Germany’s rolling rivers: The scenic Nahe

The Nahe Bridge at Rhine Nahe River Estuary
The Nahe Bridge at Rhine Nahe River Estuary

Germany’s rolling rivers: The scenic Nahe

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Precariously perched castles, improbably steep vineyards and slumbering half-timbered towns: the scenery along Germany’s rivers is a mesmerizing mélange of wonders. While countless travel articles gush about the beauty of the Rhine and Moselle (and rightly so!), Germany’s most famous rivers haven't been the only attractive places for human settlement throughout history. Many of the country’s smaller and lesser-known waterways boast of the same stunning sights, so why not use one of the less-famous rivers as the thread that ties together your next day trip destination? Today we’re enjoying a scenic drive along the Nahe River, an easy day out for those living near Baumholder, Kaiserslautern or Wiesbaden.

A profile of the Nahe: The Nahe rises in Saarland and flows northeast through the Rhineland-Palatinate for 78 miles before emptying into the Rhine by the city of Bingen. Its name is derived from the Latin word Nava, which is thought to refer back to a Celtic term for the wild river. Along the middle and lower stretches of the Nahe, a wine region of the same name produces excellent whites, particularly Rieslings. Cyclists can pedal along a bike route stretching from spring to source. The biggest cities along the Nahe are Idar-Oberstein, Kirn, Bad Kreuznach and Bingen.

Start at the source: Our tour begins in Selbach, a town some six miles southwest of Nohfelden and even closer to the Bostalsee, one of the largest lakes in southwest Germany. The “Nahe-Quelle,” or source of the Nahe, is a family-friendly recreational area featuring hiking trails and lots of informational signage. The nearby “Wildgehege” is home to friendly animals such as goats and geese, and you just might spot a peacock or two.

Nohfelden: Two points of interest await in Nohfelden. There’s the Burg Nohfelden itself, with its high lookout tower being the only part remaining largely intact. In the warmer months of the year, you might catch sight of a wedding there. The Museum für Mode und Tracht (Museum of Fashion and Costume) exhibits everyday wear and traditional costumes from centuries past, including a display of undergarments. The quirky museum is generally open from 2–5 p.m. on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Idar-Oberstein: Driving some 20 miles northeast, we reach Idar-Oberstein, a city made famous for its gemstone heritage. If you’re a first-timer there, you’ll want to take a walk toward the Felsenkirche, a church built high into a cliff above town. But in keeping with our river theme, let’s check out the jewelry shops and workshops in which precious gemstones are woroday’s artisans and jewelers are descendants of those who mined semi-precious gemstones in the area centuries ago. The local rivers powered the mills in which stones imported from around the world were worked on.

Kirn: Continuing northeast for another 12 miles, we reach the small city of Kirn, home to the Kirner Brauerei, a privately-owned brewery that supplies much of the beer consumed in the region.  3.5-hour tours in German take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. and cost 8.50 Euros, including tastings. Advance reservations are essential.

Towering high above the town, it’s hard to miss the Kyrburg, or what’s left of a castle built in 960 and destroyed by the French in 1734. A wander through its atmospheric ruins and taking in the panoramic views of the surrounding landscape will cost you nothing. If you’ve brought along your own provisions, this would be the place to break out the picnic basket. On site, you’ll find the Kyrburg Whisky Museum Restaurant and Pub, which hosts whisky tastings. Kirn was a stronghold of the leather industry back in the Middle Ages, and a handful of local companies still make it today, so you might wish to visit one of the factory outlets specializing in this product before pulling out of town.

Sobernheim: Just ten miles east of Kirn, we pull in to Sobernheim. During the cold months of the year, there’s not a lot do here, but in the summer season, a trip along the Barfusspfad, or Barefoot Trail, is a treat of sensations for the soles of one’s feet. The town is also home to the Rhineland-Palatinate Open Air Museum, where 40 houses from the region were transplanted and reconstructed to paint a picture of rural life in the region over the past 500 years. The museum is open from March through October.

Let’s detour for wine and hiking: While there’s hardly a bad place you could choose to hike along the Nahe’s extensive network of trails, there’s one stretch in particular that stands out. The official website for German wines touts the 12-mile stretch between Schloßböckelheim and Bad Münster am Stein-Ebernburg as a challenging trail offering castle ruins, vineyards and a hike over the Rotenfels, the steepest rock face between the Alps and Scandinavia. Alternately, park in either Staudernheim or Norheim, hike one way and take the train back to your car.

How’s that wine rack back home looking? Fill in those gaps with bottles from any number of quality wineries. You won’t go wrong if you call in to the shop of the Weingut Dönnhoff in Oberhausen, one of the Nahe region’s most praised wineries.

Bad Münster am Stein-Ebernburg: Although we’ve been following the course of the river all along, we haven’t yet had the chance to get near it. Experience the Nahe up close by stopping for a stroll in the cute and compact spa town’s Kurpark, perched at the foot of a soaring red cliff. Take a pause by the inhalation wall, where the briney air is said to do wonders for ailing lungs.

Bad Kreuznach: You’ll want to budget a good couple of hours for this charmer of a town, which offers plenty of paved pathways alongside the Nahe, as well as pedestrian bridges crossing over it. A soak in the crucenia thermal baths or a few blissful hours in the textile-free Bäderhaus spa is the way to go. As is, you can still enjoy the sight of the “Brückenhäuser,” timbered houses built directly atop the Alte Nahebrücke stone bridge, built in the year 1300.

Bingen: Our final stop on today’s journey is a town that sits at the confluence of the Nahe and the Rhine. Just before reaching the town proper, it’s worth stopping to take a look at the Drususbrücke. Germany’s oldest stone bridge is named after a Roman general. The bridge’s easternmost pillar houses a small chapel, carved out to ensure the bridge’s protection by the church. The town’s other don’t-miss sights include Klopp Castle and the Mouse Tower on the banks of the Rhine, which is for us, as it is for the Nahe, our final destination.

And there you have it—our tour is complete. The Nahe and its valley are a stunning, often-overlooked natural wonder not so far from home. Have you explored any of the places mentioned?   

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