Bacharach (Rhine River Valley), Germany
The Rhine (Rhein) valley in western Germany is their wine country. Vineyards on gently sloping hills line the sides of the Rhine River from Mainz (near Frankfurt) to Köln (aka Cologne). The Rhine has always served as a major shipping river. That's why in medieval times, robber barons built many castles along the Rhine to collect tolls from passing ships. As a result, the Rhine banks are littered with medieval castles, most from the 11th to 13th centuries. The stretch from the town of Bingen at the south to Koblenz at the north has been dubbed the "Romantic Rhine." That's where we spent a couple of days in the town of Bacharach.
Bacharach is a tiny little town of about 1,000 people, but it was once the center of the Rhine wine trade. Some say the best wine on the Rhine comes from Bacharach, whose name means "altar to Bacchus." The quaint medieval buildings in town survived the years with little or no damage, and the town is just pleasant to see. It was very relaxing to walk down the cobblestone street in the afternoon, peer into doorways covered by 100-year old grape vines, and say an occasional "guten abend" to the locals.
Burg Stahleck, a 13th-century castle above the town, now houses tons of young travelers as a youth hostel. As a matter of fact, it was one of the coolest hostels we've ever come across. If it weren't for the 15-minute climb up a steep hill, we would have stayed there. But we did make a trip to visit it, and we found it to be a full-service hotel with bar, restaurant, and activities to keep the young travelers entertained. We were able to watch the finals of the World Cup from this castle!
This is Ober-strasse, the main drag in Bacharach, just how I'd picture a medieval German town.
A view of the shimmering Rhine River from Burg Stahleck, the castle above Bacharach. You can see Ober-strasse at the base of the picture.
The next day, we rented bikes and rode southward along the Rhine banks to the town of Bingen, and took the boat back. Here are Robert and I on the boat with our bikes. Good thing those Eurail passes are good on these boats!
After the boat docked at Bacharach, I decided to stay on the boat and explore the upper reaches of the Romantic Rhine. So I said goodbye to Scott, Robert, and Katie and sailed on. Not too much further from Bacharach, the boat comes across the Pfalz castle. It's one of the best preserved Rhine castles, and a very effective toll booth since it's built right in the river. Those who didn't pay spent time on a prison raft at the bottom of a well. Note the two dark outhouses hanging out the back (no flushing necessary).
This is the famous Loreley, a big rock with an interesting story. Legend has it that a fräulein with long blonde hair lives in the rock and lures sailors' boats into the treacherous rocks in the river. There was a famous Song of Loreley written by Heinrich Heine telling the story of the siren. At the time, it was raining pretty hard, and I was starting to wonder if our huge tour boat can navigate safely around Loreley...
This is a picture of the town of St. Goar, another wine country town with some quaint streets and nice atmosphere. The Burg Rheinfels castle sits on top of the hill at the end of the street. It's the mightiest and one of the best preserved medieval castles on the Rhine River.
After attempting to ride my bike uphill on the steep road, and skinning both my knees as I took yet another spill crossing a rain-slicked railroad track, I finally arrive at the top of the hill and Rheinfels Castle. Built in 1245, this castle has miles of tunnels designed to trap and entomb invaders. Here is a look down one side of the castle at the gardens around it.
The tunnels and dungeons in Rheinfels hold the remains of 300 dead Spanish soldiers from a battle in 1626, and the castle withstood a siege of 28,000 French soldiers in 1692. Kinda creepy, ain't it?
Back in Bacharach! We had a wonderful meal in a little tavern at the end of town. It ranks as one of the best meals of our entire trip. Just goes to show you that you can't judge a restaurant by its appearance. This is a lovely little courtyard we came across on the north end of Bacharach. Katie, Scott, and I paused to pose for a picture.