Treasures of the romantic Rhine
Germany’s Rhein River is hundreds of miles long, linking sites where Germany’s most enchanting tales and legends were born. Old myths and breathtaking scenery come to life as you follow Germany’s biggest river. The stretch of river where you can see the majority of castles, villages and vineyards, runs 36 miles from Koblenz in the north to Bingen in the south. This area, known as the Middle Rhein, is where the river squeezes through a narrow pass transforming itself into a breathtaking gorge with jagged landscapes.
Wine country and walkabouts
Where the sun reaches the steep terraces are lush vines giving way to the most sought after wines in the world. The winegrower here must have a head for heights as the vineyards cling to valley slopes at precarious angles. Riesling is the dominant wine of this region. Other noteworthy wines to try from this area are Pinot Blanc for the white wine varieties and Dornfelder for enthusiasts who enjoy red wines. The climate and terrain supporting the growth of these wines helped to establish them on the world stage. Most Middle Rhein wines are sold independently, and every good restaurant stocks wines from local vineyards. Renowned wine sites can be found at Rüdesheim, Assmanshausen, Bingen and Bacharach to name a few.
If you are into leisurely strolls in quaint villages, Bacharach is a rewarding destination. This popular stop on most Rhein cruises reveals a lovely little town with cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses and historic buildings. Walk the old city walls or take a vigorous hike to the castle. Afterward enjoy authentic German cuisine or local wine tasting at one of the many riverfront restaurants. Beautiful views can be had both from the castle grounds above and from the town below. Bacharach is a great launching point for taking train or boat rides along the Rhein, visiting other villages and historical venues.
The Rhein River is the gateway to a truly enchanting journey. Much of the enchantment is man’s work. Throughout history this region became home to many settlers, from Romans to French nobility to craftsmen and traders, all seeking to prosper from the river. Nobles built their veritable palaces on the treacherous slopes. There are approximately 20 of them; some are ruins, some have been preserved. Most of these breathtaking stone structures are framed by high rocky landscapes with quaint towns that usually lie at their bases. As the river snakes toward the North Sea, you can spot these stone edifices around every bend.
Burg Rheinstein lies near the town of Trechtingshausen. This castle was once a customs post collecting taxes on goods that travelled down the river. The castle is known for its iron cage dangling dangerously over the river, used to send fire signals from castle to castle in case of danger. This castle is one of the oldest and possesses a working drawbridge, beautiful garden and the impressive knights hall with its antique stained glass windows.
Beautifully restored, Burg Sooneck is a smaller but gallant castle. In the living rooms of the main castle, there is a rich collection of 200 year-old antique furniture, paintings, engravings, weapons and armor .
Inside Castle Stolzenfels you can experience the impressive residential culture of the 19th century. Scurry around wearing felt slippers over your shoes through the great knight’s hall or discover the residential rooms of royalty. Don’t miss this lovely palace with its banquet halls and romantic garden.
The Schönburg, is a fully restored castle/hotel overlooking the mighty Loreley gorge. Most rooms overlook the river and are furnished with beautiful antique flare. The restaurant serves gourmet delights paired with the region’s most luxurious wines. Castle Schönburg is a wonderful place for that perfect romantic getaway.
Legends and myths
Each castle is unique and has its own story in the long history of Germany’s medieval past. Originally built in the 12th century, Burg Reichenstein is one of the oldest and has perhaps the most curious history. The legend tells that during the mid-1200s a family of robber knights preyed upon the merchants carrying goods along the river, stripped them of their wares and retreated to the castle on the steep hill above. Eventually defeated and captured by their annoyed neighbor, the Hapsburg Prince Rudolf, the father of the thieving clan asked that his 10 sons be spared. Rudolf countered the offer saying that he would spare all ten sons only if the father could walk past all ten of them AFTER his head was cut off. According to the legend, the father’s will was so strong that his headless body strode past nine of his sons before toppling to the ground.
In addition to somewhat barbaric legends, the Rhein River is host to many beloved myths romantically perpetuated by many of Germany’s finest poets and storytellers. One common theme is of the Rhein Maidens, water fairies, who protect children and control the rippling currents of the river. Quite possibly the most famous of these water maidens is the mermaid, Loreley. Legend has it that this golden-haired beauty’s song was so lovely that it drew lovesick sailors too close to the rocky cliffs where they crashed and drowned in the murky shallows. Today the Loreley is best viewed from a Rhein boat cruise or from the towers of Castle Schönburg on the opposite side of the river valley.
The legends of the Rhein take visitors back to the Middle ages to an era when nobles reigned and chivalry was born. Today these sites offer a modern twist on this medieval ideology. Some locations offer high-class gourmet restaurants with breathtaking views of the river, others offer overnight stays in antique-laden rooms fit for a princess. More upscale castle hotels offer spa packages and modern amenities. Some of the castles along the Rhein are open for touring, while others are youth hostels, hotels or homes of various private organizations.
Whatever your taste, the Rhein is simply stunning and has much to offer. Traveling by car, train or boat will give you breathtaking views. Whether you want to take a wine tasting tour, a romantic honeymoon hideaway, or you just like castles where headless apparitions clink down the halls in the dead of night, the Middle Rhein is a great place to start.