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Mosel Valley

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View from the railway bridge near Bullay

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Alken and Thurant Castle

The Mosel valley is at least as beautiful and romantic as the much wider known Middle Rhine Gorge, and its landscape views are even lovelier. It has its share of castles, too. The river is less wide and more winding. In most places it has room for meadows and orchards on the inner side of the bends, while the outer slopes are steep and rocky.

In general, the Mosel it is quieter because it lacks the major railway lines the Rhine valley has on both banks, and there is only one semi-busy highway instead of two highly busy ones.

Traffic on the river, however, is dense. For freight barges, the Mosel is an international waterway that connects the industrial areas of Luxembourg and Lorraine with the Rhine and the North Sea ports.

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River panorama at Cochem

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Ripening Riesling grapes

The Mosel is one of Germany’s finest and most traditional wine regions. The Romans brought and planted the first vines almost 2000 years ago. Its beauty was recognized and appreciated already in those times. In the 4th century A. D. the Roman poet Ausonius wrote a long, rhymed praise of the river, entitled “Mosella”.

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Remnants of ancient Roman wine presses have been excavated in different locations along the river. Two of them are situated near Ürzig along the B53. The one downstream underneath the Erdener Treppchen vineyard has been reconstructed (sorry for the bad photo). A second one can be found further upstream towards Machern monastery, covered by a red tile roof. They are free to access any time.

Ever since, wines have been cultivated on the steep slopes of the valley. Wine regions are always wealthy. The many beautiful wine towns and villages on the river banks give testimony.

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Erdener Prälat

The hills mostly consist of slate rock, which absorbs the warmth of the sun and provides minerals in abundance. Southward slopes have been terraced to make room for vineyards. Two of the most spectacular are probably Erdener Treppchen and Erderner Prälat between Ürzig and Erden. Winemaking is a backbreaking job here. Many vineyards are too steep to use machinery. Everything must be done by hand.

Imagine working up there, in any kind of weather. The winemaker has to approach every single vine 19 times a year. After seeing these landscapes you'll appreciate the wine in your glass even more.

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Erdener Treppchen

The modern means of transport in those vineyards are little monorack cars that run on a single rail. With these, they can transport heavy stuff up and down the steep hills much more easily. Such a thing transports approximately one vintner and two buckets and a sack of tools.

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Vines for lovers

Mosel Cruises

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A cruise is the nicest way to experience the landscape of the Mosel valley with its steep vineyards, castles, small towns and villages. Best with a glass of local wine in your hand, which the bar on board will happily provide.

Two large companies are running the cruise boats in the Middle Mosel valley. Check carefully which boat you need and from whom you buy your tickets. Both companies have their separate ticket booths and landings at each stop, and the staff of one company does not have the slightest idea about what the other company is doing. Tickets are only valid on that particular company's boats. There are also a few smaller ones with just one vessel that do local cruises.

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In the river lock at Zeltingen

The boats stop at more or less all the villages along the river. They do not cover the whole length of the river in one go, though. Each of them does a certain stretch, for example Trier to Bernkastel-Kues, Bernkastel-Kues to Traben-Trarbach, Traben-Trarbach to Cochem, Cochem to Koblenz. The timetables usually allow round trips with an hour or two stay at the destination before the boat sets out for the return journey. For longer distances than these legs you’d have to change to another boat.

The Mosel is a regulated river. Barrages block the current at regular intervals. Boats and barges must pass through locks. This is part of the adventure, but can be time-consuming and cause delays if there is heavy traffic. Better not plan too tight schedules.

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The Mosel is a rather busy waterway. Freight carriers transport coal, containers and other goods to the Saarland and further along the canals into France. Traffic jams in front of the locks happen. Some of these freighters are so big that they hardly seem to fit into the basin. They do, though, because both the length of the ships and the size of the lock basins are normed.

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Several barrages regulate the Mosel and prevent - or are supposed to prevent - floodings. The part far left contains turbines to produce electricity.
The small ramp next to it allows the fish to pass the barrage. The local herons know very well that fishing is worthwhile at that spot, we've observed them several times. The lock for the ships is on the right. Since the existing lock is rather narrow a new, larger one is being built.
This photo was taken from my hotel room in Zeltingen. I'm glad I caught the rainbow! Is there a pot of gold at the end of the river lock?

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Landscape near Plünderich, snapshot from the train

Bernkastel-Kues

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Bernkastel-Kues consists, like many towns and villages along the Mosel, of two originally separate settlements on the both ends of a bridge. Since our visit was a half-day trip during a family meeting, I only had time for a quick stroll through Bernkastel.

Bernkastel is a typical wine town of the Mosel region, located on the slopes of a steep hill. Wineries, pubs and cafes invite to rest and taste the local wine.

The narrow streets with their old, partly half-timbered houses look like an illustration in a picture book, with cobblestone lanes and half-timbered houses. For my German taste there is even a bit too much 19th century romantic in the appearance of the place...

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Note the pretty details on the old merchant houses. Producing wine has always meant wealth, trading wine even more. When tourism started in the 19th century, the era of romanticism, the landscapes, castles, towns and villages along the Mosel met exactly what visitors were looking for. With a little refurbishment and some 19th century addition Bernkastel became a picture-book “romantic” town that still meets the taste of many guests.

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The town looks extremely busy on my photos. We happened to visit on the weekend when the town's wine festival took place which attracted countless visitors. Bernkastel is celebrating its Weinfest the first weekend in September. Activities consist mostly of eating and drinking (wine, what else?) in the streets and listening to bands. Food and drink stalls continue all over town and along the river bank.

Normally the place won't be that crowded. Still, Bernkastel-Kues is one of the larger, more famous and more touristy places along the Mosel.

All of these villages and towns have a wine festival at least once a year. There is something going on somewhere every weekend between April and October…

Zeltingen-Rachtig

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The two neighbouring wine villages of Zeltingen and Rachtig form one municipality today. Their history is particular: Zeltingen and Rachtig were property of the Archbishop of Cologne till 1806, while more or less the whole surroundings belonged to the Archbishop of Trier.

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River promenade, the village and the steep vineyards of “Zeltinger Sonnenuhr” in the background

The promenade along the river bank offers a nice little walk. The sealed path is part of the bike trail that leads along the whole Mosel valley.

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The manor on the river front belonged to a noble family. The baroque house with its dominating facade was built in the 1760’s.

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Houses in market square

Behind the river front, some romantic spots are waiting to be discovered, with half-timbered houses and a number of 19th century houses, wineries and villas.

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People in Zeltingen have put up funny figures in front of their houses. The tired hiker with his satchel is resting on a bench in front of a winery in Uferallee. The winemaker is looking out from a porch a block further down the road. There are more of these figures also in the back streets, like the chemist having a lunch-break sandwich in front of the pharmacy (unfortunately I didn't take a photo of that one).

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A footpath through the vineyards begins behind the church at the upper end of the cemetery. The path is easy to walk except the last bit up to the ruin which is steep and narrow and will be slippery in wet conditions - no high heels please. It leads to the ruins of a castle on the hillside.

Castle Rosenburg aka Kunibertsburg once secured the exclave of Zeltingen and Rachtig, the two villages that belonged to the Archbishop of Cologne. Not much is left of the castle. The view of the valley, however, is worth the climb.

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Landscape views from the castle ruin

Ürzig

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Ürzig is one of those many, many wine villages along the Mosel valley, situated between Zeltingen and Erden, halfway between Bernkastel-Kues and Traben-Trarbach. It is not one of the well known romantic tourist places, but it is the producer of top-class wines. The main vineyard, which elevates above the village like an amphitheatre, is named “Ürziger Würzgarten”, herb garden.

The vineyards rise above the village in the river bend like an amphitheatre. The steep slopes of the valley catch the sunlight and its warmth.
The wines that grow here are whites, mostly Riesling, dry or semi-dry, fresh and fruity. Quality and taste differ a lot, according to the skills (or lack thereof) of the respective winemaker.

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On the slope above the church you'll notice a walled area among the vineyards where different plants grow. This is the real “Würzgarten”, a garden of herbs. Different types of herbs are grown there which were used during the centuries, both in the kitchen and for medicinal purposes. The vineyard was named after it. In late spring the different shades of yellow are especially beautiful.

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Visitors to Ürzig will notice this beautiful building near the Eastern end of the village. This is the Mönchhof, home to Ürzig's best winery: Robert Eymael and Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben. These two wineries were united by heritage but still operate under two different names. The winery is, according to my father, first league among the wineries of the whole Mosel.

The Mönchhof does not do paid 'tourist tastings' for passers-by, and they do not have a shop with regular opening hours. The do, however, free tastings for clients who want to buy wine there. An appointment should be made before visiting.

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Zum Wohl!

Dad had arranged a tasting for us. Their wines are indeed fan-tas-tic.

We were horrendously lucky: Just the day before they had done a tasting with two renowned wine critics, to whom they had offered their very finest and dearest Beerenauslesen and Trockenbeerenauslesen from their treasure chamber. The bottles were open and still half full, and the leftovers would spoil soon… so they let us taste these extraordinary drops.

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Summer morning on the Mosel near Ürzig

Zell

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Zell is another of many romantic little towns between the river and the steep vineyards of the Mosel valley. The old town invites for a stroll, a stop in one of the many cafes and restaurants, and wine tasting in one or more of the wineries. Zell's river front has got a nice promenade walk along the bank of the Mosel with flowerbeds and benches.

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The vineyard sites along the Mosel often have funny names that refer to old local names, legends or whatever (the highlight is probably „Kröver Nacktarsch“, naked a** of Kröv, with an appropriate picture on the label, of course). The slope above Zell has been named „Schwarze Katz“, Black Cat - this is the name you'll find on the local wines. There are several wineries in town; quality may differ widely according to the talents of the resp. winemaker.

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Zell's landmark is the Pulverturm, a remnant of the town's fortification which was mostly destroyed in 1689. The bell-shaped baroque roof was added after that. Situated among the vineyards above the old town, the tower overlooks the valley - quite romantic, isn't it?

The town palace was built in the 16th century as residence and office for the local administration, the civil servants of the Archbishop of Trier. Nowadays the renaissance building hosts an upscale hotel.

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Someone, probably the inhabitant of a nearby house, has built a number of little houses out of used wine corks and put them up in a flower bed along the river promenade. Here is the church of the little cork village.

Traben-Trarbach

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Arriving by cruise boat

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Gate tower of the Mosel bridge

The double name indicates that Traben-Trarbach actually consists of two different towns: Traben on the left, Trarbach on the right bank of the river Mosel. In 1904 they united and have formed a single municipality since.

Our visit to Traben-Trarbach was short, just a 1.5 hour stopover on a boat cruise from Zeltingen. There wasn't enough time to explore the town thoroughly, especially since it was a family trip with elderly Grandma. Here is what I discovered during a quick walk round the town.

Nowadays a modern post-war bridge connects the two town halves. Only the bridge tower on the Trarbach side is left of the old bridge of 1898-99. The gate tower recalls medieval city gates. The two storeys above the gate host a wine tavern.

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Attention cruise passengers: Boat landings are situated both on the Traben and on the Trarbach side of the river.

If you arrive on a river boat cruise, enquire a) on which side your boat will be landing and b), more important, whether the return cruise departs from the same landing or from the other side. Some cruise ships arrive in Traben, stay there for the intermission and then move over to Trarbach to begin their return journey from there.

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Traben

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Traben on the left river bank is the slightly smaller and slightly less touristy of the two halves. Some pretty hotels and cafes are situated right along the river promenade.

The centre of Traben has got a number of romantic hotels and cafes, some pretty lanes and a lot of 19th century architecture. This town obviously ghot rich in the era of the industrialization, when new technologies were introduced also in wine making, and when the wealthy bourgeoisie in the cities became good customers of the lcoal wineries.

Note the beautiful villas along the river bank further south.

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Weißer Turm
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Haus Boecking, the museum
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Haus Kayser

Trarbach, situated on the right resp. southern Mosel bank, is the larger of the two parts. The ruin of Grevenburg castle on the hilltop above dominates the landscape.

Trarbach is located on the outward side of the river bank at the foot of steep hills, so there isn't much space. The town is squeezed onto the river bank and in the little side valley that opens here. The river promenade unfortunately has been turned into a parking lot, and the main Bundesstraße runs between the town and the Mosel. A walk along the river is more pleasant on the Traben side.

The old town of Trarbach has some romantic spots that are worth discovering. Most of the old buildings were destroyed in the fire of 1857, but some have survived.

The „white tower“ (Weißer Turm) is the only remaining tower of the town's fortification. Parts of the medieval town wall are preserved between church, cemetery and castle.

Mittelmoselmuseum, the museum of the central Mosel valley, shows the history of the region, a collection of Mosel paintings and drawings and 18th century furniture. The impressive baroque building, the Haus Böcking, was erected around 1760.

Haus Kayser is one of the prettiest rococo houses along the Mosel. It was built in 1762. The upper storey was added after the town fire of 1857 to substitute the former kerb roof.

Traben-Trarbach has quite a number of art nouveau/Jugendstil buildings. Anyone interested in that style will find a lot to discover here. One of the most striking is Kellerei Julius Kayser & Co. The distinctive art nouveau building is facing the river in Trarbach. It serves as cellar, storage and office of a winery that produces champagne. The building was designed by the architect Bruno Möhring from Berlin, who also planned the Mosel bridge, and erected in 1906-1907.

The beautiful Villa Breuker on the river bank was also designed by Bruno Möhring in 1905. Here the architect combines Jugendstil, neo-classicism and oriental elements.

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Kellerei Kayser (left and centre) and Villa Breuker (right)

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This here is by far not complete. It describes those few places that I have actually visited. There are many more wine towns and villages of similar beauty and value waiting to be explored and tasted.

Then there is of course Cochem, the most famous and most visited place on the Mosel. Due to the length this report already has grown to, Cochem will receive a separate entry…

Posted by Kathrin_E 12:36 Archived in Germany Tagged wine mosel rheinland-pfalz Comments (0)

Cochem and its Castle

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Cochem...

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... and its iconic castle

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Cochem is the best known and most visited wine town in the German Mosel valley, which translates to: the most touristy. There is no lack of gastronomy and souvenir shops. It is a popular destination for river cruises. There was but one cruise ship moored by the river bank but it felt as if the town was full of American “best-agers”.

However, given this reputation I had feared worse. It does not deserve being called a “tourist trap”, although tourism has certainly left its mark. The town has preserved its charms and its authenticity.
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Birthday Boy

Our visit to Cochem was part of Russell’s birthday trip. Coming on the regional train from Saarburg, we planned a stop of three hours. That covered a visit to the castle, a walk of the town and a pause for coffee and cake.

The railway station is located on the northern side of the town. Reaching the centre requires a short walk, which is best done on the river promenade, facing the bridge and the town panorama, and its crown: the castle on the hilltop.

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Market square in the afternoon

We meandered through the streets of the old town, found the small but pretty market square, and finally the ascent to the castle. A steep ascent it was… In summer a small bus is providing transport up and down, but in mid-April it was not yet running. But we wanted to see the castle, so Mommy had to walk while Russell preferred a comfortable seat in the backpack.

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Shall we go up there?

The castle’s unique feature is certainly its beautiful location on the hilltop above the town, surrounded by vineyards, and the panoramic view of the Mosel valley from above. In the meantime the sun had come out, and we enjoyed the views in beautiful light.

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Cochem’s castle, officially named “Reichsburg”, is, in its present shape, a 19th century fantasy. The history of the original castle begins around the year 1000, with extensions through the middle ages – but sadly it was destroyed in the late 17th century during the Palatinate Heritage War. Only a ruin was left.

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In the 1860s Louis Ravené, a wealthy businessman from Berlin, bought the site and the ruin, and had the castle rebuilt on the medieval foundations. His bust is on display in the salon.

Historical drawings and etchings gave an idea of the old castle’s shape and outline. All details, though, are entirely 19th century. The result is a romantic fantasy, certainly not an exact reconstruction of a medieval castle.

The interior of the castle can be visited with guided tours only. Tours start at regular intervals depending on demand, hence the groups are of moderate size. We were six people (I don’t know how it will be in summer season.) Tours are also offered in English; for other languages they have sheets with printed explanations to take along.

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The various rooms inside are fine examples of the eclectic styles of the 19th century, some neo-gothic, some neo-renaissance, a bit of neo-Romanesque and neo-baroque.

The guide will tell you a lot about medieval castles – however, there is nothing pre-1800 in what you see, except a few artworks and pieces of furniture, and it is not “like” authentic medieval either. Hence the explanations should be taken with a grain of salt.

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The castle in bright sunshine

Afterwards I walked down a different street which soon transformed into a stairway. This way took me through a different part of the old town.

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Back down in the square I felt the need for a rest, and since it was mid-afternoon, I did what all Germans would do at that hour: find a café and have Kaffee und Kuchen. I kept an eye on the watch, so I could leave in time for a relaxed walk by the river to the train station.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 13:28 Archived in Germany Tagged mosel rheinland-pfalz Comments (0)

A Walk and a Wine on the Romantic Rhine

Spring Evening in Bacharach

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Rhine valley at Bacharach

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Rhine promenade

After touring the Saar and Mosel valley all day, going straight home seemed rather lame. A stopover in the Middle Rhine Gorge would complete the three-river tour. Timetable research suggested Bacharach as a viable destination.

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The chapel ruin

Said and done. It was already late afternoon and we faced another three hours on local trains, which gave us about one and a half hours in Bacharach. Not enough for thorough sightseeing, but the idea of a walk on the Rhine bank and through the old town, a light dinner and a glass of local wine sounded pleasant.

Bacharach is one of the finest among the small wine towns in the Middle Rhine Gorge. The steep slopes around are covered in vineyards. Its landmarks are Stahleck Castle above the town, now a youth hostel, and the ruin of the gothic Werner chapel on a terrace halfway up the slope. The town centre includes a Romanesque church, historical half-timbered houses, and a town wall with a row of towers.

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Stahleck castle

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Town wall and towers

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Houses in market square

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The era of romanticism has shaped its appearance, though. Not everything is as old as it pretends to be. In the 19th century the world discovered the “Romantic Rhine”. Like most of the towns and villages on the Middle Rhine, Bacharach was refurbished according to contemporary taste and fantasies of the middle ages. The castle ruin was rebuilt, the towers and wall were repaired and completed, and many townhouses sport the features of 19th century historism. The result is certainly charming!

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Half-timbered houses in the old town, and the parish church

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The problem.
Imagine having your hotel room next to this, or worse, living next to this.

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Bacharach’s charms are slightly disturbed, though, by the railway line that runs along the river and cuts off the old town. A problem that about all towns and villages in the Middle Rhine Gorge are sharing: the noise from train, road and ship traffic in the narrow valley. On both sides of the valley there are major railway routes, the one here on the left bank being the busiest, with passenger and cargo trains running through at short intervals, day and night. They seem to have a campaign running to ban at least cargo trains during the night. I see little hope for success, though.

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Main street in the old town

The town is and a popular tourist destination. On this Monday evening in April, though, it was quiet, and many places were closed. A few people were enjoying the last bits of afternoon sunshine on the benches of the river promenade, and a handful of tourists roamed the streets in search of a place for dinner.

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A few steps from the market square we spotted a friendly sunny terrace with tables on a street corner. The sign saying “Gutsausschank” above the door indicated that this restaurant was run by a local winery.

The rest of “we”, by the way, was Russell the Wombat. We celebrated his 10th birthday that day. A drink to his health was definitely called for.
Studying the wine list on the menu, it slowly slowly dawned on me that I heard my Dad talk about this place, their wines, and his meeting with the winemaker. In other words, by coincidence (or maybe instinct?) I had found one of the best wineries in town – Dad is a wine expert and would not visit any random winery.

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It feels good to have made the right choice…

Russell tastes a Riesling that grew on the steep slopes above the town, a fine dry wine with fruit flavours and rich in minerals from the slate rocks underneath. Again, I did something right in choosing this wine. It went perfectly with the spicy, tasty potato soup I had for dinner.

Posted by Kathrin_E 03:13 Archived in Germany Tagged rheinland-pfalz Comments (2)

A Weekend in Luxembourg City

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View from the train upon arrival

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Now we are jumping across the borders of Germany... Luxembourg had long been on my wish list, as the last of our neighbouring countries that was still blank on my travel map. Hotel rooms in Luxembourg City are horrendously expensive, in particular during the week, which limited my stay to one long weekend.

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For convenience I booked at the Best Western Hotel in Place de la Gare, right opposite the railway station. It turned out to be a good choice. I had the cheapest room category, one that faced the inner courtyard or rather light shaft. No views, but also no street noise! The station quarter does not have the best of reputations, but so what. I used the bus stops in the square and the main streets, and did not see much of red light district and such.

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I arrived on Friday in the early evening. The weather forecasts were very promising for the whole weekend. The plan involved a full day of sightseeing in Luxembourg City on Saturday and some kind of day trip on Sunday, in order to see more of the country than just its capital. Originally I had chosen Clerf/Clervaux because it can be reached by train. I dislike long bus rides, which ruled out Vianden and Echternach.

That was the plan, but Luxembourg Railways were against me: track works scheduled for that very weekend between Ettelbruck and Clervaux, trains substituted by buses... one hour on winding roads through the hills of the Ardennes. Not my idea of fun. In the end, Vianden won. But more about that later.

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Luxembourg's beautiful central station

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My favourite view, taken from Bock casemates

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Luxembourg’s cityscape is really something. The centre occupies a plateau surrounded by the valleys of two small rivers called Alzette and Pétrusse. These valleys are framed by almost vertical cliffs. Its geographical and topographical situation gave Luxembourg a high strategic significance.

Starting with the first castle on the point of Bock rock, step by step the fortifications were extended into one of the largest fortresses in Europe. In those times Luxembourg was nicknamed the “Gibraltar of the North”. 90% of the fortifications were demolished in the 19th century. The leftovers are still enormous. The fortress as a whole must have been gigantic.

High bridges span over the deep-cut valleys: Pont d’Adolphe and Passerelle or Old Bridge from the station quarter, the so-called Red Bridge to Kirchberg, the railway viaduct. The city consists of two layers, and usually one moves on the upper level without descending into the valleys.

On the first evening I had no particular plans. Just see what the city is like. I set out on foot from the hotel and walked across the Old Bridge towards the old town. The bridge reaches the town plateau at a huge bulwark called the bastion of the Holy Spirit. A war memorial with an eternal flame recalls Luxembourg’s difficult history in World War II and the many victims.

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The tip of the plateau is known as Cité de la Justice. The vast complex of buildings is the seat of various law courts. Behind, the Corniche begins: a balcony-like promenade walk on the edge of the cllff which offers the finest view of the rocks and the valley below, the valley suburbs of Grund and Clausen and the monasteries down by the stream.

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I did not proceed further that evening, though, but meandered through the old town, past the palace of the Granddukes, and across Place d’Armes. The sun was already setting. It was a mild evening. All restaurants and street cafes were buzzing. I was hungry, too, but finding a table and sitting all by myself would not work. My hotel had a bar that also served small dishes, and I had a light dinner there, rested my tired legs and turned in early.

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Place d'Armes

Saturday: Exploring Luxembourg City

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Bock rock with the casemates

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Saturday was my main sightseeing day in Luxembourg City. In the morning I jumped on a city bus that took me straight to Bock casemates. I arrived there shortly before they opened, so I spent some time enjoying the view from the top in the morning sun. This is the place where Luxembourg’s history started, with the construction of the first castle in the 10th century. The tip of the plateau overlooks and guards the valleys below and has always been of highest strategic significance.

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Bock rock is like a Swiss cheese. During the construction of the fortress, a system of tunnels and casemates was dug and drilled into the rocks underneath the city. Only small parts are still accessible. The casemates served entirely for military purposes, as covered and protected cannon stands, storages, connecting tunnels.

A visit to Bock casemates begins with a small exhibition about their history. Maps explain the growth of the fortress in the run of the centuries. Spaniards, French, Austrians, Prussians added theirs. It is hard to imagine that the impressive walls, bulwarks, towers and forts that we see nowadays are hardly 10% of the original fortress.

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The visitors are free to explore the casemates to their liking. Cannons are placed in the openings, which offer great views into the valleys. (Parts of the tunnels are dimly lit, take care walking on the uneven ground.)

The exit leads across the lower level of the 18th century Schlossbrücke that connects Bock rock with the old town. The German name Schlossbrücke is written on it, that’s why I am using it. – Leaving the casemates, you end up at the beginning of the Corniche.
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The wombats enjoyed exploring the tunnels

Riding Pétrusse Express

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There are two ‘tourist transports’ in Luxembourg, both operated by the same company: the Hop on Hop off bus, and the green choo-choo train named Pétrusse Express. The HOHO bus is, in my humble opinion, of little use because it does not go anywhere else than the normal city buses, and its stops are rather far from many attractions. That bit of superficial commentary you’d get does not justify three times the price of a normal day ticket for public transport.

However, I do recommend the Pétrusse Express. The little “road trains” have their starting point on top of Bock rock, hence a ride can easily be combined with a visit to the casemates. They go down into the valley to Clausen, then up on the opposite side to Plateau du Rham, down again to Grund and the bottom of Pétrusse valley, up Montée Pétrusse and across the bridge, through the old town and back to the starting point.

The ride gives an idea of Luxembourg’s topography, shows various parts of the fortifications and the old quarters down in the valleys – in other words, it saves a LOT of walking and climbing.

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Plateau du Rham

The commentary is available in about ten different languages. It is a conversation between a man and a child, quite well done. I tried it in Letzebuergisch, and found that with knowledge of German and some idea of the Rhineland dialects, this language is understandable!

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Pétrusse Valley

The choo-choo train runs at slow speed (and annoys all the cars behind), so taking photos during the ride is possible. I was snapping along all the time and caught many...

Hint: The best seat for photographers is the bench at the back of the last train car, in order to have an undisturbed view backwards.

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Corniche, Luxembourg's "balcony"

After the ride I sat down on a bench on the Corniche, ate my apple, and wondered what to do next. The views down into the valley, to Grund, Neumünster abbey, the little bridge by the wall and tower, the gardens... were far too tempting to leave this unexplored. My legs said, yes, we can. So I walked along Corniche and then ventured downhill.

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Grund is a picturesque quarter at the bottom of the valley. It has several small restaurants and pubs and looks like a popular hangout. Pétrusse river runs right through. The stone bridge seems to be the centre of the quarter.

Two former monasteries are lined up by the river. The small convent is now the seat of the museum of natural history.

The much larger Neumünster has been turned into a cultural centre. The church was open, and I had it all to myself... I could not resist singing an Easter hymn. Fine acoustics. The vaults answered and threw back my song...

After the closing of the convent the grounds had been used for military purposes. Arsenal buildings surround the wide courtyard behind the church.

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Two Australian tourists in front of Bock rock

From here, the small bridge that I had seen from above leads across the river. The monastery gardens on the river bank are still well taken care of. They even include a tiny vineyard.

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A footpath leads along the river at the foot of Bock rock, and then slowly uphill. Passing underneath Schlossbrücke I finally reached the old town, passing a historical town gate called the Three Towers, and found myself opposite the National Museum.

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Schlossbrücke and Three Towers

National Museum of Art and History

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Now I really needed a rest, a drink, a coffee and some food. The cafe inside the museum looked promising. I had already taken in enough sunlight that morning, so I chose a table inside. The cafe offers salads and other small dishes as well as pastry and desserts. Their white cheese with chestnut puree is to die for!

Batteries reloaded, I went to see the museum. The National Museum of Art and History is herewith highly recommended! Since I was already rather tired, my visit was somehow superficial. I saw just a few parts that particularly caught my attention. One could easily spend hours in there.

On the ground floor they have an introductory exhibition on the history and concept of the museum itself. Its present building is rather new. The presentations begin on the lowest floor of the basement with prehistory, then continues over several floors with the ancient Romans, the middle ages, the early modern, industrial and contemporary era. The pieces that fascinated me most were the archaeological finds from the ancient Roman era, including large mosaics from the floors of a Roman villa. A gallery of Luxembourgian art occupies the top floor. There is also room for temporary exhibitions; they currently had one on the Etruscans.

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Three adjacent historical townhouses are attached to the museum and part of the permanent exhibition. They present the rooms, pieces of furniture and household equipment and, first of all, the history of the families who once owned these houses. The former inhabitants come to life, as representants of the citizens of Luxembourg. Including a very moving love story from the 17th century!

Entry to the museum is free, by the way. It is open daily except Monday.

Website: http://www.mnha.lu/en/MNHA

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There was one last entry left on my “Want to see” list for the day: the cathedral.

Luxembourg’s cathedral is a gothic building that has been extended and refurbished over and over again in the run of the centuries.

The pillars of the nave, for example, are covered in Renaissance ornaments.

The stained glass windows date partly from the 19th century, partly from the post-war era.

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The crypt underneath contains the burial vault of the Granddukes. Since the dynasty came into existence only in 1890, there are still few graves.

The most prominent one is the tomb of Grandduchess Charlotte, who was elected as the country’s ruler (Luxembourg is an elective monarchy) after World War II and the liberation.

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Evening on Kirchberg

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After a necessary and, I’d say, well-deserved rest at my hotel I set out again in the late afternoon. I wanted to see Kirchberg, the modern quarter on the opposite side of Alzette valley where the institutions of the EU have their seat. This is a different world!

I went up by bus across the Red Bridge and along till Luxexpo fairground at the far end of Kirchberg, already close to the airport. This is the eastern terminus of the tram line that runs across Kirchberg. The area is too vast to be explored on foot, so the tram came handy.

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I got off the tram at the buildings of the European parliament. While the seat of the parliament is actually Strasbourg, the presidency and administration have their offices here. The flags of the EU and all 27 member countries add a sea of colours to the otherwise sober office buildings.

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The largest and most important institution in Kirchberg is the Law Court of the EU. Their seat is a huge and terribly ugly box-shaped building. The central wing, not visible from the street, contains the trial halls. It is surrounded by a rectangular frame that contains the offices, built on pillars and covered in a facade of dark glass. More offices are located in the tall golden towers next to it. Two towers of about 25 storeys each are in use, a third one is currently under construction. Bureaucracy is expanding.

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There are more construction works going on in this part of Kirchberg, I do not know what for. This quarter appears as one big construction site. In addition to the EU institutions, many large companies have their seat here, there are hotels, there is infrastructure, for example a supermarket for EU employees only.

Cultural institutions are located on Kirchberg, too. The round white building on the other sid of the main street is the Philharmonie, a large concert hall. Walking downhill towards the tip of the plateau, one reaches the Museum of Modern Art (MUDAM), a futuristic glass building. It was built into the ramparts of a fort from the Prussian era, called the Three Acorns after its three round stumpy towers. The fort is a museum, too.

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The bulwarks on the edge must offer a splendid panoramic view of the old town and the valley, but my walking abilities were really at their end... With some effort and pain I made it back to the tram stop, then onto the bus and back to my hotel. Time to call it a day!

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Some Remarks about the Public Transport Network

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Luxembourg’s public transport is easy to use. They have but two types of tickets: a short-term ticket for 2 € which is valid for two hours, and a day ticket for 4 € - no matter where you go, in the whole country.

The city’s public transport network is mostly operated by buses. A modern tram line is currently being built. Elegant, shiny new trams they are. So far, the tram runs only across Kirchberg and ends at the Red Bridge. The line is projected to continue through the city centre all the way to the central station.

On Saturdays the city buses are even free. I made extensive use of them. One big disadvantage, though, is that bus stops are relatively infrequent. The old town in particular does hardly have any bus stops in its vicinity. Coming from the central station, all buses take the same route along Avenue de la Liberté and Pont Adolphe. There are no buses at all that would run across the Old Bridge and Place de la Constitution, which would have been useful to reach the old town.

Trilingual Sunday Service at the Protestant Church

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On Sunday morning I wanted to go to church. The protestant parish community of Luxembourg City, a united evangelical community, occupies a former convent church, I don’t know of which order, in a side lane behind the cathedral. Luxembourg is predominantly Roman-Catholic. A protestant community was founded only in the 19th century, originally for the Prussian military.

The most prominent members of the community are the Granddukes themselves: They are the descendants of the house of Nassau-Weilburg, which is of Lutheran denomination. They have their seats in the box net to the altar. However, they very rarely appear in person. I heard that their major-domo shows up occasionally as their representant, though.

The community is trilingual, just like the country. Their service is trilingual, too. The sermon is done half in German, half in French. Printouts with the translation in the other language are available. Of the hymns, we sang two verses in French and two verses in German. The lectures were done in Lëtzebuergesch. Prayers and Credo were said by everyone in their own language. The liturgical chants were in Latin, chants from Taizé in fact – just like we have them at our church in Karlsruhe.

The congregation was smallish. But somehow I felt at home there immediately. Afterwards there was coffee and tea, and a chat with the preacher and some nice ladies. Very friendly people. They wanted to keep me to join their choir... but unfortunately I was already leaving the following day.

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Bilingual street signs

Being a language freak, I am fascinated by this country’s multilinguality that locals handle so naturally. Luxembourg has three official languages: Lëtzebuergesch, French and German. People constantly switch between them. Usually French is the first choice. (Mine is rather limited, but I happily tried it, as speaking German seemed too lame in these polyglot surroundings.) In recent years Lëtzebuergesch has become more and more popular. Most people also speak good English. Given the international crowd that work for the EU, the many banks and other businesses, a multitude of languages is heard and understood.

Posted by Kathrin_E 14:07 Archived in Luxembourg Tagged luxembourg Comments (3)

Vianden Castle

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Luxembourg is more than just its capital. On Sunday afternoon I intended to do a side trip to a smaller town on order to see more of the country. I wanted a place that is reachable by train, since I am uncomfortable with longer bus rides. That limited my options. I chose Clervaux, the town and castle up in the forests of the Ardennes hills.

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However, Luxembourg Railways spoilt my plans. The northbound railway line was to be closed due to construction works, substitute buses would be running from Ettelbruck onwards… about an hour on smallish, winding country roads, as a look in the map revealed. Not my idea of fun.

I changed my plans and decided to go to Vianden instead, which meant a much shorter bus ride. Vianden castle had originally been at the top of my wish list anyway.

I caught a regional train to Ettelbruck and changed to a bus there. Timetables are well connected; the change works smoothly without spending time waiting. This means, however, that one should not linger on the way. It’s also good to know that the bus number is 570 and that as final destination it has Stolzembourg written on the display, in order to find the right one quickly among the many bus stops. I did not even have time to take a photo.

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Vianden is a small town in the valley of the river Our, practically on the German border. Its main attraction is the huge castle, which sits on top of the hill above the town as if it had just landed from space. It is a popular day trip destination not only among Luxembourgians but also among people from the adjacent areas of Belgium and Germany. Motorbikers love the winding side roads in the hills on both sides of the border. The little town was accordingly busy on that sunny, warm spring Sunday.

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The bus dropped me off by the river next to the bridge. From there, the castle looks high, high up. The slope towards the river is steep and covered in forest. The easiest way up is following the main street of the old town. It leads steadily uphill into the side valley behind castle hill. The ascent is not necessarily gentle. I think there is not a single bit of street in old Vianden that is horizontal – at least not in the old part. Locals are certainly well trained in climbing these hillsides all the time.

Old Vianden has fine historical houses. The main street does a wide curve with some windings, following the topography of the valley. The number of restaurants and cafes indicates the place’s popularity as a tourist destination.

Halfway up the street passes the gothic parish church. They must have had the First Holy Communion that morning: I saw several family parties with dressed-up kids, and the interior of the church was decorated for the occasion. The church consists, which is quite unusual, of two naves of equal height. The left nave contains the elaborate stone tomb of a Countess from 1400.

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Then the street leads further up. It was warm and very sunny, the cobblestone pavement is anything but smooth – it was a strenuous walk. But at the upper end of the main street, the major part of the ascent was already behind me. A bit further up and around a corner, and there it was: the castle.

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The ancient Romans had already built a fortified castellum on this hilltop. The present castle was built from the 11th to the 14th century with a couple of later additions. Until the 15th century it belonged to the Counts of Vianden, a dynasty of wealth and political influence and, as their residential home proves, ambition. Then, by heritage, it became property of the house of Nassau, in particular the line of Nassau-Orange, Oranje-Nassau, in other words, the very same dynasty who are now the Kings and Queens of the Netherlands.

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The silhouette of the castle is somehow unusual, because it lacks the main keep which we consider a typical feature of a medieval castle. The highest point is the turret on top of the chapel wing. It is an intact castle and claims to be one of the largest and most important preserved castles in Europe.

However, we should not let ourselves be fooled: It is not entirely original. The two largest wings were partly taken down and fell into ruins in the 19th century. Rebuilding started only in 1977, since the castle has been property of the state of Luxembourg.

The castle is open daily; hours depend on the season. Please refer to the website for all details, entrance fees etc.: http://www.castle-vianden.lu/english/index.html

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The kitchen

Visitors explore the castle on their own. A circuit is signposted, and it is wise to follow it in order to see everything without losing your way. An audioguide can be obtained at the cash desk, but there are also enough written explanations to understand without clinging to an electronic chatterbox. The tour is not suitable for people with walking difficulties due to the many stairs.

A side wing was added in the 17th century. Its rooms are furnished in the style of those times.

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The living room, or shall we call it a salon, was probably used for long evenings spent in the company of friends and dedicated to the consumption of alcoholic beverages, as the images on the mantelpiece indicate...

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Dogs are not allowed in. The rules say nothing about wombats, though.

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The most impressive room inside is, to me, the late Romanesque palace chapel. It is a double chapel, like many castles had: The upper chapel is meant for the counts and their noble entourage, the lower chapel for the servants. The altar is placed on the upper floor. An opening in the middle connects them so that those in the lower chapel can hear the priest and listen to mass. The lower chapel is currently (2018) undergoing profound restoration works and thus not accessible. The connecting hole in the middle is hidden under a cover, too – please believe me that it is there.

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The views from the castle are spectacular: the town of Vianden in the Our valley

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In addition to the castle, Vianden’s old towns still has its ring of town walls and towers.

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Aussie tourists and the castle

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After a pit stop at the castle cafe I walked down into town, downhill along the main street and back to the bus stop on very tired legs...

Posted by Kathrin_E 14:15 Archived in Luxembourg Tagged castles luxembourg vianden Comments (0)

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