Without a doubt the towns of Sommerhausen and Winterhausen are adorable year round, composed as they are of centuries old buildings and cobblestone streets and nestled in a valley below mountainsides draped in grapevines.
The writer in me couldn’t help but appreciate the fact that when I visited these towns – which in English mean Summer house and Winter house – it was autumn, in my house, the best season of all.
In the Franconia region of Germany, Sommerhausen and Winterhausen are two of a string of similarly attractive villages lining the Main River making a wine trail of sorts that is popular with Germans but generally unknown outside of the country. There is no Sommerhausen/Winterhausen Facebook page, no Foursquare site, no glitzy marketing campaign. These twin towns on either side of the river still retain an undiscovered charm while at the same time offering everything a traveler in search of relaxation and amusement will need.
I stayed at one of the six rooms added to the old warren of buildings that make up the Artur Steinmann Winery and Hotel. The core of the structure is the home of Franz Daniel Pastorius, the first German to emigrate to the US and a man much admired by the Steinmanns.
A wine press is wedged into an alcove and metal casks turn processed grapes into wine in the cellar. The Steinmanns live above the business office and the courtyard leads to the wine tasting room. It’s a cozy set up that blurs the lines between family and business.
Steffi, the oldest of Artur Steinmann’s children took me on a tour, allowing me to sample the just-pressed Silvaner grapes, and the wine in various stages of fermentation. Walking among the stainless steel casks, we met up with her pop, who was hosing down the floor. He said when I saw him at a wine tasting later in the week, he would play the accordion for me and I said I’d hold him to that promise.
Running a family winery when the family is small means everybody works hard, so I left Steffi back at her office and I went out for dinner and a look-see around the town.
The next morning, I followed Steffi’s advice and hiked up the hillside to look out over the vineyards to the rooftops and church steeples of Sommerhausen and Winterhausen. The ascent was steep and I was out of breath on arrival at the top, so I lingered at the Schnecke Monument – a snail shaped sculpture that pays tribute to the effect of the shell limestone soil on the grapes grown here and took a photo.
But the real scene stealer was the view. Under the golden light of an October morning, the towns splayed out before me with the silver ribbon of river between them. Hints of yellow and orange tipped the trees and the fields shone an emerald green. Close up was an expanse of grape vines with leaves concealing the occasional cluster of fruit – jade-colored treasure waiting to be discovered.
Walking along the ridge, I passed several signs for “weingut” or wine estates with rooms and cafes. Being on a “wine trail” this was not unexpected. But as I walked farther I came upon a little zoo called Wildpark that could have come out of a Hansel and Gretel story and this was a surprise.
The zookeeper tending the goats and donkeys was having a spirited conversation with them. I stood and listened for a while to see if I could figure out what she was saying. I couldn’t so I gave up and wandered over to the peacocks. I remembered how my dad used to be able to imitate the mating call and sometimes even get the male to open his feathers and give us a show. But there was none of that action going on on this day. I watched piglets and the parakeets and some critters that looked like gazelles.
After a few hours, I realized, I’d not seen even half of Summer and there was still Winter to visit. Plus, there was wine to be tasted and the promise of accordion music so I left the animals with their attentive caregiver and returned the way I came finding the view as magnificent on the way down as it was on the climb.
Stay tuned for the second season of this blog post.