Where to go in Germany's romantic Rhine Valley

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Stuart Forster

Stuart Forster

The Rhine Valley, also known as the Rhine Gorge and Upper Middle Rhine Valley, is a 65 km (40-mile) sweep of the River Rhine. Although much of this stretch through western Germany is enchanting, it's arguably at its best between the towns of Bingen and Koblenz.

Germany's romantic Rhine Valley © Sina Ettmer - Adobe Stock Image
Germany's romantic Rhine Valley © Sina Ettmer - Adobe Stock Image

Dotted with castles and pretty walled towns, hemmed by steep-sided hills planted with vines and rich with legends, the landscape has long exerted influence over creative souls.

Painters and poets aligned with the German Romantic movement, more than two centuries ago, were among the first to find inspiration in the scenery of the region.

The 65 km (40-mile) stretch of water, an artery of trade for centuries, was guarded by 40 fortresses in medieval times. The war and time-worn ruins of those once-formidable castles were reconstructed as Germany's sense of nationhood grew during the 19th century.

River cruises, cycling trips and hiking expeditions are just three ways of exploring this scenic swathe of Germany. Here's a look at some of the many places to visit and things to do in the Rhine Gorge.

Getting to the Rhine Valley: undoubtedly, one of the best ways of experiencing the valley is by boat. Check out the latest offers on Rhine cruises from TUI*, which hosts a variety of other river cruise itineraries across Europe*.

Castles of the Rhineland

The concentration of castles along this stretch of the Rhine is a key aspect of this UNESCO-designated landscape's allure.

One of the most striking hilltop fortresses is Marksburg Castle, whose history traces to the early 12th century.

Rising over half-timbered buildings in the attractive walled town of Braubach, Marksburg is notable for its keep and curtain walls from the Late Middle Ages. Open to visitors, this imposing landmark is a former prison and, coincidentally, the headquarters of the German Castles Association.

The imposing Marksburg Castle - photo courtesy of German National Tourist Board
The imposing Marksburg Castle - photo courtesy of German National Tourist Board

Offering commanding views over the river and nearby vineyards, Sooneck Castle is a fine example of a medieval stronghold reconstructed in the 19th century.

Self-guided tours are a way of viewing towers, turrets and battlements built on the orders of Prussian royalty long after their destruction by Louis XIV of France's troops.

Dominating high ground above St Goar, Rheinfels Castle is the region's largest medieval stronghold. Now partially ruined, the fortress withstood a 28,000-strong French army in 1797.

Discover the castle's history at the museum in the converted chapel. Stay onsite in the hotel whose wellness area includes a sauna with panoramic views and a fitness room dubbed 'the torture chamber'.

Wine tasting

Some of the world's finest white wines are produced in the Rhine Valley. Riesling from Hochheim, 35 km (21 miles) east of Rudesheim, was famously one of Queen Victoria's favourite tipples.

Prior to WWI, vintages crafted on German wine estates were among the world's most expensive. The armed conflict caused the market, though not production, to dry up.

The Rhine Valley is a major wine-producing area © Barmalini - Adobe Stock Image
The Rhine Valley is a major wine-producing area © Barmalini - Adobe Stock Image

Crisp, characterful wines made from Riesling grapes and fruity, easy-to-drink wine made from the Müller-Thurgau variety are commonly served in the region's pubs and bars.

The term Weingut may sound like a stomach protruding because of too much wine but translates as 'winery'. Hillsides on either side of the waterway are dotted with vineyards.

During summer, look out for the hospitality of Strausswirtschaften, a term that doesn't readily translate. Brooms displayed outside wine cellars indicate the availability of homestyle cooking and wine.

Gain an appreciation of the region's wines by sampling produce. Bingen's Weingut Drei Koenigshof, Kaub's Weingut Loewenkopf and the Sennerhof on the Rieslingstrasse (meaning 'Riesling Road') above Oberwesel* are just three of many places worth visiting.

Hiking & cycling

The hillsides of the Rhine Valley warrant climbing for their fine views of the waterway below. Whether hiking or biking, you can pause to explore natural landmarks such as the Lorelei, an outcrop of rock topped by an outdoor theatre constructed in the 1930s.

The Rhine Cycle Route, one of Europe's long-distance cycleways, skirts alongside the river. It would be easy to pedal through the region in an afternoon. Instead, allow several days.

The pretty town of Bacharach © Jiuguang Wang - Flickr Creative Commons
The pretty town of Bacharach © Jiuguang Wang - Flickr Creative Commons

That gives time to appreciate timber-framed façades in towns such as Bacharach, whose medieval tower, the Postenturm, offers fine views.

Left or right? That's a key consideration when hiking in the Rhine Valley. Whichever side of the river you choose, be prepared for steep inclines and panoramic views.On the right bank, you'll find the long-distance footpath known as the Rheinsteig. Most walkers complete it over eight days.

Meanwhile, the eight sections of the Rhine Castles Trail are on the left bank. With its Roman heritage and many grand buildings, Boppard*, between Rhens and Bad Salzig, warrants a day in its own right.

The Rhine in Flames

The Rhine in Flames is a spectacle held after nightfall on select evenings from May into September.

Late in the afternoon, anticipation builds as passenger ships gather into a convoy. Illuminated by colourful lights, the vessels travel in unison along the waterway. Their decks are optimal for viewing fireworks reflecting on the river's surface as they arch and burst above the Rhine.

Bengal fire glowing red and green illuminates the walls of castles and other landmarks in the valley. Smoke drifting amid shimmering light conjures a sense of drama in the landscape whose soul drew wonderment from German Romantics.

On land, a programme of live music entertains visitors while stalls offer local delicacies and regional wine, helping fuel the festive atmosphere.

Historic centres

You'll find 60 towns and villages dripping with historic intrigue between Bingen and Koblenz.

The slender Mouse Tower on the islet by Bingen is one of the region's most readily identifiable landmarks. The legend behind its naming tells how the cruel local ruler, Archbishop Hatto II, retreated to it after murdering peasants. Mice reputedly swarmed across the water and ate him alive.

Vineyards on the outskirts of Rüdesheim © Aliaksandr - Adobe Stock Image
Vineyards on the outskirts of Rüdesheim © Aliaksandr - Adobe Stock Image

Rüdesheim*, on the opposite bank, is renowned for the wrought-iron signs of the Drosselgasse, a much-photographed lane. A cable car soars above one of the region's vineyards on the way to the Niederwald Monument, a commemoration of German unification in 1871.

Strolling in Koblenz*'s Old Town brings a chance to view the vast equestrian monument, dedicated to the Prussian Emperor Wilhelm, where the Moselle flows into the Rhine. Board a cable car and cross the Rhine to visit Ehrenbreitstein Fortress and the museums within.

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Stuart Forster

Stuart Forster

Posted on Wednesday 25th May 2022 in: Cruises Culture Europe

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