By Jeannine Williamson | September 2016 | 8 minute read
With castles, gorges, medieval villages, vine-clad slopes and cities such as Frankfurt, Koblenz and Cologne, the ‘Romantic Germany’ of Rhineland-Palatinate makes the perfect short break.
In a nut shell
Picture postcard manufacturers are spoilt for choice in Rhineland-Palatinate. With more than 500 fairytale castles and palaces, charming half-timbered medieval houses and Europe’s longest river running through its heart, it’s a photographer’s dream.
Add eight nature parks, and UNESCO heritage sites such as Roman Trier - Germany’s oldest city - to the mix, not forgetting some of Germany’s best wine and popular Bitburger beer, and it’s the perfect recipe for a destination with a far-reaching appeal.
Located around the Rhine and Moselle rivers, Germany’s westernmost state shares its borders with Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. Frankfurt, Cologne-Bonn, Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden and Luxembourg are among the airline gateways served by scheduled and budget carriers, and for independent travellers the region is easily reached by road and rail.
Romantic Germany is packed with cultural riches for clients interested in history, architecture, food and wine, along with unspoilt acres of river landscapes and mountainous countryside waiting to be explored by walkers and cyclists.
Daring visitors can step out on Germany’s longest rope suspension bridge which opened last year. The breathtaking 1,200ft bridge hangs 300ft above the Geierley canyon, but for visitors who prefer to keep their feet firmly on the ground, the region has scenic four-mile hiking trails.
In Mainz the Gutenberg museum is named after the city’s native son Johannes Gutenberg who invented printing with moveable type. It has examples of his 15th century bibles, early books and printing presses.
Capture the castle
The Rhine has more castles along its length than any other river in the world, and they don’t come much more dramatic than Heidelberg. Situated on a rocky hilltop, and built between the 13th and 17th centuries, it’s turbulent past includes being plundered by the French army.
Marksburg Castle is the only fortress on the Middle Rhine to have remained unscathed by enemy attacks. Visitors experience the upstairs and downstairs of castle life, from the knight’s hall and its extensive wine cellar to the dungeons with grisly instruments of torture.
Koblenz, at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle, is overlooked by the imposing 19th century Ehrenbreitstein hilltop fortress. The best way to get there is on the cable car that runs across the river. Once there, visitors can enjoy the views from the flag tower and explore a multi-media museum relating the history of one of the largest strongholds in Europe.
River runs through it
With an ever-changing scenery of towering castles, sweeping gorges, medieval villages and steep vine-clad slopes, the Rhine is Europe’s most popular river for cruising. A highlight is the UNESCO-listed Upper Middle Rhine Valley with the enduring legend of the Lorelei rock, a 433ft slate cliff where a beautiful siren was said to lure passing sailors to their doom.
Ships moor right in the centre of towns and villages and itineraries feature beautiful locations along the lesser-known stretch of the Rhine between Mainz – the capital of Germany’s biggest wine-growing region, Rheinhessen, celebrating its 200 years’ anniversary in 2016 – and Strasbourg.
The main river cruise season is between April and October, with many lines offering festive cruises that take in Germany’s famous Christmas markets. Agents can also book cruises to coincide with other annual events, such as the Rhine in Flames firework spectaculars held on five dates between May and September, the new Summer Lights of Mainz music, fireworks and laser shows, taking place from July 28 to 30, 2017, or autumn celebrations marking the Riesling grape harvest.
Rhineland-Palatinate is also a fantastic destination for active clients who enjoy the great outdoors. It has made a name for itself as a cycling destination, and there are many scenic well-marked cycle trails. They include the German Wine Route trail, connecting Worms and Speyer, which is also close to the city of Mannheim celebrating the 200th anniversary of the bicycle in 2017.
Similarly, it’s a hiking paradise with a choice of long-distance walks, short walks and loop trails. They include the award-winning seven-mile Pyrmonter Felsensteig trail with its waterfall and ‘Devil’s Chamber’ cliffs, 68-mile AhrSteig trail, characterised by panoramic views of the Ahr Valley and the plains of the Rhine, and the 194-mile Eifelsteig trail running through an evolving landscape of volcanic crags and crater lakes, moorlands and flowering meadows. For independent clients, several specialist operators offer self-guided biking and hiking tours with baggage transferred from hotel to hotel.
And when it’s time to take a rest and ease any aching muscles, the German wellness tradition means there are plenty of spa hotels offering one off treatments or spa packages, such as the Art Nouveau Bellevue Rheinhotel in Boppard, which is well situated for walking and cycling tours.
Where to book it
Inntravel offers the seven-night Meanders of the Moselle self-guided walking tour, taking in Trier and the Moselsteig footpath is priced from £825pp, for departures between September 24 and October 9, including return rail travel, breakfasts, two dinners, baggage transfers and maps.
Fred Holidays has Christmas market breaks to towns in the region such as Koblenz, Mainz, Bad Neuenahr, Trier and Worms.