How To Drink Your Way Through Rhine Valley, Germany

The wide river winds through the Rhine Valley’s steep hills. On every hilltop lies a medieval castle and on every slope is a wine field. Normally, this area is packed with tour buses and cruise ships. Normally!

Find out what to see, what to drink, what hotel I recommend and the pros and cons of travelling to the Rhine Valley during corona.

The upper middle Rhine valley is for hikers, bikers, wine-lovers and travellers above 50! Even though I don’t really hike or bike – and I’m only 40 – this is also the place for travellers like me. For a while, I’ve wanted to travel to one of the wine-making regions in Germany. With corona putting a halt to our trip to Sardinia (yes, sigh), now is the time.  So join me and discover

Rhine Valley through

But before we reach the wine part, I will try to get you excited about this enchanting part of Germany called the Rhine Valley  If you can’t wait, pour yourself a glass of the golden, delicious drink of the gods while reading this. If you don’t drink, there are plenty of sights to explore anyway.

THE RHINE GORGE

...The calm Rhine courses its way./ The peak of the mountain dazzles / With evening's final ray. / The fairest of maidens is sitting / Up there, a beautiful delight, / Her golden jewels are shining, /She's combing her golden hair. /She holds a golden comb, / Singing along, as well / An enthralling / And spellbinding melody....

Heinrich Heine
This famous poem, “Die Lorelei,” by Heinrich Heine is based on a German legend of an enchanting, seducing mermaid who lures seamen to their death. The poem definitely helped to brand this destination as a place of myths and dreams. You can bring the poem as a travel book.
The Rhine is divided into upper, middle and lower. And the middle (or Mittelrhein) is also divided into parts – hence the upper middle Rhine. Well, it’s quite a long river! The 3. longest in Europe!  The area around the upper middle Rhine is especially beautiful with steep hills leading down to the bank and is therefore also called the Rhine Gorge. The Lorelei mentioned in the poem is a rock at the most narrow place along the river.

UPPER MIDDLE RHINE

The banks of the river are dotted with small villages. They don’t grow any larger because there’s no room with the water on one side and the hills behind. It’s almost like they’re stuck in time with their low, half-timbering houses with white walls and red-brown roofs, old square church spires, medieval city walls and eagles soaring down towards the river.

The history of the Rhine valley reflects the history of Western Europe. The 65 km long part of the river is unique from a cultural, geological and industrial viewpoint. The importance as a trade route, the abundance of castles, historic towns and vineyards and the dramatic landscape. All this making it s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

And also what makes it so beautiful.

The Rhine takes its greatest bend at Bopparder Hamm

But it’s not all wine and fish. Large container ships plow through the valley and looooong trains sets with container packed with goods constantly run along the river like black snakes. And the narrow roads are a bit annoying if you want to get as quickly form a to B.

I actually think the train is faster than driving. And this was in corona season. Usually, I can imagine it’s one long queue of buses filled with seniors.

BOPPARD

Celts, Romans, Franks and a free imperial city. Boppard has long history and remains of the Romans can still be seen here. But more importantly: Yes, it was probably the invading Romans that brought the wine to the area. 2 times in history, it marked the border of the Roman empire. A few sights is still there. 

The small city is cozy, but also a little bit boring. Although, in fairness, it’s probably more lively without corona and more visitors. Don’t stay here too many nights, when visiting the Rhine Valley.

RENT A BIKE

Rhine Valley is bike land with distances in the reasonable range. And what better way to see the countryside and escape the family, than renting a bike. I rented an electric bike for the evening an went out. I thought en e-bike was weird for an experienced Danish biker like me, but it was perfect for the steep road back up to the hotel.
Renting a bike is perfect

Stopping along the Rhine and in the small cities along the river is much easier on bike. The entire route along the Rhine Gorge from Koblenz to Bingen is only 65 km. Google says, it will take you 3,5 hours. So driving should only be for longer trips.

SIGHTS AROUND THE RHINE VALLEY

If you have time, there are many spectacular sights nearby. Most people head to Loreley rock which is the symbol of the valley. We didn’t due to time shortage. 
Impressive Burg Eltz

BURG ELTZ

Castles are abundant, but Burg Eltz is quite spectacular. Well,a t least, that’s what it looks like from the outside. Since, there is no online ticketing, and we came in the German summer holiday, the line was 1 hour in 30 degrees. But I later heard from other travellers, that there was no line by late August.

MOSEL Mosel River is also a wine area. Heading towards Burg Eltz and other sights, you cross the river. The river is smaller and more calm with fewer tourists.
TRIER A bit further away is the Roman city of Trier. It’s the oldest city in Germany and 9 of its building is a World Heritage Site. Including this enormous gate – the largest north of the alps. Of course, we didn’t have enough time. If you are in a hurry: prioritize the baths over the amphitheatre. 
Trier
If you have more time than me, include the rock of Lorelei, Charlemagne’s Aachen or even Luxembourg, if corona allows it. And stop at more wineries. Which leads me to the main point:

RHINE WHITE WINE

And know to what you’ve been waiting for, and the 2. reason I travelled here (the 1. being World Heritage Sites). If you don’t know white wine from the Rhine area, you’ve missed something. The first time I heard of Rhine Wine was as a kid. In history class. 
Vines and more vines
The Danish king Christian IV,  introduced Rhine wine to the Danish court in the late 1500’s from Schloss Fürstenbeg in Bacharach. The drink was expensive and for more than a 100 years only for the royal family. And nursers breastfeeding the royal children. It was first served at the traditional (and still celebrated) New Years Eve dinner in 1598. Astonishingly, some of the old winefor centuries, the old wine was diluted with new wine, so the curretn wine at Rosenborg Catsle still has some of the (extremely) old Rhine wine in it. But you need to get invited to the Queen’s party to taste.

Rhine Wine

stoned

Rhine wine can be identified by a signature bright, crisp and sometimes sweet flavor. Rhine wine derives its characteristic mineral essence from the regional soil.

Grapes

Some of the well know names include: Riesling, Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Müller-Thurgau and Gewürztraminer. I especially like Riesling and Spätlese.

More than half of Germany’s wine is made here along the Rhine river. Even in the coldest of winters, heavy frost rarely settles in the narrow Rhine valley, because the water regulates the temperature. 
This wine field was just below our hotel
Wine here is pretty cheap, if you are used to Danish prices. We went straight for the best and most expensive ones, when we realized that the cheapest bottles are only half the price of a glass of wine in Denmark. Expect to pay between 6-22 euro per bottle in these places.
We visited both Weingut Matthias Müller and Walther Perll. Matthias definitely have the best wines according to me. We were greeted by one of the two sons in this winemaking family with a face mask printed “Riesling”. Trying to taste wine with a face mask is pretty absurd. He kept on his mask, while we were luckily allowed to take off ours. Drinking wine by a straw can hit you hard! There were no other customers, so it seemed fine, but not sure what they do if the place has more than one couple. I heard of some wineries closing their tastings. 
Wine tasting at Matthias Müller
If you don’t want to drink all the delicious tastings, they provide a bucket to sit it out. Spit it out? Yes, because this was our 2. weingut, and we had tasted around 6-7 wines each place. The family’s wines have won several recognition in 2012-15. After all this drinking we only bought 14 bottles to take home. How stupid can you be? With all this delicious wine, it’s time for nap, but where to sleep?

JAKOBSBERG HOTEL & RESORT

You have to wear mask when entering the hotel

A nice place to stay is the old priory Jakobsberg, which is now Klostergut Jakobsberg Hotel & Resort. If you play golf: it’s perfect. I don’t, but this was only one out of 2 places with a pool, and I can’t get my son to go on holiday unless there’s a pool. The other place was Bellevue Rheinhotel – which we later had lunch at – and I’m really glad we chose this relaxed spot retreat.

The Jakobsberg Hotel is quite expensive. For 5 nights, 2 adult and a 14-year old and half board (which was the only option) was 1800 Euros. But you know the price in advance. A drawback, I first discovered when arriving is that you can’t just walk doown to the nearest city. Since my son (who has autism) rarely leaves the  room, I planned to do small trips on my own. But walking to Boppars would take around 40 min. and it was up hill back home.
Delicious and fresh food some locally made

But on the plus side, the hotel is an old priory built in 1180 by emperor Barbarossa. Perfect for cultural travellers. Besides the gym and spa, the key selling point here is the terrace overlooking the Rhine below. Sit here, while drinking fresh white wine grown on the fields below. From here, you can also see bees making the honey on your local cheese.

Our room had a small patio facing directly out to an green area with games for kids. And golf of course.
My favourite thing to do on this trip
I would definitely stay here again, but next time I will also check it’s possible to stay at some of the castles (although that’ll be without my son).

TRAVEL TIPS TO RHINE VALLEY

Pros & cons while travelling during corona
  • Fewer tourists meaning more room for you. But it also mean more closed restaurants and bars – even if they are allowed to stay open, since there are not enough customers.
  • Fewer tourists also mean fewer visitors to sights. But as we experienced in Burg Eltz, corona restrictions means fewer entries and so we couldn’t get in.
  • Less traffic from buses, but more from German staycation’ers.
  • You can find good deals on hotels
  • The rules are different in each German state, so road tripping long distances requires more planning
  • Most tourists attractions and service industries are really happy to see you
Some extra travel tips:
  • Driving in Germany is not all 130 km/h. Expect traffic jams and road construction and an average of 80 km/h.
  • Unless, you know absolutely for sure your kids will like, don’t bring kids. It’s all seniors and quiet reading with a glass of wine in your hand. And evening wear for dinner.
  • I don’t recommend staying in one place, since getting there and back took much more time than planned. Instead a from A-to-B trip by car or bike would allow you to see more of this spectacular area. For instance, start in Bingen and work your way up to Koblenz.
Final wine picture

If you want to see more of Germany, but want to avoid big cities, try Eat marzipan in Lübeck.  If you’re looking for more top cultural sights, find inspiration at World Heritage Sites

Do you travel for local delicacies?