Paul's Travel Pics

Sunday, March 30, 2014

3-Night Winery Stay in Spectacular Cochem

This is one of my favorite towns in the Mosel, or elsewhere in Germany for that matter.

Just look at this view of a fairytale castle shrouded in the morning mist, perched above a medieval town surrounded by lush vineyards. You too would be enticed to spend a few nights in this magical place.

Located on a sharp turn of the Mosel is the 1000-year-old town of Cochem, one of many along a serpentine river widely recognized as Germany's most prestigious wine region. Every hill along the valley is covered with rows upon rows of Rieslings, and it was for this reason that we decided to base ourselves in a local winery for the next 3 nights.

This may be the most complete medieval town we've ever stayed in, with clusters of cute timber-frame houses, cobblestone townsquares, terraced vineyards that have sustained its townsfolk since time immemorial, and a gothic castle on the hilltop from which the nobles ruled. The whole infrastructure for fiefs and peasants is still mostly intact to this date.

Ever since the Romans brought their grapes 2000 years ago, the terrain of the Mosel has been adapted specifically for one crop. Every inch of cultivable land seems to be covered with grapevines, creating a dramatic cultural landscape of frighteningly steep vineyards staring down a narrow valley.

That's the backdrop for this enchanted little town, merely a 2-hour train ride from Cologne or Frankfurt but feels like a world away. Boats at the pier would ferry travelers up the Mosel to the ancient Roman city of Trier or downstream to join the Rhine at Koblenz.

We arrived by train after a day-trip to Luxembourg and Trier, into a historic train station that seems stuck in the late 1800's. Where the train tracks ended, the vineyards began. Wine is the lifeblood of this age-old community of vintners.

Our base for 3 nights was Weingut Rademacher, a family-owned winery conveniently located just a 3 minute walk from the train station. Located on the hillside above the house is the family estate, a small and precipitous looking plot of land that produces some surprisingly flowery semi-dry and dry Rieslings.

The family operates a small Weinstube that serves up cheese-and-Schinken platters to accompany their wine, in addition to renting out Gästzimmers to supplement income outside of wine production. Our double room was clean and very spacious, albeit a little noisy in the morning as it faced the park-and-ride lot for the train station. On a positive note though they do offer a free glass of wine for each guest upon arrival.

The included breakfast was one of the best we've had anywhere in Germany, a generous buffet of dry-cured ham, bread and juice, plus a whole plethora of mouth-watering cheeses. And if you're still thirsty, they do wine tastings at a nominal charge and offer their wines at very reasonable prices. I would have carried some back to Canada if we weren't traveling further.

After breakfast we entered the town's medieval walls and headed straight for its busy Market Square of 17th Century half-timber houses flanking a Baroque townhall. The surprising number of shops offered some decent shopping, but the best deals were at the informal open-air market (Tues/Wed only?) just outside of the town walls next to the main bridge.

A shuttle bus drove us up some impossibly narrow and steep cobblestone streets to the Reichsburg, Cochem's Imperial castle. This was arguably the most popular sight in the entire Mosel Valley, and we arrived among hundreds of other tourists, mostly Germans but many English and French speaking ones as well.

These 1000-year-old Romanesque arches actually led to a much more recent neo-gothic castle, destroyed by Louis XIV and last rebuilt in the 19th Century. Even on a Tuesday morning the courtyard was completely packed, and we had to wait almost 30 minutes for an English tour.

Even our guided tour session, delivered bilingually in German and English, was entirely packed with visitors as curious as ourselves. Our guide was a humorous lady who spoke English with barely any accent.

The 45 minute tour took us through some extravagant 19th Century halls and living quarters, decorated with neo-baroque and even renaissance style furnishings and sculptures. Particularly interesting was the collection of hunting trophies, including a polar bear from Alaska.

The most memorable room was a secret passage disguised as a regular wall panel. Our guide asked everyone to guess where the secret lever was ... and nobody noticed an inconspicuous metal button on the carpet. This was one of the more enjoyable castle tours we've taken.

But my favorite part of the Reichsburg was its panoramic view of Cochem amidst its endless vineyards and the lively boat traffic along its stretch of the Mosel. We probably spent nearby two hours at the castle, before taking the steep path back into town for lunch.

For our first meal in Cochem we went to the historic Ratskeller, which by definition was the cellar of the 18th Century Rathaus. I had no idea why the outdoor patio was entirely full while this romantic wine cellar from the 1700's was near empty. To me the ambiance of the vaulted cellar was exactly our main reason for lunching here.

Soup of the day turned out to be a rich and creamy soup of champignon mushrooms. Everyday I was hoping to see some Boletus or Chanterelle mushrooms on restaurant menus in this autumn season, but the good stuff still turned out rather uncommon. This bowl though was a fairly good substitute.

My wife surprised me with a sudden craving for some hearty bratwursts. These came in two varieties, both crispily grilled and meaty, though I still liked my vegetarian dish better ...

I must have been missing our wonderful time in the Black Forest ... and missing my usual intake of veggies since arriving in Germany ... that I thoroughly enjoyed this vegetable Flammkuche. And it was very well prepared with a rich sour cream, crunchy edges and some simple and fresh vegetables. To me this type of peasant dishes is German food at its best -- nothing fancy, just simple and rustic flavors.

Bill for Two Persons
Soup of the Day3.5 Euros
Vegetable Flammkuche8.5 Euros
Bratwurst Plate11.5 Euros
Glass Riesling x 25.0 Euros
TOTAL before tips28.5 Euros (CAD$39.9)

Another great lunch spot we came across was also housed in a historic building, the 17th Century timber-frame house of Zom Stueffje, just a little uphill from the Market Square.

The interior of exposed wooden frames and an eccentric collection of curios probably hadn't changed much over the past century or so. The clientelle all seemed to be Germans couples in their 60's or older, but it hardly mattered to us. We knew we're in for some nice traditional dishes.

And the food was great ... in fact my wife's smoked trout fillets were among the best fish we had in Germany. The flesh was flavorfully smoked, buttery and not at all salty. While the portion wasn't huge, at less than 10 Euros this was still an excellent deal.

My fillet of salmon was a much bigger dish that came with a green salad and potatoes on the side. The meat was a little dry and the sauce was too salty, but then I wasn't expecting French elaborateness in a rustic German Landrestaurant. Though, I would have loved to order a second plate of smoked trout.

Bill for Two Persons
Soup of the Day3.2 Euros
Smoked Trout9.9 Euros
Salmon Filet15.8 Euros
Federweisser3.0 Euros
Glass Riesling3.4 Euros
TOTAL before tips35.3 Euros (CAD$49.4)

After working up a huge appetite with a day-hike to Burg Eltz, we head for our most anticipated restaurant in Cochem, one highly recommended by the locals. Located a 15 minute walk away from the Old Town on Endertstraße is the little Mosellandhotel im Enderttal and its restaurant Zum Onkel Willi.

We knew we're in the right place when we saw on the menu ... fresh Chanterelle mushrooms! I would have loved to start with a cream of Chanterelle, but this schnitzel with a rich sauce was enough to satisfy my taste for these seasonal wild fungi. I probably scooped up every drop of the sauce with the potato cakes.

My wife ordered this Barbary duck breast in a sauce of orange and peppercorns. Ignoring the curious sides of broccoli and steamed rice -- I guess the locals somehow associate exotic meats with the orient -- the duck breast actually tasted quite decent with the peppercorns. But it's still no match for the Chanterelle ... that sauce alone was enough to keep me happy for the day.

Bill for Two Persons
Tomato Soup4.5 Euros
Barbary Duck Breast17.8 Euros
Schnitzel with Chanterelle15.5 Euros
Glass Federweisser x 25.6 Euros
Glass Riesling3.0 Euros
TOTAL before tips46.4 Euros (CAD$64.7)

In my view Cochem is an excellent base for exploring the rest of the picturesque Mosel Valley. It's well-connected by trains to Trier or Traben-Trarbach, ferries to Beilstein or Bernkastel-Kues, and of course the hiking trail to majestic Burg Eltz is just a couple stations north at Moselkern. Three nights was just enough, and I could have easily found enough things to do for a week's stay.


Empress Tey said...

Dear Paul
I've been following your grand winter trip closely and it's been such an adventure! Thanks too for sharing your gastronomical journey :)
I'd be going to some of these places this December and would like to get your feedback : do you think it's feasible or recommended doing this entire trip in the month of December ie. deep of winter ?

Thanks for your time :) continue traveling !

Paul said...

Hi Empress Tey,

I think it's quite feasible to do most of these in any season ... the Alsace and the Black Forest would still be lovely, and perhaps even better with a dusting of snow if you're lucky.

The only difference is that the Rhine and Mosel ferries typically shut down in the winter, and you'll need to complete all your traveling by trains and buses. Some of the short hikes to the castles may be slippery if it snows, but spending more time in town sipping the great wine would also make a fine vacation!


Empress Tey said...

Thanks Paul!
You're a great help and an inspiration.
Have fun traveling with the wifey! :)

Marcia Taams said...

The photos you've taken of Cochem made me already consider it as a perfect city! This is typical German, isn't it? To have people dealing with every little aspect of the city shows a very good organization. All in all, the town is impeccable!

Paul said...

Hi Marcia,

I do find Cochem to be a very beautiful and authentic German town. It is quite commercialized and most of the town engages in the tourism industry, but that still doesn't detract from its attractiveness, especially in the evening and early morning when the day-trippers aren't around.


Empress Tey said...

Dear Paul
sorry it's me again! I wanted to ask for your advice: do you think i should stay in Riquewihr or Ribeauville? I know you did mention the latter is less commercialised and probably a better option, but I am worried about access to that place, what with me lugging my huge suitcase around and it being the winter season as well.

What do you think ? :)


Paul said...

Hi Empress Tey,

How many nights do you plan to spend at Riquewihr/Ribeauville? Ribeauville is probably larger in size, and together with the castles overlooking the town, probably offers more activities if you plan on using it as a base for a few days. If you're worried about access by public transport, both are accessible by public bus on Monday to Saturday so neither should be an issue unless you intend on arriving or departing on a Sunday.


mdoll said...

Hi Paul,
I will be traveling solo there in May and I was wondering if you have any tips for me. I am over 55 and I have never traveled alone in a country where I cannot speak the language.
I will be three nights in Cochem (May 6-9) and 2 in Bacharach.
I want to tour a winery or two while I am there, and see Trier.
Would you recommend taking a train to Trier, and perhaps riding the boat back?
Which sites am I ok walking to alone vs. taking a bus?
With regards to language, do I ask if they speak English first, or do I attempt to ask something in German? Can you tell I am a bit nervous?! lol
I am staying at Hotel am Hafen.
Thanks! Marsha

Empress Tey said...

Hey Paul
Thanks again :) after a very tough search and getting turned down many times (they're all booked for December!) I finally secured a b&b in ribeauville :)) you're right about the transport. In fact, the bus to take from colmar to reach Ribeauville is 109A.

Thanks much for being so helpful :)) looking forward to reading your other and upcoming travelogues.

Paul said...

Empress Tey,

Great to see that you're all set for your vacation in December, 8 months in advance. Have fun with fine tuning your travel plans and hope you'll fall in love the Alsace.


Paul said...

Hi Marsha,

First off, don't worry about language barriers. You'll see a lot of signage in English and most hotels and restaurants will have English speaking staff. Also, don't forget that smiling is universal, and strategically learning a few words of German will help you a long way. Saying Guten Tag before speaking English would buy you some appreciation from the locals.

Trier is very far from Cochem by boat. I would recommend doing a small section, e.g. Cochem to Koblenz as you travel from Cochem to Bacharach or Cochem to Bullay as you travel towards Trier. Either would take you a good 3-4 hours.

Winery tours are aplenty at Cochem or Bacharach. As far as walking goes, you probably want to stick to trains and buses for moving from town to town. Most of the towns are small enough to walk thru within a couple hours.

Good luck. Sounds like you've got a month or so before the big trip.


Anonymous said...

I came across your blog while researching on Santorini for our honeymoon this summer... what a wonderful blog! It's definitely going to my Read list! Keep it up and thanks for sharing!


Paul Racine said...

Thanks Paul: we are going to be in Cochem for 3 nights late May 2015,and have booked in at Weinstaube Rudemacher thanks to your blog.