Tucked away in Germany’s Eiffel mountains is a place that offers rural tranquillity and white-knuckle exhilaration in equal measure: the Nürburgring racetrack, known to petrol-heads as The Ring
The Nürburgring is a surreal place – in the middle of nowhere, yet a temple to the internal combustion engine. Anyone with a passion for cars, motorbikes or motor sport should go there at least once.
This combination lends the place a unique atmosphere, as if everyone who visits to sample its delights is a member of a secret society. Drivers and riders from across Europe – even the world – converge here in their cars and on their bikes to test their machines (and themselves) against the toughest and most notorious racetrack there is.
First opened in 1927, the Nürburgring Nordschleiffe snakes around the rolling countryside for 14 miles. It goes up and down hills, but most of all it goes around corners – lots of them. The circuit is so vast that four villages lie within it – the largest of which, Nürburg, perches around a hill top occupied by a brooding 12th-century castle ruin.
The original Ring was deemed too dangerous for top-level racing in the 1970s, so these days it survives as a one-way toll road where, for the most part, speed limits do not apply. That is what draws the petrol-heads – the prospect of "tourist laps" on the longest, most challenging racetrack in the world. Its long straights, jumps and blind corners – all taken at high speed – mean that just one lap is an exhilarating and terrifying experience.
The atmosphere is apparent as soon as you arrive in Nürburg. Here you are in this tiny village, yet the air is filled with the noise of tortured engines as cars and bikes scream round the track. The noise is ever-present from 9am until dusk – but when it stops at the end of a day, or on a Sunday evening, an eerie silence descends.
The village setting creates a friendly camaraderie among those who visit. Hotel car parks heave with Porsches and all kinds of sports cars and bikes, but everybody mixes and talks, guests and locals alike. Many visitors are regular "Ringers" back for their fix.
Of course, there are other things to do – and one of the most rewarding is a trip to the top of the castle tower, with its incredible views. Mountain bikes are available for hire and there is a network of cycle tracks and footpaths through the area. For a day out, the beautiful Moselle Valley is a 40- minute drive away… if you obey the speed limit.
The Ring is often closed to the public on weekdays, but generally opens evenings and weekends. Check the Ring’s website (www.nurburgring.de) for opening times, which are published months in advance. It costs approximately €20 per lap of the Ring, far less if you buy lap tokens in bulk.
If you are planning to drive or ride the Ring, do your homework. You need to know the safety rules, learn about the potential hazards and treat the track with the utmost respect. A good, reliable source of everything you need to know is Ben Lovejoy’s site: www.nurburgring.org.uk.
When to go
Summer is obviously the main time of year to visit; the Eiffel weather is unpredictable at the best of times. Try to pick a time when the circuit is likely to be quiet (weekends and days when major events are being held at the new Grand Prix circuit are the times to avoid). Even on an average weekend, the track can be dangerously busy – but it can also be unbelievably quiet on weekday evenings in the summer. An ideal trip would cover three or four weekday evenings.
How to get there
The Nürburgring is about six hours from the Channel ports, and about 50 miles west of Koblenz, the nearest city.
Where to stay
If you want to be at the centre of things, Nürburg is the place to stay. The Hotel zur Burg has 60 rooms costing about €80 a night for a double with breakfast. Prices at the nearby Ringhaus are similar. Pick one of the many guest houses in the outlying villages and you will pay less. If you really fancy roughing it, there are campsites nearby.
Where to eat
Given its tiny size, there isn’t much choice in Nürburg itself and many hotels do evening meals for guests. Food is generally stout German fare. For a real taste of popular German cuisine, head to the Schnitzelhaus zur Nürburg at the foot of the castle and be presented with a bewildering array of pork fillets done in every imaginable sauce for €10-15 each. Highly recommended. If you don’t mind travelling further afield, there are other places to eat (and drink) in the town of Adenau, about four miles from Nürburg.