The Marvellous River Moselle
What do I know about German wine? Hmm, let's see… I don't see it on restaurant menus very often, it's maybe ok to pair with spicy food, it's probably not very good. Clearly, I don't know very much. What I’m sure of is that the thought of German wine doesn't make my heart beat with the same ferocity as an Italian, French or Spanish one and I don't think I'm alone. As someone who came of drinking age in the 80s it is fair to say my first experience of wine was probably a sickly Liebfraumilch. It's a wonder I ever turned to wine drinking again. Is my perception German wine fair? It could be that the curse of the Blue Nun was clouding my judgment. It was time to revisit my preconceptions as we took a trip in our motorhome in one of Germany's most famed wine regions; the Moselle Valley
We started our tour along the Moselle Valley in the charming city of Koblenz. This is where the River Moselle ends and tips its contents into the Rhine. The point where the two rivers meet is known as the German Corner or the Deutsche Eck. We stayed at the most central campsite in the city directly across from the German Corner and the views were stunning. We stumped up a few extra euros for a riverside spot, making it our most expensive stay of the trip, but for a few nights it was wonderful seeing all the boats go by a few steps from our door. As well as watching river cruisers, day trippers and commercial freight barges from our pitch we could also see the cable cars which carry tourists over the Rhine for a fantastic view as the two rivers merge.
We rode the cable car the next day, getting up early to make sure that the city was bathed in the light of the morning sun. To reach the city from the campsite you can take a 20 minute walk across a bridge or for just 1.30 Euro (£1.15) you can hop on a little ferry that drops you right at the German Corner in just a few minutes. It's a short walk to the cable car from there and we were rewarded for our early start with no fellow passengers. It's 9.90 Euro (£8.76) for a return trip, and an extra 3.90 (£3.45) if you decide to visit the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress as well. We opted for just the ride and then took a pleasant walk around the park which has a viewing platform that allows you even more expansive views of the Rhine as it makes its way north to The Netherlands.
Koblenz is a lovely city with a pretty old town, but we were itching to move on and start our path along the Moselle River. We had very little in the way of plans; we just wanted to follow the course of the river to the ancient city of Trier close to the Luxembourg border and discover if we could acquire a taste for Riesling along the way. The distance from Koblenz to Trier following the path of the Moselle is about 120 miles. We planned about 2 weeks for the journey, so we had the luxury of taking it slow. And take it slow we did; there are so many places to stop along the river. Almost every town has a motorhome parking area, sometimes two, and there are campsites all along the route. We needn't have worried about our cavalier attitude to planning; there is literally a camping spot every few miles.
We found what worked best for us was to drive 10 to 15 miles down the road each day or two and then use our bikes to explore the area. The cycling along the river is sublime. With dedicated cycle paths along each side of the river we found at many stops we could cycle to a town for lunch or a glass of wine and then cross over one of the frequent bridges over the Moselle and ride back along the other bank.
The towns along the way are quite simply picture postcard perfect. They are immaculately kept, with an abundance of half-timbered houses and town halls that look like they were lifted straight from Disneyland. As if that wasn't enough, some of the towns have castles high above them and absolutely everywhere you are surrounded by vineyards. There seems to be no spot left that is not turned over to producing grapes, in fact the Moselle valley boasts the steepest vineyards in the world. It's hard to imagine how they are harvested, maybe by abseiling!
The whole region is dominated by wine making and in many of the small towns we passed through almost every homeowner was making wine in their garage. We travelled through the area in late September and the weather was glorious. The grapes were being harvested all around us and the smells emanating from every doorway of freshly crushed grapes were magnificent.
In September and October you will find many places along the river selling federweisser. This wine is sold young, just as the grapes begin to quickly ferment after the addition of yeast. It is a lively beast; cloudy, sweet and refreshing - it's quite delicious and not too alcoholic. Be warned, if you buy a bottle to take back to the motorhome you are advised to consume it within days as the continued fermentation can cause the containers to explode. We saw most sold with a loose cap to avoid mishaps. But it's better to be safe than sorry and it's so tasty, why would you let it hang around? Traditionally a glass of federweisser is accompanied by a slice of zwiebelkuchen, an onion tart, very much like a quiche. Everywhere people were partaking of this German Autumn tradition and we were happy to join in.
Deciding where to stop along the river is not easy, we were spoiled for choice. The larger towns like Cochem, Traben-Trarbech and Bernkastel-Kues were all delightful, but we preferred staying a few miles out in less commercial areas; cycling back to visit these busier tourist spots after we parked up. The smaller towns and villages are much lower key, but no less idyllic. We stayed mostly in motorhome parking areas (stellplatz or wohnmobilplatz as they are known) that ranged from a simple car park at the side of the river to a beautiful field surrounded by vineyards and chestnut trees.
Many of the more traditional campsites we came across had beautiful locations but often they were filled with caravans on seasonal pitches making it harder to snag a riverside spot. We only stayed in a fully serviced campsite when we needed to do some laundry. We tended to enjoy the more free and easy style of the motorhome-only stellplatz. Everywhere we stopped had toilet and wastewater disposal, freshwater fill, and most had electricity for a small, additional fee. It was sunny enough for us to live with just the energy from our solar panels, so we rarely had to plug in.
We found that German motorhomers love their fresh bread every day. Without exception every place we stayed you could either put in an order for bread to be delivered the next day, or there was a local bakery van that visited the site each morning. We also saw the fruit and veg van, the meat and fresh eggs van and of course the ice cream van regularly making stops at our camping spots.
All good things must come to an end and for us the ancient city of Trier was the last point of our Moselle Valley adventure. Very much a real, working city - it feels different to the fairy-tale locations we had spent the last 10 days exploring. Still, there is a lot to see here. Once the capital city of the western Roman empire, it has some marvellously restored Roman sites that are well worth a visit. The Imperial Baths are an ancient ruin, the construction of the public bath complex was never completed and instead was turned into a barracks at the beginning of the 4th century. It was only upon excavation of the site after the destruction during World War II that the true design of the baths was discovered.
Another interesting Roman site is the Amphitheatre which was built between 160 and 200 AD. It too has been conserved and you can explore beneath the arena or sit in the spectators area and imagine yourself 1,800 years ago cheering on a gladiator. These sites are a truly humbling reminder of all the history that surrounds us. I found it difficult to fathom how ancient these places are.
Trier has numerous other sites to explore and we found the motorhome park in the city was the perfect base for us. It's a little tight and not the most glamorous of locations but a 30 minute walk back in time to explore what life was like over 1,700 years ago can't be beat.
As we left Trier, heading towards Luxembourg and onwards to Calais, we reflected on what an amazing trip it had been. The natural beauty of the towns and cities we had seen, the magnificent Moselle, misty in the morning and sparkling throughout the day, the friendliness of the people and the impeccable towns and man-made wonders. Oh, the wine, I didn't mention the wine. We grew very fond of the Riesling. It is unsurprisingly available everywhere. We found it to be inexpensive, unpretentious and delicious. We tried a couple of other grape varietals; we enjoy red wine so sampled the red Spätburgunder, the German name for Pinot Noir. But we found the Riesling to be our favorite; dry, fruity and golden, it was absolutely top notch. Sitting on the terrace of a winery, overlooking the vineyards and the river, we were easily converted to German wine fans. I think if you experience the magic of the Moselle you will be too.
Below are all the places we stayed. You can also find these on our overnight stays map.