Würzburg may ring a bell in the ear of many American basketball enthusiasts. Yes, it is the hometown of the German wunderkind of the NBA, Dirk “Dirkules” Nowitzki. In spite of this famous hometown athlete, however, the most recognized "products" of Würzburg are definitely the wine and its sights. The city presents an alluring mixture of tradition and a relaxed way of life. On one hand it is a bishop’s see, so in some respects quite conservative, but the university and various other educational institutions see to it that Würzburg remains a very vital city, full of young people and a lot of energy. If you visit Würzburg, you will forever be a fan of this great city. I promise.
Würzburg, Franconia and the Wine
Würzburg is the administrative capital of the district of "Lower-Franconia," which is a sub-region of the German state of Bavaria. If you imagine the shape of Germany as a human torso, then Würzburg is the navel. The navel is at the center of the belly, which is the Franconian wine region spreading out to the east and the west of this charming town. The Main River slices through the region and gives it its unofficial title of “Mainfranken,” which is almost synonymous with the wine region of Franconia.
Unlike most other German wine regions, where Riesling dominates the market, in Franconia Silvaner is the primary varietal. Silvaner perfectly reflects the terroir of Franconia. The region’s exposed Triassic sediment produces delicate wines with a pleasant sense of minerality. They are usually somewhat “reserved” in their intensity of flavor, but have a dense, silky and complex body. This coincides precisely with the temperament of the typical Franconian. It is often said that they seem rather restrained, but once you warm up to them, they are really quite lovely people.
In addition to Silvaner, sixty different varietals are cultivated in Franconia. A typical wine estate lists at least 20 or more wines from different grapes and with different quality levels. The most important other grapes are Müller-Thurgau (also known as Rivaner), Bacchus and a little bit of Riesling. Red varietals are underrepresented in Franconia, but of the few that are cultivated, Spätburgunder stands out. Spätburgunder is translated as Pinot Noir and may not be grown widely, but does well in this region.
In Franconia the wines are traditionally produced dry, but occasionally you can also find some rather rare examples of naturally sweet wines resulting either from noble rot—look for “Beerenauslese” or “Trockenbeerenauslese” on the label—or “Eiswein” (ice wine), which can be harvested only in the coldest Franconian winters.
All over Franconia you will encounter those funny, fat-bellied bottles, which are a registered trademark and typical throughout the region. Special wines of a required minimum quality and made from regionally typical grapes, such as the Silvaner, are bottled in the unique Bocksbeutel (pronounced “boax-boy-tell”).
The Bocksbeutel dates back to at least 1726, when the City Council of Würzburg decreed that the outstanding wines from the Würzburger Stein vineyard must be bottled in the Bocksbeutel. The intention was to protect against forgery. Although today forgery is not the major concern (at least for most Franconian wines), the Bocksbeutel is still widely used for excellent wines throughout the Franconia.
Itinerary - Würzburg, discover wine and sights
Würzburg has both, remarkable sights and remarkable wine. The good thing is, you need not choose between exploring one or the other. You can do both. The cellars of the most important Würzburg wine estates happen to be contained within some of the region’s most interesting and historically significant buildings.
Wine-Heritage and World-Heritage
The Würzburger Residenz, a UNESCO World Heritage site, should be at the top of your agenda. An extraordinary Baroque palace, it was built as a grandiose residence for Würzburg’s Prince-Bishop. It was completed in 1744, based on the plans of the baroque master builder, Balthasar Neumann. The ceiling fresco, grand staircase and particularly the wine cellar make this one of the city’s most important attractions.
Once you have traversed the rooms and parlors, be certain to visit the cellar. It is filled with hundreds of wooden barrels, where the wines of the Staatliche Hofkeller Würzburg mature. Founded in 1128, the Staatliche Hofkeller is one of the oldest wine estates in the world. Today it is owned by the State of Bavaria and its Franconian wines are very highly regarded.
In the Rosenbach-Palais right across the street from the Residenz, there is a tasting room and wine shop—in Germany this is called a Vinothek—where you can taste and purchase almost all of the estate wines. While there, keep your eye out for wines from the Würzburger Stein vineyard. I will tell you more about these special wines in a minute.
Drink Wine for Charity
Leaving the Residenz behind you can easily walk to the nearby city center and discover the Spital-wineries.
Spital is an archaic term formerly used to mean “hospital” in German and makes up part of the name of the other two big Würzburg wine estates. The Bürgerspital and the Juliusspital were both once hospitals. One of them, the Juliusspital, is still one today. Funding for the hospitals came from wine produced from donated vineyards. The practice continues to this day. So when you drink wine produced by one of the “Spitäler,” please remember that you are drinking for charity. What better excuse to drink wine?
The Bürgerspital has a viticultural history dating back almost 700 years. Despite no longer being a hospital, Bürgerspital’s proceeds are used today to run several homes for the elderly. Walking toward the city and about 500 meters from the Residenz, you will locate the Bürgerspital estate at the corner of Theaterstraße and Semmelstraße. Here you will find a building with an open gable and a Glockenspiel (carillon), which plays a church hymn four times each day. Here you will also find the Bürgerspital Vinothek. You can stroll in and have the wines served at a table. You can also taste and purchase wine at the bar. Although Silvaner plays a big role here, the estate gained recognition for its outstanding Riesling wines, made from fruit grown in the Würzburger Stein vineyard.
Another 300 meters further, in the city center, there is the impressive baroque building, that houses the Juliusspital. The Juliusspital is not only the biggest wine estate in Franconia, with about 170 hectares (420 acres) of vineyards, but is also a reputable local hospital. Viticulture contributes a considerable proportion of the hospital’s annual maintenance. You can take a guided tour around the great buildings, the park and the historic rococo apothecary. The grand finale of the tour, once again, is the wine cellar. It is filled with barrels of all sizes, many of which are garnished with carvings or hand engraving. The Juliusspital winery is the largest Silvaner estate in Germany, and once more the best grapes are cultivated at the Würzburger Stein Vineyard.
Wine on the Bridge?
The next stop is a 500-year-old stone bridge, the Alte Mainbrücke (Old Main Bridge). Well you won’t find a wine estate there, but you will find—especially on a sunny day—hundreds of wine drinkers. The bridge crosses the River Main and motor traffic is banned. So you can enjoy a glass of wine, which can be purchased from one of the window-counters on the city-side of the bridge. It became quite common for the Würzburger citizens, as well as visitors, to stroll across bridge, relax against one of its balustrades, sip a glass of wine and enjoy the amazing view. On the left bank, you will see the imposing fortress—Festung Marienberg—standing guard over the city from and the Käppele, a beautiful baroque chapel. Along the steep banks of the Main, you can make out the Würzburger Stein, which is the area’s most famous vineyard.
THE Vineyard of Würzburg!
The Würzburger Stein is a steeply sloping vineyard on the banks of the Main that is perfectly oriented towards the south. This provides perfect conditions to grow grapes. In 1665 one of the first plantings of Silvaner in Franconia was on this site. The Würzburger Stein is the biggest single vineyard in Franconia (approx. 85 ha. or 210 acres). Along with the Staatliche Hofkeller, the Bürgerspital and the Juliusspital, one other estate cultivates fruit on this site. The Weingut am Stein is located directly in the vineyard. Ludwig Knoll the winemaker, and owner of the estate, produces pure organic wines of outstanding quality. It is also worth a visit because of the architecture of the buildings, which pleasantly combine the traditional Franconian with modern architecture. The winery is open to visitors, but because it is family owned and operated, you should give them a call and schedule your visit.
Now you only need to plan your trip. The section below provides other points of interest and important planning details.
Taste, drink and buy
Mainwein Winebistro: The Weinbistro Mainwein on the Alte-Mainbrücke is an outlet of the cooperative wine-growers association of Franconia (GWF). You can taste every wine there and even purchase bottles or you can get wine by the glass. (Alte Mainbrücke 4, 97070 Würzburg | +49 931 30418778 | www.mainwein-weinbistro.de)
Weingut Reiss: The wine estate Reiss is a family owned winery in the north of Würzburg, just outside of the city center. Christian Reiss, the vintner likes to break new ground by reviving old winemaking practices. Some of his best Silvaner grapes are fermented in amphora. In recent years, the Reiss family has invested in their tasting room and visitor area in an effort to encourage and welcome guests to their estate. Martina Reiss is certified wine-event guide, who is knowledgeable about nearly every aspect of Franconian viticulture.(Weingut Reiss, Unterdürrbacher Straße 182, 97080 Würzburg | +49 931 94600 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.weingut-reiss.com)
What to eat?
If you are hungry after all the sightseeing, but have not yet had enough of the wine, you should stop at one of the many wine taverns (German: Weinstube), where mainly traditional Franconian specialties are served along.
One traditional Franconian food is the sausage. Most common are roasted sausages (Bratwurst), either as part of a meal served with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut, or just on a roll for takeout.
A variation on the Bratwurst is the “Blaue Zipfel”. Please don’t try to translate this (at least not before you have tasted it). A Blaue Zipfel is also a sausage—similar to a Bratwurst—but it is stewed in a mixture of wine, vinegar and onions. They are served together with rye bread and a serving of the stew. It pairs perfectly with a dry Franconian wine.
Asparagus season is highly anticipated all over Germany, so particularly during the spring, a great variety of asparagus dishes are served throughout the region. The Franconian plain, just beyond the wine region, is also one of Germany's largest asparagus producers (and of course it pairs well with Silvaner.
In the autumn venison, duck and goose are in high season, so keep your eye open for these local specialties as well.
Where to eat?
Bratwurstand Knüpfing: This stand serves the best roasted sausages in town as a takeout meal! Located in the market square, this food stall is an institution in Würzburg. Do not be put off by long lines, it takes a maximum five minutes to get to the counter as there is not much to choose from. When you step up to the window, the only decision is “with or without” (mustard). (Marktplatz, 97070 Würzburg)
Alte Mainmühle: This is an excellent location on the Alte Mainbrücke (Main bridge). Although this is also a nice restaurant, where it is necessary to make a reservation, you can have Bratwurst for takeout at the bar. These sausages are grilled on charcoal, smaller than the traditional Wurst and served three to a roll. (Mainkai 1, 97070 Würzburg | +49 931 16777 | www.alte-mainmuehle.de)
Veggie Bros: If sausages are not your cup of tea and you looking for vegetarian or organic options, you should give the Veggie Bros a try. This small diner, which opened in 2014, evolved from a little-known, insider venue to one of the top dining spots in the city. You will find excellent falafel and salads alongside vegan wine. (Juliuspromenade 38, 97070 Würzburg | +49 931 45321514 | www.veggiebros.de)
Weinstuben Juliusspital: One of the best wine restaurants is at the Juliusspital estate. Be advised that you can only order wine with your meal. If you ask for a beer, you will be directed to visit the pub across the street. The menu is of excellent quality at moderate prices. (Juliuspromenade 19, 97070 Würzburg | +49 931 54080 | www.juliusspital-weinstuben.de)
Restaurant und Weinhaus Stachel: The Weinhaus Stachel is the oldest restaurant of Würzburg and it’s got a lovely romantic inner courtyard where you can dine on warm evenings. Today a highly reputed restaurant the, Stachel once was the conspirative venue of the knights in the German Peasants’ War in the early 16th century. The mace hanging outside the door is referring to this history of the tavern. (Gressengasse 1, 97070 Würzburg | +49 931 52770 | www.weinhaus-stachel.de)
Weinstube Johanniterbäck: The Johanniterbäck is one of the most popular wine taverns among locals and one of the few remaining taverns that maintains the tradition called “Bäcks”. This originated in medieval times when the bakeries (German Bäcker) were given permission to serve wine. You were allowed to bring your own food to enjoy along with the wine. You can still bring your own food, but why would you want to? Johanniterbäck serves outstanding traditional meals. (Johanniterplatz 3, 97070 Würzburg | +49 931 54368 | www.weinstube-johanniterbaeck.de)
Würzburger Ratskeller: The Würzburger Ratskeller is located in the Würzburg city hall. It has seventeen different rooms. Yes, I said seventeen! To give you an idea, one is in the old house chapel and another was once the city dungeon. There is also a beautiful inner courtyard where you can dine next to the fountain. (Langgasse 1, 97070 Würzburg | +49 931 13021 | www.ratskeller-wuerzburg.de)
REISERS am Stein: Mittlerer Steinbergweg 5, 97080 Würzburg | +49 931 286901 | www.der-reiser.de/reisers-stein.html
Restaurant KUNO 1408: Neubaustraße 7, 97070 Würzburg | +49 931 3093-1408 | http://www.restaurant-kuno.de)
When to Visit?
The best season for traveling the Franconian wine region is the between May and October, when the vineyards are green and lush. This is also the festival season, when nearly every week one of the local villages hosts a wine festival. Aside from the big Würzburg wine estates, almost all other wineries are family owned and operated businesses. If you want to visit, it is best to avoid the harvest season (mainly from September to early October) unless you want to pick grapes. The families will be quite busy and will not have much muse to entertain guests. English is widely spoken, so it is not necessary to speak German, but be certain to call in advance and let them know you are coming.
If you visit during the off-season, be aware that Würzburg still has much to offer. During Advent, the city is elaborately decorated and the Christmas market rivals the better-known Nuremburg market.
How to Visit?
Airport Frankfurt/Main (FRA) The Frankfurt/Main (FRA) airport is the primary international hub, with many direct flights from the United States and other parts of the world. It is a one-hour drive to Würzburg via the A3 (Autobahn A3) and there are hourly direct train connections using ICE (high velocity train) from the long-distance train station (German: Fernbahnhof) to the Würzburg main station, which also takes about an hour. (www.frankfurt-airport.com)
ICE Train: You really won’t need a car when visiting Würzburg, so consider taking the train. The highways around the city experience high volumes of traffic, so why bother driving? Würzburg is a junction for many intercity connections. The ICE train travels at 250 km/h (155 mph) and connects most large cities in Germany and rail travel is reliable.
At certain times of the day, there is high demand, so it is advisable (although not mandatory) to reserve your seat. Regular tickets are good for up to three months. It is possible to book a discounted ticket, but they are only good for that specific date and departure time. Also be aware that tickets can be purchased prior to arrival at heavily discounted tourist fares. (www.deutschebahn.com)
River Cruise: Probably the most relaxing way to visit Würzburg is by river cruise. In 2014 there were about 1,000 cruise liners moored at the Main promenade. The normal stopover in Würzburg is just one day and respectively one night but the voyage through the valley of the Main is incredible. You will be able to see most of the vineyards along the steep riverbanks and, of course, you can taste the Würzburg wines. One of the biggest shipping companies with many routes through Würzburg is Viking Cruises. (www.vikingrivercruises.com/)
Where to stay?
Hotel Greifenstein (****): It is almost impossible to stay more centrally than at the Hotel Greifenstein. This hotel which also has a good restaurant and is located just a stone's throw from the market square in the very center of Würzburg. (Dettelbachergasse 2, 97070 Würzburg | +49 931 35170 | email@example.com | www.greifensteiner-hof.de/hotel-greifenstein/)
Hotel Zum Winzermännie (****): This lovely little hotel is located in the heart of the city, halfway between the great cathedral (Dom) and the old stone bridge (Alte-Mainbrücke). Most of the sights and many of the wine taverns are within easy walking distance. (Domstraße 32, 97070 Würzburg | +49 931 54156 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.winzermaennle.de)
BEST WESTERN PREMIER Hotel Rebstock (****): Neubaustraße 7, 97070, Würzburg | +49 931 30930 | email@example.com | www.bestwestern.de/hotels/Wuerzburg/BEST-WESTERN-PREMIER-Hotel-Rebstock)
At the Vine
Hotel Meintzinger: This hotel is part of the Weingut Meintzinger wine estate in Frickenhausen—a small town approximately 15 miles south of Würzburg. Built in 1475, it was the former summer palace of the prince bishops. It contains ornately decorated rooms and excellent wine are right there on the property. (Babenbergplatz 4, 97252 Frickenhausen | +49 9331 87110 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.hotel-meintzinger.de)
Jugendherberge Würzburg (Youth Hostel): Fred-Joseph-Platz 2, 97082, Würzburg | +49 931 467786-0 | email@example.com | www.jugendherberge.de/de-de/jugendherbergen/wuerzburg281/portraet)
Good to know
Tourist Office: Call or stop in for room reservations, booking guided tours and a variety of information about Würzburg and Franconia. (Falkenhaus, Marktplatz 9, 97070 Würzburg | +49 931 372398)
Franconia Tourist Information: Tourismuszentrale Würzburg und Fränkisches (Weinland, Turmgasse 11, 97070 Würzburg | +49 931 372335 | firstname.lastname@example.org)
How to get around?
To visit Würzburg and its sights, you do not need a car. The city center is a pedestrian zone, so you are not allowed to drive there and most sights are within walking distance anyway. Würzburg has an excellent public transport system of streetcars and buses. There is a city train devoted specifically to sightseeing, that passes through all the important points of interest. The trip lasts approximately forty minutes and English audio guides in in English are available.