Bacharach: The Most Romantic Town on the Rhine River
Bacharach is, in my opinion, the most romantic town in the Rhine River Valley, and for that reason, I chose to propose to my fiancée there. Surrounded by medieval town walls and towers, hillside vineyards, and sweeping river views and dominated by a hilltop castle, Bacharach oozes sleepy, old world charm.
In the Middle Ages, Bacharach was a strategically important and wealthy town due to its location and function as a transfer station for the wine and timber trade. However, in the 1700’s, when the harbor silted up, much of the trade moved elsewhere, and the town became a backwater, gradually falling into disrepair. In the 19th century, Bacharach was saved by the re-discovery of the Rhine River Valley by artists and writers who began to extol the romantic virtues of the local river towns in their works. Perhaps the most famous Romantic Era writer to visit Bacharach was Victor Hugo, the French author and poet. In his book, Rhine Travels, Hugo called Bacharach a “fairytale town, swarming with stories and legends”. The works of Romantic authors, writers, and artists, like Hugo, glorified the past and nature, especially anything from the medieval age. As Romanticism swept through Europe, visitors, eager to experience for themselves the aesthetics of riverside German towns trapped in time, added the Rhine River Valley to their grand tours of the continent. As a result, local organizations began to restore and preserve historically important sites such as Bacharach’s town walls, towers, and castle. Today, due to their efforts, we can still explore and marvel at these treasures.
The best introduction to Bacharach is a walk along its restored, 14th century medieval town walls. You’ll pass by and through several of the towns original gatehouses, including the famous Market Tower, named after the square below that once bustled with the town’s local market. Other towers along the walk once featured cranes, which moved wine barrels from smaller ships, which were necessary to navigate the precious cargo through dangerous parts of the river, to larger ships to continue their voyage up the Rhine. Towers like these are a reminder that at one time, the harbor allowed vessels to moor alognside the town walls. Continuing along you’ll pass by many hotels and B&Bs that are located in the former homes of Bacharach’s wealthy merchant class. You’ll also enjoy sweeping views of the Rhine River and the boat traffic along its curvy path. Consider taking a short cruise along the river to enjoy the scenery of riverside towns, hillside vineyards, and medieval castles. Cruise ships dock right in Bacharach, and travelers can use them to explore towns both north and south along the Rhine.
But first, descend down into the town’s center to take in the medieval views. Timber-framed buildings dominate the square. One is if the Posthof, which you can easily spot by looking for its golden postal horn sign. In days gone by, the postman would blow such a horn as a warning to townspeople to move aside as the mail sped through on horseback and, later, by stagecoach. Today, the Posthof is restaurant and café with lovely courtyard. On the other side of the square, is the oldest structure in town: Altes House (1368) with its stone first floor and upper timber stories, featuring small, circular, restored molten lead windows. Today, Altes House is a charming restaurant with a medieval interior, delicious German fare, and reasonable prices. We enjoyed a wonderful meal here on the evening of our engagement.
The most romantic view of town is from a medieval tower located in the hillside vineyards. To get there, follow Rosenstrasse to a tiny, stepped lane behind a well. Follow the lane into the vineyard and up to a stucco and timber tower called, simply, the Tall Tower. Climb up three flights to see the incredible view. From the tower, you can look out onto the entire town. Perched high atop the hill is Stahlech Castle, which was once a home to the Electors of the Palatinate and, later, the famous Wittelsbach family, but now houses hostel travelers. Below it lays the remains of the Wernerkapelle, an unfinished Gothic chapel which fell victim to falling rocks when besieging French forces blew up the castle during the Thirty Years War. The romantic ruins of the Wernerkapelle drew artists, authors, and poets to the region and put Bacharach back on the tourist trail in the 1800’s. Like the artists and poets that came before you, take some time to savor the extraordinary landscape. After reading about and seeing photographs of the view from the tower, I chose to propose to my, now, fiancée on the third floor. We had the place completely to ourselves. After taking in the view and breathing deeply to calm my nerves, I dropped to one knee, held out a watch that I had secretly stashed away in my backpack all day, and asked him to marry me. He said yes, and with tears streaming down our cheeks, we basked in the moment and in the romantic views before us. Bacharach will forever hold a special place in our hearts, and a visit will to this fairy tale town will most certainly win you over too.
Bacharach is located along the stretch of the river known as the Romantic Rhine, approximately 45 minutes south of Koblenz or one hour west of Frankfurt. It makes an easy day trip from either of those cities, especially if you’re flying in or out of Frankfurt Airport. A visit to Bacharach is easily combined with an excursion to Oberwesel. Learn more in my guide “Oberwesel: A Medieval Walk on the Walled and Wined Side”.