Article by Trevor Claringbold
It might not have the same dramatic reputation that the Rhine is blessed with, but the Mosel can in many ways be a better choice as a base for exploring Germany’s heartland. The Mosel has a more relaxed and open feel, with the wider valley floor meaning that towns and villages are not as tightly packed as those on the Rhine.
The Mosel snakes constantly around broad sweeping bends, with vineyards covering every possible space on the deceptively high slopes. From the Roman remains in the city of Trier, to the towering spires of Burg Eltz, and on to its confluence with the Rhine in Koblenz, the Mosel offers you a superb walking and cycling, enticing half-timbered villages, a rich history, and – of course – that all important wine. The city of Trier, a few miles from the border with Luxembourg, gives the impression of being a tranquil regional centre, quietly content to laze by the river and welcome the admiring comments from the constant influx of coach parties. But it belies a much grander past. Two thousand years ago this was the capital of Rome’s Western Empire, and sometime home to the Emperor Constantine. Despite its position in one of the most unsettled and fought over parts of Europe, it still boasts the most important collection of Roman monuments north of the Alps. The magnificent Porta Nigra, and the ruins of the Thermal Baths, shouldn’t be missed, and somehow blend seamlessly with the modern town.
Travelling along the river, the road hugs the banks on one side or the other for pretty much the entire length. This is nice if you have plenty of time, but be aware that sometimes a short diversion over a hill can save you a considerable time and distance, when the river twists round a huge loop that almost comes back on itself. There is also a constant choice to be made about which side to journey along, although thankfully there are plenty of bridges and small chain-driven car ferries.
One place you don’t want to miss is Bernkastel-Kues, which lies on a wide horseshoe bend about mid-way along the route. The medieval market square lies just behind the main road, and is surrounded on all four sides by typically immaculate half-timbered buildings. It’s one of those places that has the ‘wow’ factor from the moment you wander along the cobbled street from the riverfront, and is full of atmosphere. In the centre is a large fountain, which apparently flows with wine instead of water on the festival days. The large car park on the river promenade is an indication of the popularity of this attractive town, and of its ruined castle – Burg Landshut – that commands impressive views from the cliffs above.
No less picturesque, and with slightly more elbow-room in high season, is Cochem. Like just about every town and village on the Mosel, an impressive castle dominates the hill above. However this time it’s not all that it seems, as Reichsburg is actually a replica of the original castle that burned down in the 17th Century. The replacement was constructed during Germany’s Romantic era, and is still very impressive, and with many historic artefacts to see. The views back across the valley are also worth the climb.
For a different experience, take the chair lift beside the car park for a stunning panorama from the ‘Pinner-Kreuz’, some 360m above. You can also visit Fairyland, enjoy the animal and leisure park, and follow one of the many walking trails to soak up the crisp clean air.
Back in Cochem itself, there is more proof that this can be a destination for all the family. The Leisure Complex offers tennis, volleyball, cycle hire, heated indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and a twisting 40-metre water chute. At nearby Klotten, the Wild Und Freizeitpark offers roller-coaster rides, cable railway, giant water slides, a wildlife park, and ‘electrical horse riding’ (yes, really!!).
The Mosel has a wealth of opportunities for the active and adventurous. From kayaking, canoeing, rowing, and even sailing, on the river itself, to pony-trekking or mountain biking along the waterside paths.
There is one experience, however, that everyone should make a point of sampling. Deep in a mysterious woodland, surrounded by the steep hills behind Treis-Karden, lies one of Germany’s greatest treasures. The magic of ‘discovering’ Burg Eltz, after a long walk through a misty forest, is a memorable moment for both young and old. The first sight of tall, slender, multi-towered castle will leave you in awe of its fairytale setting. Multilingual tours will show you the innermost secrets, which are as fascinating as the castle itself.
The Mosel finally ends its meanderings as it flows into the Rhine beneath Koblenz’s huge fortress of Ehrenbreitstein. The confluence of the two great rivers is marked with the ‘Deutches Eck’, or German Corner. It’s a restful triangular promenade dominated by an enormous statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I. Although it does have some nice buildings, and a reasonable shopping centre, Koblenz is not somewhere to detain the tourist for too long. It is the starting point for many of the river cruises, though, which can be an interesting alternative to exploring the Mosel independently.
The other great way to get the most out of this route is to cycle it. From the moment it enters Germany, to the suburbs of Koblenz, top quality cycle paths line the Mosel. If you don’t want to take your own, cycle hire is available from a number of places, and there are numerous hotels, guesthouses, hostels, and campsites, from which to choose along the way. Cycling is a far more intimate way to get to know the river. Listening to the rippling of the water, hearing the chatter on the passing boats, the aroma of the vineyards, and even the secretive creatures that you can hear scurrying through the undergrowth on the riverbank – but never quite see.
However you choose to travel, the Mosel is a river you can’t help but feel close to. It has a natural attraction, which combined with the warmth and friendliness of the locals will always leave you wanting more.
And if that ‘other river’ is still on you’re mind, don’t worry. Wherever you stay on the Mosel, the Rhine Gorge is within easy reach for an excursion. Even daytrips slightly further afield, to the Eifel Mountains, Koln, or Luxembourg for example, are perfectly possible. But with so much demanding your attention, in such a picturesque location, you’ll be reluctant to tear yourself away from the beautiful Mosel Valley.