It was an easy morning’s drive in bright sunshine across the border and onto, most surprisingly, the German Wein Strasse.
This wasn’t in the plan but it seemed one of those ‘trip moments’ when you just trust in the day and go with what comes to you. In this case it was a fabulous tree-lined and shaded aire at the spa town of Bad Durkheim.
Having got Bertha coolly parked and pitched we cycled to explore the town of more than 100 wineries with a historical tradition of bathing and healing. A considerable acreage of public gardens are variously planted with exotic and European flowers and trees through which narrow paths wind upwards, past ornate fountains, to the old centre of ‘Romer Platz’. The Romans founded the town and its vineyards so we knew we were onto something good.
Simon was keen to find the Wurst Fetz Platz as it was lunchtime and ‘when in Rome…’ However the platz turned out to be a large car park and home to the weekly flea market and annual wine festival, proclaimed ‘the largest in the world’.
People were outside cafes and bars eating enormous bowls of salad and ice cream and we had that bizarre feeling that you only get in a German town where the economy is driven by its health clinics. We were amongst the beautiful people that had come for relaxation, and the sick and broken who were here for recuperation and, in some cases renovation. Here too were local families enjoying the parkland and the latest attraction of a 1.5km paddling stream, complete with riverside planting, which tumbled and splashed alongside the bizarre sight of the Gradierbau.
At 333m long this impressively tall wooden-framed walkway houses the longest ‘salt evaporation works’ of its kind in Germany. Salt water trickles down over blackthorn twigs and is nebulised, making for a style of healthy marine air, deep inhalation of which provides relief from respiratory problems. We saved a gentle saunter around it for the next day as the temperature again reached 39 degrees and the salty misty air provided pricelessly cool comfort for a meagre 1 euro and 50 cents.
It was a hot but rewarding cycle up through the vineyards to a Roman villa from where we enjoyed panoramic views of the Palatine from its columned terrace.
Partly restored, its scale was impressive and boasted private rooms, courtyards, a bathing house, stables, water well and gardens, now home to red stone sarcophagi long empty of their noble possessions. Close your eyes and you could be anywhere in the Mediterranean under hot blue skies and with the scent of fir trees, herbs and grasses billowing around you. It felt indelibly Roman, and interestingly German.
Flying back down through the vines as my speedometer informed at 20 miles an hour we skidded to a halt at Ungestein, a village about to celebrate its yearly Wein Fest. However we were a day and a few hours too early so settled instead for a tasting with a roadside seller.
It was a chance to dust off my rusty schoolgirl and very polite German. A few sips and several apologies later we had a couple of the local whites on board the bikes to enjoy with the next days’ sunsets.