Cochem was our base for exploring the Mosel Valley—and a great base it was. As explained in our blog on Cochem, it is a fairy tale town with pastel-painted and half-timber homes, winding streets and alleyways next to a meandering river with vineyards planted at unimaginable angles. And, of course, it is all overlooked by a 1,000-year old castle perched on a hill 300 feet above the town
Although we spend much of our time in the town, we also had time for two side trips, before boarding a cruise that would take us down river, to Koblenz, where the Mosel flows into the Rhine. These trips were to the charming town of Beilstein and to the ancient Roman town of Trier.
Our first venture upriver was via a 75-minute cruise to the medieval town of Beilstein. The town, with its narrow, winding alleys (and of course, the ruins of a castle), is charming. Meanwhile, the restaurant at which we had lunch, was very good.
Grute Quelle, a restaurant attached to the hotel of the same name, came highly recommended. We were not disappointed. While the restaurant was filled, the service was fast, efficient and friendly. For food, Joyce had a salad with smoked salmon and egg. I had a large sautéed trout with slivered almonds in brown butter—both were wonderful. Our lunch wine, as recommended by our server, was a very good wine from right next to the city, a 2010 Beilsteiner Schlosberg Riesling Kabinett Reisling.
The trip to Beilstein, however, was as much for the cruise as it was for the destination. The riverbanks are beautiful, flanked by steep hills (perhaps, 300 to 500 feet) on each side, with every single foot that is at less than about a 70-degree angle, planted with grapes. It was amazing: not that grapes can grow at such angles, but at how they can be tended and harvested. In fact, about the only places that did not hold vines, held buildings—town, churches, wineries and, since we were cruising a German river, castles.
Trier. Our next field trip was a one-hour train trip to Trier, Germany’s oldest city and one-time regional hub of the Roman Empire. It, like Koblenz, but unlike the small towns of Cochem and Beilstein, is a moderate-sized city. It has, however, managed to preserve some of its past by preserving the remnants of (as in the case of its Coliseum), by reconstructing (as in the case of the ancient Roman gates to the city) and by displaying (as with smaller remnants in a museum) parts of its historical legacy.
The day we visited, we were greeted by a farmers’ market that spilled from the town square out along the Old Town section’s main street. Dozens of stands, flanked by beautifully restored, highly-detailed buildings, offered nice selections of cheeses, wines by the glasses and crepes, as well as all types of fresh produce.
The highlight of the town, however–at least for us–was one of the largest, most lovely cathedrals we have seen outside of a major city. The Cathedral of St. Peter, originally built in the fourth century, is truly impressive.
Cruising from From Cochem to Koblenz
Our tour of the Mosel river valley did not end there. Cochem, as discussed in our blog on our Rhine River cruise, was the starting point of a three-day, four-night cruise of the Mosel, and especially, the Rhine valleys. The lower Mosel portion of the cruise provided one more afternoon of more of the same–beautiful Mosel scenery—and more vineyards, lovely towns and more castles. The biggest difference: the hills, and the vineyards planted on them, appeared to be even steeper, rockier and less accessible than those we had seen upriver. The grape growers, however, persevere, filling virtually every surface area with grapes, digging caves into cliff faces and installing racks and lifts to make what seems like an impossible job, merely inconceivable.
A stop in the upriver town of Alken was also a treat. The town has some lovely buildings and a pleasant main street populated with restaurants and bars. The town’s primary tourist attraction, however, is another hilltop castle. But, while the Cochem Castle has been renovated into a pleasure palace, Alken’s Thurant Castle is little more than a shell of the 1197 palace that was constructed by a pair of noble brothers returning from the Crusades. This having been said, the ruins–especially the dungeon and the torture chamber—were fun and the views down to the town and river, lovely. The best part, however, was the optional walk (most of our cruise compatriots chose to take a bus) up the hill, through the vineyards and its sweeping views. (Note: the metal basket at in the corner of the “view” picture is the basket with which castle defenders launched hot rocks and other projectiles at would-be attackers.)