It is called the “Romantic Rhine Region.” I know why. It’s simply glorious to drive up and down the majestic Rhine, spotting castles every few kilometers that are backed by verdant hillsides, corrugated with vineyards. Every inch of it is eye candy.
Many of the vineyards are nearly vertical! And the Rhine is a flurry of activity with a constant parade of cargo ships, easily identified by the flag they display. Luxury cruise ships and occasional recreational boats glide through the water. Spotting castles and infrequent Roman ruins is the best sport.
Some Americans living in Germany told us we could see the castles better driving than cruising on the water, although the cruises are pleasant. That is good advice. Another piece of good advice: make sure you’re familiar with the ferry schedule and get on the same side of the river as your lodging! On our first night the navigator directed us to a ferry after the last ferry had left! With panic coursing through our veins, we drove to another town, searching for ferry access nearly an hour. We arrived SIX MINUTES before 10:00–and boarded the last ferry just in time!
The castles are vastly different. One, the Pfalzgrafenstein, is in the middle of the river because most of the castles were placed near the river to collect tolls. Pfalzgrafenstein Castle simply raised chains to prevent a boat’s passage until they paid. Some castles are in ruins while others are maintained. Many offer tours. I suggest enjoying your time without a packed agenda.
After our initial driving and castle-spotting, we stopped at Deutsches Eck (Germany’s Corner) where the Moselle and Rhine Rivers converge in Koblenz. We had a lovely walk along the rivers, enjoying a brilliant blue sky after several rainy days.
Then we headed to Burg Eltz, a castle that has experienced a life without ruin–rare in castledom. It is still owned by the Eltz family. As we approached the parking lot, however, our progress abruptly ended with a long line of waiting cars. We finally entered the parking lot and found a spot. A lovely walk precedes the castle, through forested woods above the Moselle River that is enchanting. After about 15 minutes, as the path rounds a corner, the castle is visible–and it is spectacular! We enjoyed the castle views as we neared, but were disappointed when informed there would be another 40-minute wait if we wanted to tour the castle. After the parking lot wait, we opted to move on.
We happened on Rheinfels Castle above the village of St. Goar. We parked easily and obtained tickets without a wait–which was a pleasant change. This is a very different experience, however, because the castle was demolished in 1794. The ruins are impressive, though. Rheinfels was “the largest and most imposing castle on the Rhine” for 500 years. We walked–Eden frolicked–through the remains of the castle, enjoying cavernous dead ends, steep stairs, and abandoned towers.
On another day we enjoyed Bacharach, a charming village below Stahleck Castle. It’s a bit of a walk, but the views are grand. You are rewarded with the impressive ruins of Werner Chapel along the way.
Perhaps a visit in the spring or fall would be different, but we have preferred discovering abandoned castles more than fighting crowds to see popular castles. In my opinion, meandering through the Rhine Valley is a perfect way to spend time in Germany.
We ended the day with a delicious meal on the River. As the sun sets, I am glancing out the window and watching the mighty river roll on. It’s personality has changed as the day has waned, and it’s rhythm is hypnotic. What a beautiful benediction.