No visit to Germany would be complete without a visit to the Mosel River Valley, taking a Mosel River cruise and a fantastic Bernkastel day trip. The stretch of the river that runs between Trier and Cochem, the middle Mosel, is one of our all time favorite drives in the country, maybe even the world.
I know that sounds over the top, but the terraced vineyards climbing precariously up the steep valley walls, the crumbling towers and fortress ruins overlooking the river, and the quaint half-timbered villages along the banks make some seriously picturesque vistas.
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Also, in our opinion, the food and wine from the Eiffel region and the Mosel Valley in particular is some of the best the country has to offer. Whether you decide to take in the views through the windshield of your rented BMW, from the seat of your tandem bicycle, or sipping wine as your river boat cruises slowly on the water, we think you’ll fall in love with the Mosel River Valley as well.[toc]
Things To Do Around Bernkastel
About half way between Trier and Cochem lies Bernkastel, right in the heart of the middle Mosel. This is one of the most charming villages on the river. The town has survived throughout the ages with its roots going back to Roman times. Most of the buildings in town, however, are younger than that having been built in the late middle ages about 400 years ago. And Bernkastel has it all. Multi-storied half-timbered buildings, castle ruins, vineyards perfect for hiking , outside cafes, beer gardens, river boat cruises, and some of the best festivals.
Bernkastel Day Trip
It doesn’t really matter which time of year you come, spring, winter, summer, or fall, Bernkastel old town is ready to show off everything the season has to offer. The flower boxes go up on the windowsills in early spring and bloom all through the summer and late into the fall. Once the weather turns colder, however, the flower boxes come down and the pine garlands go up transforming the town into a Christmas dream. The narrow lanes and alleys leading to surprisingly open squares that with bubbling fountains, cozy cafes, half-timbered buildings leaning crookedly over the street, and a wineshop or too offering some of the best of the local Riesling.
Some of the main places to see in Bernkastel are:
- Historic Market Square
- Bear fountain
- Candy Maker
- Castle Ruins
- Mosel Wine Museum
Start your walking tour of the old town in the historic market place. While the weekly farmers’ market no longer takes place here, this is the heart of the town and special events may be set up throughout the year. The market itself is surrounded by some of the most impressive fachwerke (half-timbered) buildings and a richly ornamented fountain in the center of the square. Just off the square besides the Rathaus (town hall), is the Spitzenhausche, or little pointed house, that is the most charming tiny half-timbered house anywhere. Step into the street-front wine bar to try some local vintages.
Leaving the marktplatz, wander along Romerstrasse towards the Graachertor. Shops, wine bars, and restaurants offer up pleasant distractions but the the richly decorated and colorful buildings are the real draw here. The tower itself was built in the 1300s as one of the old arched entries into the town and holds a small museum and a restaurant.
From here the vineyards beckon where walkers can climb up above the town for a view of the rooftops and the river below. Coming back into the town I always take the time for a stop at the historic candy-makers shop in the upper part of the old town. I love to watch the candy being pulled and stretched, molded and shaped, and cut into delectable bite size pieces.
Mosel Wine Festivals
We love a good wine festival, and the best one of all, our favorite is the Middle Mosel Winefest. Held on the first weekend of September, over our Labor day holiday, the Middle Mosel Winefest is a bucket list must. It starts out with a fabulous parade, has food and wine booths set up all over town, and then a fantastic fireworks show in the evenings. The parade of vintners gives local growers the chance to show off the quality of their wines as they wind through the left bank town of Kues, across the bridge over the Mosel, and then into Bernkastel.
Hold up a tasting glass and try some free samples as the parade marches by. Be careful, though, Mosel wine is clean, semi-sweet, and fruity; easy to drink, maybe too easy when your glass is being constantly refilled. I had never been to a festival where free wine was dispensed in this fashion, and it was so much fun. Carnival rides and games, festival food, and of course wine tasting is all on offer. The real highlight, though, is the fireworks display each night in which the illuminated battle takes place between the fortress above and the river below. The attacker starts to volley shots at the castle, it retaliates, and the grand finale is the castle burning down. I think I’ve been four or five times, and I still love it!
Other Mosel River Valley Wine Fests
If you can’t be in the Mosel Valley for the big Bernkastel fest, don’t despair, there’s sure to be something going on somewhere along the Middle Mosel region almost any weekend. For example, on the last weekend in May, the town has “Open Wine Cellar Days” when local vintners open their cellars, set up booths, and get to know their customers. Another of our favorites is the Zeller Long table festival with its 300 meter long festival table winding through the center of the village. No matter what, however, there is sure to be wine tasting, wine festivals, or open wine cellar days on any given weekend throughout the spring summer and fall in one of the villages and towns along the Mosel between Trier and Cochem.
Bernkastel Christmas Market
If you’ve come to Germany for the Christmas markets, you won’t want to miss Bernkastel. The Old Town Bernkastel Christmas Market begins in the last week of November and runs to just before Christmas. Be sure to see the largest advent calendar in the Mosel river valley in the window of the apothecary on the old town market square. Shop for traditional hand-made Christmas gifts, munch on some sugar roasted almonds, sip on mulled wine, and watch the wonder in children’s eyes at this magical festival. If you’re feeling adventurous, go on the Saint Nicholas Walk, a ten kilometer walk through the city with the jolly old elf himself, with stops along the way for mulled wine, hot chocolate, and other treats.
Castles on the Mosel
The Mosel River Valley isn’t quite as richly populated with fortresses and castles as, say, the larger and more popular Rhine valley. And it is that small, quaint feeling that makes the Mosel that much better than the Rhine. Sure they both have castles, wine, half-timbered houses, but the Rhine is more industrious and bigger in every way, including the tourist crowds. Still, there were a few robber barons along the river banks of the Mosel. Not much remains of most of these forts but even the craggy ruins present a romantic landscape as you wind your way down the river.
One of these typical old ruins is the Burgruine Landshut sitting high above Bernkastel and overlooking the the sweeping curves of the middle Mosel river. Vineyards stretch off into the distance and the shining tiles of the town roofs lie below. Hiking up to the ruins is a bit of challenge, but the views once there are definitely worth the climb. Take a break in the onsite restaurant in a renovated part of the castle ruins and enjoy the vista laid out before you.
In Cochem, however, is one of the few rebuilt castles along the river. Cochem castle is a real stunner, perched atop a hill in the center of town overlooking the river. The original castle was built in the middle ages and survived in some form or another until French occupying forces under Louis the XIV burned it to the ground in the late 17th century. The castle was rebuilt in the Neo-Gothic style popular at the time in 19th century as a family residence. Today Cochem Castle opens its gates for visitors around the world looking for a glimpse into life in Medieval Europe. It houses a large collection of renaissance and baroque furniture and art that can be viewed on one of the 40 minute guided tours.
Mosel River Cruise And Boat Tours
Perhaps the most enjoyable way of seeing the Mosel river valley is take a ride on one of the short river cruises. There are a variety of options for getting out on the river. There are one-hour trips that will take you out of the town a, around the bend and then back to town, intended to give the visitor a view of the surrounding countryside from the water. Then there are half day trips that will float down river around a bend or too past a few towns and castles, and then back to the starting point. There is enough time on these trips for a glass or two of wine and a small meal aboard. Very cozy, very comfortable, very relaxing. Longer full day trips can take you from one location on the river to another town where you can disembark, explore, and then return to the boat for a ride back down to the starting point. Check your schedule and makle time for at least a short ride on the river to get a real feel for what life was like moving slowly along the flowing water.
When is the Best Time To Go On A Mosel River Cruise?
As we’ve said, there’s no bad time to visit the Mosel river valley. However, Fall is, by far, the most popular, and for good reason. Late summer and early fall bring the best weather to the region. The days are getting shorter, true, but the weather is beautiful and perfect for long hikes or treks along the river or up into the vineyards. The terraced vineyards clinging to the steep slopes of the valley are changing colors carpeting the hillsides in brilliant yellows oranges and reds. Of course, this is harvest time, so don’t be surprised to see local townspeople climbing through the vineyards harvesting grapes for the next years’ wine. More importantly, this is wine festival season. Vintners are showing off their best at open wine cellar events, festivals, parades, or just on the side of the road. Stop and say hi, meet the locals, and enjoy a glass of crisp, white Mosel wine. Just be sure and have a designated driver.
Bernkastel Tourist Map
Where To Eat
The Eiffel region is the first part of Germany that we ever lived, and we fell in love with its food, especially schnitzel and unique wines. One of our favorite spots in Bernkastel is on a small hill between the old town and the Castle. The Schützenhaus offers some of the best meals and views of the town, vineyards and river below. Sit out on the terrace with a glass of white wine and a cheese plate. Another great meal can be found at the Am Doktorberg on the edge of the old town tucked away under the vineyards climbing out of the village.
Where To Stay
Most visitors to Bernkastel come for the day and then leave in the afternoon. This makes for some pretty crowded times, especially on the weekend. However, spending the night here should not be missed. Once the day crowds leave the town becomes much quieter, the vineyards are more inviting, and the whole town is transformed into a twinkling medieval village right out of a fairytale. Stay in one of the half-timbered ferienwohnung (vacation homes) in the old town, or a traditional inn at the cozy and friendly Gasthaus Burkard, or why not wake up to the view of the town and castle from across the river at the beautifully restored 19th century Hotel Drei Könige.
How To Get There
Getting around Germany is easy thanks to the excellent and efficient public transportation system. However, there are no trains running through the Mosel so you’ll need to take a bus into the valley. Otherwise, we always recommend driving yourself. Having your own car allows for last minute changes, a chance to just follow the road, or make an unexpected turn to a new, unplanned adventure. These are the often the best experiences. Leave the B-49 at Alf to continue up river on the B-421 and then B-53 to make your way to Bernkastel-Kues. Parking can be found in most towns and villages right on the river banks. Expect to pay a small fee of 2-5 euros.
By Public Transportation
Travel by train to Wittlich and then transfer to the 301 bus direct to Bernkastel-Kues.
Follow the A-3 autobahn in the direction of Cologne (Köln) and switch to the A-48 at exit 39 (Dreieck Dernbach). Stay on the A-48 to exit 4, Kaisersech and head south following the signs to Cochem. In Cochem get on the scenic route B-49 and wind away upriver towards Trier. Feel free to stop as often as you like along the river for photos, walking, exploring castle ruins, or just being amazed at the scenery. Notable stops along the way are Cochem and Traben-Trauerbach.
By Public Transportation
Travel by train to Wittlich, and transfer to the 301 bus and ride into Bernkastel-Kues. The old town is just across the bridge from the bus stop.
Take the B-53 northeast and follow the river as it winds its way downstream to Bernkastel-Kues. Notable stops along this stretch of the river are Piesport and Mülheim. Overall driving time from Trier along the river is about one hour. Longer if you stop more often for photos and wine shopping in the small towns along the way.
Where Does The Mosel River Start And End?
One year we were feeling adventurous and decided to take a longer road trip along the Mosel river. We had been to the Deutsches Eck in Koblenz where the waters of the Mosel and Rhine rivers merge. But we had never been up river past Trier. We climbed in the car and took off up river to find the source of the Mosel. A little past Trier the Mosel takes a turn to the south and forms part of the border between Luxembourg and Germany. Still further south the river runs right into France. By now we realized the scenic parts of the river were behind us. The steep valley walls, vineyards and castle ruins disappear as the land turns to flatter, rolling hills of farmland. The Mosel river starts as a small spring in the Vosges mountains in the Alsace region of France which, coincidentally, is one of our favorite parts of France. The total length of the river is about 240 kilometers.
The Mosel valley is one of the 13 major wine regions in Germany. It produces mostly white wine using the Riesling grape in a variety of qualities and types. Breaking down all of the intricacies and minutiae of the German wine classification system is a bit too much for this article. It is important to note, though, that Mosel wine has a slightly sweeter and fruitier quality than most but can be found in a variety of sweetness levels. Typical Mosel wines can be Trocken (dry), Halbtrocken (half dry), or Liebling (sweet). With athe amount of sugar largely depending on the harvesting of the grapes. Spätlese (late harvest) is a semisweet wine while Auslese (select harvest) is sweeter still. Later harvesting yields an even sweeter dessert wine known as Beerenauslese made from overripe grapes. One specialty wine the Mosel is known for is Eiswein which is made from grapes that have been allowed to remain on the vine until the first frost. This is a very delicate sweet wine, definitely give it a try while visiting the Mosel region.
As with most things in life, I’ve found my wine preferences have changed over the years. When I first moved to Germany (long ago) my love for wine started with the sweeter fruitiness found in the Auslese wines. Later, with a little more maturity, I found the dry Halbtrocken Spätlese more to my liking. Now, it’s the drier Trocken Kabinett that I go for almost every time. Regardless of where you are in your own personal wine journey, however, you’re sure to find something to your liking in the Mosel wine region.
Germany is known for its castles, half-timbered houses, medieval cities, festivals, and food, wine and beer. Perhaps the one most accessible region in Germany that has the most to offer in all of these categories is the Mosel river valley. Maybe that’s why the area has always been on the top of our list of places to visit in Germany. Maybe it has got more to do with the beautiful scenery, or calming influence of the slow moving river. No matter what, I find myself being drawn back to the Mosel river and Bernkastel-Kues over and over again.