We call it the fairy-tale route. The Mosel Cycle Route meanders past some of Germany’s prettiest landscapes, best wine regions, cutest towns and most impressive castles. As the crow flies, it’s only 95 km between Koblenz and Trier, two of Germany’s oldest and most charming cities. But traveling along the cycle path more than doubles the distance as the route hugs every swan-graced curve of the Mosel. This is a very good thing. Most of the roughly 200 km journey is like being in a feel-good Disney film with a really fine wine by our side.
We spend five days riding from Koblenz to Trier, plus an additional sightseeing day in Trier. Like our first stage along the Rhine, it would be easy to ride this flat route much faster, but there are so many worthwhile stops. The Mosel Cycle Route is primarily on dedicated bike paths with a few road sections through the towns. It crosses back and forth over the river and is well-signed. I’ve broken down our ride by day and touched on the highlights. The daily distances add up to more than 200 km as we took a few detours.
Day 1: Koblenz to Moselkern, approx. 35 km
It doesn’t take us long to ride the lovely stretch from Koblenz to Moselkern. We make it a short cycling day so we have lots of time to visit Burg Eltz. Travel guru Rick Steves claims it’s his favourite castle in all of Europe.
Burg Eltz is hidden in the forest; it can’t be seen from the cycle path. We dump our gear at one of the few guesthouses in tiny Moselkern and get back on our bikes for the short ride to the trailhead. The 2.5 km hike follows an idyllic creek up through the forest. We gasp as the trees open up to reveal a perfect medieval castle with soaring turrets. Burg Eltz has been owned by the same family, the Eltz family, for over 800 years and it’s one of the few castles in this region that has never been destroyed. Our 45 minute English tour takes us through rooms with gorgeous tapestries, ornate tiled stoves and medieval weaponry. It’s fascinating but I’m most taken by the fairy-tale exterior. We hang around and eat cake at the castle’s cafe until most visitors have left. The late day sun casts an irresistible glow over the grand cobblestone entranceway—I can almost see the brave knights and fair maidens of Burg Eltz. Rick Steves might be right.
Day 2: Moselkern to Zell, approx. 65 km
With so many beautiful towns along the Mosel it’s difficult to decide where to stop. Coffee break beckons as we roll into stunningly-situated Cochem, a town that’s used by many visitors as a travel base for this region. After exploring the old town with its half-timbered houses and medieval gates we are happy to see our route cross over the bridge where we are treated to Cochem’s most enchanting views.
By lunchtime we make it to Beilstein, the pint-sized darling of the Mosel. There are countless tour buses, cars and cyclists. Most of the crowd have plonked themselves down in the closest restaurants. We wander a short way up the narrow streets to Beilstein’s hilltop church where it’s calmer and offers splendid views of the river (my header photo).
The afternoon brings us to the steepest vineyards in all of Europe. The Calmont (hill) between the towns of Ediger-Eller and Bremm has gradients of up to 65º. The steep slope provides the optimal angle for sun exposure, in turn producing some of the world’s best Riesling. I’m glad I’m drinking it and not picking it!
Our stop for the night is Zell. I like this town a lot. It’s not quite as busy as the others and has a more authentic feel, but that might be because we have arrived later in the day. The town is best known for its legendary black cat label (Zeller Schwarze Katz) originating from a story about a black cat that fiercely protected a barrel of particularly fine wine. Before we leave the next day, I convince Mike to climb up through the Black Cat vineyards to an old town tower. The view is as exquisite as the wine.
Day 3: Zell to Bernkastel-Kues, approx. 45 km
Our first stop today is Traben-Trabach, a town well-known for its half-timbered buildings and art nouveau architecture. Sadly, the Traben side of town is in the midst of major road construction. We spend a bit of time poking around but it’s noisy and hard to manoeuvre our bikes through all the detours. I’m mad at myself for not making more effort to take photos (I have to use a stock image for the town’s impressive bridge).
We press on to Bernkastel-Kues another gorgeous town that straddles both sides of the Mosel. Its Marktplatz, a public square that has been the centre of the community since the 12th century is surrounded by picturesque buildings that house vibrant cafes and shops. The bend in the Mosel here is especially dramatic and I manage to once again convince Mike to climb a steep vineyard path. He’ll admit that it’s worth it. Not only do we get a fabulous pano shot from the ruins of 9th century Landshut Castle, we also see the wine harvest in action. On one side, men with giant buckets are picking grapes, on the other side, a specialized harvesting machine tethered to a truck by a steel cable, moves down a row of vines, shaking them and capturing the grapes in holding tanks. It’s so cool I have to take a video.
We stay overnight on the Kues side. It’s quiet and charming and affords a wonderful sunset view of Bernkastel and the vineyards we’ve just climbed.
Day 4: Bernkastel-Kues to Trittenheim, approx. 30 km
The day looks ominous as we cycle out of Bernkastel-Kues. A light sprinkle soon turns into a torrential downpour. Wouldn’t you know it, it’s the first time we strayed off the main bike route and ended up on road with a narrow shoulder. We get showered every time a car passes. We’re drenched when we finally find a roadside shelter and wait it out for an hour. We’re cranky and cold but the worst is over. We find the path and cycle as far as Piesport, the biggest wine growing centre in the Mosel. It’s a sleepy town but there’s a cute looking vinothek (a place that sells wine and often has a wine bar). We end up sitting at a long table with a group of friendly German tourists who have obviously enjoyed a glass or three. It doesn’t take long for us to become the best of buddies, singing songs and swapping tales over what may be the best riesling I’ve ever tasted. We’re introduced to flammkuchen—a thin crust pizza-like dish made with crème fraîche, onions and bacon. Divine!
Our new friends tell us about a wine festival taking place in the neighbouring village of Neumagen-Dhron. How can we pass up a festival in what is reported to be Germany’s oldest wine making town, founded by the Romans 2000 years ago. Feeling very happy after our extended lunch, we cycle to our guesthouse in the cute, non-touristy town of Trittenheim where we drop off our stuff and take the bus back to Neumagen-Dhron. We get there just in time to catch the parade, complete with a marching band, wine princesses, and toga-clad Romans. We feast on roast pork, potato pancakes, cheese and more wine. A crappy start has turned into our most fun day. We try not to think about how we’ll feel tomorrow.
Day 5: Trittenheim to Trier, approx. 45 km
We’re feeling surprisingly energetic this morning and even take a short uphill detour for a panoramic view of the Mosel loop just beyond Trittenheim. Yesterday’s antics seem to have unleashed a when in Rome attitude. We simply can’t pass up the opportunity to stop at a little stand in Riol, right next to the bike path that is serving up flammkuchen and wine. Our resolution to not drink wine at lunch has now been firmly tossed out the window.
We’re excited and a bit sad as we get closer to Trier. Our cycle journey along the magical Mosel is drawing to a close, but we get to spend two nights in historic Trier. No cycling tomorrow, just sightseeing in Germany’s oldest city.
I’m saving Trier for another post. Stay tuned for that and our continuing journey along the Saar River.