Search
  • Noah

Cruising the Rhine

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

So, forget everything I’ve been saying about places being beautiful. We’ve been spending the last week in the Middle Rhine Valley, and it pretty much sets the new standard for European beauty. It’s so beautiful that when Germany was still a region of several small countries, many kings had their castles built within miles of each other along this roughly 60 mile stretch of river. A lot has changed since those times, but luckily for us it means several amazing castles on hills looking over an amazing stretch of river and the ancient towns they used to serve. I can think of worse places to be.

~

We arrived in Koblenz, which is the largest city in the Middle Rhine Valley, at about 100,000 people. At that size it has the conveniences we like to have, such as a supermarket, but the town is wonderfully split between the new city and a beautifully kept old city center. Thus, for the first half of our time in the Rhine, we used Koblenz as our base of operations.

~

Since we arrived in the afternoon, we only spent a little time walking around the old city on our first day. Koblenz is situated on the spot where the Rhine and Moselle rivers (remember the Moselle from my blog about Luxembourg?), and we made sure to visit that spot before strolling down the Rhine along the edge of the city. We ducked inside a few churches while wandering the old streets, and we are always happy when we see reasonable prices even in a city center.



Welcome to Koblenz

~



Where the Rhine and Moselle meet

~

The following morning we took a train along the Rhine south to the town of Boppard, still within the 60 mile stretch known to be the most beautiful along the entire Rhine (and it’s one of the longest rivers in the world, mind you). Boppard is a town with origins some 2000 years ago, and today is one of the cutest cities in the valley. While we were there, there was a food market going on in the square, and the locals were just going about their day. Luckily for us there were almost no tourists here, so we just got to see the real side of a small town waking up.



Good morning Boppard

~

In a bit of a crazy decision we decided to hike up a nearby hill to get some views of the region. The sky was spitting at us, so we had to battle our way through slippery slopes to reach the top. There was an option to take a chair lift, but I think that seemed more dangerous to Catherine than the hike! Once we reached the top, we were awarded with the views we hoped for. We captured the Rhine at one of it’s beautiful bends, and hiked further to a spot where the hills make the Rhine appear not like a river but as four small lakes. Look at the picture, you’ll see what I mean!



Bend in the river

~



Can you see the four "lakes"?

~

After lunch back in the main square of Boppard, we jumped on a ferry boat and headed upstream. With promises of clearer weather, our plan was to travel over half way down the middle Rhine and see how many castles we could locate on the banks. I can tell you that we passed several along the way, and every single one of them looked spectacular. From ancient wars up until World War II, many of them were destroyed, but most of those have been rebuilt in the last 300 years and are no less amazing. We made notes of castles we wanted to see up close and personal before we got off the boat in Bacharach. Knowing that we’ll be returning to Bacharach in a few days, we only walked to the train station and traveled back to Koblenz for the evening.



Views from the Rhine

~



It just keeps getting better

~



~

The next day we headed to Braubach to see a castle that was not on the ferry route the day before, but is a castle dating from the 1200s that has never been destroyed. Marksburg castle sits on a hill overlooking Braubach and was used as a residence for the Knights of the region. These defenders of the region would go out of the castle as needed to protect the lands, but the castle itself saw surprisingly little combat. We were able to go inside and tour the place and see the castle as it was in those times. The tour was unfortunately only in German (they give a million German tours but only two in England per day), but we were given information in English to follow along so I believe we still got a good feel for the place.



Marksburg Castle

~

After Marksburg we grabbed some lunch and headed down to the water. The plan was to grab a ferry across the Rhine to visit another castle in the afternoon. We stuffed our faces while waiting for the boat, thinking we had little time, but unfortunately for us the boat never showed up. The signage said we were in the right place at the right time, but apparently it is a small company with one boat and they decided for whatever reason not to travel that day. With bridges along this part of the Rhine almost non-existent, we had to double back all the way to Koblenz and then take a bus to our destination.

~

About an hour later than planned, we arrived at Stolzenfels Castle. Just 10 minutes south of Koblenz by bus, it is one of the closest castles to our base and a good way to end the day. We walked up the hill to the castle, paid our 5 euros, and found out that this castle only does tours in German. In any case, we were able to get some information in English again to take with us and off we went through the rooms of the castle. Stolzenfels was originally build in the 1200s but destroyed by the French. The ruins were given to a king in the early 1800s and he turned it into what we were able to see.



Stolzenfels Castle

~



Stolzenfels Castle Garden

~



Dinner time! Kidding, food's not real

~

With rain threatening to fall on the Middle Rhine, we jumped on a train and headed north to where we hoped it wouldn’t find us – the city of Cologne. Cologne is quite a bit bigger than the towns to the south, but is still nice in its own right – even if it’s not in the most beautiful part of the river. We especially wanted to visit Cologne to see the massive cathedral there. Built in the 1200s, Cologne Cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic engineering, especially for its time. It has survived the ages and even survived the allied attack during World War II - not without damage, but with the rest of the city in ruins, it is a miracle it was still standing. Even at nearly 800 years old, it still stands majestically over the city.



(Some of) Cologne Cathedral

~



Strolling through Cologne

~

Our visit happened to fall on a Sunday, and with the church having morning mass, we headed underground to the treasury where we were able to see priceless artefacts like a staff carried by St. Peter and some of the chains used to bind him after he was arrested. We then climbed some 550 steps to the tower for views of the town. While others had to pause along the way, Ethan powered up to the top without rest, and I don’t even think he broke a sweat!



Peter's Relics

~

After our descent from the tower, we walked through the old city and some of the shopping areas. Almost everything is closed on Sundays in German speaking countries, but there were a few cafés open, and it still made for a nice stroll. In the afternoon we went back to the cathedral for the coup de gras – the inside of the church! Hopefully my pictures will do justice to just how incredible it was in there. Above all that, what I really wanted to see was in the back of the church, in a box made of gold but in a church of this magnitude still easily overlooked – the bones of the three Magi who came to visit the young Christ. I was a bit bummed that we couldn’t actually see the bones, but I was assured that they were really in there.



Inside the Cathedral

~



Bones of the Magi

~

As Monday morning rolled around, we were planning on a rest day but a shift in the weather showed rainfall Tuesday morning instead, so we decided to alter our plans. All castles in the region really are a sight to see, but there are three that are considered “must see”. With Marksburg being the first, we traveled by train to the second must see castle, located in the town of St. Goar.

~

Rhinefels Castle dates back from the 1200s, and has seen various states of decay, damage, repair, and restoration over the last 800 years. It mostly met its end at the hands of Napoléon, who blew it up after it was surrendered to him without a fight. What was once over 90,000 meters of castle and keep is today largely in ruins.



Rhinefels ruins

~

We were met by surprise with some rain as we stepped off the train, but went up to the castle anyway. We walked through the accessible ruins but were told of a tour that would take us through some of the typically inaccessible areas. Well sign me up! Unfortunately when the tour time rolled around it was too wet and slippery, so it was canceled. We left the castle disappointed, but hopeful that we could go back and take the tour before we left the Rhine Valley altogether. We used the rest of the day to relocate our base to the southern part of the Middle Rhine in the city of Mainz so we had easier access to the castles there.



Rhinefels Castle

~

Tuesday morning, as expected, we woke up to some rain but we’d already planned to make the day a rest day. Traveling can be just as stressful as anything else, so it was nice to take a day off! We slept in a bit and relaxed in the apartment. The rain didn’t actually last nearly as long as forecasted, so I still got to go on a nice walk with Ethan and create some adventures. He is so imaginative that every thing we do has the potential to become an adventure! Have you ever tried to rescue a duck from a computer virus or gone bowling with a ghost? Well Ethan and I have!

~

Mainz is actually quite the modern city, and our apartment was literally right in the thick of the shopping district. It felt like we weren’t on the Middle Rhine anymore, with an H&M as our neighbor and some other stores that I don’t know anything about. It turned out to be a really great location. Modernity is nice, but I couldn’t wait to get back out to the castles!



Modern Mainz from just outside our apartment

~

The next day started a bit cloudy and colder but we set out to see some old towns not too far from Mainz. We started in the old town of Bacharach, with cobbled streets, houses dating from the 1400s, and the mandatory castle on a hill. We wandered up the hill to see the castle (which is now a youth hostel of all things!) and got some great views of the area. I don’t really know how to make these towns sound as amazing as they are, so roll the photos!



Bacharach

~



Just another castle on a hill

~

We used the late morning to visit Oberwesel, the next town to the north. We ate lunch there in the main square as the sun finally came to join us, and the day started shaping up to be really beautiful. Our plan was to take a train back to St. Goar to do the Rhinefels Castle tour (see Monday’s plan), but for some reason we’ve seen a lot of trains canceled during the week, and the train we needed to take fell victim to cancellation. Not to be defeated, we decided to walk the 7 kilometers along the Rhine to get there ourselves. Take that train schedules!



Walking the Rhine

~

I’m really glad we went back to Rhinefels castle for the tour. The tour took us deeper into the castle to explore areas that are otherwise inaccessible, like the battlements and dungeon. We had a great tour guide who gave the tour in English, was very personable, funny, and insightful. He even played a song about the castle on his guitar at the end. Bonus points! Luckily, we had no rail issues getting back to Mainz (other than a 15 minute delay… c’mon Germany!) and grabbed something from the supermarket to cook up on the way home from the station.



Rhinefels tunnels

~

Thursday marked our last day in the Middle Rhine valley, and with a 6:00pm train already booked, we were a little bit limited in what we could do. With so many trains mysteriously being cancelled, we needed a little wiggle room just in case. There was one more castle we wanted to see in the area, just outside the town of Trechtingschausen called Rheinstein. Built originally in the 1400s, it fell into disrepair until purchased by a Prussian prince in the late 1700s. We were able to stroll through it at our leisure, checking out the relatively new rooms, towers, and those views of the Rhine that never get old.



Rheinstein Castle

~



Modernish living from the inside

~

After castling, we took our last stroll along the Rhine and found a supermarket to grab some lunch from. We ate outside while basking in the sun before catching our train back to Mainz. We had to collect our luggage before catching our train east all the way to Munich. We weren’t quite done with castles yet in Germany, but that will have to wait for the next blog, which I might just call Germany part II: The east side. Stay tuned!

76 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All