A Printable, Downloadable, PDF version of this itinerary is available for purchase. Includes Places to Stay in proximity.
ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:
This itinerary covers two of Germany’s most magical destinations-the Rhine and the Mosel wine regions. Powerful and broad, the River Rhine rushes towards the sea. High above the river, castles guard the heights or lie on islands amidst the churning flow. The river narrows to swirl past the legendary Lorelei rock, whose muse dashed unwary sailors and their boats onto jagged rocks. A procession of famous villages and towns hugs the river’s banks. At Koblenz “Father Rhine” is joined by his loveliest daughter, the River Mosel. The Mosel’s path is gentler, looping lazily back and forth as it passes tiny ribbon villages of half-timbered houses. Steep vineyards line her banks, while castles stand guard from the hilltops above. The beauty of these rivers is enough to fill a rich chapter in your vacation, but if this is not sufficient to tempt you, be reminded that this itinerary offers the opportunity to alternate excursions with sampling the fine wines of the Rheingau, Mittelrhein, and Mosel regions.
Recommended Pacing: Spend one night along the Rhine (Hattenheim, Assmannshausen, Oestrich-Winkel, Oberwesel, St. Goar, or Braubach) and one along the Mosel (Beilstein, Bernkastel, or Horbruch). If you include Trier and Luxembourg in your sightseeing, allow two nights along the Mosel. As you travel along both the Rhine and the Mosel, know that there are a limited number of opportunities to cross back and forth between their banks. Study your map to plot your route to take advantage of the few bridges or passenger/car ferry points. The ferry crossings are frequent and inexpensive.
This itinerary begins in Frankfurt, conveniently reached by direct flights from cities throughout the world. If you arrive at the Frankfurt airport, you can easily begin your journey immediately by picking up a rental car at the airport and starting on your way. If you choose to visit the pleasant, modern heart of the city, be aware that a couple of historic gems have been restored. Goethehaus, where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born in 1749, is open as a museum showing how a well-to-do family lived in the 18th century and nearby you find the Romerberg, a square of old restored gabled buildings.
Follow the autobahn 66 west from Frankfurt through Wiesbaden. In a few kilometers the autobahn ends and continues as road 42: this main road and the busy intercity railway trace the river’s bank. The first part of this itinerary loops back and forth from this main artery, exploring the gently sloping, vineyard-covered hillsides that line the bank of the River Rhine. Known as the Rheingau, this small wine area is especially famous for its Riesling wines.
A short drive brings you to the wine town of Eltville where in medieval times the archbishops of Mainz had their summer palaces. You then leave the busy river road and climb through the vineyards to Kiedrich. Drive into the little village and visit its pretty pink church with its elaborate interior before continuing up the hill to Kloster Eberbach. Set in a snug, little hollow at the upper reaches of the vineyards, this former Cistercian monastery enjoyed 700 years of prosperity thanks to the production of wine. The Cistercian monks led an austere, silent life of prayer and hard work, allotting only a few hours a night for sleep on hard, narrow wooden pallets. Stroll through the quiet cloisters and cool halls with their graceful fan-vaulted ceilings to the refectory, which now houses an impressive collection of enormous old wine presses. The severe architecture, plain plaster walls, and lack of embellishments mirror the austere lifestyle led by the monks. (10 am-6 pm, April to October; 10 am-4 pm, November to March.)
Leaving the monastery grounds, turn to the right and follow the country road as it dips down through the vineyards back to the river at Hattenheim. Drive through the old town center to the adjacent village of Oestrich. Turn left down one of the winding village streets and you emerge back on the busy Rhineside road for the short drive to Winkel.
Turn right in Winkel and follow the road up through the vineyards to the bright-yellow castle on the hill, the Schloss Johannisberg. This famous castle is the emblem of wines produced in this area and its name, Johannisberg, is synonymous with the production of Riesling wine. From April to December you can enjoy a meal at their country-style restaurant (closed Tuesdays) and visit the wine shop. On a fine day the castle terrace affords a panoramic view across the vineyards to the river below. The palace cellars contain century-old wines of extreme value. You can arrange for a tour of the cellars and winetasting (on weekdays only) by writing to Schloss Johannisberg, 65366 Geisenheim-Johannisberg, Germany. (Open daily, tel: (06722) 700929, www.schloss-johannisberg.com.)
Returning to the river road, it is a short distance to the most famous wine town of this area, Rüdesheim. Park you car and walk by the river, bypassing the many tourist shops selling gaudy souvenirs, and turn into the narrow, cobbled Drosselgrasse, the town’s most attractive street. Here, on what is reputed to be the jolliest street in the world, one wine tavern props up another and, even if you do not partake of the wine, it is fun to wander along this festive street. A short stroll along the river brings you to the more serious side of wine production, the Wein Museum Brömserburg in Brömserburg Castle. Ask for a leaflet in English that guides you from room to room, up turret stairways, to see the artifacts pertaining to the production and consumption of wine from the earliest days. (February to November, closed Mondays.) If the weather is agreeable, consider taking the Seilbahn (cable car) to Niederwald high above the town where you find a huge statue of Germania erected to celebrate victory over the French in 1871.
Leaving Rüdesheim, the river road winds below steeply terraced vineyards as the Rhine forsakes its gently sloping banks and turns north into a rocky gorge. Passing below the ruins of Ehrenfels Castle & Mauseturm (Mouse Tower) comes into view on an island near the opposite bank. Legend has it that Archbishop Hatto II was a cruel master who paid a terrible price for his sins: he was driven into this tower by mice that then proceeded to eat him alive.
The river valley narrows as you near the town of Assmannshausen, and the first of the famous castles that overlook the river comes into view on the opposite bank-Rheinstein Castle. Take time to drive into Assmannshausen and explore its poky, narrow streets full of charming, little, old houses. The wisteria-covered terrace of the Hotel Krone provides you with a refreshment stop (or excellent place to stay) and lovely views of the passing river life.
As you drive north along the riverbank, as fast as one castle disappears from view, another comes into sight perched high above the rocky river valley. The Rheingau wine region ends in the little town of Lorch, where you take the small, chugging, car ferry which fights the strong river currents and slowly transports you across the river to Rheindiebach. As you enter the Mittelrhein wine district, you see verdant vineyards gently sloping to the river replaced by steep, river terraces occupying every southern-facing slope, where the grapes can soak up the warm summer sun. Between the vineyards, the high riverbanks are thickly wooded.
It is just a few minutes’ drive from the ferry to Bacharach. Park your car by the river and walk into the town to discover that the plain riverfront façade conceals a picturesque village of half-timbered medieval houses around a market square. As you leave Bacharach, a much photographed castle, the Pfalz, comes into view marooned on an island amidst the swirling flow.
As you drive into Oberwesel, turn left before the brick-red church, the Liebfrauenkirche, and pause to see its interior. Gothic in style, the church is noted for its many beautiful altarpieces, the oldest built in 1506. Follow the winding road upwards to the Auf Schönburg castle, perched high above Oberwesel. Park your car beneath the castle walls, cross the wooden bridge spanning the gully that isolates the Auf Schönburg on its rocky bluff, and climb the well-worn cobbles which wind you through the castle to the hotel at the summit. The façade is out of a fairytale-towers, turrets, and crumbling battlements. If you are lucky enough to be staying at the hotel, you can explore the interior of the castle. However, if you are not staying at the castle, you can enjoy the view from the terrace below the hotel.
Leaving the Auf Schönburg, glance to the river where it swirls and eddies in the rocks on the opposite bank. Legend has it that these rocks are the seven maidens of Oberwesel Castle who were so cold-hearted towards their suitors that the river overturned their boat and turned them into stone.
Around the first river bend, the fabled Lorelei rock comes into view. The currents around the rock, which juts out sharply into the river, are so dangerous that the legend arose of an enchantress sitting high on top of the rock combing her golden tresses, and so entranced the sailors were with her singing that the rules of navigation were forgotten and their boats were dashed onto the rocks.
The Rhine landscape is splendid when viewed from the river; but even finer views await you from the ramparts of the castle, Burg Rheinfels, located high above Saint Goar. Below flows the mighty Rhine dotted with chugging barges, and on the opposite bank are the whimsically named Burg Mauz (Mouse Castle) and the adjacent larger Burg Katz (Cat Castle). Built in 1245, the Rheinfels castle was reduced to the crumbling ruin you see today by the French in 1797. With map and English explanation in hand, you tour the castle, climb the ramparts, and get a feeling for what the fortress must have been like in its heyday. A model in the museum shows just what a grand edifice this was. (9 am-5 pm, April to October.)
Keeping the river close company, about a 20-minute drive brings you to the outskirts of Koblenz, where you bid the Rhine farewell and, by following signposts for Cochem (49), navigate through town to the banks of the River Mosel.
The pageant of the riverbank marches steadily on, but how different the Mosel is to the Rhine. The Mosel is narrower, moving more slowly-gracefully looping back and forth. The road, too, is narrower, with thankfully less traffic and no busy adjacent railway track. The Mosel’s steep banks are uniformly covered with vines-for this is wine country and every little ribbon village, with terraced vineyards rising steeply behind it, is involved in the production of wine. The villages are often no more than a cluster of houses, yet they all have their own famous brand of wine.
Pass beneath the 61 autobahn, which bridges the river valley high above you, and cross the Mosel to the village of Lof. A few minutes’ drive brings you to the edge of Niederfell where you turn right, signposted Burg Eltz P & R. (Look specifically for this sign: it leads you to parking that involves the least amount of uphill walking.) After several signposts Burg Eltz P & R signs become Burg Eltz and the route winds you uphill out of the river valley, through rolling farmland to the village of Munstermaifeld, where you turn left to arrive at the parking for Burg Eltz. A 1-kilometer (15-minute) walk downhill means that you have a 1-kilometer walk uphill to return to your car. The walk is worth it for this is, in our estimation, the loveliest of castles in Europe. High upon a rocky outcrop encircled by woodland, the picturesque Burg Eltz is a fairy-tale castle of turrets and towers piled one upon the other between the 12th and 16th century. It’s still the home of the Count and Countess of Eltz, and the Countess designs the lovely flower arrangements in each of the rooms. Tours are rarely given in English; but with the aid of an English fact sheet, this is not a problem. Your guide leads you from one magnificent historic room to another and you learn that, at a time when many castles contained only one fireplace and one toilet, this castle contained forty fireplaces and twenty toilets. While waiting for your tour to begin, be sure to visit the Treasury (additional charge) where you will be rewarded by displays of absolutely elegant china, silverware, and jewelry. (9:30 am-5:30 pm, April to end of October.)
Leaving the castle, take the first right-hand turn signposted Mozelkurn, which drops you back to the river and quickly brings you into Cochem. Park your car and explore the pedestrian center of this small town. Turn a blind eye to the souvenir shops and instead let yourself be tempted inside a coffee shop for some mouth-watering pastries and a cup of coffee. Thus fortified, wander through the narrow streets and follow the well-signposted walk to the castle (Burg), Reichsburg Cochem, sitting atop a hill above the town. The trek is worth it, for while the valley is beautiful when viewed from below, the view from above is even more impressive. Touring the castle is not recommended: too many gloomy rooms full of heavy, ornately carved furniture. (9 am-5 pm, mid-March to mid-November.)
Cross the river at Cochem (signposted Beilstein) and the prettiest stretch of the Mosel river valley opens up before you as the loops of the river almost double back on themselves. Soon Beilstein comes into view, a little picture-postcard village hugging the riverbank below the vineyards.
Walk up to the tiny, cobbled square crowded by centuries-old houses. Stroll up the quiet, cobbled streets to the church and the little castle (9 am-6 pm, mid-March to end of October) and return to the square to tour the little Weingut Museum, which is full of winemaking artifacts, before going into the cool, deep cellars of Joachim Lipmann to sample his wines. If the weather is warm, settle on the Hotel Lipmann’s terrace to watch the little ferry as it shuttles cars back and forth across the river while long river barges chug slowly by.
Winding down to Bernkastel-Kues, as you go through one small village, another appears on the opposite bank; each with little houses fronting the river, a large church, and a backdrop of steeply sloping vineyards. Among the many villages, Zell stands out as one of the larger ones, famous for the production of Black Cat wine: you see a black cat on murals throughout the village.
A half-hour drive brings you to Bernkastel-Kues. Bernkastel-Kues is two villages: Bernkastel on one side and Kues lying just across the bridge on the other side of the river. In this wine valley, Bernkastel stands out as the most picturesque of the larger villages. You will fall in love with this quaint wine village where colorful, 400-year-old, half-timbered houses are grouped around a flower-filled marketplace and beautiful medieval houses extend for several blocks. A couple of blocks up the main street is an interesting toy and doll museum.
For a closer look at another castle overlooking the river, follow Bernkastel’s main street up a narrow valley to Berg Landshut, the ruins of a castle set in vineyards that tumble to the river below. A restaurant has been incorporated into the ruined keep and the view is impressive.
An hour’s drive brings you to Trier, one of Germany’s oldest cities, founded by the Roman Emperor Augustus in 15 B.C. Follow signposts for Zentrum Park and make your way on foot to Porta Nigra, the largest fortified gateway in the Roman Empire. Still intact, it stands guard over the city 20 centuries later. This gate is like a giant wedding cake of 3½ tiers standing nearly 30 meters high. (9 am-6 pm, April to end of October.) The tourist office by the Porta Nigra will supply you with a city map (splurge for the larger one) showing you the historic sights of the city, all found within a few blocks of the gate. (Walking tours of the city in English leave at 2 pm, April to October.) With your back to the Porta Nigra, walk up the main shopping pedestrian street, the Simeonstrasse, passing the Turkish-looking Dreilonigen-Haus, built in 1260, to the Hauptmarkt (marketplace) where a colorfully painted fountain is surrounded by ancient timbered houses. The Dom St. Peter (cathedral) lies just a block off the square, a surprisingly spacious, simply adorned edifice where behind the altar you can peer into an ornate shrine that is purported to contain the robe of Christ.
Retrace your steps to your car and with the aid of your detailed map, following signposts for Universität, drive to the Roman Amphitheater, which was built above the town to provide up to 20,000 people with gladiatorial entertainment. After the Roman Empire fell, the site was used as a quarry, and now soft, grassy mounds have taken the place of the original stone seats. (9 am-6 pm, April to end of September.) If walking around Roman amphitheaters is not your cup of tea, turn just beyond the amphitheater up a narrow lane and into the vineyards onto the Weinlehrpfad, an educational walking route through the vineyards that offers bird’s-eye views of the amphitheater.
When it is time to leave this lovely wine region of the Mosel, it is only a short drive to Germany’s borders with Luxembourg, France, and Belgium. You can take an autobahn to join Würzburg (The Romantic Road & the Neckar Valley), Baden-Baden or Freiburg (Highways & Byways of the Black Forest), or Eisnach (Exploring East & Middle Germany).
The proximity of Luxembourg, an hour’s drive from Trier, makes an excursion there too tempting an opportunity to pass up. Leave Trier across the Römerbrüke bridge signposted for Luxembourg and the autobahn. Arriving in Luxembourg, follow signposts for Zentrum and parking, and set out on foot to explore. Walk to the Place d’Armes and the tourist office where you are given maps, a walking tour brochure, and information on this cosmopolitan city atop the rocky Bock promontory. As long ago as 963 Count Siegfried built his fortress here but, in spite of it being a heavily fortified position, the Burgundians took the city in 1443. Over the next four centuries the best French, Spanish, Austrian, and German military engineers fortified the city, turning it into the “Gibraltar of the North.” The most interesting part of their fortifications was a vast network of underground casemates (tunnels) that sheltered thousands of soldiers and their horses along with kitchens, bakeries, and military workshops. The Treaty of London in 1867 stipulated the dismantling of the casemates, and only a small portion of them remains today, the Casemates Pétrusse and Casemates Bock. (Bock: 10 am-5 pm, March to October; Pétrusse: 11 am-4 pm, July to September.)