After checking out of the castle-hotel of Burg Liebenstein, we took the KD ferry to Bacharach for the final two nights of our 1500km voyage. In 24 days we had journeyed through the Low Countries, the Black Forest, the Alsace, the Mosel Valley, and now came to our last stop in the Middle Rhine Valley.
There were good reasons why we chose this charming medieval town as our last stop -- worlds away from metropolitan Frankfurt, yet only 90 minutes by train from Germany's largest airport for a cheap flight back home. Why waste the last night before our flight in a nondescript urban sprawl when we could spend it in a historic town of UNESCO World Heritage designation, on the Romantic Rhine, under the shadow of a picturesque castle?
Quaint little Bacharach is located in the south of the Middle Rhine Valley, 10km upstream of the legendary Lorelei Rock and a short and scenic ferry ride from the more popular destinations of Oberwesel or Sankt-Goar. A half-day cruise on the Rhine would reach Koblenz for transferring to boats up the Mosel Valley, or further downstream towards Cologne. And by rail, Frankfurt, Cologne and even Heidelberg are within a two hour radius by ICE trains via nearby Mainz. That's big city convenience at a tiny town of less than 2000 residents.
For independent travelers like ourselves, Bacharach makes an excellent base for a multitude of reasons: beautiful timber-frame houses from the Middle Ages, outstanding hiking with panoramic views of the Rhine, great public transportation and of course, some of Germany's best Rieslings growing out of the steep local hills. Not so great if you're solely looking for shopping or night life I must warn, but perfect for some relaxing day-cruises, trail hikes and wine tasting.
Bacharach's historic core is a haven of half-timber architecture from the 17th Century and beyond, forgotten by time after its harbour silted up and the once-prosperous town slumbered through centuries of anonymity. The oldest building, aptly named the Altes Haus, dates from the mid 1300's and continues to serve up traditional Rhenish dishes to townsfolk and newcomers alike. The Town Hall is about the same age, and the Tithe House is only slightly younger at 600 years old.
Compared with the more popular Oberwesel and Sankt Goar, we found Bacharach more compact and better preserved overall as a historic enclave still surrounded and sustained by its centuries-old vineyards. During daytime it gets slightly overrun with day-trippers from nearby Koblenz or Frankfurt, but that all changes at twilight when its rural serenity returns to the town's cobblestone streets.
One of our favorite spots was an unsightly modern lookout known as the Postenturm. Despite the tower itself being a complete eyesore, it offers the best vantage point of Bacharach with its lush vineyards, the mighty Rhine and a medieval skyline of gothic ruins and church steeples.
From the Postenturm there's a well-used trail that snakes around the town's perimeters amidst the well-manicured vineyards of Spatburgunders, Rivaners and Rieslings. It's a brisk but excellent hike that took us past the town's medieval defensive towers, crumbling town walls and ultimately led to the local castle on the hilltop.
The brooding presence of Burg Stahleck stands a hundred metres above the town, watching over the river traffic on the Rhine and offering panoramic views of the territory. The 12th Century castle had been completely rebuilt over the past hundred years and now operates as an extremely popular youth hostel with modern amenities. It's also a great place to break the hike and sit back with a drink to accompany the view.
We would have chosen this as our base for two nights, except for its inconvenience of location for a taking stroll in the old town or accessing the train station. Hiking down to the station should take less than 15 minutes without baggage, but I wouldn't try to come back up in the evening without a taxi. That said, if you ever want to stay overnight in a castle on a tight budget, this would be my recommendation as long as you can book in advance.
The trail zigzags past the castle above some sheer cliffs on its way down towards the train station. Directly across the Rhine is the hamlet of Lorchhausen with more prototypical Rhenish landscapes of idyllic villages and terraced vineyards stretching for miles.
The hike from one side of the town to another, starting near the Postenturm, climb up to Burg Stahleck and returning to the town near the train station, should take about an hour without stops. For us it probably took about twice as long as we took frequent photo stops and paused for a drink at the castle. It's a breathtaking way to spend a leisurely afternoon.
Our favorite eatery in town was the locally celebrated Weingut Bastian, housed inside a 15th Century half-timber house right next to the Altes Haus. While it's more of a lunch spot/watering hole rather than a proper restaurant, the limited repertoire of snacking bites was terrific, and the wine of course was fantastic as expected.
Like most Weinstubben the place focuses on its collection of local vintage from the immediate region, many coming from the steep hillside just above the town. I had heard about its popularity among Americans courtesy of Rick Steves, though on this Saturday afternoon almost all of the clientele were German speakers aside from ourselves.
We started with a clear broth and the regional version of Vesperteller platter with Schinken, cured sausages and cheeses to share between the two of us. I pondered ordering the 15-wine-sampler for 20 Euros, but realizing that I might not make it back to the guesthouse on my feet, I settled for a delectable glass of local halbtrocken Riesling that was certainly among the best of our trip.
Equally as good was the classic combination of Zwiebelkuche and Federweisser, an autumn favorite available only as long as the season's supply of the sweet, half-fermented wine lasted. I would have loved to return for more, but we ended up spending the next day in Oberwesel and Sankt Goar and didn't get another chance.
Bill for Two Persons
|Chicken Broth||4.0 Euros|
|Glass Riesling||4.8 Euros|
|Glass Federweisser||2.5 Euros|
|TOTAL before tips||24.5 Euros (CAD$34.3)|
Our only proper dinner in town was spent in a traditional little Gaeststatte in an inconspicuous alley. I don't remember how we came across Jaegerstube, but as it turned out it was also recommended by Rick Steves and thus had become somewhat of a tourist hangout. That's usually not a good sign as far as the quality of food is concerned.
To its credit though, prices were unbelievably cheap even for a rural small town. Where else would you find a whole Eisbein with Sauerkraut for 8.5 Euros (CAD$12)? My wife's Jaegerschnitzel cost only slightly more, though I have to say ... the flavors were nothing too memorable. Rick's good at spotting these authentic little joints, but I don't think he ever claims to be a gourmand. As I mentioned, I'd rather go back to Weingut Bastian.
Bill for Two Persons
|Glass Rivaner||3.7 Euros|
|Glass Federweisser||2.8 Euros|
|TOTAL before tips||27.5 Euros (CAD$38.5)|
This pleasant and unassuming little town served well as our base for exploring the rest of the Middle Rhine Valley. We stayed at probably the closest Privat Zimmer to the train station, operated by an elderly Oma named Ursula Orth, for some of the cheapest B&B prices we've come across in Western Europe. While the room may appear spartan without even a TV, the place was clean, came with a private bathroom, and of course came with a hearty German breakfast in the morning. Leave me a message below if you want her daughter's email contacts for booking.