some of the region’s most attractive parks and gardens. Moreover, the town is known for its delightful, almost Mediterranean climate. And that’s official. When Emperor Joseph II drove through in 1764, he announced: “This is where Germany starts to be Italy.”
The green heart of town
The former home of Palatinate princes is now the town hall, while the Schlosspark, Palace Gardens, are open to the public (free) year round. Also free is the 19th-century Exotenwald, a lovely arboretum, with mature giant sequoias, Andean firs and Japanese magnolias. More recent is the Hermannshof. Created in the 1980s, this beautiful botanical garden has a natural look, with lush borders and lawns (free).
A two-castle town
Weinheim’s nickname, the Zweiburgenstadt, refers to the Windeck and Wachenburg castles, both on wooded hills. You can see them from the top of the market square. You could drive to the atmospheric ruins of Windeck. Alternatively, it is a steep 30-minute walk. From there, a further 30-minute stroll gets you to the early 20th-century Wachenburg, with its red-tiled roof and views over the old town and farmland beyond.
At Chocolaterie CACAO, master chocolatier Peter Gärtner elevates confectionery to an art form. A fun souvenir is his Zweiburgen Praline, a praline that commemorates the town’s two castles (106 Hauptstrasse and 7 Obertorstrasse).
Weinheim at a glance
- Where: 20 minutes north of Heidelberg; on the Baden Mountain Road
- Population: 45,000
- Climate: Mild
- Landmarks: The Windeck ruins and Wachenburg Castle; medieval Tanners’ Quarter; well-preserved market square
- Market: Saturdays from 8 am to 1 pm on the market square
Guided tours; historic inns
To get a grip on the town’s history, take a guided walk. The Tanners’ Quarter, with its stone steps and historic houses, is picture-pretty, while trails up to the castles take you away from it all. Tour Weinheim’s historic restaurants; join the night watchman on a lantern tour that finishes with a traditional Nachtwächterschmaus, a hearty snack at the historic "Zum Diebsloch" inn on the market square.
A tradition of winemaking
With nearby vineyards, Weinheim is a stop on the Badische Weinstrasse, the Baden Wine Road. Mid-October brings the Weintage, the wine festival, which celebrates of the end of the grape harvest with tastings, music and good food. The Weinmeile is on the last day: chat to the makers; sample and compare Rieslings, Weissburgunders, (Pinot Blanc) and Spätburgunders (Pinot Noir) from nearby wineries and co-operatives.
Green fashion: made-to-measure
One of Weinheim’s popular shops is the Schönnatur boutique on the main street (72 Hauptstrasse). Whether from its own studio collection or from other designers, the clothes are fashionable, and made from eco-friendly fabrics.
In April, florists and garden shops bring greenery and flowers to the streets on Pflänzeltag, plant day; in September, Weinheimer Herbst is an autumn food festival, with producers from Cavaillon, Weinheim’s twin town in Provence, France, selling their wines, cheese and salami. Both festivals are on a Sunday, when the town’s regular shops are open as well.
Weinheimers celebrate the end of winter enthusiastically. Half way through Lent, three weeks before Easter, 2,000 children parade through town welcoming spring with songs. The parade ends in the market square with a bonfire that burns a giant snowman.