The Mosel region in Germany is known for two things - picturesque countryside and delicious white wines.
The purpose for our trip to the Mosel was to visit Cameron's extended family and to get away from the big city environment. Our previous three weeks had us travel through Cologne, Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin, Prague, Budapest and Bucharest - we were in need of some simplicity and fresh air. We were in search of 'the other side' of Europe.
We boarded a DeutscheBahn train in Koblenz after spending the afternoon exploring the riverside city. Within an hour we arrived in the town of Bullay where we caught a connecting train that tunneled directly through a mountain and stopped at our final destination - the Reil.
The Reil is the small village where Cameron's stepfather Ralf was born and raised, and is still home to his parents as well as his brother, sister-in-law and nephew. It is a place that Cameron remembers fondly from a visit ten years prior and although the region is known for its summer tourism, it's definitely not on the typical European backpacker trail. We were hypocritically thankful for that.
The countryside train ride itself was a highlight. It passed through several villages, each nestled along the snake-like Mosel River and each dominated by a lone, pointy-top cathedral. The river flows through France, Luxembourg and Germany and ultimately pours into the Rhine River in Koblenz. The river appears to sink into the earth as steep, rocky valleys line each side. Thousands of colourful vineyards spread for miles in every direction, adding to the postcard perfect landscapes. We've never seen so many vineyards in one place!
We stared out the window, apparently at a loss for words. The beautiful setting outside our cabin window captured our complete attention and put a smile on our face each time a hilltop castle would make an appearance.
Before we knew it we had arrived. We were happy to be in this distinctive part of the world and looked forward to spending time with our distant family. It has been a long and adventurous year.
Cameron was quite pleased with himself. He was able to get us from the train station to the house from memory, although it was only a five minute walk down two thin roads. The family home is actually a guesthouse and winery so finding space was not a problem. We were given our own newly renovated apartment with a private lounge, bathroom and kitchen - we quickly realized that four nights was not going to be enough time.
Of course I have to give the guesthouse its due praise and provide a web address, should you find yourself in the Mosel region in future travels - http://www.weingut-dauns.de/
Please visit their website to book a stay, you're always welcome!
After settling in and getting reacquainted with family over coffee and cake, we took a tour of the wine making facilities. Matthias, Cameron's uncle, is a winegut (wine maker) who took over the family business several years ago. He makes several wines and is involved in every aspect of the business, from pruning grapes to bottling wine to delivering the final product.
The Reil has a saying - "Trink Reiler Wein vom Heissen Stein", which translate into 'drink the wine from the hot stone'. The reasoning is simple. The vineyards are grown on the steep and rocky banks of the Mosel Valley. The stone reflects and traps the heat from the sun, creating a unique growing environment for the grapes.
It was interesting learning about the wine making process and seeing the giant barrels in their domed stone cellar underneath the family house. We could even hear the fermentation process take place, a sound similar to a Jacuzzi as the bubbles rise to the surface.
Although we relaxed our pace in the German countryside we still managed to see quite a bit. We spent an afternoon hiking through the vineyards. The cold crisp air and lack of people anywhere added to the tranquility of the hillside views.
We took the train to the popular neighbouring city of Traben-Trarbach and explored its narrow streets and boutique shops and cafes. The region, and especially Traben-Trarbach, is renowned for its Tudor Revival architecture and alpine cottage style houses. It's such a beautiful place. We felt like we stepped back in time into Old Europe. There is a sense of peacefulness that one gets when walking along the quiet Mosel River.
After sampling its renowned draft Weissbier, the snow started to fall. Let it be known that Nicole was wishing and hoping for a white Christmas season. This would be an opportune time to say, "careful what you wish for"!
The snow accumulated and decided it would stick around for more than an afternoon showing. In the evening we drank Matthias' delicious sweet wines while playing Nintendo Wii bowling. The wood burning stove kept us warm while the snow continued to fall and the temperatures continued to drop (it got up to minus 30 in parts of Germany).
The following morning gave us all a surprise - a white Reil. The snow had carried on all night and blanketed the entire valley. Nicole's wish came true. Luca, Matthias and Pia's son, shared Nicole's delight as we all spent the afternoon playing in the snow.
Next on the agenda was a family evening in the fairy-tale town of Bernkastel, an old town built in the Middle Ages. The colourful medieval market square is arguably the most spectacular in all of the Mosel Valley. It's even more impressive as night (see the attached photo album). The pedestrian square and its surrounding streets converted into a festive Christmas Market with a touch of carnival.
The jovial evening concluded at a great restaurant in Traben-Trarbach. The popular restaurant is known for its traditional German cuisine and its original setting inside a converted stone wine cellar. It was a great way to celebrate the holiday season on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean.
You can't leave the Mosel Valley without visiting a castle. There are so many to choose from; some are very old and in ruin, while others are well maintained and open to the public. We decided to visit the region's best - Cochem Castle.
We bundled up and braved the cold and snowy roads. The 45-minute drive had us in the city of Cochem by mid-afternoon. Like Bernkastel, much of the medieval city is pedestrian. The thin cobblestone streets split through the tall and thin, Tudor style buildings.
Cochem will also get the honor of being the last place in Germany that we would visit a Christmas Market (you'd think we'd get tired of them but you'd be wrong).
We trekked our way up the snowy hill to Cochem Castle. The castle is said to have been built in the 11th century but remained in ruins until 1868 when it was acquired by a Berlin businessman who completely rebuilt it in the then popular Neo-Gothic architectural style. It is quite an extraordinary building.
Unfortunately the castle wasn't open. It didn't matter though, the hilltop views were spectacular and well worth the extra effort.
You know the saying, "Time flies when you're having fun!"
I can still remember being in Turkey thinking, "I can't wait until we get to Germany".
But it seemed so far away.
Well, the time had not only come… it went. It was time to get our guide books out and start planning once again.
Our next destination was to be the French Alps for Christmas. We had a chalet booked and were meeting the Kiwi friends that we met in Peru nine months earlier. But we needed to get to Paris first, and in order to get to Paris we needed to travel through Luxembourg.
We can't say enough about the Mosel Valley. It's become one of our favourite places on our global adventure and we will definitely be back… hopefully sooner than later!
December 20th, 2009