So I just returned from 3 nights in the Mosel Valley, using our return trip back to Stuttgart to do the Romantic Rhine via boat. For this trip, I relied way more heavily on RS Germany 2011 than I usually do when traveling, because I was short on time to do the comprehensive research I would normally do, and I just figured, why not? Overall, there are some things in the blue book that I thought were solid, and other recommendations and choices that I would personally change. I hope this will be helpful to anyone considering a trip to this lovely area. Cont.
We traveled by train, taking an IC from Stuttgart to Koblenz that went along the Rhine. For starters, we tried follow along with this fastest of "blitz" Rhine tours outlined in the book, but the train was moving way too fast for this to be feasible. So for starters, I feel like RS is misleading people a little bit when he suggests that if you're short on time, you can "do" the Rhine this way. You'll get glimpses of a castle, go to read about it, and by the time you're done you have missed actually seeing it at all. It's a nice scenic route, but it's not a substitute for a boat ride or exploring the area by car for a day. We then picked up a RegionalBahn to Cochem. We didn't stay in a recommended hotel. I found a fair (for the town - it's not cheap) price using Booking.com for Hotel Zehnthof, which is family run and is "traditional" but with a few perks, like larger than expected double rooms, a minibar, and a truly substantial breakfast buffet included (in addition to the typical musli, quark, cold cuts, cheese, and rolls, they also offered scrambled eggs, bacon, nurnburger sausages, soft boiled eggs, and a glass of sekt!) The breakfast room doubles as a wine bar in the evenings, which was full and open quite late on Saturday. The hotel is on the other side of the bridge from the main town, next to and behind the RS recommended (but pricey) Hotel Am Hafen. Cochem is lovely, and I was glad that it was large enough to have bustling nightlife on the weekends (at least until midnight or so). It was, however, more touristy than I expected. People refer to the Mosel Valley as "sleepy" and "slow-paced" and this applies to most of it but NOT Cochem. I am happy to trade "undiscovered" for the ability to stay out late but it's something that should be mentioned.
And by "touristy" I mean, "It's Sunday and nearly every shop in the old town is open because nearly every shop in the old town is a tacky junk shop or overpriced wine boutique". I've been to a lot of touristy places and I was really surprised by how packed Cochem was on Sunday. It really could give Heidelberg a run for it's money (Which RS writes off as "too touristy and full of Americans" - well, Cochem is full of older Dutch tourists as opposed to Americans, so maybe that's the difference?) In Cochem we ate at a few different places:
Weinhaxenkeller (across the bridge next to Hotel Am Hafen) - I just had a snack here, my husband had fried potatoes with fried egg and bacon. It was supposed to be a small dish but it was huge and flavorful, though greasy. Very good prices for the amount of food, so I'd guess it's a good value if you're looking for quantity in standard German fare. Hotel am Hafen - The best meal we had by far. A little bit pricey, but worth it. I had perch in a riesling sauce with potatoes, and my husband had a venison ragout with poached pears and spatzle, my friend had the menu of the day which was a good value but not as tasty as either of our dishes. The french onion soup was an overpriced disappointment. Dinner for 3 including a bottle of wine and two more glasses was 80 euro, which was surprisingly cheap for how well we ate and drank. Service was fancy by German standards, almost hovering. Gaststaette Noss - RS recommended, but underwhelming. It was fine but nothing special. Only slightly cheaper than Hotel am Hafen, but very different atmosphere and service. I do like the wine list here and we came once just to have some wine, but I'd skip it for food.
We did eat at one more restaurant but we'd already had a fair bit of wine by the time we found it, so I can't remember the name. It was further down on the Moselprominade past the "Wintergarden" restaurnt. It was super kitschy decorated and had two floors, both looking out onto the river, and it was cheap, so it seemed fine for our needs. The menu was huge and included a lot of schnitzel with various sauces. Dinner and wine for 3 was under 30 euro. A good place to take kids too, I'd think. Nightlife: Koenings-theke - A super fun pub (not a wine bar) that seems inhabited by a mix of locals and German tourists. Friendly people, very crowded on weekends, cheesy but fun music from the 50s and 60s as well as German "fest" music. Alte Gutschenke - A RS recommended winestube that we went to without realizing it. Another place where locals and European tourists mix. Super atmospheric, very friendly, great typical winestube experience. There was also some places advertising dancing and live music playing on Saturday nights at a few places, but it's more of the "people in their 60's partying" than say anything remotely clubby. Still, good atmosphere in town at night. Sightseeing:
Reichsburg Cochem - Pretty from afar, a tourist trap nearby. We'd already done the Burg Etlz tour the same day, so we skipped the tour there, and without the tour there's really no point in going up there except for the views, which were fine. Weingut Rademacher - It was cool to hang out at this rustic, informal winery, but we got to taste what the woman there wanted us to, not what we asked for. If you consider staying here, be aware that it's RIGHT by the train tracks, and will be loud.
Sightseeing cruise in Cochem: We really wanted to get on a boat, but unfortunately we went with the "wrong" company for a sightseeing round trip cruise. The one we got was more expensive and lasted 1.5 hours instead of 1 hour, and ended up going the exact same way we'd gone by train earlier in the day (it ended up being a round trip towards Treis-Karden) instead of going down the river towards Trier. We used the company with the kasse furthest from the bridge, whereas I think the cheaper 1 hour cruise that goes the other direction is sold through the company with the kasse right next to the bridge. Live and learn. Burg Etlz - Super cool castle, totally worth the hype. We were there on a weekend so we took the train to the Treis-Karden station and picked up the shuttle from there. From where the shuttle dropped us off, it was a steep downhill to the castle itself, although there are (pay) shuttles that can take people all the way to the front. We got there as early as possible via public transit, about 10am, it was already quite crowded, including a USO tour out of K-town, the guide of which tried to keep us out of the English tour her group was on, despite the fact that they hadn't booked a private tour. The guide let us come anyway, quite nicely. Food at the castle is overpriced by German standards, and it made me wish we'd thought ahead and brought a picnic lunch. Paying 6 Euro for currywurst is highway robbery. We hiked down, and it was quite lovely although we kept cracking up over the description in the blue book (page 416 "where sparrows carry crossbows and maidens, disguised as falling leaves, whisper "watch out"). Doing the hike one way was great, doing it both ways would have been a bit much.
We also took a daytrip to Trier, which I would really recommend if you're in the area. The sheer amount of Roman and early Christian history there is fascinating and unique in Germany in terms of how accessible and grand it is for the average tourist. The Dom and Imperial Throne Room are both musts. The RS walking tour was useful in Trier, although we viewed the baths from the outside without paying. Wish we'd gone to the Archelogical museum instead of the Bishop's museum, though. We had lunch at Zum Domstein, an RS rec, and thought the food was really underwhelming, but the wine tasting menu there was really fun and easy to follow. I'd recommend stopping there for wine but going elsewhere for food. My friend departed Cochem Monday morning to catch a flight in Frankfurt, so in advance my husband and I decided to not plan in advance and buy train tickets in advance like usual, but to travel the much-lauded "local way" via laender tickets, giving us total flexibility. We'd discussed going to Luxembourg, spending the day in Mainz, or training to St. Goar to pick up the KD line cruise on the Rhine, and since we were fairly beat, the latter won out. On local trains it took us nearly 2 hours to get to St. Goar with one connection in Koblenz. So far, so good. We bought our tickets for the boat trip to Bingen. That gave us 45 minutes to enjoy - surprise surprise! - another glass of wine. (I am still not the world's biggest fan of German wines compared to other places, but I much prefer the wines of the Rhine/Mosel to my local Baden-Wurttemburg wines, I'm sorry to say). St. Goar is the second-highest recommended base for the Romantic Rhine in the RS book, which baffles me. Maybe due to the proximity to Rhinefels castle?
Anyway, if Cochem was touristy, St. Goar was insane. It was a Monday afternoon and it was absolutely PACKED with older Americans. We had trouble finding an outdoor table at one of the many restaurants at 1:30 p.m. on a Monday. No mention of this throng of tourists in the book. The Rhine cruise was great, incredibly scenic, and just the right pace to really enjoy the scenery and read the information that the blue book provides. We were on for 2 1/2 hours to Bingen. Sure, it's a super touristy thing to do, but for good reason. We had fun taking a ton of pictures and just being dorks. However, arriving at Bingen at 5pm, pretty tired, I wanted nothing more than to get to Mainz ASAP and get on a nice cool ICE train back to Stuttgart. But our laender tickets didn't allow that. So what would have been 2:20 minute trip with 1 connection became a 4 hour trip with 2 connections on super crowded, stuffy regional trains, with luggage (small, light luggage, but still a PITA). I don't know, guys. The flexibility of laender tickets was nice to have, it meant I didn't have to plan in advance or stick to that plan (weather had forecasted a cold cloudy day, so when it was really warm and sunny the boat ride became a much more appealing option) BUT a total of 5 different train legs alone in one day was exhausting. And for perspective, by car it would have taken us 3 hours to drive versus a total of 6 hours by train including connection waiting time. I'm not saying one way is better than the other - we got around just fine by train and boat, and the laender tickets are great deals on the mosel and rhine where most if not all trains are regional anyway, but we live here and can afford to spend extra time in transit to save money. if I were on a short vacation? i'd plan in advance for fast trains and/or drive when it made sense.
Things we didn't do: -Go to Beilstein. Nothing anyone said on here convinced me it was worth the effort and my friend didn't seem to care. I only need so much quaint in one trip and the timing of getting there without a car just didn't make it that appealing. I did enjoy walking through the narrow streets of the sleepy town of Karden. -Rheinfels - it sounded/looked really cool, but we had luggage and had a busy trip and figured we'll just return one day to see it. -Bacharach - Looked really lovely but timing was again the issue. Overall the blue book was a good starting guide for exploring this region but I felt that some of the recs were less than honest about what to expect. Previously I didn't rely on the book for food recs and won't be doing so again. To be honest, I get the feeling that anything that isn't awful makes the cut, and I really enjoy seeking out more interesting food experiences. Also virtually all the prices listed for this area are incorrect now. It may just be an issue of timing, since the 2011 book is officially out of date now, but every boat cruise, museum admission, etc was up by at least 2 euro compared with prices in the book. Hotels are also well under-estimated (you won't be getting a double at Hotel am Hafen in the summer for 85 Euro, let's put it that way). Hope this is interesting/helpful to overly-picky guidebook nerds like myself!
Thanks for the interesting trip report. Count me in as another person who wonders about the whole St. Goar thing. There are plenty of charming towns along the Rhine and this isn't one of them. Simply packed with tourists and tacky stores. It is almost another Ruedesheim, but it doesn't have as many quaint buildings. The only reason to stop here would be Burg Rheinfels, which is fantastic, and the 2 old churches. For a stop along here, I prefer Ober-Wesel, which has more town walls to walk along, and is not quite so touristy. Lorch also looks interesting, but I haven't made it here yet. For trips along the Rhine on a train, I bought a Rhine book, that has them listed and there is just enough time between castles, to look them up ahead of time, to find out their name and then they have about a half a page or so, about each one. Nice map on the back of the book itself to refer to with ease. What did you think of the Lorelei?
Part of the problem with the train "blitz" tour for us is that a) we were going the "wrong" way from the RS book description and b) we were on an IC train, which maybe moves a bit faster than a regional train? IDK it's hard to tell. The Lorelei was definitely cool, although I'm a bit disappointed that the "legend" is a romantic fiction and not actual folklore! Thanks for the advice on the other towns along the Rhine. I am sure we will be back up that way, either alone or with visitors.
Rheinfels is the best castle ruin on the Rhine... but because you live in Germany and have probably seen any number of other castle ruins by now, I'm not certain that it would be worth your while to return just for this one. BTW, have you visited Burg Teck? Inevitably, I'm stuck in a Stau whenever I drive by, and I'm wondering if it might be worth leaving the road to visit.
We experienced St.Goar at the beginning of May. The town was empty except for a few tourists and many locals were out due to May Day. St.Goar was picked so we could do the Rheinfels Castle on our arrival afternoon or first thing the next morning. We did it that afternoon and rewarded ourselves with ice cream sodas overlooking the Rhine from the Castle's outdoor cafe. Our second day was spent hopping on and off our KD boat cruise. We visited Bacharach, Rudesheim, then took the chairlift up. We enjoyed the Niederwald Monuments, the animals, and walking the trail. We took the lift back down to Assmannshausen. We missed the last KD stop here as we were not in any hurry lingering over a glass of wine. We taxied up to catch the boat further Our third day was spent taking the train to Remagen with a a taxi hop to the Remagen Memorial Musuem and the Bridge. Then back on the train to Koln for the remainder of the day. We opted for a guided tour of the cathedral and were rewarded with a wealth of knowledge we wouldh've missed on our own. Other times were spent on our 'Hotel am Makt' outdoor patio, walking and sitting along the River and in the small park area, and visiting the Signal/Pilot house there. Arrival day was 530am from BOS. I also tried to follow the book to see the Rhine sights but found the train moved too fast or I was too tired to remember what I was looking for or at. It is a lovely ride though. Arriving at Hotel am Makt at 830am, Herr and Frau Velich gladly gave us our room. They offered free breakfast to us, and asked if there was anything we needed or they could do for us. When we came down later they asked us again. Our best dinner was there cooked by their son. (May-2008) St.Goar is centrally located for the Castle visit, the KD cruises, day trips, and is smaller and easier to handle for a first time visitor to Germany. Next trip we hope to stay in Trier as a base.
Tom - Not only have I not been to Burg Teck, but I didn't even know it existed! That's really not too far from me. I'll try to check it out soon and report back. The only castle I've been to in the area is Lichtenstein, and that was sort-of-by-accident (was out driving, saw it, decided to check it out). Diane - Interesting you had a different experience in St. Goar than me. Early May is quite a ways before the real summer tourist season kicks off, so that might make all the difference.