Germany’s Moselle River (German: Mosel) basks in the reflected glory of being the Rhine’s longest tributary. Its more justified claim to fame, however, is that while flowing from the Vosges Mountains of France through the Rhineland-Platinate‘s Hunsrück hills and Eifel highlands for millions of years, it created the Moselle Valley.
The Moselle Valley extends over 160 km or 100 miles from Germany’s oldest town, Trier, to the confluence of the Moselle and Rhine in Koblenz, named from a Roman settlement Confluentes. Koblenz’ strategic location made it a pawn in the the chess games of every would-be European emperor over the last two thousand years.
Today, it’s a quiet and charming city, the most significant attraction of which is the Deutsches Eck (German Corner). Situated on a promontory where the Moselle flows into the Rhine, this spot is regarded as the birthplace of German nationalism. An 1897 monument to Kaiser Wilhelm I pays tribute to his forced resolution of the conflicts dividing the German Empire.
Further south along the Rhine is the Wine Village, built for the 1925 German Wine Exhibition. Stop to sample some of the Moselle Valley’s best vintages. Medieval churches, two art museums, two castles, and the 12th-century Ehrenbreitstein fortress looming 188m/388 feet above the Rhine continue the list of Koblenz’ attractions. None of them, however, are as unusual as the 15th-century Muntzplatz’ Augenroller Clock!
Southwest of Koblenz, the Moselle River winds its way along the forests of the Koblenzer Stadtwald. In the 1600s, this section of the Moselle Valley was notorious for witch hunts. The village of Winnigen capitalizes on its history with a witch fountain, witches carved in wood, witches hanging throughout the town, and in July, with a Witch Festival. If that doesn’t scare you off forever, return in August and celebrate the oldest Wine Festival in all of Germany! :-)
Nestled in the hills where the River Elzbach feeds into the Moselle from the north is one of Germany’s rarest treasures: a castle which has remained in the same family for 33 generations! Constructed on a 70 meter (230-foot) granite spur overlooking the Elzbach, the Castle has eight towers and one hundred rooms, which have sheltered more than one hundred members of the same family since the 12th century!
Approximately halfway between Koblenz and Trier is the medieval town of Cochem, notable for its vineyard-clad hillsides and numerous wine festivals. Arrive during the first week in June, and participate in Moselle Wine Week (Mosel-Wein-Woche).
Still thirsty? Return during the last weekend in August for the Weinfest! Don’t miss the Moselle River’s most photographed site, the restored 11th-century Reichsburg on a hill behind the town.
The vineyards of Cochem comprise only a tiny percentage of the Moselle Valley’s thousands of acres devoted to viniculture. Moselle wines actually account for nearly 10% of Germany’s total wine production! Two of the world’s great wines, in fact, come from the Moselle River vineyards: Bernkastler Doktor and Piesporter Goldtröpfchen.
The best Moselle wines still lie ahead of you, in the Mittelmosel, a stretch of the River beginning at Zell and ending about five miles before Trier. The village of Zell achieved wine lore immortality in 1863, when three wine merchants from Aachen were negotiating to purchase the town’s best wine at Mayntzer’s Winery.
The winery’s black cat, without prompting, leaped atop a wine cask, spitting and hissing at all who approached. The wine merchants had found their wine, and it made them immensely wealthy. Today Zeller Schwartze Katz (Zell’s Black Cat) is one of the region’s top-selling Rieslings!
At Bernkastel is another Moselle River legend, the Doktor vineyards. The vineyards received their name when an Archbishop of Trier, during the Middle Ages, recover from a serious illness after drinking their wine!
Finally comes Trier and the amazing architecture of two millennia of history. The Romans arrived in 16 A.D., and over four centuries fashioned a city the equal of any north of the Alps. Karl Marx was born here, where the Karl-Marx-Haus maintains a collection of his personal documents, photos, and writings.
At Trier’s north entrance is the magnificent Porta Nigra, an enormous gateway of blackened sandstone. An 11th century hermit, Simeon, lived in the gate’s eastern tower. Following his death the tower was converted to a church.
Follow the pedestrian-only Simeonstraße south to the Hauptmarkt, on the corner of which is the famous Red House with its bold but false assertion “Trier was there one thousand three hundred years before Rome.” The inscription wasn’t carved until the 15th century, so the house’s owner was quite safe!
Finally, in Trier’s Regional Museum is an original Roman Wine Ship discovered in the nearby town of Neumagen-Dhron. And with that, we’ve found the perfect ending to our sail up the intoxicating Moselle River!