‘Where?’ ‘Never heard of it!’ ‘Way too difficult to get there’ ‘Sounds like its for old people!’
So what was your first thought? Don’t give up on me yet (have I ever let you down!!)! The River Mosel winds through some of Germany’s most spectacular landscapes. Its easy to access and gorgeous for a 4-8 day break. As you hike, cycle, drive or cruise your way through terraced vineyards, fairytale castles, half-timbered houses and cobbled streets, you know for sure that you’ve fallen into a Disney movie set – it can’t possible be real!
The river rises in the Vosges Mountains in north-east France and flows for 544kms through Luxembourg and into Germany where it reaches the mighty Rhine at Koblenz.
Mosel or Moselle?
The German part of the river is Mosel – if you go to Luxembourg or France, Moselle is correct.
The Mosel Valley, stretching roughly 250kms between the cities of Trier and Koblenz, is characterized by the winding river with its steep vine clad slopes. Every wine village you pass through seems to be more picturesque than the last. Castles, fortresses and Roman ruins aplenty will delight the history buffs among you. Foodies will love the traditional taverns with German fare and always, everywhere, there are those great wines to enjoy…
We may as well begin with all things grape which is unavoidable in these here parts. Non connoisseurs – even non wine drinkers – will still get caught up in its production and its influence on the region.
The wine culture here goes back some 2000 years, making it the oldest wine growing region in Germany. The Romans brought grapes in order to provide local wine for their garrisons. Later, the monasteries got in on the act and played a major role in the development of the industry. Roll on to the end of the 19th century by which time Mosel white wines were some of the most expensive in the world.
So what, you ask, makes this such a successful wine producing location?
All those twists and turns of the river have created the perfect microclimate which, together with the extremely steep slopes and slate soil, has ensured ideal growing conditions. The best vineyards typically face southwards, receiving much more sunlight of course than their north facing neighbours. Slopes range from 30 to 70 degrees (Europe’s steepest vineyard – Calmont – is located here, at a 68% grade) rendering mechanization quite impractical so work must be carried out by hand. Meanwhile soil erosion is an ongoing concern. However, despite the pitfalls, these steep sites offer increased intensity of sunlight and acceleration of cold air drainage making them the most in demand.
The typical wine is Riesling which accounts for over 60% of the harvest (others include Elbling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Kerner, Auxerrois, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
With over 500 named vineyard sites in the Valley, you’ll not go thirsty! There are wine taverns aplenty but if you’ve a bit of time then its worth joining a wine tour at a winery along the way.
Trier is lovely and there is enough to distract for a few days. The Romans left their mark here for sure but there is archaeological evidence of settlement going back 16,000 years, allowing Trier the title of Germany’s ‘oldest town’.
The city spreads across both sides of the river but its heart is to be found around the market square in the Old Town. You’ll love the half-timbered houses, shops, cafes and wine bars. You’ll want to spend some time exploring the Roman heritage and the beautiful cathedral. And you’d better read up on Karl Marx before your trip – he was born here!
The UNESCO listed Porta Nigra is Trier’s main claim to fame.
The massive Roman Gate was built around 200 AD and was one of four guarding the city. In the Middle Ages, it served as a chapel which protected it from demolition and ensured its survival. Under Napoleon’s rule in 1803 however, the church was dissolved and the structure was restored to its original design. The origins of the name are unclear. The most plausible suggestion is that the ‘Porta’ (gate) of grey sandstone just weathered until it became known as Porta Nigra (black gate).
Today, you can explore the interior of the gate before heading to the top to enjoy the city views.
Other Roman unmissables include the ruins of the majestic Baths (Kaiserthermen) and the Amphitheatre.
I hope you know your Gothic from your Baroque from your Romanesque!! The Cathedral of Saint Peter (Trierer Dom) is believed to be about 1700 years old and its long history explains the eclectic styles. The treasury alone is worth a visit for its Sacred Art collection.
Marx was born here in 1818. His birthplace has been converted into a museum and exhibits depict his early life in Germany, his ideas and writings and a history of global Communism.
It seems unfair to single out one or two villages for comment -there are so many in the valley that deserve a mention. There might be a sense of ‘touristville’ in the more popular ones such as Bernkastel – Kues but even here you can break away from the river bank and into the narrow streets and alleys. Again, the town is split by the Mosel with Bernkastal on one side and Kues on the other. The Renaissance Town Hall was built in 1608 and the 17th century timber-framed houses have to be seen to be believed. You can sample about 150 wines in the Wein Museum or just stick to the taverns and wineries – there are about 100 around here!
You’ll have to decide before your trip how many castles you’re actually going to visit! If you’re on a leisurely trip, then the climb to these landmarks is worth it for the views alone.
Landshut Castle was built as a summer residence for the archbishops of nearby Trier. A fire in the 1600s left it in ruins, but the site offers wonderful views of the valley. It’s a steep 750m climb from town but a shuttle leaves from the riverfront – you could compromise by buying a ticket up and walking back down.
At the turn of the 20th century this was was the second largest wine trading city in Europe – outranked only by Bordeaux. More than 100 cellars and wine companies were located here. Wealthy wine traders commissioned Art Nouveau mansions, villas, administrative buildings and massive cellars – some stretching to several floors underground. The city’s landmark was the stunning bridge tower, built in 1899.
Several of the beautiful Art Nouveau houses are still to be seen, some offering accommodation. A share of the old wine cellars are still in production and open for visits and tours.
Halfway between Trier and Koblenz (about an hour’s drive) is Zeller Hamm – a spectacular 14km loop in the river. Located on the crest of a hill overlooking the loop is Marienburg, an old monastery which today houses a youth training centre. Head to the observation deck here for a great view.
Very popular with tourists, you’ll still want to stop and have a stroll through its picturesque historic city center with its Marktplatz, Baroque Town Hall, cobbled streets and the now familiar half-timbered houses.
You can’t ignore the castle, crowning the hill above the town!
Burg Reichsburg, was built around 1000, and lasted until 1689 when it was destroyed by French troops. One of the few rebuilt castles along the river, it was reconstructed as a family residence during the late 19th century in the Neo Gothic style that was popular at the time.
A 40 minute guided tour will take you through a few furnished rooms which house Renaissance and Baroque furniture. The walk up the castle offers great views but there is also the option of a shuttle available from town
Look at this!! What an architectural feat!
Perched on a rock in Eltz Valley, this has to be one of the most spectacular castles in the whole country. With towers and turrets almost hidden by forest, this really is the stuff of fairy tales.
Its not just its location and appearance that appeals – the medieval castle has a great story because it is still owned by the same family who built it in the 12th century – that’s 33 generations ago!
Incredibly, it has never been destroyed by any of the conflicts in the region. So the guided tours offer a chance to enjoy original furnishings as well a medieval kitchen, armory, treasury and artwork.
8.Deutsches Eck / Koblenz
The Deutsches Eck marks the spot where the Mosel meets the Rhine. The artificial headland was built in 1897 and is dominated by a huge cast bronze statue of Emperor Wilhelm 1.
Its worth taking a bit of time to explore Koblenz. Join a walking tour in the Old Town (Aldstadt) and take the cable car from the riverbank up to Ehrenbreitstein Fortress for great views..
There are several options for getting out on the river:
Most major towns offer a one or two hour trip which will take you along the river for a bit and back again. It will give you a view of the surrounding landscape from the water.
Half day trips will bring you a bit further and maybe allow time for a floating lunch.
Longer full day trips can take you from one town on the river to another where you can disembark, explore, and then return to the boat for a ride back to your starting point.
You can opt for a full river cruise, taking several days, during which your ship stops at the most popular sites along the river.
This is something I’d love to do if ever back in the region. Inaugurated in just 2014, the 365km Moselsteig Trail must be a beautiful way to explore the valley. Consisting of 24 stages, the hiking trail follows the river to the Deutsches Eck headland in Koblenz. Each stage is 11km – 24km in length and combines hiking along the river bank with paths through villages, vineyards and along higher viewpoints. It’s not difficult but there are some steep enough climbs and descents in spots. For the more challenging stretches, there is often a simpler detour option available.
The route is very well marked. Many stages depart from a village with a rail connection so can be accessed without a car.
In addition to the Moselsteig, there are various “Seitensprungen” or circular walks that combine the Mosel banks with the hinterland.
Frankfurt-Hahn Airport is a Ryanair hub and you can get good value flights here . Pick up your car rental at the airport and its less than an hour’s drive to Trier or Koblenz – depending on where you want to begin from. There is a bus service from the airport to Trier and Koblenz.
You can drive the Wine Road, Römische Weinstraße, which closely follows the Mosel River.
The Moselsteig hiking trail interconnects the region’s main landmarks.
There are excellent cycling paths along the river.
Almost every village is connected to the public railway linking Trier to Koblenz, making it easy to explore without a car.
Camping, hostels, wineries, Art Nouveau villas, inns, hotels, rentals, cruise boats…… it’s all here.
Where to base yourself?
On our trip in October 2014, we spent 2 nights in Trier, 1 night in Bernkastel-Kues and 2 nights in Cochem (with day trip to Koblenz from there).
To check closing days for museums, shops, wineries.
You’re very close to Luxembourg which would be a nice addition to the trip.
Thinking of a trip to Europe soon?
Here’s a few more of my ‘Top 10’s….
Or maybe you’re going further afield…..