Germany: Wine, Chocolate and Long Walks

Germany: Wine, Chocolate and Long Walks
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Claudia Staffeldt is a roving wine ambassador

Germany has just commenced a global campaign to promote outdoors travel this year, and the nation has more than 120,000 miles of walking trails, nearly 45,000 of cycle routes and 350 islands. With 48,000 species of animals living wild in the woodland that comprises a third of the country, there is plenty of nature to admire and explore.

Highlights of Germany's natural world include the Wadden Sea, the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud flats in the world, and the most diverse bird habitat in Europe. Jasmund National Park on Rügen Island offers a walking route along its chalk cliffs through centuries-old beech forests with views of the sea, and the Saxon Switzerland National Park southeast of Dresden takes visitors into a sandstone landscape of rock formations, gorges and rare wildlife. This is where free climbing - without mechanical aids or devices - was born.

But for those of a more sedentary disposition, Germany is also keen to assert its position as a land of gastronomic experiences.

Bremen, with its famous "musicians" statue is perennially popular, but for those of delicate palate, the north German city's UNESCO World Heritage-listed Town Hall is also home to the Bremer Ratskeller, built in 1405. This municipal cellar has been curating wine for six centuries and offers the world's largest collection of fine German vintages. Nearby Hachez has produced fine German chocolate for more than a century.

While Germans regard wine on its own as a cultural ambassador, Claudia Staffeldt accompanies Bremer wine around the world. She works for Karl-Josef Krötz, the "nose of Germany", the Ratskeller's youngest "master of wine" in 600 years.

At the Ratskeller, the best German wines of the season are tasted, and when good enough, added to the collection and allowed to bear the Bremer coat of arms. The oldest wine there dates back to 1727. It is said in Germany that enjoying wine is like writing poetry, except the verses flow more freely.

At an introduction to pairing wine and confectionery, Ms Staffeldt first offered a creamy white burgundy was combined with Hachez milk-almond chocolate - a simple but rich dessert. An excellent light dessert wine (a muscat) was sampled with a wine gum, followed by a spicy merlot teamed with dark chilli-infused chocolate for an intensely satisfying result. The finale was a Ratskeller truffle, the fruity acidity of riesling deliciously married with milk chocolate.

It's probably a good thing that Germany has so many nature parks, biosphere reserves, national parks and protected landscapes, after giving the wine the attention it deserves, travelers will need attractive places to walk or cycle all those extra calories away.

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