A quieter, more serene little sister to the mighty Rhine, the Moselle River, along Germany’s western edge, is a fairytale come to life, complete with majestic castles, lively town squares and friendly vintners welcoming you to their family home. Grab a seat at an outdoor cafe and watch the locals go about their daily life, marketing in the square and stopping for a 21st-century chat on a very medieval street. From Burg Eltz, with its 800 years of history, to the crumbling Reichsburg Castle, from Trier’s busy hauptmarkt to remarkable Riesling vineyards, this is a memorable glimpse into the Europe of yesteryear.
Unabashedly charming, the Moselle River valley in Germany is the embodiment of storybook Europe. Vine-covered hillsides reach up from the placid river, castle turrets soar heavenward at nearly every bend and cute-as-a-button wine villages spread back from the banks, inviting travelers in for coffee and conversation in cozy cafes and history lessons in centuries-old cathedrals and town squares.
This is a place to unwind, to slow down, to live the exact opposite of a hustle-and-bustle lifestyle, a place to imagine what life was like when the now crumbling castles were in their glory days and royalty danced in villa ballrooms. As an antidote to the more frenetic pace of the Rhine, here one can wake up riverside, with the shopkeepers and farmers, and sip coffee in peace, breathing in the delicious aroma of fresh bread and the scent of vineyards and fermenting grapes.
The river wends its way like a blue ribbon between Trier and Koblenz, through Traben-Trarbach with its art nouveau architecture and the lively market square of Bernkastel-Kues, forming the border between Luxembourg and Germany. Moselle River cruises might utilize the extensive Moselsteig hiking trail network, the many cycling paths that connect one wine village to another or the public railway - with such choice and simplicity of travel methods, it’s easy to capture this entire beguiling valley in one Moselle River cruise.
Did you know you can find Europe’s (and possibly the world’s) steepest vineyard in the Moselle Valley? It’s Bremmer Calmont, with a 68-degree gradient, found just north of Bremm. It doesn’t come as a surprise to wine aficionados that this verdant valley is as renowned for its wines as its majestic castles. A Moselle River tour shouldn’t overlook the myriad vineyards open for tastings. Local whites are a favorite, as is the unique Roter-Weinbergs-Pfirsich Likör, a cordial that is produced from small, tart, red peaches that are found only in this region.
Today there are approximately 9,000 hectares of vineyards in the Moselle Valley, much of it on steep inclines. White-wine fans delight in the variety of Rieslings produced on these very hillsides, with grapes that are harvested as late as November - most are grown in the Middle Moselle, a region about 11 miles upstream from Beilstein in Zell.
Countless small, family-run wineries operate here and it’s not uncommon for travelers to be invited in to meet the winemaker. The star of the show is undoubtedly Riesling, but one shouldn’t overlook varietals such as Müller-Thurgau, grown on the large plateau of the Middle Moselle and gentle slopes of the Lower Moselle, the new Bacchus, a cross between a Riesling x Sylvaner and Müller-Thurgau, Weissburgunder, and Spätburgunder, which is planted in the traditional Riesling vineyards along the river and in the limestone soils of the Upper Moselle.
As for the nuts and bolts of where and when to go, just about any village along the river is going to delight the average oenophile, while the best season is between May and September. The villages are fairly close together, making it easy to pass on one that’s too crowded, and even add a bit of fitness to your Moselle River tour by cycling or hiking between towns. What’s not to miss? Make sure to sample the Grand Cru at Weingut Martin Müllen and the dry whites at Schmitges.
Between March and late October - typically the end of the grape harvest - the Moselle River valley alights with wine festival after wine festival. Some are quieter affairs, held for one day in tiny villages, while others are raucous events that draw oenophiles from around the world, lasting a weekend, a week or longer. Beyond the dizzying array of wines to sample, there are concerts, food stalls, art exhibits, craft fairs and fireworks contributing to the lively ambience. A few of the top festivals include:
1. Moselwein-Festival, Traben-Trarbach - Takes place on the second weekend of July, turning Trarbach into a lively setting of wine, music and local delicacies.
2. Weinfest “Zeller Schwarze Katz” - Features pageants and musical fireworks.
3. Heimat und Weinfest Cochem - More than 80 years old, this home and wine festival in late August is one of the region’s highlights. Listen to music on two stages, watch the Sunday parade and ooh and aah at the fireworks over Reichsburg Castle.
4. Winninger Winzerfest - For 10 days in August, Germany’s oldest wine festival takes to the streets of Winnengen, including art exhibits, a wine market, music and fireworks.
5. Saarweinfest in Saarburg - Over the last weekend of August, witness the coronation of the Saar-Obermosel-Weinkönigin, follow the wine route in the Staden with wine, cuisine and music, enjoy fireworks from the Saarufer and watch the festival parade through the city center.
6. Weinfest der Mittelmosel in Bernkastel-Kues - The festival kicks off the Thursday before the last weekend of August with a wine-tasting event, followed by an artisan market on Friday and the coronation of the Mosella (wine queen of the city). Fireworks from the ruins of Landshut Castle light up the night on Saturday, and Sunday brings the extravagant parade of Middle Mosel community members in car, on foot and in music groups.
7. Olewiger Weinfest in Trier - Attracting 10,000 or more, this tradition-packed festival begins with the coronation of the Trier Wine Queen at precisely 7 PM on the first Wednesday of August. Wine, live music, fireworks, delicious local delicacies and, of course, Trier Moselle wine, make for a most enjoyable fest.
8. “Das Fest” der Römischen Weinstraße in Schweich - The festival of the Roman Wine Route, in May, marks the beginning of wine festival season on the Moselle. Look for wine stands, wine queen coronation, antiques and flea markets, dancing, bands, kids’ entertainment and more.
9. International Trachtentreffen der Mosel in Kröv - Taking place in May, this wine and folklore festival attracts attendees from around the world for its floating stage on the Moselle, a traditional costume contest, coronation of the wine queen, live music, a Saturday evening gala, a huge parade and more.
10. Ruwer Wine Festival in Kasel - Appointing its 53rd year Ruwer Weinkönigin and princesses (as well as other wine majesties!), the Kasel fest features games, entertainment, music, a large Ruwer-Riesling tasting and more.
Why stop at just one grand European river when you can combine two on one epic river cruise? Combine a Moselle River tour and Rhine River cruise and get ready to discover one of the continent’s most enchanting river systems. There are Riesling vineyards to visit, Dutch windmills to photograph, ancient castles to explore and charming villages to get lost in as you venture through Switzerland, Germany and The Netherlands.
A typical Rhine cruise will sail from Amsterdam to Basel (or in reverse), taking in the delectable cuisine of Alsace, the traditions of the Black Forest, historic cities and medieval towns. Savor the mix of cultures in Strasbourg, straddling France and Germany; get philosophical in Heidelberg, Germany’s oldest university town; and spend hours cycling around Amsterdam or sailing its labyrinthian canals.
For those for whom this simply isn’t enough, tack on a Moselle River cruise where the river meets the Rhine in Koblenz, Germany. The river forms the natural border between Luxembourg and Germany and is just as captivating as its big brother, the Rhine, with its sloping vineyards, fairytale villages, medieval architecture, fascinating ruins and millennium-old castles. It was here that the Holy Roman Empire formed one of its major capitals, and the evidence remains. Take it all in while sampling some of the world’s most-loved Rieslings.
Typically, cruises that combine the Rhine and Moselle rivers will embark from Luxembourg or Basel, sailing Luxembourg to Koblenz, Germany, on the Moselle, and Koblenz to Basel on the Rhine. With such a comprehensive view of both river valleys, you’re in for a cultural treat - German and italian heritage in Trier, Roman Imperial Baths, French traditions in Strasbourg. It’s truly a storybook of fables and fairytales come to life.
Here’s a quick geography lesson on the Moselle River: This picturesque waterway is the west tributary of the mighty Rhine River and flows for 339 miles through northeastern France and western Germany. It forms the border between Germany and Luxembourg for a short distance, then enters Germany and meets up with the Rhine in Koblenz. Major cities along the river’s most popular cruise route include Koblenz, Bernkastel-Kues, Cochem, Beilstein, Konz, Schweich, Traben-Trarbach, Treis-Karden and Trier.
1. Shopping at Trier’s Hauptmarkt - This lively, colorful market square, a mainstay of the city since medieval times, is a must - plus, this is the oldest city in Germany and the biggest Roman city north of the Alps. Step back in time as you gaze upon the landmark market cross, the market fountain dating back to 1595 and converse with friendly stall owners as you pick up fresh produce and yummy baked goods for a snack.
2. Playing Royalty at Burg Eltz - Walk through the forest or shuttle bus in to this romantic medieval castle. It has never seen destruction and remains a stunning site - all turrets and towers, oriels and gables. The original family still owns it (for over 33 generations) and you’ll see evidence of their reign in the furnishings, paintings and armour throughout the castle.
3. Relaxing in Bernkastel-Kues - This is the European river town you’ve dreamed of. Less about checking off the boxes for tourist attractions, this lovely town is about slowing down and living in the moment. Breakfast on sausages and pastries before visiting the Graach Gate from 1300, photographing Late Renaissance and Baroque architecture and traipsing uphill to a castle beer garden to drink in the sweeping river views.
4. Drinking in the Views in Cochem - Yet another postcard-perfect Moselle River town, Cochem is a vision on pastel, terraced buildings along the waterfront - places you’ll want to stay for hours. Visit the Medieval toll castle high above town, the undeniably charming Old Town with its half-timbered houses and three of four 14th-century gates and ride the gondola up to the Pinnerkreuz lookout for awe-inspiring views of the Moselle River loop.
5. Hiking the Moselsteig Trail - Perfect for active travelers, this relatively new (inaugurated in 2014) hiking trail allows one to slow down and feel the natural rhythms of the Moselle River valley. There are 24 legs in all; a particular favorite is Stage 20 to Burg Eltz. (For boasting rights, hike the Calmont Klettersteig Trail to the steepest vineyard in Europe - it’s part of the Moselsteig Trail’s 16th leg.)
6. Wine Tasting - It wouldn’t be the complete Moselle River experience without it, so be sure your Moselle River tour includes as many of the family-run wineries as you can handle. Usually, you’ll find it’s the family vintner him or herself who is giving you the history and story of their famous white wines. Remember that the vintners who offer tastings would love for you to buy a bottle (or five), but it’s usually a screaming deal on what is highly superior wine.
7. Cavorting in Cochem - Dine al fresco next to a Medieval city gate, feel like a local at the Marktplatz with its Baroque town hall and visit the towering Schloss Reichsburg, high above town.
Grevenburg Castle, Traben-Trabach
Stolzenfels Castle, Koblenz
Burg Landshut, Bernkastel-Kues
Schloss Zell, Zell an der Mosel
Bielstein Castle, Cochem
Burg Coraidelstein, Klotten
Burg Thurant, Alken
Christmas Market, Trier
Christmas Market, Bernkastel-Kues
Cochem Castle Christmas
Mosel Wine Night Market
Christmas Market, Koblenz
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