A weekend emerged in which six befriended bicycles could converge on the Mosel wine region for three days of inspired pootling. It was late summer: the weather warm, the vines heavy with grapes, and each village along the way seemed to be celebrating itself in festivals dedicated to the fruits of the region. It couldn’t have been more auspicious.
Admittedly, I have been mulling over this one a while – the trip was had at the end of August, and time is floating decidedly towards November by all accounts. The problem is I took an obscene number of photos, many in a state of either physical exertion or inebriation, and it takes a leisurely while to bear looking at them all. So here I am, on a cloudy October Sunday with a cup of tea, and another cup of tea, and a file of (blurry, over-exposed) memories to revisit.
By train, we arrived in Trier on a Thursday evening, where it was pouring with rain. We promptly found a Wirtshaus for hearty fare and Viez (the local apple wine) and set out the next morning along the river, approximately 1/3 of the way into the total cycle route which accompanies the river from Metz to Koblenz; from this point, we had 200 or so kilometres of river wine ahead.
Straight forward as it may at first seem to cycle along a river, we were lucky we had a good map, and consulted it often.
The landscape, composed of steep hillsides hugged impossibly by terraced vineyards, mirrored in the calm of the river, was so delighting it endangered focus on the path ahead. The calm of the river was so complete in places, interrupted only by families of swans or a passing boat.
We came to the small and pretty town of Piesport and sought refreshment in a Weingut overlooking the river.
With excellent timing, there was the matter of a punctured tyre, resolved by the true bicycle enthusiasts among us; I chipped in by taking pictures.
On we went, sighing and shouting out about how pretty it all was until it became dusky. After setting up camp for the night in Erden and absurdly hungry, we back-tracked a couple kilometres over the hill to Zeltlingen-Rachtig to find out what a Wine and Street Festival entails.
Wine Festival #1: Rachtiger Weinstraßenfest
Here we were! Decorative flags, strings of lights, gorgeous food, booths selling local wine and schnapps, and an increasingly raucous atmosphere as the night progressed. We tried to taste as much of everything as possible and asked a lot of questions, which I can no longer remember the answers to. Alas! I have forgotten too what was told of the glorious wines – though I recall being truly impressed. I think somebody explained that the vast majority of residents are involved in wine-making. Even more fascinating, however, is that each village has a tradition of biannually nominating a ‘wine queen’ and a ‘wine princess’ as town representatives, who then swan about in satin-y ball gowns with an oversized wine glass in hand and appear on the cover of brochures and leaflets in such apparel. We saw two of them that night being chased by moustached men in black capes and feathered caps! Or so, perhaps, I imagined.
I neglected to photograph any of the food before eating it. There were phenomenal slices of Zwiebelkuchen (onion cake – like a quiche, but tubbier) studded with bacon. A basket of buttery fried champignons with a superbly heady creamy accompaniment. There were sausages in Brötchen and fish from the Mosel. We found ourselves at a booth offering dishes from the town’s french sister city, Saint-Florentin (Yonne), where we predictably ordered snails drowned in garlic butter. All the while, a Dutch big band oom-pah’d loudly, which was overwhelming at first, but became more appealing as we made our way down the wine list.
At some point, we cycled back to the Campingplatz in Erden, and the next morning was brightly overcast.
We met the owners’ rabbits on the way to breakfast before setting off again.
The second day took us up over some hills where we experienced moderate exertion and spectacular, uncapturable views.
For a time, the path wound through vineyards, which extended steeply above our heads – we wondered how, exactly, the harvesting is accomplished, and (morbidly) if there are many fatalities.
So many grapes! Purple and plump, so sweetly!
A Straußwitrschaft is a place that opens over the summer months to sell their own wine, and sometimes food – much like a cellar door. In this area, which is populated so generously by these outposts, the Straußwirtschaft hangs either a bouquet (Strauß), a wreath (Kranz) or a broomstick (Besen) on the sign outside the establishment as though to say “we’re open for business!“, though no one was able to tell us why. This one we popped into, pictured above sporting a broomstick, was particularly photogenic that day. Seated around in the dappled shade of the front garden, we disappeared two bottles of something lovely in these pretty wine glasses.
They also have a beautiful garden, bursting with everything. The owner caught me stooped sheepishly next to the grapevines taking pictures and joined me briefly in the admiration of her plots. She described the garden as a bit chaotic – but it is exactly as it should be!
Wine Festival #2: Cochem Heimat- und Weinfest
We arrived in Cochem to a much bigger festival. There were flashing lights and fairground rides and a public intoxicated to the point of falling asleep on trees. I neglected to take any decent pictures, but Tim snapped a couple taking the perfect selfie.
We contemplated ascending the famous Burg, but only briefly – our legs cried for rest. That night we stayed in a camping ground populated by the kind of holiday makers who anoint their designated campervan sites with fake lawn, paving stones and garden ornaments. They had their own Campingplatz festival that night. Cochem left an unusual collection of impressions indeed.
We left the next morning – without breakfast! A risky move. We crossed the river in a small ferry at Klotten and sought the nearest Straußwirtschaft or similar.
Pictured below is a sandwich named Strammer Max.
I used the camera less and less that day, though the scenery became no less amazing. It did change, though, ineffably, from where we began in Trier. We stopped for a swim somewhere, stepping gingerly over the slimy riverstones until it was deep enough to paddle. Our bicycles took a rest in the shade of a pear tree, which had dropped most of its fruit some time ago.
Wine Festival #3: Moselfest Winningen
Winningen was the loveliest surprise. 11 kilometres out of Koblenz, the cycle way goes right through the centre of this beautifully kept town, so we couldn’t have missed it if we tried. Very strategic, one might say. The flags were flying; and our trip was almost, tragically, over. Naturally, we were excited to have cause to delay in such merry surroundings.
Vines sprout from every corner and tangle overhead. Such romance! Imagine plucking grapes from your window?
And Goethe’s drinking song adorns a wall. Let’s hazard a translation!
Here it goes:
We must be drunk! I do implore.
Youth is drunkenness galore.
And so we drink our way to youth.
It’s virtuous, and that’s the truth.
Lovely life, she’ll make you ill
but grapes restore like nothing will.
Mosel Sprüche, Mosel Fische. These battered fish were great, and we have forgotten what they were. Quite possibly Rotauge / red eye – maybe. The mustard-y potato salad was excellent too.
Out of sheer excitement for everything I ordered the Reibekuchen: crispy fried potato pancakes (hash browns, vaguely) with a cheese of some description – how I wish I could recall – all melty in the middle! Then we were off again.
And so, the trip came to its natural end. There we were, at Koblenz main station, with some beers and some bicycles.
I’m utterly glad to have experienced a sliver of this region – so very lush, so very intriguing – and I’m particularly glad that we travelled by bicycle. I’d recommend this emphatically.