Just 100 km and five centuries from Frankfurt is the largest wine festival in the world - as well as tasty German fare and joyous people.


In a linguistic age where "bad" means "good," sometimes bad is very good. And "Wurst" (pronounced "vurst") is even better. Since 1417, oeno-pilgrims have been trekking to the small German village of Bad Dürkheim to attend the marvel called Wurstmarkt. The definition of Bad, in this case, means bath, spa, and/or a mineral-water source. But nonetheless, Bad Dürkheim is good. Wurstmarkt's name says sausage, but the knowledgeable attendees clamor for wine. In fact, this has become the largest wine festival in the world.

Nestled within the small town's beautiful rolling hills are vineyards, with roots, so to speak, dating back to the Romans. The focal point is a historic church, the Michaelskapelle (St. Michael's Chapel), which sits on the Michaelsberg above the market site. Until the 15th century, pilgrims celebrated the beginning of Wurstmarkt by walking up the hill on St. Michael's Day.

To this day, the festival still takes place within the shadow of the church, where you'll find huge tents amply stocked with crisp, simple wines, some from the vineyards surrounding you. The hot griddles and display windows are piled high with all manner of sausages and other meats. Exhibitors offer crafts, and old-world calliope musical standards compete with American pop rock blaring from loudspeakers throughout the sprawling midway. And there is a winding mile or more of carnival rides and attractions. The myriad of lights related to this ear-ringing and eye-dazzling spectacle are likely visible from Skylab up above.

Germany may be better known for its brazen and brassy beer festivals, but the country also boasts hundreds of wine-­harvest celebrations - some are small-scale gatherings in medieval villages, others are full-blown festivals showcasing thousands of wines. (For information, contact the German National Tourist office at 212-661-7200.) Wurstmarkt is the granddaddy of these festivals, and Pfalz wines rule.

The wines of Germany's Pfalz region tend to be some of the most expressive. Bordered by Rheinhessen on the north and France on the south and west, the Rheinpfalz's vineyards sweep across a tranquil land for nearly 50 uninterrupted miles and produce more wine than any other region in Germany. The northern half of this region is home to some of the best vineyard sites. The villages of Wachenheim, Forst, Deidesheim, and Ruppertsberg are well known for Riesling wines that combine substance and finesse. From any roadway, this bounty, row after row of vines, is breathtaking for miles. For a higher vantage point, ride the massive Ferris wheel, a focal point of the Wurstmarkt spectacle. The extraordinary height shows the vineyards leading all the way back to the Feuerberg mountain.