Monday, April 30, 2012

Saarstuff

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Easter's top-secret exciting new vacation destination was: THE SAARLAND!

Not exactly a top vacation spot, the Saarland - named after the Saar river on which it sits - is Germany's smallest state, with a square mileage smaller than even little Rhode Island.  Unlike other states, it held a vote to join Germany in 1935 (alternate option: France), and is mostly known for its blue-collar-ness.  It's also the last German state I hadn't set foot in, although we did nip through a corner of it on the Autobahn a few years ago.  So, we wanted to check it out!  We got great deals on a hotel and car and booked for a few days away from the maddening crowds at Easter.  Prepare to drink from the firehose because I'm keeping this all to one post.

Nonnweiler
We stopped in Nonnweiler for lunch on our way to our first official stop.  We saw signs and had read something earlier about a Celtic ringwall in the area, so decided to have a look after lunch.  Heidelberg's own Heiligenberg was also the site of a Celtic ringwall at one point, but nothing visible remains of it now.  Not so in Nonnweiler - in some spots there remains a 3-story-high pile of rocks.  It must have been really high when it was actually in wall form!  The walk up the hill to see it was nice, with spring leaves on the trees and tiny baby trees trying to grow everywhere - definitely a pleasant afternoon.
Nonnweiler Apr 12

Saarburg
I booked a hotel in the heart of Saarburg with a 2-for-the-price-of-3 deal available on their website, and went with it.  NOTE, however - Saarburg, despite the misleading name, is not in the Saarland!  It's actually just a bit across the border in Rheinland-Pfalz.  I wanted something in this general corner of the Saarland but in the end this hotel was the best deal with the best online ratings and location...so I went with it anyway.

Saarburg provided us with a lovely "WOW!" moment when we drove into town from the east and saw the skyline for the first time.  Part of the town, including a church and castle, are set on a giant rock right over the river.  The town is also cut through by the Leuk River, which was diverted right through the center at some point to fight fires and run mills.  The river features a huge waterfall right in the center of town...which didn't sound as impressive as it actually looked.  Thanks to the big rock ridge and the waterfall the town has a vertical element which makes it really charming.  I can't believe I'd never heard of it before doing the research for this vacation.
Saarburg Apr 12

Nennig & Villa Borg
Our first full morning of vacation, we stopped first in Nennig to check out an exceptionally well-preserved Roman mosaic that was discovered and restored there.  The mosaic was at one time part of a villa of which very little now remains. It's in full color, unlike a lot of the Roman mosaics we saw in Ostia Antica.  It sits in its own little building and there's a small entrance fee.  There's not much else in little Nennig, whose claim to fame is that it was over 40'C there once in 2003.  (For real.)

Afterward we continued on the Roman theme with a visit to Villa Borg, a museum near the town of Borg.  It's not well-marked from the highway but sits south of Oberleuken/east of Borg in a field.  Villa Borg is a reproduction of a Roman villa, built on the actual site where the remains of a villa were discovered.  (Apparently Romans really dug the Saar area at some point, but no one really knows why.) It's nicely done - the highlights are the baths, kitchen, and restaurant which serves dishes that the Romans might have eaten.  We got lunch there - mine was lentils, some kind of bean, mixed veggies (carrots and something) and rice with some other whole grains mixed in.  Not bad!

The Saarschleife and Mettlach
The Saarschleife is a hairpin curve in the Saar River and the most famous site in the Saarland.  From a parking lot in Orscholz, it's an easy paved 5-10 minute walk to a view over the curve from high above.  It was nice, but would be prettier a bit later with more leaves on the trees...or maybe we were jaded from seeing too many photos of it in our Saarland research.  We stood for a while to watch a boat and some runners go around the hairpin, then headed off to Mettlach.

Mettlach is home to the Villeroy & Boch museum - the museum of a famous German ceramic company.  For some reason - perhaps the presence of the museum and related ceramic outlet shop - the town has collected a bunch of other outlet stores.  Unfortunately it's pretty charmless, but there are a couple of things worth seeing, including its mosaic-filled church and an old tower that at one time was or was part of an Ottonian church.  Apparently the museum cafe is a reproduction of Dresden's Pfunds Molkerei, but you have to pay museum admission to go to the cafe, and we weren't interested in any of the rest of the museum so we skipped it.  Hopefully we'll see the real Molkerei sometime - somehow we've managed to hit Dresden three times and never see it!
Nennig, Villa Borg, & Mettlach Apr 12

Saarlouis
We headed to Saarlouis in late afternoon on the recommendation of a Saarland tourism stand we ran into in Heidelberg a couple of weeks earlier.  The Saarguy at the stand told us it was a great place to go in the evening when it really "lights up".  He showed us a tiny photo which looked like Saarlouis included a Bourtange-like complete fort with several blocks inside.

Well....it was at one point.  That photo was actually of a model of what Saarlouis used to look like.  Not much of the battlements are left today.  Poor Saarlouis turned out to be a little seedy....the whole town smelled sulfurous thanks to emissions from a nearby factory in Dillingen, and most of the people we saw were teenagers breaking beer bottles on sidewalks.  The Altstadt was full of bars - this must be what he meant by "lights up in the evening" - but that segment actually reminded me of an American college town more than anything else, oddly.  We did enjoy a stop at the Pieper (family tree name!) department store, where the store-closing sound wasn't a chime but a whistling bird.  Adorable.  We got the impression that Pieper actually owns a pretty big chunk of town.
Saarlouis Apr 12

Kastel-Staadt
On Easter day we opted for a completely different tack than what had led us to Saarlouis, and went for a little walk in the woods near Kastel-Staadt, which is on the Rheinland-Pfalz side of the border.  Near there is a former hermitage and funeral chapel built on a rock overlooking the Saar, as well as a small church, a WWII graveyard, and some neat natural rock formations in the woods.
 
Kastel-Staadt Apr 12

Trier
After lunch that day, we headed north for a change, to Trier.  We had been there before, but under hurried circumstances, so since we had some time we decided to go back and check out some of the things we missed on the first go-through, including the Konstantin-Basilika, Roman bath ruins, and former Roman amphitheater.  (My husband did the last one solo, as I have seen others and didn't care enough to shell out yet another entrance fee for it.)  After some sightseeing we had Kaffee & Kuchen and drove back to Saarburg, where we went to the top of the Weinberg (vineyard on a hill) sitting over the town and enjoyed the view.

Trier Apr 12

Völklinger Hütte
On our last day we hit up Saarland's UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is not an old church or ruin or super-preserved Altstadt, but a former ironworks!  You can explore most of the ironworks, some of which has been left to grow over with trees and weeds.  Parts of it are also used for art and other rotating museum exhibits.  Admission's a bit steep, but it's worth it if you know a couple of things.  One, it's mostly outdoors, so come completely prepared for the weather so you can stand spending as much time there as possible. It was rainy and cold for us and I was wishing I'd worn different shoes, but I thought it would be more contained.  Two, take food with you. There's no food on site, but if you bring some you can eat right on the grounds, and if you do, you won't be rushing at the end because of hunger. So, do what you can to maximize the time of your visit!  We were there probably 4 hours and didn't even see it all!
Völklinger Hütte Apr 12

So, there were a couple of disappointments, but there are some really nice sites in the Saarland, and it's not crowded with tourists at all. If I go again I think we'll hit up some more hiking areas, and maybe check out the capital, Saarbrücken, which we didn't have time for on this trip.  And, well, we can never resist the call of the nearby Rheinland-Pfalz (which I'm apparently getting a reputation for gushing a bit too much about).

Has anyone else visited the Saarland? Where did you go?  I never hear much about it from anybody!

2 comments:

  1. I've never been, but would be open to checking it out sometime.

    What foody things did you discover in the Saarland? Particularly native Saarländisch?

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  2. Only that stuffed knoedel (Gefilde) in the photos - somehow we only ended up eating in a place that served specifically Saar food that one time. If we go back I definitely would try to find some more local food.

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