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Rhine Valley, Germany, Travel Guide: Rheingau

Bacharach, the most idyllic of the Rhine villages



Next on the agenda is Bacharach, easily the most idyllic of the Rhine villages. On the way, you may spot what looks a bit like a giant ship moored in the river. This is Pfalzgrafenstein, a medieval toll-collection castle, sitting on its own little island, painted gleaming white and topped with black slate turrets that look like sorcerers' hats. It's a fitting overture to the full symphony of Bacharach, a dreamy village seemingly plucked straight from the world of fairytales, with graceful, half-timbered houses lining narrow, cobblestone streets worn smooth by centuries of hooves, wagon wheels and travelers' feet.

As you explore the town, take note of the magnificent Alter Posthof, which served as the local post office until 1987 and now houses the tourist office and a popular restaurant serving regional dishes. In summer, its courtyard tables are the most coveted in town. Burg Stahleck reigns over Bacharach, the fanciful castle-turned-youth-hostel usually teeming with hordes of teenagers. Still, it's well worth the clamber up, and you can always catch your breath by stopping at the ethereal Wernerkapelle, the ruins of a Gothic chapel completed in 1430.

Your next stop is Bingen, where the Rhine briefly jags on an east-west course (as opposed to its usual north-south route). This is the start of the Rheingau wine region, which enjoys a reputation for Germany's finest Rieslings and a wine-growing tradition dating back 900 years. On a little island near the confluence of Rhine and Nahe rivers is the Mäuseturm (Mice Tower), another toll-collecting station where, legend has it, a stingy bishop was imprisoned and devoured by an army of distinctly irreverent mice. The island is now a bird sanctuary, and the tower is unfortunately closed to the public.


Bingen is also the birthplace of the nun Hildegard von Bingen, one of the most talented, outspoken and courageous women of the early Middle Ages. She founded two convents, composed music, studied natural medicine, and campaigned against social injustice and for women's rights. The Historisches Museum am Strom, housed in a cleverly converted power station, has an excellent exhibit about this remarkable woman, who was years ahead of her time.

Restaurant Burg Klopp inside the local castle is a good place to grab a bite to eat. The menu features creative, seasonal, modern German and Mediterranean dishes. In fine weather, the terrace (with views of the Rhine) is the place to be.

Afterward, cross the river to the most popular tourist spot along the Romantic Rhine: Rüdesheim. Pulling in some three million pilgrims annually, the village comes to life in the wine taverns and restaurants along the Drosselgasse, a little lane vibrating with polka music and boisterous, rollicking crowds in search of a good time, especially at night. Keep in mind Wirtshaus Hannelore International for lunch later, for the Riesling soup if nothing else.

Weather permitting, though, the ultimate vista point is from the Niederwald Denkmal, a heroic memorial to the mythical goddess Germania, crowning a hilltop high above the vineyards. Built in 1883, the bombastic statue was built as a symbol of national pride following the creation of the German Empire in 1871. It's accessible by car and on foot, although the most enjoyable ascent is by floating in a cable car above the fields of vines.

Loreley rock

There's certainly good wine to be found in Rüdesheim proper, but to avoid the jostling of crowds and cameras, head fourteen kilometers east along the river to the distinctive Kloster Eberbach to sample the local vintages. Historic wine presses, a Romanesque basilica (now the site of a summer concert series) and the monks’ refectory and dormitory are some of the many attractions here.

For dinner, head back to Rüdesheim and enjoy a memorable meal at Breuers Rüdesheimer Schloss. The chef here subscribes to the slow-food movement and makes ample use of local and organic ingredients. The wine cellar is stocked with an impressive 300 vintages from the surrounding Rheingau region alone; the oldest bottle is from 1893.

Though your journey has ended, the beauty and pleasures of the Romantic Rhine will surely have cast their spell on you.

For more information, contact the Rhineland-Palatinate Tourism Bureau, Löhrstraße 103—105 56068 Koblenz, Germany, 0261-91520-0,,


(Updated: 07/31/13 RD)

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