Winter hiking on the Red Slope

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This article was published on 02.02.2023 and updated on 19.01.2024.

Hiking trail on the Roter Hang

To many, winter seems gray and boring. But with a little snowfall, a wonderful winter landscape opens up for hiking on the slopes of Rheinhessen. The Rote Hang near Nierstein is virtually predestined for a winter hike with its geological features, its views and its proximity to the Rhine-Main region. Ideal conditions are offered by the only 8 km long circular hiking trail "Wine Experience Red Slope".

Niersteiner Kilianskirche, below Germany's oldest vineyard: Niersteiner Glöck
Niersteiner Kilianskirche, below Germany's oldest vineyard: Niersteiner Glöck

A wintry blanket of snow had descended on Rheinhessen, the morning sun was shining, and so my wife and I decided to take a short morning hike to Nierstein. Although there is no parking at the starting point of the hiking trail at the Kilianskirche, it is not far from the parking lots at the train station. Coming from the Rhine-Main area or the Rhine-Neckar area, the train station is served by the S6 every 30 minutes. From the train station it is a short 20 minute walk to the Kilianskirche.

The wine experience

The association Red slope has designed the circular hiking trail with 12 stations. At the stations, red boards provide information about interesting facts, there is an audio guide, and you can enjoy the landscape and the beautiful views in the Rote Hang - where Rieslings of world renown grow.

The tour leads from Nierstein in a northerly direction slowly ascending along the Red Slope, then returns at the top of the hill to the Wartturm, turns west to the castle tower of the Schwabsburg, and then leads along the slope back to Nierstein.

The hiking tour is available at Rheinhessen.de (Wine Experience Red Slope - Hiking between Heaven and Rhine) and on the outdoor platform Outdooractive for re-hiking. Due to the very good trail marking, the tour can also be hiked without an electronic map.

The route planning provides for a duration of 2:10 hours. We want to take about 3 hours to stop at the stations, enjoy the views and have a snack.

Kilian Church

The hike begins at the Catholic parish church of St. Kilian. Around the church we admire the oldest documented location in Germany: Nierstein bell. It is said to have existed at least since the year 742, according to a deed of donation. Allegedly and traceably, the vineyard bears its name after the bells of the church. A forerunner of the present church is also said to have existed there in 742. The present church gathers parts and architectural styles from different centuries. From it, the view opens onto Nierstein and the Rhine.

Niersteiner Kilianskirche, start and end of the theme trail Wine Experience Niersteiner Glöck
Niersteiner Kilianskirche, start and end of the theme trail Wine Experience Niersteiner Glöck

Coastal view

On the right side of the church, we pass it in a small hollow way until we reach the coastal view. "Coast?" we ask ourselves. Until we realize that it is not the view of the Rhine that is meant, but the view 300 million years back, when seawater could be seen here on a coast. The continental plates had shifted, and so began the history of the Red Slope.

Hollow way after the Kilianskirche with waymarker Weinerlebnis Roter Hang and Rheinterrassenweg
Hollow way after the Kilianskirche with waymarker Weinerlebnis Roter Hang and Rheinterrassenweg
Wine Experience Niersteiner Glöck: Coastal View (Station 1)
Wine Experience Niersteiner Glöck: Coastal View (Station 1)
Wine Experience Niersteiner Glöck: Coastal View (Station 1)
Wine Experience Niersteiner Glöck: Coastal View (Station 1)

The red information panel shows how far it is from the last station and how far it is to the next station. A QR code calls up further information and the audio guide.

Today the snow on the trees and the landscape forms a wonderful contrast with the blue sky over the Rhine. We return to the path and continue to the right in a small depression over a farm track, and then it goes up.

Kilian church behind snowy vines
Kilian church behind snowy vines
Signpost wine experience red slope with view to the north on the red slope
Signpost wine experience red slope with view to the north on the red slope

Demolition edge

At the break-off edge, the red earth of the Red Slope jumps into our eyes. Here, on the Rote Hang, the Rotliegend rock layer comes to light, which was formed by displacements millions of years ago. It also exists in other areas of Rheinhessen, but nowhere can it be seen so far on the surface and on a break-off edge as here on the Rhine.

Wine Experience Red Slope, Station 3: Red Break-off Edge
Wine Experience Red Slope, Station 3: Red Break-off Edge

The path continues northward on the Red Slope, always with the Rhine and the vineyards in view. The flags of the Red Slope flutter on poles. Sometimes it goes down briefly, but steadily it goes up. Over a snow-covered wooden post ("Stickel") we look back and recognize the Kilianskirche towering above snow and landscape.

Winter view of the Rhine, Kilianskirche and Nierstein
Winter view of the Rhine, Kilianskirche and Nierstein
Wine Experience Red Slope - View of the Red Slope and the Rhine River
Wine Experience Red Slope - View of the Red Slope and the Rhine River

Humboldt View

Alexander von Humboldt already reported in 1790 about the noble wine and the red rock in Nierstein. At Alexander-von-Humboldt-Blick, we imagine enjoying the view here together with him and talking about the environment and ecology.

Alexander von Humboldt view over the Rhine to the skyline of Frankfurt am Main
Alexander von Humboldt view over the Rhine to the skyline of Frankfurt am Main

To the Fockenberg hut

Just a few meters above the Alexander von Humboldt lookout, we turn directly left onto a natural path that later becomes a trail. Today we trudge through the snow and catch glimpses of the Rhine again and again.

Winter view of the Rhine, Kilianskirche and Nierstein
Winter view of the Rhine, Kilianskirche and Nierstein
Signpost wine experience red slope with winter view of the Rhine, Kilianskireche and Nierstein
Wine experience Roter Hang sign with winter views of the Rhine, Kilianskirche church and Nierstein
Rhine and Rhine plain during winter hike wine experience red slope
Rhine and Rhine plain during winter hike wine experience red slope
Path up to the plateau during the hike Wine Experience Red Slope
Path up to the plateau during the hike Wine Experience Red Slope

At the Fockenberghütte we take a first short rest. From here we look down again on the Kilianskirche, Nierstein and the Rhine. Clouds are gathering a little, but we are not disturbed by them.

Wine Experience Red Slope, Station 6: At the Fockenberghütte with a view of the Rhine and Nierstein
Wine Experience Red Slope, Station 6: At the Fockenberghütte with a view of the Rhine and Nierstein

Nierstein watchtower

Continue on the upper farm track until you reach the Nierstein watchtower, a medieval signal tower from the 12th century. For a long time, the tower still served the winegrowers as an observation tower and headquarters for bird defense. With loud noises, like with scare guns, the birds were deterred from ravaging the ripe grapes. In front of the tower there are some benches and tables, a family is just setting up for vespers. From here, the view goes far over the vineyards and the Rhine to the Odenwald on the other side of the Rhine.

Nierstein watchtower
Nierstein watchtower

Castle tower view and castle tower

We trudge further west through the snow above the slope and later catch sight of the castle tower. Schwabsburg Castle was built in the 13th century and initially served as a base for the Hohenstaufen dynasty on the Rhine. After changing owners, the imperial castle was destroyed by Spanish troops during the Thirty Years' War. Only the remains of the keep remained. It was restored only a few years ago and now serves many as an excursion destination. Throughout the year, you can climb up an increasingly narrow staircase inside and enjoy the scenery from above.

The castle tower of the Schwabsburg
The castle tower of the Schwabsburg

Today we stay down and just look at the vineyard "Schloss Schwabsburg" and the Nierstein district Schwabsburg until we start our way back.

Wine Experience Red Slope, Station 9: Castle Tower - View of Schwabsburg
Wine Experience Red Slope, Station 9: Castle Tower - View of Schwabsburg

Oelberg

At the Oelberg vineyard, the largest single vineyard in the Roter Hang, the Roter Hang hut invites us to rest. We unpack our coffee and some provisions and let our eyes wander over Nierstein.

Small snack break with coffee and cheese at the Oelberg refuge
Small snack break with coffee and cheese at the Oelberg refuge
Shelter at the Oelberg
Shelter at the Oelberg

Just a little below the edge of the slope, we walk further east towards the Rhine. We encounter a family that we had already seen at the Wartturm. There they had just unpacked a Vesper. We chat briefly about the wonderful but cold snowy weather before saying goodbye. Down in the valley, we see vintners with their tractors at work in the vineyard - while we enjoy our free time. In the audio guide, we learn what work needs to be done throughout the year.

Winegrower at work in the Wingert (vineyard) near Nierstein, in winter
Winegrower at work in the Wingert (vineyard) near Nierstein, in winter

Communion table

At the dinner table we pause for a moment and think about the hard work of the winegrowers.

The Auflangen climb from the Abendmahl table down to Nierstein
The Auflangen climb from the Abendmahl table down to Nierstein

We descend via the Auflangen-Steig and then hike back to Nierstein. In Nierstein, it would only be a few hundred meters to the Kilianskirche church. We could also walk straight back to the parking lot if it weren't for the market square. Among other things, the market square has the "Genussheldin" to offer.

Coffee and cake at the Genussheldin

Café Erni & Illi at the market place in Nierstein
Café Genussheldin on the market square in Nierstein

We cannot and do not want to resist the temptation. Fortunately, especially in the "Pleasure heroine" The table with the sofa is free on the left. The gourmet heroine is Lisa Schindlbeck. In her cozy café, she offers breakfast à la carte, coffee and cake and lunch dishes. The cakes and pastries are homemade, of course. 

We opt for a latte and baked apple tart - just the thing for cold days, right? This is how we enjoy the end of our hike before we set off for the remaining meters to the parking lot.

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I am Culture and Wine Ambassador Rheinhessen, Author and Hiking blogger and live in Selzen, about 15 kilometers south of Mainz. From there I explore my homeland with hiking, pleasure and culture, which surprises me again and again with fascinating gems. I look forward to new and old discoveries and acquaintances in the magical land of a thousand hills. Reports about my hikes as well as offers for guided hiking tours can be found on my Blog "The relaxing„.

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