The UNESCO listed area of the middle Rhine valley in Germany is well-known for its natural beauty, lovely little riverside towns and scores of hilltop castles.During the Middle Ages local barons had their strongholds up in the hills and extracted toll from passing boats and ships; a profitable business, no doubt, since the Rhine has always been a busy artery for trade and commerce right up to the present .
We took the TGV from Strasbourg in France to Stuttgart, then a Regional bahn to Bingen, where we bought tickets at the Bingen-Rudeshiemer cruise company counter for the 2-hour cruise to St Goar on the west bank of the Rhine.It was actually quite difficult to select one particular town because the valley has a number of these fetching towns and villages, often with a schloss or two looming above them.
The stretch from Bingen to St Goar is considered the prettiest along the Rhine,and the most dramatic, with deep gorges and several castles ,although many were in ruins. Our ship stopped at several of the little towns dotting the route for visitors to get off or get on. The open upper deck naturally has the best views, but the spacious and comfortable indoor seating is warmer if you want to get out of the bracing wind.A Rhine cruise is greatfor making your leisurely way down the river and take in the interesting sights, although trains do run along both banks and are faster if all you want is to get to one of the towns.
St Goarturned out to be far smaller than we’d expected. Being a Sunday evening most of the stores were shut except for a couple of cafés and restaurants and we strolled the main street in less than half an hour. After several days of hearty German fare, we were craving something different. A quick Google search led us to Asia Kim, a Chinese restaurant where we tucked into steaming bowls of fragrant soup, spicy Schezwan pork,chicken fried rice and noodles.
We woke up the next morning to grey skies and a heavy drizzle. The fog rolled down the hills on the opposite bank, obscuring the sight of the riverside town of Goarshausen with its two castles. There was nothing for it but to pull on our rain jackets and catch the train to the town of Bacharach as planned. After all, a bit of rain never hurt anyone. Luckily it cleared up in the afternoon and Bacharach gleamed invitingly in the pale sunshine, showing off its lovely slender church and traditional wood-framed houses, with steeply sloping vineyards as a nice backdrop to the town. A stroll along the Rhine promenade gardens, lunch at a small restaurant run by an elderly coupleandwe were back in St Goar by 5pm, just in time for coffee and cake at the Café St Goar. Surely this café has to be one of the gems of St Goar. Elegant yet welcoming, with an interesting display of dozens of teapots of all shapes, sizes, and design, it had an equally eclectic selection of cakes and pastries. The SchwarzwalderKirschtorte ,literally “Black Forest cherry-torte” was ambrosial!That alone wasworth our stop in St Goar.
Early next morningPaul rented a bike and rode along the scenic riverside cycling path to the nearby town of Oberwessel, while I followed a couple of hours later more comfortably by train .We met up at the station and wandered around this cute little town with its still-standing medieval fortifications and observation towers.Stores were yet to open, and except for the happy shrieks of children at a pre-school playground, we were pretty much the only visitors along the main street. We returned to St Goar by train, had a quick lunch, then set out to explore Castle Rhinefels .Located justup the hill from the main street, the castle was once one of the largest along the Rhine, and impregnable until the 18th century when Napoleon’s forces blew it up. Now mostly in ruins, parts of it remain to give an idea of its impressive size and extensive area .Visitors can explore its museum, grounds, tunnels and dungeons, but we preferred to climb the ramparts and take in the sweeping views of the river and town below .
Another short ride on the Mittelrheinbahn brought us to the large and lively town of Boppard. There were plenty ofstores,riverside restaurants and upscalehotels; people were out and about and I felt it might have been a better choice to stay in than sleepy St Goar. We bought some last minute gifts for family back home, then investigated a large wine store that was advertising 3 wine tastings for the bargain price of 5 Euros. An American couple also joined us, and the well-informed young man at the counter served up the wines, all of them Rieslings produced right there in the Rhine valley.
It had been a long day of exploring the riverside towns , but each little new discovery only served to underscore the laid-back charm of the scenic Rhine valley.