Introducing The Romantic Rhine Valley
Between Rüdesheim and Koblenz, the Rhine cuts deeply through the Rhenish slate mountains, meandering between hillside castles and steep fields of wine-producing grapes to create a magical spell of beauty and legend. This is Germany’s landscape at its most dramatic – forested hillsides alternate with craggy cliffs and near-vertical terraced vineyards. Idyllic villages appear around each bend, their half-timbered houses and Gothic church steeples seemingly plucked from the world of fairy tales.
High above the river, busy with barge traffic, and the rail lines that run along each bank, are the famous medieval castles. Most were built by a mafia of local robber barons – knights, princes and even bishops – who extorted tolls from merchant ships by blocking their passage with iron chains. Time and French troops under Louis XIV laid waste to many of the castles but several were restored in the 19th century, when Prussian kings, German poets and British painters discovered the gorge’s timeless beauty. Today, some have been reincarnated as hotels and, in the case of Burg Stahleck, as a hostel.
In 2002, Unesco designated these 65 kilometres of riverscape, more prosaically known as the Oberes Mittelrheintal (www.welterbe-mittelrheintal.de), as a World Heritage Site.
A popular summer and early autumn tourist destination, the area all but shuts down in winter. Hotel prices are highest on weekends from May to mid-October but are still remarkably reasonable.