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Middle Rhine and Mosel River Valley Itinerary Suggestions

Hello, We're currently planning for a 9 night visit to Germany in early September, 2020.
The areas we have decided to focus our attention on are the Middle Rhine and Mosel Valleys. We plan on having a rental car and would like to take a few day trips to some of the small towns we have seen mentioned in this forum.
Our "early" itinerary and wish list looks like this: (questions to follow)

  • 4 Nights in Heidelberg
    -Arrive Saturday afternoon with rental car
    -Day trip by car to: Rothenburg ob der Tauber / Wurzburg / Neckarsteinach
    -Day trip by car to: Hohenzollern Castle / Lichtinstein Castle
    -1 Day Open

  • 3 Nights in Cochem
    -Day trip by car to: Trier / Bernkastel-Kues
    -Eltz Castle
    -Local vineyards and wineries
    -bicycle along the Mosel

  • 2 Nights at either Hotel Castle Liebenstein or Schonburg Castle
    -Local transportation to Bingen; KD Rhine boat ride to Boppard (hop off/hop on); local transportation back

Return rental car the following Monday at Frankfurt Airport.

Here are some of the questions and concerns we have.

We will be arriving via the train from Interlaken, Switzerland. It was our intention to disembark at Mannheim, collect our car, and make the short drive to Heidelberg. But, looking at current train scheduling, unless we leave very early in the morning, it seems unlikely we would arrive in Mannheim before any of the rental agencies close for the day on a Saturday.
Would that assumption be correct?
If that is the case, it seems we could travel straight to Frankfurt Flughafen, where the rental agencies have extended weekend hours, collect our vehicle, and make the drive back to Heidelberg. Also, it would avoid the additional cost of picking up at one location and dropping off at another. Does that alternative seem reasonable, or would anyone suggest a better plan? Also, We are not locked into staying in Heidelberg. It just looks like there would be much to see and do there, and it seems well located for the day trips we'd like to do.
Would anyone suggest somewhere other than Heidelberg, and are four nights too many for that area?
We've considered the alternative of 3 nights in Heidelberg and 4 nights in Cochem.

Any additional suggestions or recommendations in the Mosel River Valley? We love wine, food, and small towns.

My DW would like to experience an overnight stay at a castle on the Rhine River. Both Castle Schonburg and Castle Liebensteing look interesting. Any recommendations or alternatives?

Thank You!

Posted by
6809 posts

"Heidelberg area" - the daytrip destinations you've selected are well outside this area and too far from this base town (except Neckarsteinach) without wasting a lot of time in your car. A single base town won't work well.

With Hohenzollern and Lichtenstein on your list, I would look to making an overnight stopover thereabouts. Maybe 2 nights if you like... Take the train into Germany - Singen would be doable - and pick up your car there closer to the Swiss border. Singen is reachable by 11:00 if you leave Interlaken by around 8. Europcar (Autoeurope affiliate) offers pick up at Singen station.

Maybe you want to check out Glatt (moated castle) and have a nice "Kaffee" there and see some other stuff you might be unaware of (and thus skipping past) on your way north. Look into some of the "Fachwerkstrasse" towns if you have an interest in "old-world Germany" (which I assume you might with Rothenburg on your list.) Tübingen or Reutlingen or some smaller place might be a good overnight stop.

As for your next stop, I say keep Heidelberg for 2-3 nights - and alter your day trips. Besides Neckarsteinach there's a LOT you could see right around there. But first, Besigheim and Ludwigsburg Palace are on the way north. Then from Heidelberg you can do easy outings to these places:


Bad Wimpfen


Michelstadt - and a day trip guide to Michelstadt

Miltenberg - and a day trip guide to Miltenberg

I like Würzburg (wine hub, with the Residenz Palace probably the main draw there) but in your situation what I don't see is the point of heading that far out when Ludwigsburg Palace is right on the way to Heidelberg - not to mention the charming wine town of Besigheim.

Posted by
2485 posts

I haven’t rented a car in Germany, but from what I understand, unlike the U.S., there is no drop off fee if you drop off the car in another city in Germany.

Posted by
50 posts

Hello Russ. Thank You for your insight and suggestions. Your assumption is correct! "Old World Germany". The main reason we want to do some driving day trips is to find our way to old castles and the charming towns we will pass through to get to them.
The link to the "Fachwerkstrasse" towns you provided will be, and has already been, most useful.
Collecting our rental car in Singen appears feasible, as long as we arrive there before noon on a Saturday. And from there, we're now looking at spending at least one night in or around Reutlingen in order to have more time to visit the Lichtinstein, Hohenzollern, and Glatt castles.
We are also working on a driving route to Heidelberg that will allow us to visit Ludwigsburg and Besigheim along with some of the other towns listed on the Fachwerkstrasse road map.
Again, much thanks, and any additional suggestions are always welcome.

Posted by
613 posts

It doesn't take much more than a half day to exhaust Heidelberg. I agree with Russ, Bad Wimpfen is a better base but I would go to Schawbish Hall or Nordlingen.

Russ and I regularly disagree on Cochem. I would never stay there (and never have), preferring the more spectacular Bernkastle or even Trier. To see: cochem & Burg Elz castles, Bernkastle, Trier (once the capital of the Roman Empire), the Roman villa across the river from Remich. Perhaps Luxemburg, no sweat if you miss it.

"Day trip by car to: Rothenburg ob der Tauber / Wurzburg / Neckarsteinach" This is closer to a two day trip, and you miss Nordlingen & Donnauworth.

I'm pretty sure that what I'm going to describe next happens in September as well as in the summer, but you might want to try to check it out although I don't know how as I have never seen it listed in any tourist info or guide book, but there it is. There are a lot of little towns on the Mosel that have brass bands. On Sunday afternoons, the bands set up along the river and play German marches and umpah music while the natives gathered in the park to drink beer.

We hit this once in early October on a Mosel river cruise where we sat on the sun deck and heard 4-5 of these concerts as we slowly went down the river at 14 mph.

The Mosel Valley and the Rhine Gorge feature high hills, and that has sight seeing consequences. When driving across Kansas or Nebraska or most of the EU, the view of the scenery is pretty much the same, regardless of the direction of travel. Not so in high hills (the Rhine & Mosel) or in mountains. Plan to go and return the same way. You will NOT be repeating the scenic sights.

If you are not an experienced driver in Germany, its going to be stressfull until you figure out how it is done. I'm guessing you are flying into FRA & renting a car at the airport, so your brain will be stressed by German driving and fogged by jet lag. IF you can figure out how to do, reverse your trip and start with a river cruises from Frankfurt to Trier and back several days of leisure travel to put you brain back in order. Then go driving.

Posted by
6809 posts

What constitutes a good base town on the Mosel (or anyplace, really) depends heavily on what daytrip destinations you have in mind and how you plan to reach those destinations. A car frees up many base options; train devotees (like me) of course have fewer. Bernkastel does have some spectacular buildings and is very charming. I think it would surprise and please just about anyone, and you shouldn't miss it if you have the time. I once visited B'kastel in the 70's by train (back when rails lined the river route between Traben-Trabach and Bernkastel and long before the Bernkastel train station had been abandoned and converted into the busy restaurant it is now, the Alter Moselbahnhof. In the late 90's I hiked from Traben-Trarbach station into Bernkastel with a pack and spent one night there - took about 2.5 hours. I have used the train + bus sequence to get there more recently - and last June I took a river boat there from the wine town of Kröv - very nice to do if you have the time - then the bus + train back out. But does Bernkastel make a great base town? Not for train fans with plans for multiple day trips... much better for them to stay in Cochem (or elsewhere) and do the bus + train routine on only one of those day trips. Besides Cochem, I've successfully used the tiny Mosel town of Bullay as a base town because of its advantageous location on the main Koblenz-Trier line AND the offshoot line to Traben-Trarbach. Bullay, like Cochem, is centrally located on the Mosel between Koblenz and Trier and not far from Burg Eltz, Zell and other wine towns like Alf, Neef and Pünderich, and close to Beilstein as well, and is very quiet and untouristy (compared to heavily-visited Bernkastel or Cochem.) It's located on a very curvy part of the Mosel and great for easy biking along the river and for scenic hikes as well - just the sort of place I like to stay sometimes. By car, it might work well for you too (and you should find a day trip by car to Bernkastel doable as well) if you happen to find a place you'd like to book there or thereabouts. I've stayed at the Hotel Mosella and at private B and B's there in the past. Rooms tend to be less pricey in towns like Bullay that are mostly off the tourist crowd's radar. A private apartment rental - like this 2-br-place with balcony does - might go for €60/ night for 3 nights + €50 for additional nights. A local tourist office website like this one might be helpful for finding what suits you in Bullay or in other towns.

In your case... Bernkastel might make sense - if your daytrip destinations are close enough by car. Don't use "charm" alone to guide your decision. Be sure to look into driving times before booking. Apparent proximity on the map can be deceptive... Traben-Trarbach - less than 6 km from Bernkastel if you're a bird - takes nearly half an hour to reach by car. You can see on this hiking map why a car - which must follow the river - takes so much time.

If you stick with Cochem or Bernkastel: check with innkeeper about parking/driving in the restricted old-town zone for sure.

Posted by
1057 posts

Are2, I noticed your previous respondents left you stranded on the Mosel, when you asked about the Rhine too. I highly recommend Eltville. I spent a wonderful day there last year wandering the town and touring the nearby Eberbach monastery and its vineyards. There isn't a castle hotel, but there is a Monastery hotel in the Eberbach Monastery. The monastery was the largest landowner and wine producer in the region for centuries. I attended an incredible concert in the cathedral, as part of the Rheingau Music Festival. The festival runs all summer but will be over before you arrive, unfortunately. I'm sure there are other concerts in the fall that you could find.

Eltville has a river-side open-air wine tasting kiosk in a beautiful park near the old castle. The castle is a great place to wander through, and the wine tasting opens at 11:00 am Sundays/holidays, 4:00 pm Mon-Fri, 2:00 pm Saturday. It features a rotating group of local vintners Wine Tasting Stand site, German only

Posted by
181 posts

I would actually stay in Rothenburg ob der Tauber at least one night, rather than just visiting as a day trip with all the people from bus tours. And I like staying in Cochem. It has more restaurant choices and is a great village with easy access to Burg Eltz, Beilstein, Zell, Bernkastel-keuz, etc. Biking along the Mosel from Cochem and using the little ferry to cross to Beilstein is one of my favorite activities. I also love staying a night or two in Bacharach on the Rhine.

Posted by
14580 posts

" German marches and ompah music...." Which pieces? Yes, that's the popular and famous Blasmusik.

Posted by
50 posts

Hello, Finally getting a chance to reply to your posts.
kb1942 - Some questions, if I may?
In regard to your Mosel River cruise. Where did you begin and finish your trip? Is there a particular cruise company that offers the kind of day trip that allows one to board and disembark at various towns along the route? Or is it simply a point to point trip?
And...In regard to driving..."If you are not an experienced driver in Germany, its going to be stressfull until you figure out how it is done"
How is it done in Germany? (kidding, of course) but, is there something we should know about driving style or rules of the road or other such nuances? We've driven in Italy and the UK and Ireland, so we've had "some" experience navigating narrow roads and being aware of fast drivers(aggressive) and motorbikes.
Jet lag won't be an issue as we plan on arriving from Interlaken, by train, in Singen to pick up our rental car.
Looking forward to your thoughts.

Russ - Thanks for your suggestions as well. We initially chose Koblenz as our base for 3 nights until someone else sold us on the merits of staying in Cochem. Now we're seeing that Bernkastle might have a lot of interest for us as well. By the time we reach the Mosel Valley, we'll be nearing the end of our second week of travel so we're hoping to find a base town that we can relax in if we choose to do very little, but also is well located for visiting other towns along the river. A small town that has friendly people, good food, good wine and beer, and some "old world" charm (even if it's somewhat touristy).

Nelly - Eltville has been added to our list. The Eberbach Monastery is just the type of place we like to seek out when we visit towns.
And yes, hopefully there will be other concerts in the area at that time of year.

Joy - Thank You! We'll likely forego visiting Rothenburg and the "timber frame" architecture found there (along with it's immense tourist popularity) on this trip, in lieu of visiting some smaller towns between Ludwigsburg and Mosbach on our drive toward Heidelberg.
Biking from Cochem, along the Mosel to Beilstein is high on our bucket list.
Thanks for your input.

As always...ideas and suggestions are welcome.

Posted by
2023 posts

We stayed at Schonburg Palace a few years ago and loved it. We had a room overlooking the Rhine and it was perfect. The dinner was nice and the breakfast impressive. We were there in October and they had log fires burning in the parlors. We also enjoyed staying in Beilstein and stayed at an inn recorded by RS--Haus Lippman and really liked it--room overlooked the Mosel and food ( each meal including breakfast was served by candlelight

Posted by
824 posts

I would vote to stay even smaller than Cochem when visiting the Mosel valley. We stayed three nights in Zell (quiet with good choices for restaurants) but Traben-Trarbach would make a good choice as well. Trier is a pretty long drive from Cochem...

Heidelberg for 4 nights? If you want to go to Wurzburg and Rothenburg o.b.T, I would pick a more centralized home base such as Bad Mergentheim or Schwabisch Hall. Or, you could opt to stay in one of the walled cities (Rothenburg o.b.T, Dinkelsbuhl or Nordlingen and make Heidelburg a drive-by for the castle.

As for driving in Germany - do your research. There is a lot of good information on the web that explains German motor vehicle laws and driving culture. An international drivers permit (sold through AAA offices in the USA) is a must. I would recommend purchasing an auto insurance rider on a travel insurance policy as your "deductible" is basically the value of the car. I have another recent post that details some of the common pitfalls of driving in Germany but the bottom line is - know the traffic laws, use common sense and be alert.

Posted by
3623 posts

Work2travel has given excellent capsule advice about driving in Germany, which could apply to driving anywhere. I will just add that, in general, European countries have lower legal limits for blood alcohol levels than do the states here; and they are strictly enforced. Be careful about joining in local merriment that includes hoisting a stein of beer or wine tasting and then getting behind the wheel to return to your base town.

Posted by
6809 posts

"...we're hoping to find a base town that we can relax in if we choose to do very little, but also is well located for visiting other towns along the river. A small town that has friendly people, good food, good wine and beer, and some "old world" charm (even if it's somewhat touristy)."

"Is there a particular cruise company that offers the kind of day trip that allows one to board and disembark at various towns along the route? Or is it simply a point to point trip?"

The Mosel river cruising is slow-going. Some issues:

-Short trips (like Cochem - Beilstein, 1 hr. each way) don't take long so a round-trip cruise is feasible. For longer cruises, you want to begin and end somewhere that has bus or train service for the other half of the round trip.

-The Mosel is dotted with river locks - too many and your cruising becomes slower, then tedious. That makes your choice of cruise important.

-To hop off and then back on, there have to be more than just a couple boats per day.

Based on these concerns ...

Cruise Bernkastel - Traben-Trarbach or vice versa. See timetable on p. 2 of this flyer for schedule and intermediate stops. 5 ships per day in each direction, just one lock; about 4 hours round trip, or 2 hours + return bus ride.

If you are staying in Cochem: you take the train to T-T first and cruise from there; reverse the process to return - OR... cruise one way to Bernkastel and take the bus + train back to Cochem (see DB site.)

We took this cruise ourselves last June from the town of Kröv (where we were staying) and enjoyed it very much.

And here is the cruise schedule for Cochem - Beilstein ("Schiffsausflug nach Beilstein" table on p. 2.)

Based on your first quote above, either Bernkastel or Cochem might work as a base town, but having stayed in both places, I would suggest you stay in Cochem - and visit Bernkastel on a day trip. And while you're doing "nothing", Cochem has small stuff you can do at your leisure over a few days - more than Bernkastel does. You might want to check out the Bundesbank - Bunker. The Reichsburg Castle tour is enjoyable, and so is the chairlift ride. And there's a multitude of restaurants in Cochem as well.

"Be careful about joining in local merriment that includes hoisting a stein of beer or wine tasting and then getting behind the wheel to return to your base town."

Good advice for drivers. And part of the reason I never drive Germany nowadays.