Footpaths and French Steam

22- 24 August 2019

The parcel from Dusseldorf stubbornly refused to oblige us by arriving. We stayed an extra 3 days to give it every opportunity but in the end arranged to pick up the part for Danny’s beloved Leatherman from the firm’s premises on our way to Düsseldorf. The upside of the wait was that we got in a couple of walks and a trip on a steam train. 

The weather decided to settle temporarily into warm afternoons without the usual rain  which was nice. We took advantage and walked up to the ruined Castle Staufen on the vine-clad hill overlooking the town. Famous grapes such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer were ripening invitingly and the whole thing was very picturesque.

Built around 1100 on the remains of a Roman fort the castle was abandoned in the  1600’s and has been slowly decaying ever since, although recent work does allow a climb to the top of what’s left of a tower for the views – west to the Rhine and France, east to the wooded hills of the Black Forest. We rewarded ourselves with some cake back in the village – the Germans do really wonderful, artery clogging but irresistible stuff.

A longer leg-stretch took us on a 10 mile circular walk to Sulzburg – it was supposed to be shorter but we took a couple of detours (unintended).  We climbed up wooded slopes through a mix of conifers, beech and oak to the summit of Katzenstuhl  then higher to Enggründlekopf (great name) where, at just over 700m, we stopped at a break in the trees for the views across the Rhine flood-plain to the Vosges mountains in France.

 

A long slow descent through the shade of the forest where delicate woodland flowers were still blooming down into sleepy Sulzburg. 

We finally found somewhere open to satisfy our hunger and had a traditional lunch. Flammenkuche – the German version of pizza, made with soured cream, smoked bacon and onion – is surprisingly tasty and Schnizel is….filling. Danny describes it as a German KFC (with pork) but not as tasty.

The route back was largely through sloping vineyards with enough of a climb to work off a bit of lunch before dropping down through pretty little Grunern with it’s massive 16th century wine press. It was a lovely day’s walk.

 

Our last day before leaving Staufen we  drove the short distance west across the Rhine and into France, to Volgelsheim’s restored railway station for a steam train journey & Rhine cruise. 

With the 248 other pre-booked passengers we were eventually allowed to enter the station and pass through their rather chaotic system onto the platform where we got chatting to a guy with a Dublin accent – born in Malaysia, married to an Irish woman and now an Irish citizen and IT consultant. Small world.

Eventually we were settled in the old carriages, the black engine had a full head of steam up, loud  “choo choo’s” were sounded and we were chugging along the tracks, first towards the Rhine then down stream. 

We had a short visit to the sheds where the steam trains and their carriages are restored by the volunteers and where the real enthusiasts were in absolute heaven. Off again and we couldn’t resist hanging out of the window despite the soot that landed on our faces and stung our eyes. Finally we were ushered off and across the Colmar canal, up the steep Rhine levee and onto our 2-storey cruise boat. 

After queuing in the sun Danny opted for inside with aircon and soon we were off on an 80 minute cruise back up-river. The German side was well tended with small marinas and a well-used cyclepath-footpath all the way. People were messing about on boats and swans dabbled for food. On the French side a was scrubby and unused strip separates the river from the canal and the railway line. 

At Breisach the river forked round an island with a sandy beach where people were sunbathing and swimming and a weir, flood controls and a lock block further progress. We disembarked at the entrance to the Colmar canal, rejoined our train for the short journey back to Volgelsheim and finished our train & boat ‘fix’ in lovely early evening sunshine.