Sunday October 1st – Day 9, Piesport, Erden, Burg Arras
We were moving on so the morning was spent going round in circles attempting to figure out how to fit all the wine boxes and the luggage into the car, without endangering any bottles, and keeping our bags where we’d be able to get them when we needed them. We’d packed one bag per location and had a couple of bags each with stuff we needed everywhere, so at least there were no big heavy items to wrangle. Eventually it was all settled in to place and it only remained to see if it was going to rattle insanely or if everything was stable. Christiana, our landlady for the week, arrived to see us off and refused to charge us for the wine we’d drunk from the supply she’d kindly left for us, and then we were on our way into another lovely day.
Our first port of call was Piesport where we wanted to visit the XXVI. Römisches Kelterfest or if you will the 26th Roman Winepress Festival. We weren’t sure what to expect and what we’d find there. In fact initially we weren’t even sure we’d find the event at all, as we were on the wrong side of the river and there was no signage to speak of (again a common feature on this trip). The town is quite pretty but it was too hot to be wandering about ineffectually in the wrong place.
We went back to the car and battled our way over the bridge to the correct side of the river, where we were pleasantly surprised to find a parking space down by the river, near the church. It was under the shade of a tree too, which was good news for the wine. A small amount of exploration and we soon found the site of the festival, and decided that it was time for a glass of something local. The nearest cafe had a very fine balcony overlooking the river and with earshot – if not sight – of the festival if the brass band playing “Nice One Cyril” was anything to go by.
From there we wended our way towards the boat jetty, where the Roman wine ship was moored up. This could have been easier were it not for the number of people trying to push their bicycles through the middle of the festival! Really, why would you do that when you could park the bikes and go on foot, thus not causing yourself to become the target of abuse from numerous pedestrians, who had had the sense not to try and shove a set of wheels through a crowded thoroughfare!
That aside, we made it to the boat in good time, though we did have to battle our way through the crowd at the jetty who didn’t have tickets, but did feel the need to block the way. I’m blaming too much wine on a sunny afternoon. We were soon on board and settled and the boat cast off, the crew distributing wine to anyone that wanted it. We spent a lot of time waving cheerily at people on the banks, holding wine glasses aloft. It was a very pleasant trip, though there was a distinct shortage of brawny galley slaves, the ship instead being motor powered on this occasion.
After we’d finished we figured we needed to get a snack of some sort, especially if we were going to go to another festival later on. Unfortunately the stalls all seemed to be selling massive meals, and we really didn’t want that much that late in the afternoon. First, however, we needed to take a closer look at Piesport, starting with the small but glorious St. Michael’s church. We could only get into the foyer because there were bars across the main body of the church. I don’t know if it would always be like that, or if it was just to stop over-lubricated festival goers getting in and making a mess or causing damage.
After that we took a walk over to the Roman wine press where the locals would bring the grapes later in the afternoon. It’s massive and very well set out for those of us who wanted to figure out how it would all work.
We considered waiting to see what the procession would entail, but it was getting a bit crowded, so we walked towards the car. As we did the music struck up and it became obvious that we were well placed to watch the grapes being carried in. The procession was fun, with lots of Romans (some more authentic looking than others), and anyone who had one of the festival glasses (we didn’t) would find it being filled up by a passing soldier. I suspect you could end up extremely wasted if you weren’t careful.
Somewhat more decorous were the wine queens and princesses (every town and village appears to have one, and sometimes there are signs saying things like “Home of Wine Queen Elisabeth 1988” which made us wonder if they leave town to avoid the pressure of having to live up to their titles years later).
The procession was still going on when we aimed for the car so we went out through the vineyard road, which snaked up the hill in a series of sharp bends and twists. It wasn’t the sort of road that let you get any speed up, especially as there were dozens of little tractors, their trailers loaded with freshly picked grapes, chugging up the hills at around 2kph.
We headed for the festival that we had been told we must visit, in Erden, the Erdener Winzer- Wein- und Straßenfest (the Vintner, Wine and Street Festival). Erden itself is a very pretty, slightly straggly village which claims to be the oldest wine locale in the world. I’m pretty sure the Georgians would have something to say about that, especially in light of recent archaeological finds there. However, pretty much everywhere seemed to be making the same claim, and there has clearly been wine growing in the area since Roman times at the very least, so we may have to forgive them the hyperbole.
After snagging what might well have been the last parking space in Erden, we found our way in to the village centre, where pretty much every winemaker had set up a strausswirtschaft in a barn, or a cellar or just in a tent, and were serving zwiebelkuchen, things you can grill, and a selection of wines. There were some very creative setup including a winepress being used as a barbeque grill, and everywhere people were enjoying the sunshine and knocking back the wines.
We grabbed a zwiebelkuchen and a glass of wine each and felt a lot better for it. Several bands were set up throughout the streets, most of them Dutch for some reason (surely there are German brass bands?) and they were all letting rip. We considered staying longer, but we needed to get to our next hotel while it was still good and light. As it turned out, that was a good decision.
We followed the SatNav directions and eventually found ourselves at the bottom of a steep driveway leading up to Burg Arras. It was very pot-holed and twisty and with all the bottles of wine in the car I had to take it very gently indeed. In fact it might have been quicker to walk. 1.5 kilometres later we pulled up in the car park, and I was very glad that we’d booked dinner in the hotel. I would not have wanted to go back down that road in the dark, and I definitely didn’t want to have to drive back again after dinner.
There’s a small museum there and a woman was sitting in the doorway demanding the entry fee. We told her we were booked to stay, and she fetched a younger man, who we suspect was her son. He took us to our room, which had amazing views down the valley, and bags of room, although it could have been more up to date perhaps. We settled in and I spent some time staring out of the window at the surrounding vineyards and forests.
We’d booked for dinner and were told we could not eat later than 19:15, which seemed a bit early to us, but if the alternative was going back down that track to the valley floor, we’d cope. Actually, it was all a bit weird ans slightly Fawlty Tours, though the service was willing and friendly enough. We had starters with Lynne going for the beetroot carpaccio:
I ordered the pumpkin soup, which was fine though not thrilling:
It was solid cooking, the sort of thing you might expect at someone’s home, rather than a restaurant. The same applied to the main courses. Lynne went for the local sausages, and mash:
I had the venison with mushrooms and spaetzle:
And then we’d finished, and it was only 20:30. We wondered what to do for a few minutes, but then we decided that we’d test the lounge, which was on the upper floor of the building with amazing views down the valley. We sat and watched the lights for a while over an after dinner drink and then awarded ourselves an early night for once.