Juliana and Jens, for example: The two enthusiastic climbers come from here - the Hessigheim rock gardens are their favorite area. Actually, the region is known for its first-class wines. But the sunny cliffs above the Neckar River also invite you to go for walks and to climb.

Especially now, at noon, the trees in the gorge are important sources of shade. Juliana and Jens unpack the climbing gear, change shoes, discuss which route they will try first. Weekend in the Hessigheim rock gardens between Stuttgart and Heilbronn - it's a sunny Saturday in early summer, pleasantly warm but not yet really hot. Between the Neckar River, on whose eastern bank the vineyards grow up to the base of the cliffs, and the hiking trail at the very top, this small gorge spreads out. It is the terrain of climbers, who perfect their skills in the nature reserve on about 130 climbing routes from the 3rd to the 9th degree. Up to 18 meters it goes pretty vertically upwards. There are routes for beginners, for experts, for boulderers and climbers.

Climbing between narrow rock towers

Juliana starts today, Jens will belay her. The young woman has rubbed her hands with magnesia and climbs up a narrow rock pedestal - she starts with the route "Rosenstöckle", the climb leads between two narrow rock towers to the plateau on which wild roses grow. "We like to come here at the end of the day or on weekends," Jens says. For the winegrower, who works in the Felsengarten winery and also grows wine himself as a sideline, climbing is a great recreational sport. "I like being out in the fresh air," he says, "and when I'm climbing, I really don't think about anything - except where my hands can find the next hold."

Quality wines from the Felsengarten winery

Around 1,400 small winegrowers around Hessigheim belong to the Felsengartenkellerei Besigheim. They cultivate 700 vineyards along the Neckar River and the neighboring Enz River and harvest eight to ten million kilograms of grapes every year. The predominantly typical Württemberg varieties such as Trollinger, Lemberg, Müller-Thurgau and Riesling produce high-quality wines that can be tasted and purchased directly at the Felsengartenkellerei.

Refuge for plants and animals

Climbing has been going on in the Hessigheim rock gardens since the 1920s, and they have been a nature reserve since 1942. Since then, it has also been forbidden to climb on the outside of the rocks directly above the Neckar River. This means that some of the most promising routes are off limits - but there are still more than enough great options up here. By the way, the terrain here is not easy - the rocks have become quite slippery in parts over the many decades. But that's what makes it so appealing - and the unique surroundings and views of the Neckar do the rest.

The sunny, craggy rock needles once belonged to an ocean. The shell limestone was formed in the Triassic period about 240 million years ago. Today they are a habitat not only for rare lichens, grasses and flowering plants with such strange names as ciliated pearl grass or sharp wall pepper. Many rare birds also breed in the rocks. And the wall lizard also feels at home high above the river.

A recreational paradise

Down below on the banks of the Neckar, cyclists whiz along the Neckar Valley bike path; up here, many athletes have arrived in the meantime - it's a colorful, sworn climbing community. Every now and then, someone peers over the edge of the cliff, only to descend again immediately. The walkers and sun worshippers enjoy the spectacle and the wide view across the Neckar River to the wine town of Besigheim. Beautiful up here, on this sunny viewing balcony. "Every now and then," Juliana says, "we come back late in the afternoon and bring a little dinner with us - which we have at the very end on top of one of the rocks. I can't imagine a better way to end the day."

Cover picture: Gregor Lengler

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