One of Saarland’s major attractions is a former ironworks, now turned UNESCO World Heritage Site. Exploring the maze of rusty furnaces, smelters and pipes that shoot up from the bland concrete feels like stepping into a sci-fi movie during the daytime. Visit after nightfall, however, and you’ll see the Völklinger Hütte site lit up with neon lights that illuminate the dystopian complex in rainbow colours.
Another surreal experience to add to your trip is a visit to the Schlossberg Caves. The city of Homburg curls up to the eastern border of Saarland state and sits atop one of Europe’s most extensive networks of manmade red sandstone caves. Tours guide you through the labyrinth of tunnels and domed halls, which penetrate 12 stories deep into the ground, and on the way you can marvel at the mesmerising shades of red- and yellow-coloured sand.
Some of Saarland’s most scenic vistas can be enjoyed from the recently installed treetop walk near Mettlach. The walk runs for 1.2 kilometres (0.78 miles), while the observation deck rises 23 metres (75 feet) up into the sky, towering above the canopy of the forested hills of the valley. Down below, the Saar River meanders through the lush landscape, forming a dramatic riverbend along the way.
Even though much of the so-called ‘Saar wine’ is produced outside of the Saarland state, the region around Perl is proud to have produced some notable bottles of Elbling and Pinot Grigio from its vine-clad hills. From the end of May all the way through to October, the local vineyards and wine taverns open their doors to the public for wine tastings and cellar tours. In the autumn months, several events are scheduled, including a wine and cellar festival in October, which adds food and music to the mix.
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the state capital, Saarbrücken. Even though the city is home to just 180,000 people, it has a cosmopolitan flair, with notable art galleries and museums, historic sights, a lively city centre and great restaurants. Among the highlights are the Ludwigskirche, a masterpiece of Baroque architecture, and the exposed underground world of canon casemates.
Only a stone’s-throw from the Saarschleife riverbend sit the crumbling ruins of what used to be one of the region’s powerhouses. Built on the site of a previously destroyed rampart and fortress, today’s ruins are the remnants of a building constructed in 1439. The fortress’ secluded location and the picturesque views it grants make Burg Montclair a popular stopover for hikers, who come to the on-site café for their lunch break or a coffee before they head home. If you’re interested in finding out more about the fortress’ history, you can join a guided tour as well.
If you think the Medieval ruins of Burg Montclair feel like travelling back in time, wait until you see the Borg Roman Villa. Archaeological excavations unearthed the ancient remains of this Roman mansion outside Perl and, after years of meticulous reconstruction, you can now wander around the complex of residential buildings, bathhouses, workshops, taverns and courtyards, and see what they would have looked like 2000 years ago.
The Saarland state is home to a handful of Michelin-starred restaurants, but the down-to-earth regional cuisine also has its perks. It’s a shame to miss out on local specialities, such as Dibbelabbes, an oven-baked potato hash with leeks and bacon, Gefillde, which are meat-stuffed potato dumplings, or the local take on a dandelion salad with boiled eggs, called Bettsejejer.
Every two years, the iconic Völklinger Hütte site host the world’s largest urban art exhibition. The event has grown exponentially over the years, and in 2017 more than 100 artists from all over the world took to this massive, fascinating exhibition ground to showcase their work. The decaying concrete walls and steel joists are decorated with colourful graffiti and murals, paintings and stencils, while light installations illuminate sections of the hall.
Much of the Saarland state is covered in thick forests that are traversed by a number of hiking trails. By far the most popular and renowned path is the 410-kilometre (255-mile) long Saar-Hunsrück Climb, which connects Perl with Trier and fills nearly a month of daily hikes with jaw-dropping vistas, idyllic lakeside views and romantic valleys. But don’t worry, you can enjoy much of the scenery on day-hikes along the path. The 27 individual stages are sign-posted and perfect for a day trip in the region.