The year is 911. Charlemagne’s grandson, King Louis ‘The Child’ of East Francia dies aged 17 after an 11-year reign and becomes the last ruler of the East Frankish Carolingian Dynasty.
Elsewhere, in what will become known as the Kingdom of Germany, Schoenberg Castle located on a small hill in the medieval town of Oberwesel, overlooking the meandering banks of the River Rhein, is first mentioned in written sources.
Much has happened since then. Family squabbles and tribal warfare meant the castle frequently changed hands, and has even been burnt down and rebuilt.
Today there may no longer be royalty fighting over its ownership, but a stay in one of the castle’s 27 rooms will make you feel like an aristocrat.
Living like a king
The external walls of the castle are made from the same slate that gives the wines of Germany’s Mittelrhein region their distinct minerality and structure. Stepping into the castle and back in time, the hotel is decorated with a firm nod to 15th century interiors. Dark wood panelling, hanging tapestries and leaded glass windows are sympathetically used to create a charming and welcoming pastiche.
The bedrooms, each with their own names such as ‘Pfalzgrafenkemenate’ (kemenate translating to a room with a fireplace or a woman’s private room), are individually furnished but follow the same unifying theme. From cosy, dedicated single-person rooms, to suites with four-poster beds, en suite saunas and private balconies.
Venture outside and it’s clear that wine is, and has always been, at the heart of Oberwesel. It was the wine trade that brought wealth to the region from the 13th to the 15th century, allowing the town wall to be built. That wall still stands largely intact today: visitors can walk along it and see inside the fortified towers.
Riesling reigns here, with around 70% of the region’s vineyards planted with it. So it’s only right to try to understand the local’s love for it. The hotel offers private tours where you are met at the castle doors by a winemaker and whisked away for two hours. Your tour will take in the town, vineyards, views and of course end with a wine tasting. (€65 per person).
If you prefer something a little more lively, then one of the many wine festivals should be part of your schedule. Germany has over 1,000 wine festivals annually and the Mittelrhein is no exception for celebrating all things vinous.
When to visit
Plan your visit to include a trip to the Christmas market or to the springtime Mittelrheinischer Weinfrühling. This 5km route starts in Boppard (13 minutes away from Oberwesel by train) and travels through 16 ‘stations’ celebrating the new vintage release, coinciding with Rhein in Flammen. As the name suggests, the river is lit up by firework displays taking place in five locations along the Rhein with wine festivals happening bankside.
Then there is the most unique event of all, one that only happens in Oberwesel: Weinhexennacht (wine witch night) on 30 April. The event traces its history back to a time when witches’ fires were lit in the vineyards to drive out winter demons. These days a local woman is chosen to represent the town and its wines, with her inauguration consisting of her climbing out of a big wine barrel in the market square.
Food and drink
Even if your trip doesn’t coincide with a festival you can still experience the best of the region by looking out for Haus der besten Schoppen Mittelrhein. These restaurants, inns and taverns have been judged to serve excellent local food and drink.
And of course you can plan your own visits to wineries in the region. Suggestions include Weingut Ratzenberger and Weingut Toni Jost, both members of the VDP Mittelrhein. Or drop into Weingut Albert Lambrich, the family winery of the current wine witch Julia Lambrich.