Tag Archives: Rhine

St. Goar: Explore Ruined Rheinfels Castle and Go Cuckoo Over Clocks and Steins

St. Goar, or Sankt Goar, is a small tourist town dominated by a huge, ruined castle, located on the west bank of the Rhine River in an area known as the Romantic Rhine Valley. The town is named after a monk who converted local people to Christianity and constructed a hospice and chapel, making the town a pilgrimage site. Today, tourists, rather than pilgrims, trek to St. Goar to partake in the great local shopping, pass the time in sidewalk cafes, and explore the ruined castle.

 

St. GoarMy favorite cuckoo clock shop and stein shop in all of Germany are both located on the main pedestrian street in St. Goar. The Montag family runs both stores, and you definitely can’t miss them. Look for the tourists taking pictures under the largest free-hanging cuckoo clock in the world. That’s the cuckoo clock store, and immediately across the street, you’ll spot the large beer stein sign of the other shop. Even if you’re not a fan St. Goarof cuckoo clocks or steins, stop into both for an impressive introduction to two authentically German traditions. The staff are incredibly friendly and helpful and delight in telling you all about their wares. In the stein shop, you’ll be amazed by the variety of German beer mugs. We were warmly greeted by one of the Montag brothers who taught us how to recognize quality Germany steins over foreign-made cheap alternatives and informed us about the decoration of the different types of beer mugs. You’ll see steins depicting various cities, countries, hobbies, professions, holidays, and more. We left with a Christmas present for my fiancée’s father.  Across the street, one of the Montag sisters told us about the history behind the cuckoo clocks, which are made in the Black Forest. We couldn’t help but bring home a cuckoo clock for ourselves! The Montag family securely packs both clock and steins and ships them overseas to any country.  We received ours less than two weeks after our trip.

 

After a bit of shopping, you’ll need a treat to re-energize. Stop into Café St. Goar for a huge slice of the most delicious St. Goarstrudel that we had in all of Germany. I scarfed down the mixed berry, and my fiancée devoured the rhubarb. The café also features many other types of desserts as well as pretzels and light lunches. Across the street, they have a lovely sidewalk seating area with table service. Don’t visit St. Goar without stopping here for strudel!

 

Kids and adults alike will love exploring the ruins of Rheinfels Castle, which towers over St. Goar. To get up to the castle, you can hike about 15 minutes, board a small “tourist train” (that usually waits for customers near the Catholic Church), or take a short taxi ride. If you’re hiking, walk up the main pedestrian street, and just after the tourist information center, turn onto a street named Scholossberg, and then take a right onto another street named Bismackweg. At the fork in Bismarkckweg, stay left, and at the end, you’ll find the steps leading up to the short hike to the castle.

 

St. GoarBuilt in 1245, Rheinfels Castle (Burg Rheinfels) was designed to protect the St. Goar tax collectors.   After the construction of another castle immediately across the river, the local rulers were able to block the river valley and levy a tax on all traders passing through.   That’s why all of the Rhine castles were built . . . money, money, money!  When the castle passed into the hands of the House of Hesse, Burg Rheinfels was heavily developed and impressive fortifications were added, making it one of the largest and strongest fortresses in Germany.   In 1796, armies of the French Revolutionary government captured and blew up parts of the castle, which is why it remains in ruins today.   Evens in ruins, the Burg Rheinfels is quite impressive and fun to explore. Be advised that, starting in 2017, parts of the castle are undergoing renovations, so the outer fortifications can only be explored via guided tour, which is included in the price of admission.   However, Rheinfels Castleyou can explore the inner parts of the castle on your own. Start in the museum that has exhibits (with English descriptions) on the castle and local history and has models of the castle, to give you a sense of what it was once like. Then explore the remainder of the ruins. Don’t Rheinfels Castlemiss the incredible view of the Rhine from the highest tower. While you’re up there, take a look around you and remember that the castle was once five times as large as it is now. It’s a reminder of the tremendous importance that Burg Rheinfels played in shaping local history and in making the town of St. Goar the lovely tourist stop that it is today.

 

Locations

St. Goar is located along the stretch of the river known as the Romantic Rhine, approximately  minutes south of Koblenz or 80 minutes 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. Click on the map below for driving directions.

A visit to St. Goar can also be combined with excursions to:

 

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Oberwesel: A Medieval Walk on the Walled and Wined Side

OberweselWalking through the walls and into the market square of Oberwesel, it’s clear why visitors are drawn to this quaint town. Locals take great pride in preserving the precious medieval architecture, for which their town is famous, and in keeping up their long-standing traditions. For example, if you’re visiting during the spring or summer, you can’t help but notice theOberwesel giant wine chalice in market square. The chalice represents the importance of Riesling wine to the region’s economy and culture. Each year, the community elects a “wine witch” who emerges from the chalice as that year’s ambassador for the area’s vintners. The tradition of the “wine witch” dates back to much earlier days when “witches’ fires” were lit in the spring on the banks of the river and in the mountains to scare away the winter demons and, supposedly, improve the quality of the local wines. Each year in Oberwesel, the tradition continues with the election of a new “wine witch” and a community-wide festival. Even if you’re not visiting during the festivities, Oberwesel’s market square features many tourist-friendly cafes and wine bars where you can enjoy the bountiful fruits of the region, including its famous Riesling wine.

 

OberweselThe other reason that visitors come to Oberwesel is to see the best-preserved medieval town walls and towers in the Rhine Valley. However, don’t just take my word for it. An expert in medieval fortifications stated: “Of all the Middle Rhine town fortifications, those in Oberwesel are the most extensive, the proudest and the best preserved”, and a government agency in charge of historical Oberweselpreservation stated that Oberwesel’s walls and towers “number amongst the most significant and best preserved medieval fortifications in the entire Federal Republic of Germany. “ In other words, if you’re in the Rhine River Valley, you absolutely must go to Oberwesel to see its walls and towers. As a historian, I’ve seen many walled cities and towns, but I was truly impressed and enamored by those in Obserwesel. Walking along the town walls on the riverside is simply enchanting. One of my most vivid memories of Germany is looking across a sea of lavender to see the eight-sided Oschenturm (Ox) Tower towering above a ballet-like bend in the boat-filled Rhine River. While exploring the cobbled streets and circling the medieval walls, you’ll experience many similar moments of serenity and awe.

 

OberweselAfter a break at a café or wine bar in the market square, it’s time for a stroll along the oldest stretch of walls and towers in the rear of town. Even if you think you’re “all walled out”, it’s not to be missed! To reach this area, pick up a map at the tourist information office in market square or take a picture of any map publicly posted around town. Exploring the rear walls and towers is like a peaceful walk through the countryside. You may even Oberweselcome across some friendly local horses, like we did.  If you don’t have an equine encounter, you’ll still get to see several of the town’s 16 amazing, original medieval towers that have survived to the present. Can you find the one with the drawbridge? It’s now a private residence! If you’ve been dreaming of living in a medieval castle, I’ve got a deal for you. The town council will rent you a tower for Oberwesel100 years for only one Euro! What’s the catch, you ask? You just have to fund the tower’s renovation. If you decide to take up residence in an Oberwesel tower, be sure to send me an invite! I make a mean schnitzel. Continuing along the rear wall walk, you’ll catch views of the former moat and of historic Schonburg Castle, which now houses a restaurant, hostel, and small museum.   Finish up your walk with a visit to the lovely Town Wall Gardens, a gift from a local who used his wealth to start a foundation to beautify his town for generations. Like his gift to the residents of Oberwesel, a visit here will you provide you with vivid memories of medieval German splendor for years to come.

 

Location

Oberwesel is located in an area known as the “Romantic Rhine”.  It’s an hour and a half drive from Frankfurt, and therefore, makes for an easy day trip if you’re flying in or out of that airport.  Click on the map for specific driving directions to Oberwesel.  A visit to Oberwesel can also be combined with excursions to:

 

 

 

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Bacharach: The Most Romantic Town on the Rhine River

BacharachBacharach 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.

 

Bacharach

Altes Haus

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.

 

Bacharach

Posthof

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.

 

Bacharach

view from the tower

 

But first, descend down into the town’s center to take in the medieval views. Timber-framed buildings dominate the Bacharachsquare. 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.

 

Bacharach

Tall Tower and surrounding vineyards

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.

 

Location

Bacharach is located along the stretch of the river known as the Romantic Rhine, approximately 30 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 excursions to any of the following:

 

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