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 Day||3.5 Euros|
|Vegetable Flammkuche||8.5 Euros|
|Bratwurst Plate||11.5 Euros|
|Glass Riesling x 2||5.0 Euros|
|TOTAL before tips||28.5 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 Day||3.2 Euros|
|Smoked Trout||9.9 Euros|
|Salmon Filet||15.8 Euros|
|Glass Riesling||3.4 Euros|
|TOTAL before tips||35.3 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 Soup||4.5 Euros|
|Barbary Duck Breast||17.8 Euros|
|Schnitzel with Chanterelle||15.5 Euros|
|Glass Federweisser x 2||5.6 Euros|
|Glass Riesling||3.0 Euros|
|TOTAL before tips||46.4 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.