We were back at work this week, but can officially call our first Europe road trip a success! We arrived back in Brussels last Saturday afternoon in time to celebrate Dan’s birthday with dinner at Le Truffe Noir, which specializes in using black truffles in their dishes. The food, from the appetizers to the desserts, was phenomenal! It felt great to be back in our own apartment and better yet, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees so it was a very comfortable evening back home celebrating the birthday boy.
Not that we were too stressed last week… wrapping up the rest of our trip along the Moselle River in Germany and then in Luxembourg for an evening was quite relaxing. My personal favorite part of the trip was our time in Cochem, Germany, which is where we headed after Frankfurt. On our way to Cochem we stopped in Koblenz, which is where the Rhine and Moselle Rivers meet. We decided to pay to take the tram from the base of the Deustches Eck to the top of a hill across the Rhine River in order to get a better view of the confluence of the rivers and the surrounding area. We didn’t pay the extra couple euros to go into the fortress, that also conveniently had a beer garden and restaurant, as we figured the view would be just as good from the free overlook and more importantly we had only been able to pay to park our car for an hour so we were hustling. Another good reason to carry ample change while traveling in Europe- parking meters in the tourist hot spots usually are not cheap.
The view of the Rhineland-Palatinate area was in fact pretty cool and we decided the brief stop in Koblenz was worth it, but seeing as it did feel like more of a tourist city, I was happy we had decided to spend two nights in Cochem, which appealed to me for its quaintness. It also offered accessibility to some other sites in the area, like Burg Eltz.
What we didn’t know about Cochem until our arrival, is that while it’s a smaller town without the hustle and bustle of Koblenz, there are certainly a lot more “well-aged” visitors moseying around than we expected. We think this is because Cochem is a great spot for the riverboats to dock for a few days so their guests have access to a very pedestrian + bike friendly and easy-going city… either way, we brought the average age down in the city. Our fellow Cochem vacationers, who seemed to be mostly German, as well as the Moselle locals, were very friendly and welcoming, and again we had no problem only communicating in English. This continues to surprise me and I’m sure that the second I take it for granted, we’ll be traveling in a place that English just doesn’t cut it.
Because I was very excited to be in Cochem, we didn’t waste the rest of the afternoon and after checking into our B&B that had a beautiful view of the town, river, and castle, I directed us to a winery a short walk away that had tastings and was recommended by my BFF Rick Steves. The Moselle region is known for their white wines (mainly Rieslings) which are produced from vineyards along the very steep slopes that overlook the river. Fun fact: the steepest recorded vineyard in the world is the Calmont vineyard in Bremm, further down the Moselle River, where the slope reaches 65 degrees. We did not go there (that would have been cool), but the vineyard we did visit offered us a unique experience nonetheless.
We were skeptical upon walking up to the building that advertised “weinproben” (wine tastings) as there was nobody in site and no obvious entrance. My first thought was that this would be our first experience being disappointed by the closure of businesses during the holiday month of August, but after poking our heads around a bit and knocking on a door, we were greeted enthusiastically and encouraged to grab a seat outside where they would serve us our wine tasting. We were the only people there. I mean we literally had the outside “patio” area to ourselves… not exactly what you expect when you think wine tasting, at least from my (limited) experience in the US. Our hosts were very welcoming, asking us what we were interested in trying, tailoring our four tastings to our preferences, and then leaving us be to relax and enjoy the wine. We were there for probably 2.5 hours and for the majority of the time, had the place to ourselves. The whole experience felt incredibly personal and to top it off, the Rieslings were incredible (in the opinion of a novice “sommelier”). We walked away with three bottles and I’m honestly wishing we bought more!
Hopped up on wine, we headed to dinner, during which we decided we had another adventure left in us to cap off the day. Dan, who has been known to recommend a sunset walk every now and then (hey Ptarmigan trail proposal), suggested that we try to get a better view of the sunset over the vineyard hills by walking up the one behind our B&B. As I’m not one to turn down any suggestion of a walk, I was happily on board, so we grabbed a bottle of our new wine and headed up the narrow and rather steep path thru the vineyard. This may sound like trespassing, but the path was actually marked on Google maps AND it was clearly well traveled because when we reached a real road a little ways up, there was a couple sitting at a picnic table who clearly had the same idea as us. The greeted us with a hello and friendly smiles that seemed to acknowledge that we were now in on their secret spot, but we decided not to intrude and rather continued up another path thru the vineyards until we reached an even better viewpoint that we had to ourselves. Walking down that steep hill, in the dark while wearing sandals, was not an easy feat but the view and company were well worth it!
We were up early (by vacation standards) the next day to enjoy our breakfast and then catch the train for a quick 20 minute ride to Moselkern where we would begin our hike to the castle. The plan was to get an early start to avoid tourist crowds and the intense heat that had settled into the region that week. The plan had to be slightly adjusted after we missed our intended train… we won’t point fingers, but for once it wasn’t my fault for being late! We were held up at the B&B getting our street parking pass from the front desk. That didn’t stop us from running to the train station, buying our tickets, and then missing the train by literally one minute. Sweaty and disappointed, we hung out by the river to cool off before the next train passed through an hour later. Overall it was not the worst thing to happen, but it did mean that it was getting hot by the time we arrived in Moselkern, walked through the small town, and started our trek thru the woods to get to the castle.
I have to say that I was really looking forward to Burg Eltz. It’s unique in that it was never destroyed and is still very well-preserved unlike many of the other historic buildings, landmarks, castles, etc. in Germany that have seen many wars (even before WWI and WWII). The story behind Burg Eltz is that it has been in the Eltz family for eight centuries and avoided wars and destruction through diplomacy and marriage. It’s situated in what seems to be the middle of nowhere because as you are hiking to the castle, you turn a corner on the path, look up, and it’s all of a sudden directly above you. The hike was less busy than I expected and an easy 2.5/3 miles- definitely my preferred way to approach the castle. As you approach the castle from the base along a river, you take a set of stairs up to access the entrance and are met with a very cool view.
We purchased tickets for the English (yay!) tour, which was well worth it in my opinion as the guides were happy to answer our questions and explain the antiquities inside. The castle was clearly very “modern” for its time with many fireplaces, bathrooms, large beds, and a kitchen that I would enjoy cooking in. You even get to see a picture of the current Eltz generation who owns the castle. They still own and maintain the castle themselves, probably hosting the occasional party every now and then… I would! I think what makes this castle interesting is knowing that it’s been so well preserved over a very long period of time- it just feels authentic. It’s not as impressive or jaw-dropping in appearance as the Neuschwanstein Castle closer to Munich, but in my opinion definitely worth a visit.
We hiked back to the train station and were on our way back to Cochem later that afternoon. Back in Cochem, I was able to convince Dan to rent bikes and take them out along the Moselle river south to Ernst with the promise of finding him better beer than Bitburger, the Coors Light equivalent that is commonly served in that region of Germany. Wine definitely takes precedence in this region though, much to Dan’s dismay, and we were treated to more stunning views of the vineyards along our ride.
The bike trails meander along the river so you really don’t ever have a bad view and perhaps even better, you are never far from a restaurant with a front patio, wine, and fantastic panorama.
We were serenaded to sleep that evening by lively German music from the riverboats where guests were dining and dancing late into the evening. If it wasn’t already obvious, I’ll say it now- I was very impressed with Cochem! As we headed out the next morning, I was wondering what to expect on our next leg of the trip- Trier.
Trier is the oldest city in Germany, founded by Celts in the 4th century BC and later conquered by the Romans. It has quite the long history and plenty of Roman artifacts, but is without the charm of Cochem, in my opinion. Unfortunately for us, we arrived in Trier to rain, which was not the worst thing for a thirsty region, but not the best for us tourists. Fortunately, we tracked down a café (Café Balduin if you ever visit) with friendly staff and a tasty lunch where we were able to camp out for a bit before checking into our AirBnB. Honestly, I don’t have much to report from our first day in Trier… we were able to walk around the city a bit after the rain subsided and we went to dinner, but all in all it was not a very eventful first day in Trier.
What I was looking forward to, and the reason we were in the area, is that it’s known for great hiking trails. Trier is located in the Eifel region of Germany, which is known for its nature. The Eifelsteig is a series of trails in the region covering quite a long distance and connecting towns. I had pinpointed Eifelsteig Stage 15 as the trail we should do, which required a short drive to the somewhat busy trailhead, but the trail had a lot to offer including waterfalls, rope bridges, and a decaying castle.
It wasn’t a long day of hiking, but I’m glad we managed to get a partial day hike in and see the area. I can see what all the hype is about once you get outside Trier and start exploring the natural beauty of the Eifel. The city of Trier itself wasn’t our favorite, but on a week long road trip, you have plenty of time to critique and rank cities and sites . It was a perfectly fine city to stay in and the people were nice, there just wasn’t a lot going on that we were overly interested in, aside from the hiking.
After Trier we were on to the last city of our trip- Luxembourg City! Luxembourg was only a short drive from Trier, but arriving in this new country almost felt like being back in Brussels- people spoke French and you were served fries with your meal. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Luxembourg, but was in fact pleasantly surprised. It’s a small country and Luxembourg City, where we stayed for a night, is even smaller, yet it still manages to keep a couple of tourists busy for a day. It has medieval fortress ruins, a winding river, aqueducts, and ramparts atop the fortress that offer excellent views of the old walls and valley below. What’s great is that you can easily manage to enjoy the city without a real plan or itinerary since it’s very walkable and half the fun is stumbling upon superb and unexpected views.
We stayed outside the old city in an “interesting” area near the train station, but it was a short and scenic walk over the aqueduct to get to the most exciting areas of the capital city. We spent that afternoon weaving our way thru surprisingly near empty streets and admiring the varied architecture… that may sound kind of boring, but we truly think this city is a secret gem. I took a lot of pictures here so I will let those do most of the talking, but what I can say is that we definitely recommend a day trip to Luxembourg to visit this unique place. You probably don’t need more than a day, but you can cover a lot of ground from the river valley to the fortress ramparts and not get bored. Not to mention, you can find some pretty great ice cream! Our last evening of holiday was spent with a lively game of French Monopoly on the balcony of our AirBnB. Without going in to too many details for the sake of my opponent, all that I will say is that I won this round by a large margin.
We returned to Brussels feeling relaxed and accomplished after our first successful road-trip! We’re in town for a few weeks, but that doesn’t mean the exploring stops. Looking forward to getting to know more of Brussels and more specifically our lovely neighborhood.