The Palatinate Forest [in German: Pfälzer Wald] forms together with the bordering Vosges Biosphere Reserve a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It covers about one-third of the entire Palatinate and it is listed among the biggest forests in Europe. Predominate characteristics of the Palatinate Forest are its sandstone formations, castles and a rich wild life. Every year hundred thousands of hikers and bikers frequent its trails and visits its mountain taverns.
With about 500 castles the Palatinate Forest is like a trip back to Middle Ages when knights and counts inhabited this region. Famous castles are the Berwartstein castle and the triple castle of Altdahn-Grafendahn-Tanstein. The Bertwartstein was once home of the legendary robber knight, called Hans Trapp. For destroying a close-by monastery, he fell in disgrace with the Pope and the Palatine Count. While being an outlaw he turned into a brutal robber knight. Later, his life story became a source of many tales. One of them is about the Maiden’s Jump. It is told that when a maid crossed the knight’s path, she was fleeing on the top of a hill. In her fear, she jumped from the top of a huge rock to escape.
Even if most of the castles were destroyed in the past and remain only as ruins, each wanderer is rewarded by an astonishing view over the Palatinate Forest. It is special highlight when medieval festivals turn some of the castles into places with fighting knights and entertaining jugglers. Wanderers may also discover hidden taverns, either on a mountain’s top or in a valley. Exhausted hikers enjoy there refreshments and traditional dishes.
The Palatinate Forest is also well-known for its sandstone formations. Many of those rock formations may be discovered in the Rockland of Dahn [in German: Dahner Felsenland]. One of the most popular formation is the fourteen-meter-high Devil’s Table [in German: Teufelstisch], made of red sandstone with the shape of a table. The legend says that the evil came across and got angry when he could not find a table for his diner. In rage, he took two huge rocks and put them about each other to build a table.
Sandstones of all colors may be also found in the Palatinate Forest. The most prestigious is the red sandstone. It served nobles as source for their residences and rich winemaker as material for their wineries. Architects love sandstone for its ability to be easily cut and for its shiny colors. Today, only a few stone quarries remain in operation, however, many old abandoned quarries are accessible to visitors. Some of them have been transformed into climbing parks with a rich variety of climbing tours.
Besides castles and stones, the Palatinate Forest has also a very rich wildlife. The most common trees are pines, sprouts and larches. In the past, oaks were the predominate types of trees, but they were pushed back by the fast growing conifers, whose cultivation is more economical. In the last decades, this approach has changed and the forestry is more committed to protect the biodiversity. A particular tree is the sweet chestnut, brought by the Romans from Italy, it grows very well at the edge of the Palatinate Forest. Many traditional Palatine dishes, such as the Palatine Sow Stomach, may be served with sweet chestnuts.