Climbing & Wine
The Hessigheim Cliffs
© TMBW, Foto: Gregor Lengler
BW Story - CMR
Climbing Area and Vineyards at the Neckar River
"No jokes about heights, please." Johannes is cheerful, keeping our spirits high as he leads our small group to the top of the cliff. As we huff and puff our way up the last few steps, Marta is surprised: "Funny. From a distance the steps don't look that steep. Johannes points out: "They're called Stäffele here in the local Swabian dialect. The emphasis is on 'le', which means 'small steps'!" "Then I don't want to know what you call the big steps here," Marta jokes with a smile. Then our group falls silent, everyone concentrating and watching their feet as we make our way through the steep Hessigheim Cliffs.
We are hiking in the beautiful countryside known as 3B-Land, a nickname that refers to the neighboring towns of Bönnigheim, Besigheim, and Bietigheim-Bissingen. Here, halfway between Stuttgart and Heilbronn, vineyards carpet the landscape along the Neckar, Enz and Stromberg hills. And rising like a sheer wall above the Neckar River is the rugged limestone of the Hessigheimer Felsengärten. This translates as the “Hessigheim Rock Gardens”, because these are a natural playground for climbers and hikers alike. Arriving at the top after an exhausting ascent is a wonderful moment. Everyone feels elated. "No problem, we are fit," says Anton, confirming what we all like to claim. The effort was definitely worth it. What a view! What a great river landscape! We can see why this was voted Württemberg's best vineyard view in 2016.
The next part of the trail is much easier. Behind Johannes we follow the path along the edge of the cliff. As we enjoy the view, we look forward to what the locals call a "Viertele": a glass of local wine served in a small glass mug. This comes with a slice of Zwiebelkuchen, the delicious onion tart that is another local specialty. After a few minutes we reach a gorge. Unlike the cliffs overlooking the Neckar River, rock climbing is allowed here. There are about 130 different climbing routes, some up to 60 feet/18 meters long. Ranging in difficulty from level 3 to level 9, there are routes for beginners and advanced climbers, as well as boulderers and mountaineers.
"Did someone say onion tart?" I am sure someone mentioned onion tart. On the way to a hearty lunch, our hike continues through the lush, historic landscape. Johannes points out the dry stone walls that winemakers have piled up over the centuries. "It's a special skill," he explains. "The stone helps retain the heat of the sun to help the grapes ripen and make excellent wine." "Did someone say wine?" I hint, moving from making wine to drinking wine, and also thinking about the onion tart. But Johannes is in full flow. "Rare lizards find their home in the stone walls. So do countless rare plant species." Pointing to something green on the ground, he continues. "Look over here. This is a Carthusian carnation." Marta interrupts: "Does onion tart grow there, too?"
Finally, we can end the hike in style with a good meal. We head to Besigheim, with its charming half-timbered houses and traditional inns. We stop at the first tavern we see and order wine from the vineyards we hiked through. These are some of the oldest in Württemberg, so there are years of experience in every glass. Marta wonders if we should try a second glass. "I'll drink to that," says Johannes. Marta is happy: "Another Viertele, please!" With vineyards, Hessigheim's extraordinary cliffs, and excellent wine, we can confirm that travel really does broaden the mind, so we toast: "To the winemakers, our guide Johannes, and the perfect end to a perfect day."