I remember it so well. Me and my brother’s words: ‘’no please, Mum, Dad, do we really have to go to ‘Old People’s Land’ again?!’’ In fact, we maybe landed in the town me and my brother ‘feared’ for so much, three times in total.‘Old People’s Land’ is in fact called the Middle Rhine gorge and the place we stayed a few times was called Rüdesheim Am Rhein. Please don’t blame us for being so rude.
This saying is not entirely based on fiction however. When you enter the picturesque town of Rüdesheim, you’re welcomed by lots of grey people, strolling through the village like they own the place. Knowing all of this, you can’t really blame two kids not responding all too enthusiastic about the idea of visiting this place again, right? However, I grew a bit older (I’m not 65 yet, don’t worry) and have learned to break through the teenage-sense-of-shame. Last December, after having visited friends in Karlsruhe, we stopped by Rüdesheim for lunch. The famous Christmas market stalls filled the small streets, Christmas music was sounding loudly and it was as busy as ever. And I finally, finally, after so many years, saw the beauty of this town. And yes, it’s full of grey people, but that’s part of its charm. The Rhine village boasts gorgeous timbered houses, wine and beer gardens, fortifications and vineyards against the steep hills. The Drösselgasse is probably the most famous street in Rüdesheim. Live folk music, wine and beer are the main subjects around here. We would occasionally buy our grandpa a ‘hoompa hoompa’ CD as he calls it: typical German folk music. Last December wasn’t the only time that we went back. This Easter, I returned with my parents to the gorge for a weekend of camping. It was cold, but we pulled through! When you enter the Middle Rhine gorge, there are a few striking notions to make:
- There are 40 castles along the route
- There are almost no bridges. You cross the Rhine river via small ferry boats
- Every village is as picturesque as the next
- The entire gorge (from Koblenz in the north to Bingen in the south: 65km/40m) is on the Unesco World Heritage List
We stayed overnight at a campsite in St Goar, looking out over the famous Loreley rock. It is probably the most well-known place along the Rhine River and signifies the smallest part of the river between Switzerland and the North Sea. That is however not exactly what it made this world famous. There are different versions of the story, but the most popular tale is one of a mermaid who would sit on top of the rock, bewitching sailors and causing them to drown. It is a fact that in history, many ships sank around here, but if that had anything to do with a mysterious mermaid…? You tell me!
The morning after our arrival, Easter Sunday, it was raining. We stayed in, and I arranged the table in the camper van as best as I could (with adorable Easter bunny napkins). We enjoyed a wonderful brunch while looking out over the Rhine River, a Castle and the Loreley. Despite the rain, it couldn’t be more perfect. Of course, we couldn’t stay in for the entire day, so we decided to head to Koblenz, the biggest city in the region. But that’s a story for another time! As like a miracle, the air cleared and the sun broke through. On our way back from Koblenz we were treated with a magnificent sunset, glowing up the vineyards and mountains wonderfully. I snapped tons of photos on the ferry boat we took to Boppard, where we enjoyed a typical German dinner with Boppard Hamm wine to complete the indulgence. The next day we did something I couldn’t have imagine doing ten years ago… We bought tickets for a Rhine boat tour. Yes, I’m officially old now. The Middle Rhine boat tours run from Düsselfdorf up north to Mainz in the south (a total of 218 km/ 135miles). On the way they stop at most of the towns, including Rhüdesheim, Koblenz and Bacharach. The latter was our destination on Easter Monday. We embarked on the KD boat in St Goar and passed the villages of Oberwesel and Kaub on our way. Pressing my Canon lens against the boat’s window, I tried to take photos of Pfalzgrafenstein Castle: a toll castle on an island in front of the village of Kaub. Its setting and the shape (the castle has the shape of a ship) were enough reason to take photos from all angles imaginable. It took about 1, 5 hours to arrive in Bacharach. I believe that this town is my favorite of the Middle Rhine region. The cobbled streets, the timbred houses, the city wall running all up on the vineyard filled mountains… As an amateur photographer, there wasn’t much more I could ask for. On arrival, we were treated with small Easter eggs decorating all trees in the town center. Apparently, it’s a German habit to decorate trees with these eggs, and it’s fair to say that it’s a colorful sight! As my parents visited the town about a year ago, they remembered quite well what way to take to go up to Stahleck Castle. Little Finn (our four-legged family member) had much fun climbing the steep road that crisscrossed up the mountain. After a few minutes, we stopped for a second to admire the gorgeous Rhine River that meandered below us and the vineyards on the mountain across from where we were standing. Luckily for us, the climb didn’t take more than twenty minutes and once up on the castle’s grounds, we were treated by an even more spectacular sight of the Middle Rhine gorge. Stahleck Castle was mentioned in the history books as early as 1135, and functions as a youth hostel since 1925. A fun place to stay if you ask me! After a bite to eat, we headed back down via a different route and tried to find a place to have a coffee. We thought we were entering a living room stuck in time when going inside this venue, but nothing could be further from the truth. It actually turned out to be a café, but the decoration (wooden tables, knitted table clothes and a large grandfather’s clock) made it look like a living room from the 70’s. It had a very homely feel to it, which I adored. When I saw the girl who served us wearing a shirt with ‘Heerlen’ printed on it (a city in the Netherlands) we were sold. How couldn’t we? The boat that would take us back to St Goar would almost arrive, but I wouldn’t leave before taking a closer look at the Werner Chapel. This Gothic ruin in the heart of town was built in honor of the 16-year-old boy Werner. The son of Christians worked at a Jewish family and got killed in 1287. Accusations were made towards members of the Jewish Community, who were blamed for killing Werner and using his blood for religious rituals. Christians saw Werner as a Saint and built the Chapel to honor him. It became a pilgrimage that unfortunately had a lot to endure. Now, it is a beautiful ruin and official monument that still attracts a lot of visitors every day. Back on the boat, we were once again treated by the gorgeous natural treasures that this region has on offer. Seeing it from the water makes it so much more special than seeing it from a driving car. We enjoyed mugs of hot cocoa to warm up, and stared outside in awe. We left the next morning, but not before visiting Oberwesel and taking a detour crossing the mountains that we had had the pleasure to see from below the past few days. I didn’t want this weekend to end, because it had been great to travel and explore this romantic and historic region. Leaving would also mean that uni life would start up again in a few days, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that. But it was time to face reality. I looked back to the Rhine one more time, before we drove up the mountain, back home to the Netherlands. We can safely say that I experienced a 360 degrees turnaround compared to when I was a teenager. I love Old People’s Land! Have you ever visited the Middle Rhine region and what is your favorite village? Note: all photos in this post are mine