Germany’s most famous region offers more than just some of the world’s best Rieslings. Campbell Jefferys ventures out on two wheels to explore the villages and vineyards of the Mosel by bike
The Mosel’s vineyards cling to the steep cliffs, extending upwards in harmonious symmetry, shimmering with green and gold. Paths lead to medieval hamlets crammed onto hairpin river bends. Clicking through the gears, the river bank rolls by. There’s a tempting route through a vineyard, perhaps to taste another drop made by a 10th-generation local. A fine dry Riesling it will be, evidence of the recent shift towards dry whites with a mineral soul. The radwege (cycle paths) here are flat and smooth. They hug the river or meander through vineyards, each with its own name, its own particular taste, character and history. Ancient villages, some with winemaking heritage dating back two millennia, appear around each bend. The blue-grey slate church towers rise from the centre and the ruins of a castle sit on the hill above.
‘The roots run deep into the soil,’ says Raimund Prüm of SA Prüm. He should know. His family have owned vineyards here since 1156. For the Mosel, where the Romans were the first vintners, this is not unusual. Doors are open for tastings and vintners talk eagerly with visitors – often passing cyclists – about heritage and harvests, and the new dry Rieslings of which they are so proud. Yes, global warming has had an impact, but the next generation is paying closer attention to detail and balance – the shrill wines of a decade ago are long gone. The proliferation of cyclists means more traffic. Winemakers look out for approaching pedal-pushers and litter the paths with signs pointing to their estates. For those of us on two wheels, these worthy diversions make the kilometres drift away, and each day leads to something undiscovered. What follows is a south-to-north meander through the valley.
Day 1: Trier to Trittenheim
Trier, in the south, to Koblenz, in the north, requires four relaxed days of cycling. The Mosel cycle route begins in Metz, in France, but the most popular stretch starts in Germany’s oldest city. The former capital of the West Roman Empire has a bevy of sites, including the 2nd-century Porta Nigra. Our day began with a few lazy loops of the old town, before the path left Trier to run through industrial wastelands. Past Mehring, the Mosel began to reveal its beauty…
It’s so peaceful. The only motors are small tractors and monorail trains going up and down the steep hillsides. Small specks of workers weave between the vines, their heels digging into the slate. It’s tempting to stop at each village and vintner, but Trittenheim awaits. There, wine from the south-facing vineyard of Trittenheimer Apotheke (pharmacy) is reputed to have therapeutic qualities.
The village sits on a thumb of land. The steep cliffs across the bank have been carved into terraces. There are dozens of estates, but Niko Schmitt, who at 34 is part of the young generation of local winemakers, says competition raises the level of quality. ‘We’re friends,’ says the manager of Claes Schmitt Erben. ‘We always taste the wine together. When one of us makes a good wine, the rest of us learn, that’s good for all of us. That’s good for the image of the Mosel.’
Hotel Deutscher Hof Südallee 25, Trier;
www.hotel-deutscher-hof.de. Three-star superior located close to the old town
Weinstube Kesselstatt Liebfrauenstr 10, Trier; www.weinstube-kesselstatt.de.
Restaurant that serves regional specialties
Hotel and Restaurant Krone Riesling, Moselpromenade 9, Trittenheim; www.krone-riesling.de. Directly on the Mosel, serving traditional local cuisine creatively
St Laurentius Leiwen – www.st-laurentius-sekt.de
St Urbanshof Leiwen
Claes Schmitt Trittenheim – www.weingut-schmitt-erben.de
From Ehrang on the left bank, a path follows the Kyll River up to the ruins of Castle Ramstein
Biking the Mosel
The Mosel tourist board offers bicycle tours ranging from four to seven nights. Tours include accommodation, baggage transfer, bicycle rental and wine tastings. The five-day tour from Trier to Koblenz costs around €350
(£275) per person (May to November). The trip can also be done independently. Many wineries offer overnight stays, and bicycles can be taken on trains and ferries. An excellent guide book for the region is Moselle River Trail
(£11.98, Cycline). The nearest international airports are in Luxembourg and Frankfurt, while there are small airports in Saarbrücken and Koblenz. A good alternative is the low-cost hub Frankfurt-Hahn, between Koblenz and Trier. Mosellandtouristik, Kordelweg 1, Bernkastel-Kues, +49 (0)6531 973 344; www.mosellandtouristik.de
Day 2: Trittenheim to Traben-Trarbach
The Mosel turns and bends back on itself while villages – often two are joined as one – straddle straight stretches or are wedged onto bends. The first hyphen is Neumagen-Drohn, Germany’s oldest wine town. The epicurean Romans left their mark here. There is a replica of a Roman wine ship, while a stone version adorns a wine dealer’s 3rd-century grave. Across the river in Piesport, discover the Roman wine press at Piesporter Goldtröpfchen (drops of gold).
A rare straight section leads past Castle Lieser, then down to the Mosel’s most popular hyphen of Bernkastel-Kues, where the steep cliff vineyards, entitled Bernkasteler Doktor, are home to the esteemed estate of Dr Loosen, overseen by Ernst Loosen, Decanter’s 2005 Man of the Year. The coming vineyards boast wonderful names: Graacher Himmelreich (kingdom of heaven), Wehlener Sonnenuhr (sundial), and Kröver Nacktarsch (naked bottom).
Raimund Prüm, who has his estates on the sundial, is quick to say that the bikers have been good for business. ‘Of course,’ he says smiling, ‘but they need to learn something about wine or there’s no reason to stop.’ At Staffelter Hof, one of the oldest wineries in Germany, first mentioned in 862, the topic is climate change. ‘We don’t really have bad vintages any more,’ says Jan Klein. ‘We have the problem that the grapes get too ripe. In 2005, we made dry whites with up to 14% alcohol.’ The late-afternoon sun shines on the village’s distinctive art nouveau buildings. On the terrace of the Hotel Bellevue, the glasses of Riesling glimmer and sparkle; dry whites with slate at their heart.
Hotel Bellevue Am Moselufer, Traben-Trarbach; www.bellevue-hotel.de. Historic 4-star art nouveau building with modern rooms
Schloss Lieser Lieser; www.weingut-schloss-lieser.de
Dr Loosen Bernkastel-Kues; www.drloosen.com
SA Prüm Wehlen; www.sapruem.com Staffelter Hof Kröv;
The Lieser River path reaches Märing-Noviand and a reconstructed Roman winery with 2nd-century treading tank
Day 3: Traben-Trarbach to Cochem
From Marienburg, a ferry crosses to 16th-century Pünderich, a chocolatebox town much like Zell, home to Zeller Schwarze Katz (black cat). Further north in Bremm is Europe’s steepest vineyard. ‘The vineyards are special because of the slate,’ says Ulrich Franzen of Weingut Reinhold Franzen, ‘and because they’re 65 degrees steep.’ In Beilstein, the cliffs are just as dramatic, and skirting round the last bend to Cochem takes the breath away. Sitting on a vineyard-covered hill above town, Castle Reichsburg could be the setting for every fairytale ever written. The narrow alleys are quaint and packed – it attracts more than 2.5 million visitors a year – and the incredible setting is a just reward for the day’s ride.
Accommodation/dining: Hotel Lohspeicher Am Marktplatz, Cochem; www.lohspeicher.de.
Comfortable rooms on the market square
Estates: Weingut Engel Zell; www.weingut-engel.de
Reinhold Franzen Bremm; www.weingut-franzen.de
From Pünderich up the hill to Marienburg for a view over the valley
Up the Alf River to the Burg Arras ruins
Day 4: Cochem to Koblenz
Leaving Cochem, the path ahead is not inviting. There are charming villages and castles, like Burg Thurant in Alken andBurg Eltz near Moselkern, but the path follows the highway. Closer to Koblenz, the river straightens, industrial areas fan out with ugly consistency, and the path ends at the Deutsches Eck, where the Mosel meets the Rhine. Koblenz has an attractive castle, but the rebuilt old town seems like a Ye Olde shopping mall. The Rhine can’t compare to the vineyard-lined cliffs of the Mosel. It’s the heart of the Mosel that captures the imagination – small villages crammed onto river bends, with vines growing in slate on sheer cliffs. The legs have a pleasant weariness from the day’s ride and a glass of crisp Riesling is apt reward. Time dissipates, heartbeats slow, and the coolness of a wine glass tickles the tips of your bike-sore fingers.
Distance: 50 km
Hotel Contel Pastor-Klein-Strasse 19, Koblenz; www.contel-koblenz.de.
Large 4-star hotel on the banks of the Mosel, 2km from the city centre
Winninger Weinstuben Rheinzollstr. 2, Koblenz; www.winninger-weinstuben.net. Historic wine restaurant on the Rhine serving outstanding Flammkuchen
Leo Fuchs Pommern; www.leo-fuchs.de
Freiherr von Schleinitz, Kobern-Gondorf; www.vonschleinitz.com
Richard Richter Winningen; www.weingut-richter.net
From Moselkern, follow the path to the impressive Burg Eltz castle.
More than just tributaries
Running south from Konz, there are paths on both sides of the Saar. The 10th-century castle and attractive old town with a waterfall makes Saarburg an appealing day trip from Trier. Good wineries include Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken in Saarburg, Egon Müller Scharzhof in Wiltingen, Johann Peter Reinert in Kanzem, and Peter Lauer in Ayl, named top feinherb (half-dry) German Riesling in the Gault Millau wine guide, in 2006. The Ruwer is more stream than river.
It’s possible to ride south from Trier, join the path in Morscheid and ride north along the Ruwer to the Mosel, passing the secluded wine villages of Waldrach, Kasel and Mertesdorf (home to the Erben von Beulwitz estate). In Eitelsbach are the vineyards of Karthäuserhof, where you will find some of the best dry Rieslings in the region.
Written by Campbell Jefferys