Saale-Unstrut, Germany's northernmost wine-growing region, offers hikers an impressively long network of trails of almost 700 kilometers.
It would be a hiking career in itself if you wanted to systematically explore all of these routes. But we want to limit ourselves to the 14-kilometer stage from Naumburg to Freyburg, which can be mastered in about 4 hours.
We begin our hike in the historic cathedral city of Naumburg, first mentioned in 1012. We go out of town across the Saalebrücke towards the district of Henne. The path leads us to our first highlight, the cellar of the wine and sparkling wine manufacturer Naumburg. This is the oldest sparkling wine producer in Germany, founded in 1824, and offers a tasting of premium sekt (sparkling wine) with or without a tour of their cellars (naumburger.com).
After this stimulating break, we continue our way, following the Saaleweg, to the Blütengrund where Saale and Unstrut, the region's namesake, unite. Then we head along the Unstrutradwanderweg ( Unstrut cycling and hiking trail), which leads us to a uniquely impressive sandstone relief from the 18th century, that shows twelve larger-than-life biblical motifs for winegrowing and hunting.
Immediately afterwards we reach the idyllic village of Großjena, well over 1,000 years old, with the Max Klinger vineyard, the Klinger memorial and the associated museum. On the mountain we enjoy an incomparable, almost Mediterranean ambience, as Klinger used to describe it, "Tuscany of the North". The eminent Leipzig painter, artist and sculptor Max Klinger (1857 - 1920) is buried here in this picturesque setting adorned by a sculpture he himself created called "The Athlete". Klinger acquired the property on the advice of his doctor in 1903 and retired here to relax and work. An exhibition about his life is on display and after extensive renovation, the artist's former home is also open to the public again.
Of course, there is also something here for our physical well-being - the Weinbergcafé (klinger-weinberg.de) has home-made cakes and local wine awaiting us. Those who prefer to fortify themselves with something hearty can do so, for example, in the "Großjena" guest house (weinpension-grossjena.de). At the other end of the village there is another attraction: the former estate of the Knight of Großjena with a classicist manor house from 1818, a pleasure garden with old roses, a park and the caretaker’s house with an orangery.
After we have walked through magical Großjena, we follow the Weinradwanderweg (wine cycle and hiking trail) to Freyburg, the home of the legendary father of gymnastics, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn. The exhibition in the Jahnmuseum documents the life and work of this city's most important figure.
If we now head towards the city center, we will soon pass the Ducal Vineyard on Mühlstrasse, the region's showcase vineyard. It was created in 1774 as a baroque vineyard with the typical vineyard house in the center. Here we can learn about the work of a steep slope winemaker on a guided tour and be simultaneously entertained with amusing stories and anecdotes about the wine from the Saale-Unstrut region.
We should also not miss a visit to the famous Rotkäppchen sparkling wine cellar founded in 1856. A tour of the heritage-listed winery with its impressive five-story underground cellars, the large atrium and the cathedral cellar, which houses Germany's largest carved cuvée barrel, is a highly recommended experience (rotkaeppchen.de).
In addition to the Ducal Vineyard mentioned above, other stopovers for the wine enthusiast are the Weingut Deckert (weingut-deckert.de) and the Freyburg-Unstrut Winegrowers’ Cooperative (winzerverigung-freyburg.de). This is the largest wine producer in the region, managing around 400 hectares, that is over half of the region’s vineyard area. It also offers tastings and tours in their large cellar full of old wooden barrels.
Freyburg has its own city vineyard, the Schlifterweinberg, located behind the church. It offers wine lovers the possibility of "wine sponsorship". Next to this is the so-called "celebrity vineyard" where politicians, wine queens and various personalities have planted a variety of vines, tagging them with their name and date of planting.
From here we begin the ascent to Edelacker and our last destination, the legendary Neuchâtel. This sister castle of the famous UNESCO Wartburg towers high above the wine-growing town of Freyburg. Famous people such as Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa, the poet Heinrich von Veldeke or the Countess Elisabeth of Thuringia are eloquent testimonies to a glorious past here. A wine museum in the old walls brings the 1,000-year history of the wine-growing region to life. Luxurious accommodation is also ensured high above Freyburg, in the glamorous Berghotel zum Edelacker (edelacker.de).
The Saale hiking trail has a white square with a blue bar (partially a cycle path). The Unstrutradwanderweg is not only marked with a white square with green crossbars, but often also with a green dot.
The very flat bike and walking path follows almost continuously along the Saale and Unstrut rivers. Asphalt or naturally constructed - a trail for enjoyment. The view can be enjoyed on a detour into the hilly country.
Car park at Vogelwiese or Postring.