After months of closure due to Covid-19, the German/Luxembourg border recently opened up and we planned a much-needed, socially distanced, trip away from home for a long weekend. We booked a last minute car rental from the only rental agency in town that was open, carefully picked one of the many AirBnb’s that were available, and hopped on the road for a quick two hour drive to a relaxing weekend filled with hiking in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley in Germany- a fairy tale land of winding rivers, ancient castles, and terraced vineyards.
Also known as the Rhine Gorge, this 65 km stretch of the Rhine River is a UNESCO designated world heritage site. There are 60 small towns that follow the river and 40 hilltop castles overlooking the valley. Most castles are in ruins, and the dramatic combination of the region’s natural beauty with the ancient ruins strongly influenced many writers, poets, and composers during the Romantic movement of the 19th century. This, coupled with the region’s important role in facilitating trade between the northern and southern halves of Europe for thousands of years, makes the Upper Middle Rhine Valley a unique combination of natural beauty and historical significance.
We stayed in the charming town of Winningen, a stone’s throw from the Moselle river, and a short drive away from where the Moselle and Rhine rivers meet. It was a welcoming town surrounded by vineyards, with hiking trails that led from the town up into the vineyards, overlooking the lush valley below. Although almost everything was closed due to Germany’s lock-down measures, a few restaurants had opened up, and you could hear people laughing and enjoying each other’s company late into the warm evenings. It felt like a small step towards normalcy.
The trip was exclusively hiking and driving, as those were what we felt to be the safest ways to explore during a time like this. After three months of lock-down in Luxembourg, barely leaving our apartment except for exercise and errands, we were in need of something to keep our spirits up. This trip was the breath of fresh air that we needed. We spent our days driving to little towns along the Moselle and Rhine rivers, briefly wandering the city centers, then hiking to the nearest castle- nearly every town had one. We hiked through forest, farmland, and vineyards as we soaked in the rich views of the Rhine and Moselle valleys and discovered Germany’s incredible long-distance trail systems, which are well marked, easy to follow, and offer endless miles of hiking.
Because I know we’ll want to come back and spend a lot more time hiking in this region, here are three of the long distance trails we hiked on:
- Rheinbergenweg Trail
- 195 km trail that follows the Rhine River from Bingen to Remagen-Rolandseck.
- Rheinsteig Trail
- 313 km trail that follows the opposite side of the Rhine River from Bonn to Weisbaden.
- Moselsteig Trail
- 365 km trail that follows the Moselle River from Perl (close to the meeting point of Luxembourg, France, and Germany) and ends where the Moselle and Rhine rivers meet near Koblenz. Along this trail is the Eltz Castle, which some consider one of Germany’s most beautiful castles.
While we didn’t explore the towns we stopped in for long, we did get a good feel for what they have to offer travelers in non-pandemic times. With how close the region is to our home in Luxembourg, I have a feeling we’ll be back here for many weekends trips in the future. Here are the highlights of the towns we visited.
Sankt Goar and Rheinfels Castle
Bacharach and Stahleck Castle
Cochem and Cochem Castle
Eltz Castle and hike around it
Being in nature rejuvenates us, and scratching the travel itch, however briefly, reminded us why we moved here. This trip was the perfect getaway.
For more information on this region, see the UNESCO website: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1066/