IDAR-OBERSTEIN has a heart of stone. That's why everyone loves the two German villages linked by a hyphen, which for centuries reigned as the gemstone capital of Europe. Countless countesses wore bangles and beads from the region's mines. Even when the semi-precious stones began to run out -- after all, these mines have been in production since the Romans -- Idar-Oberstein remained a center for stone-cutting, polishing and jewelry design.
But don't get the idea that Idar-Oberstein simply brings bling to the table.
Anyone handy with a knife and fork can taste the region's other specialty -- a Brazilian-inspired churrasco called spiessbraten. This typically South American method of marinating and grilling meat was introduced in the 19th-century by German miners returning from Brazil. The translation of spiessbraten is rather simple -- grilled meat on a spit -- but the end product is far more complex on the palate. Spiessbraten can be prepared as either pork or beef. Another constant seems to be local beer or dry Nahe Riesling wine with side dishes of shredded radish salad and boiled potatoes.
Thus the exotic smell of barbeque hangs over the squeezed, boutique-dominated town square that bustles almost directly beneath the town's most famous landmark, the cliff-hugging Felsenkirche or Church of the Rock. This Protestant chapel squeezes into a rock grotto 214 steps up the cliff and houses artifacts dating to the 1400s.
The Germans, who even offer an auto racing roadway open to the public (Nurburgring), also list a "precious stone" road circuit:www.deutsche-edelsteinstrasse.de. Walkers may wish to look up www.weinland-nahe de and for bicyclists there is www.naheland-radtouren.de.