We just got back from an incredible, 16 day road trip through Germany. I’ll be honest, when I realized we needed to change our original travel plans because of the second wave of coronavirus hitting Europe, I was pretty bummed. I wanted to get out of Germany and see new countries! But because of my husband’s job, he isn’t really able to quarantine while waiting for test results after a vacation, so instead of cutting our trip short we decided to stay within Germany, and I am so happy we did. Why is it we feel the need to leave our home country to travel and have an adventure? We discovered so many beautiful parts of Germany we never even knew existed, and developed a deeper understanding and appreciation for the German culture. It actually shocks me when I think about how we may have left Germany without ever really getting to know and explore it!
The first part of our trip began in the Mosel Valley, which is a very famous, and very old wine region in Europe, well-known for its Riesling. We learned during one of our wine tastings that the Mosel Valley actually used to be the premier wine producing region in the world. When Napoleon came around, he loved the Riesling in Mosel so much that he made a law stating the Mosel Valley could only produce Riesling wines. Overtime, France became the premier wine producing region in the world, and the Mosel Valley became known only for its Riesling. Only very recently, in the 1980’s did this old Napoleonic law begin to change, and vineyards were slowly allowed to introduce other grape varieties. These vines are still quite young relatively speaking, and so the region continues to be known for its Riesling, at least until these vines age and are able to produce better wines. If you’re not a fan of Riesling, I implore you to give it another chance here. I always used to think of Riesling as quite sweet, but that’s simply not true. The Mosel Valley produces a wide range of Riesling wines, from very sweet to very dry. My personal preference is the half-dry, but we tasted some truly amazing Rieslings all along the spectrum and came back with a few bottles of our favourites.
We chose to start in the Mosel Valley for the wine, but also the scenery and history. The Mosel River twists and turns its way through old medieval towns and terraced vineyards that rise up into the sky. A myriad of castles tower over romantic wine villages and line the banks of the river. There’s endless hiking and biking trails too, so there really is something for everybody – history, culture, food (ok, mainly wine!), and outdoor activities. After days of research, we decided to stop in Cochem, Beilstein, and Bernkastel-Kues during our Mosel Valley trip.
This town was the most touristy of our Mosel Valley destinations, but was a good starting point. Unfortunately, because we booked last minute and it is very touristy, we didn’t get a great hotel. So I don’t have a recommendation of where to stay, but I do have recommendations of what to see and, most importantly, where to eat!
What to do:
Visit Burg Eltz. A perfectly preserved medieval castle just 20 minutes outside of Cochem. During the Palatine Wars of the early 18th century, many castles in the Mosel Valley were actually destroyed, and so what you mostly see are ruins or reconstructions – but not Burg Eltz. A winemaker told us that this castle was spared during the war because a general purposely kept it off the list of castles in the region, so that it wouldn’t be destroyed. Thus, Burg Eltz is a perfectly preserved medieval castle, never destroyed or reconstructed. It is absolutely beautiful. If you drive to the Landhotel Ringelsteiner Mühle hotel and park, there is a 30 minute hiking trail that leads to the castle. It is a beautiful hike and you see your first glimpse of the castle at the very end. Go early if you would like to get tickets to see inside. This is my only regret, as we got there in the late afternoon and there was a long line to get in, so we just walked around the castle grounds. I would love to go back one day and see inside.
Visit Burg Reichsburg. This enchanting castle sits high up on a hilltop overlooking the village of Cochem. It took our breath away the first time we saw it, as we drove along the Mosel River toward Cochem. From the main town square, it’s an easy walk up that will take you through vineyards and offer panoramic views.
Eat at Alte Gutsschänke. We absolutely loved this restaurant! I was so sure this would be a win, that we waited outside for half an hour just to get a table at dinnertime, and it was so worth it! This hidden gem of a wine cellar offers amazing regional wine and great, traditional “cold” German meals. We had a wonderful selection of Rieslings, sampling dry, half-dry and sweet (half-dry is my favourite) and enjoyed bread, meat, cheese, and homemade goulash soup. The atmosphere is absolutely incredible. This restaurant did not feel touristy at all (our waiter hardly spoke any English but we managed just fine!) and felt like a real, authentic experience. It was one of our most memorable meals of the trip!
Often overlooked as an overnight destination because it is so small, Beilstein is much less touristy than neighbouring towns and invites you to slow down. Regarded as one of the most beautiful and romantic towns in Mosel, what the towns lacks in size it makes up for in charm. Beilstein is a lovely town to slowly walk around and explore. Aside from aimlessly wandering the town and enjoying the medieval German charm, below are my other top recommendations.
What to do:
Stay at Hotel Haus Lippmann. This rustic style hotel overlooks the Mosel River and is the perfect place to stay while in Beilstein. The hosts and atmosphere will make you feel at home, and they have a wonderful terrace covered by a canopy of grapes and vines were you can enjoy a glass of wine at sunset and a truly amazing breakfast spread in the morning. It was so beautiful we even bundled up in the morning so we could sit outside and have our breakfast.
Eat at Hotel Restaurant Gute Quelle. We had lovely lunch on their patio when we first arrived in Beilstein of butter-drenched local snails from the vines, schnitzel, chanterelle salad (in season until the first frost), and of course, a glass of crisp Riesling.
Eat at Zehnthauskeller. This is a candle-lit wine cellar with a romantic vibe, and was great fun for dinner. Situated in the courtyard across from Hotel Lippmann, they offer tasting flights of wine, which isn’t too common in Germany but you do find at some places. I’ve heard that in non-covid times, they even have live music.
Drink at Vinothek Weingut Otto Görgen. One of the few places in Beilstein to do a “North American” style wine tasting (meaning they provide a flight of wine samples for you to try), they had some of the best wines we tasted on our trip. Located in the heart of town, you can simply walk into their cellar, sit down and samples some great wines.
Visit Burg Metternich. It is an easy, up-hill walk from the main square. The castle is mainly ruins, but it is beautiful nonetheless and offers wonderful panoramic views. There is a cafe up there too.
Our final stop in the Mosel Valley was the medieval town of Bernkastel-Kues. This was the most lively town on our stop, larger than Beilstein but not as touristy as Cochem. We really loved it, and if I were to go back just for a weekend I would choose to make Bernkastel-Kues my homebase.
Wine is the centerpiece of life here, and as you wander the narrow cobblestone streets you will see illustrated wine and grape motifs decorating the facades of half-timbered houses.
What to do:
Stay at Schloss Lieser. This was by far my favourite hotel, not just in the Mosel Valley but of our whole trip. A beautifully restored castle, with a wine cellar, chapel, library, spa, restaurant, and the most gorgeous rooms, this hotel was a luxury splurge worth every penny. While not exactly in Berkastel-Kues, it is only a 5 minute car ride or an easy 20 minute bike ride, with a bike rental shop just up the hill from the hotel (just ask reception). We rented manual bikes for a day (but they also have electric) and it was only 7€ a bike. We had a really great dinner at the hotel restaurant too.
Visit Weingut Dr. Loosen. Call ahead and book a tasting at this winery, one of the best in the region. We had a wonderful private tasting and learned so much about the area during it. We actually learned the most about the Mosel Valley during our two wine tastings in Bernkastel-Kues.
Visit Weingut Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler. This was our second tasting, another well-known winery in the region. Located right in town, we didn’t need to book a reservation and were able to just walk into the cellar and taste 6 different wines.