Pilgrim hikes: From monastery to monastery through the Rheingau

Geisenheim (dpa/tmn)
It doesn’t always have to be the Way of St. James. Hiking in the Rheingau has one decisive advantage: the wine. The Klostersteig leads through vines – including surprising discoveries and spiritual experiences.

The first stage on the Klostersteig starts on a path as narrow as a towel. It goes steeply uphill over scree from Eberbach to the Hallgarter Zange. 350 meters in altitude over just four kilometers – the “Jakobsweg” of the Rheingau starts slowly.

A total of 30 kilometers are on the plan. “That’s about 45,000 steps,” estimates Wolfgang Blum. The Geisenheimer accompanies hiking groups on the route through the wine region several times a year.

The route connects the former monasteries of Eberbach near Eltville and Marienhausen in Assmannshausen-Aulhausen. On the way there are three lively monasteries: the Marienthal Franciscan monastery, the Cistercian community of Nothgottes and the Benedictine nuns of St. Hildegard. The Klostersteig lives up to its name.

If you manage the first ascent, the worst is behind you. “At 580 meters, the Hallgarter Zange summit is the highest point of the Rheingauer Klostersteig,” says Blum.

Wine as far as the eye can see

From here the Klostersteig meanders gently up and down through lush vineyards. This is where the grapes for the famous Riesling ripen. Sometimes the route leads over forest paths, but mostly over the wide farm roads of the winegrowers.

The way can be done in two daily stages. In between, there is ample opportunity to immerse yourself in the history of the monasteries and religious orders. And into the history of wine in the Rheingau. Wine and pilgrimage, do they go together? Hiking guide Blum seems to have been waiting for this question and has a handy answer: «Which drink is often mentioned in the Bible? Wine!”

Lots of room for spiritual thoughts

On the first day you will pass Schloss Vollrads, an estate that is proven to have sold wine for the first time in 1211. And on to Johannisberg. Half of the way is done here.

The interior of the basilica at Johannisberg Palace is unadorned, there are hardly any sculptures or pictures. But it is precisely this sparseness that leaves room for spiritual thoughts in search of oneself.

Day two on the Rheingauer Klostersteig: The group, led by Blum, hikes just over an hour along the forest path in the Elsterbachtal to the Marienthal monastery. Nine Franciscan Fathers today preserve the tradition from the 14th century; it is considered one of the oldest places of pilgrimage in Germany.

Through the vine slopes it goes up to the Benedictine Abbey of St. Hildegard. Today’s church and monastery were not built until 1900. The approximately 50 Benedictine sisters are the successors of Saint Hildegard von Bingen, who founded a monastery in neighboring Eibingen around 1165. The relics of the important natural and medicinal doctor of the early Middle Ages are kept in a golden shrine in the Eibingen parish church, a little off the Klostersteig.

Here the wine is called a pilgrim’s drink

“Klostersteig, Rheinsteig and also the Way of St. James come together at the Abbey of St. Hildegard,” explains Blum. Sometimes the hikers meet Sister Thekla Baumgart at work in the vineyards. She is a winemaker and has managed the monastery winery since 1998.

“We cultivate seven hectares of vines and press Riesling and Pinot Noir,” she explains. “We are the only monastic community in Germany that actively cultivates wine, from tending the vines to pressing, selling in the monastic shop and shipping online.” Pilgertrunk is the logical name of one of the off-dry Rieslings from the monastery winery.

Five last kilometers on the Klostersteig mark the finish line. In Aulhausen, hikers reach the little church of the former Cistercian monastery of Marienhausen, happy and satisfied with the walk they have completed. And are surprised and «flashed». The bright room is dominated by a Christ sculpture, three meters high, made from the trunk of a 300-year-old oak tree. “Christ spreads his arms wide for those who walk,” explains Pastor Kurt Weigel. What a nice welcome.

Rheingauer Klostersteig

  • Holiday destination: The Klostersteig leads over almost 30 kilometers from Eberbach Abbey near Eltville through the vineyards to Assmannshausen-Aulhausen. It can be walked in two or three days. The hike can be interrupted in Johannisberg, from there by bus/taxi to Geisenheim train station. From the destination in Aulhausen it is still around three kilometers to the Assmannshausen train station.
  • Getting there: Take the train from Wiesbaden on the Rheingau line in the direction of Koblenz to Eltville, from there you can take the bus to Kloster Eberbach.
  • Information: Rheingau-Taunus Culture and Tourism, Rheinweg 30, 65375 Oestrich-Winkel (Tel.: 0672360/2720, email: [email protected]; Internet: www.rheingau.com)

© dpa-infocom, dpa:220921-99-847602/2 (By Bernd F. Meier, dpa)

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