The wine is cool and crisp, best sipped from a green-stemmed goblet on a cafe terrace overlooking a river flanked by slanted vineyards and slate mountains. The days are long and...
BEILSTEIN, Germany The wine is cool and crisp, best sipped from a green-stemmed goblet on a cafe terrace overlooking a river flanked by slanted vineyards and slate mountains.
The days are long and lazy, perfect for biking on shady paths that wind through medieval towns, past abandoned castles and old stone churches.
The evenings are quiet and peaceful, ideal for roaming cobbled lanes and relaxing in cool, candlelit cellars.
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The Mosel River Valley is one of Germany’s most important wine-growing regions, and the Rhine’s uncrowded and untouristed rival. Founded by the Celts, discovered by the Romans and occupied by the French, the area is a melting pot with a rich history.
August and September are festival months, and that means food, music, fireworks, and of course, wine nearly every weekend somewhere along the Mosel Wine Road. The zigzagging 112-mile route stretches from the town of Koblenz, where the Mosel meets the Rhine, to Trier near the Luxembourg border.
Thanks to a succession of dams built along various parts of the river, the Mosel’s water level hasn’t been affected by a drought that has hit Germany and other parts of Europe this summer; Some rivers have dried up all together, and along the Rhine, bigger ships have had to lighten their loads.
The Mosel is made for lingering. Pick a village. Settle into a cozy inn, or look for a sign that says “Zimmer Frei,” indicating someone, most likely a winemaker, has a room for rent.
The riesling is the typical Mosel grape, and dropping in at family-owned wineries for tastings is a big part of what exploring this area is about. So consider renting a bike or day-tripping from village to village on one of the tourist boats that call among the bigger towns, and enjoy the equivalent of a leisurely Sunday drive.
Beilstein, a storybook village of just 180 residents, 37 miles from Koblenz, beckons with its half-timbered houses and darkened wine stubes. On the town square, a 16th century Zehnthaus, once used to store grapes which residents used to pay taxes, is now a wine museum and tasting cellar. Nearby, more than 100 steps lead to a Carmelite monastery hidden beyond stone walls covered with purple and white petunias.
From the early Middle Ages, Beilstein’s residents have welcomed Jewish families, and it’s remained the only Mosel community with an unbroken Jewish culture. A Jewish cemetery lies above the ruins of a feudal castle perched above the town. Destroyed by the French in the 1600s, the castle is now owned by a local couple who host an summer festival with jousting matches and live pig chases straight out of a scene from the Middle Ages.
Across the river
From Beilstein, the little green-and-white St. Josef ferry transports bikers, walkers and an occasional car across the water in a three-minute crossing to the villages of Poltersdorf and Ellenz, popular camping spots where narrow lanes lead to a Gothic church and a medieval town hall.
Like nearly everyone who lives along the Mosel, Birgit Dehren, an Ellenz resident and a fourth-generation vintner, displays sample bottles of her family’s wines in a glass case in her front yard. When I stopped to inquire, she put down her garden tools and led me past bins of green and yellow wax beans into her cellar for a sample of her father’s homemade plum schnapps.
Farther upstream is Zell, best known as the origin for its “Schwarze Katz” or “Black Cat” wine, a light riesling sold throughout the Mosel. Around the neck of each bottle is a little, plastic black cat sitting atop a barrel. One of the best places to stop for a sample is at Weingut Franz Josef Weis, the roadside winery of Peter and Lisa Weis, a family-owned operation since the 1700s.
A tasting around stand-up oak tables in Weis’ cellar storefront might include four or five different bottles of wine, thimbles of schnapps made from fruit harvested from his dwarf peach trees and shot glasses of apple cider for the kids.
Weis’ concession to mechanization is an electric, Swiss-made cart that travels on narrow tracks snaking along the hillside. The vineyards are planted at a 45-degree angle so that the slopes maximize sunshine, which releases sugar inside the grapes to achieve ripeness. Weis uses the contraption to haul fertilizer up the hills and grapes back down, but the harvesting must be done by hand.
At the end of the day
With a car, the Roman settlement of Trier and Burg Eltz, a 13th-century castle hidden deep in the forest and left intact during the war, are within easy driving distance of any of the Mosel villages.
The town of Cochem, with its impressive castle lighted at night, is the Mosel’s tourist hub, and the cafes along its riverfront promenade are where to go for a traditional afternoon “eiskaffee,” a coffee drink served in a tall glass with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream.
But the main draw of the Mosel is its natural setting, and that’s best savored away from the tourist sites.
My favorite spot: The riverside terrace of the Haus Lipmann in Beilstein, a former duke’s mansion with beamed ceilings and wood-planked floors that’s been operated as an inn by the same family for 200 years.
The town swarms with tourists during the day, but all’s quiet in the evening, save for the locals who come for dinner and a few overnight guests.
Owner Jonas Thölén (the one with the Panama hat and handlebar moustache) brings a salad of sautéed wild mushrooms and a glass of wine as fresh as the morning.
A light mist starts to fall. The evening is cool, perfect for a good night’s rest on a sleepy summer’s night.
Carol Pucci: 206-464-3701 or email@example.com