The Rhine and Mosel river valleys are a feast as much for the eyes as the mouth the Mosel curls downstream to the Rhine Gorge, a soft shore of castle-backed hills, while dozens of vineyards provide Germany’s best wines. Just a bit farther south, the hinterlands of the Black Forest contrast with its modem cities.
RHINE VALLEY (RHEINTAL)
The Rhine River runs from Switzerland to the North Sea, but in the popular imagination it exists only in the 80km Rhine Valley, a region prominent in historical legends, sailors’ nightmares, and poets’ dreams. The river flows north from Mainz (easily accessible from Frankfurt) through Bacharach and Koblenz to Bonn.
Two different train lines (one on each bank) traverse the Rheintal; the line on the west bank stays closer to the water and provides superior views. Though full of tourists, boats are probably the best way to see the sights; the Koln-Diisseidorfer (KD) Line covers the Mainz-Koblenz stretch four times per day in summer.
MAINZ. Once the greatest Catholic diocese north of the Alps, Mainz’s colossal sandstone Martinsdom stands as a memorial to its former ecclesiastic power. (Open Mar.-Oct. Su l-3pm and 4-6pm, Tu-F 9am-6pm, Sa 9am-2pm; Nov.-Feb. M-F 9am-5pm, Sa9am-4pm, Su 12:45-3pm and 4-5pm. Free.) The Gothic Stephanskirche, south of the Dom, holds stunning stained-glass windows created by artist Marc Chagall. (Stephansberg. Open daily lOam-noon and 2-5pm. Free.) Johannes Gutenberg, the father of movable type, is immortalized at the Gutenberg-Museum, which contains a replica of his original press. (Liebfrauenpl. 5, across from the Dom. Open Su llam-3pm, Tu-Sa 9am-5pm. â‚¬3, students â‚¬1.50.)
Trains run to: Frankfurt (30min. â‚¬6); Heidelberg (lhr. â‚¬17); and Koblenz (lhr. â‚¬17). KD ferries (06131 23 28 00) depart from the wharves on the other side of the Rathaus. The tourist office arranges tours (2hr.; July-Aug. daily 2pm, May and Oct. W and F-Sa 2pm; â‚¬6) and gives free maps, (s06131 28 62 10. Open M-F 9am-6pm, Sa 10am-3pm.) To reach the Jugendgastehaus (HI) 0, Otto-Brunfels-Schneise 4, take bus #62 (dir.: Weisenau), 63 (dir.: Laubenheim), or 92 (dir.: Ginsheim) to ViktorstiftJugendherberge and follow the signs. All rooms are clean and come with a private bath. ( 06131 853 32. Breakfast included. Reception daily 7am-10pm. Dorms â‚¬17; doubles â‚¬44.) On the edge of the Altstadt, Der Eisgrub-Brau , Weifililiengafie la, serves breakfast (â‚¬2.90), lunch buffets (â‚¬5.10), and its own house beer. (Open Su-Th 9am-lpm, F-Sa 9am-2pm.) For groceries, try Super 2000, Am Brand 41, under the Sinn-Leffers department store. (Open M-F 9:30am-8pm, Sa 9am-4pm). Postal Code: 55001.
BACHARACH. Bacharach (Alter of Bacchusâ) lives up to its name, with Weinkeller and Weinstuben (wine cellars and pubs) tucked between every other half-timbered house. Try some of the Rhine’s best wines and cheeses at Die Wein-stube, Oberstr. 63. (Open daily from noon.) Nearby is the 14th-century Wernerkapelle, the remains of a red sandstone chapel that took 140 years to build but only a few hours to destroy during the Palatinate War of Succession in 1689. The tourist office, Oberstr. 45, and the Rathaus share a building at one end of the town center. (91 93 03. Open Apr.-Oct. M-F 9am-5pm, Sa 10am-4pm; Nov.-Mar. M-F 9am-noon.) Hostels get no better than iiJugendherberge Stahleck (HI) 9, a gor-
geous 12th-century castle that provides a panoramic view of the Rhine Valley. The steep 15min. hike to the hostel is worth every step. Call ahead; they’re usually full by 6pm. Make a right out of the station pathway, turn left at the Peterskirche, and take any of the marked paths leading up the hill. ( 12 66. Breakfast included. Curfew 10pm. Dorms â‚¬14.20; doubles â‚¬36.) At KCafe Restaurant Rusticana , Oberstr. 40, a lovely German couple serves up three-course meals (â‚¬6-11) and lively conversation. (Open May-Oct. M-W and F-Su ll:30am-9:30pm.) Postal Code: 55422.
LORELEI CLIFFS AND CASTLES. Though sailors were once lured to these cliffs by the infamous Lorelei maiden, her hypnotic song is now superfluous; today, hordes of travelers are seduced by scenery alone. The charming towns of St. Goar-shausen and St. Goar, on either side of the Rhine, host the spectacular Rhein in Flammen fireworks celebration at the end of every summer (September 19, 2004). St. Goarshausen, on the east bank, provides access by foot to the Lorelei statue and the cliffs. Directly above the town, the fierce Burg Katz (Cat Castle) eternally stalks its prey, the smaller Burg Maus (Mouse Castle). Burg Maus offers daily falconry demonstrations at 1 lam and 2:30pm; call s 76 69 for info or visit St. Goar-shausen’s tourist office, Bahnhofstr. 8. ( (06771) 76 69. Open Su-M and Sa 9:30am-noon and M, Th and F 2-4pm.) Trains run to St. Goarshausen from Cologne (lhr. â‚¬18) and Mainz (lhr. â‚¬8). The Lorelei Vâ ferry (M-F 6am-llpm, Sa-Su from 7am; â‚¬1, round-trip â‚¬1.50) crosses the river to St.Goar, which has a spectacular view. St. Goar’s tourist office, Heerstr. 6, is in the pedestrian zone, (m (06741) 333. Open M-F 8am-12:30pm and 2-5pm, Sa lOam-noon.) To reach Jugendheim Loreley , on the St. Goarshausen side of the Rhine, walk from the cliffs past the parking gate down the road a few hundred meters and turn left. ( (06771) 26 19. Breakfast included. Curfew 10pm. Dorms â‚¬16.) Postal Code: 56329.