22 April 2011
It’s Fine on the Rhine.
""Spring break" "
By: Julia Gasper
If someone suggested going on a Spring break somewhere relaxing, where you could enjoy, sunshine, fresh air, flowers, picturesque towns, green mountains and quality local wines, what destination would come into your mind? France, Spain, Greece? Madeira, Majorca? Turkey? Maybe Germany would not be your first answer, yet all of those things can be enjoyed in Western Germany, which is closer to us than the Costa Brava. South of the industrial area, there is a spacious rural and wine-growing country, through which wind the rivers Rhine, Moselle and their tributaries. It’s a great place to relax without getting bored.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to an event at the Wasserschloss Neuenhof, a beautiful moated manor-house at Ludenscheid, near Altena, so it was there that our journey began. The house is hosting an exhibition about King Theodore of Corsica, (about whom I have written a book), an ancestor of the present owner, Baron Alhard von dem Bussche-Kessel, and the press view was timed to coincide with the anniversary of King’ Theodore’s coronation on April 15th. This fascinating exhibition is very well-researched and is continuing until August. If you are passing anywhere in the vicinity, don’t miss it, and don’t miss the manor-house café either.
After spending a day visiting the impressive Castle of Altena, nearby, we took the train southwards to Coblenz, an ancient town at the junction of the Rhine and the Moselle. It has a splendid Electoral Palace overlooking the river, many Romanesque buildings, handsome tree-lined boulevards, a lot of café life and the most wonderful display of flowers of any city I have ever seen. In fact, there was a flower festival just starting when we arrived. Dazzling, kaleidoscopic flower beds distract you everywhere as you try to cross the road. Personally I far prefer the Romanesque churches and buildings of Koblenz, such as the Kastorkirche or the Liebefraukirche, to the famous but grimy Gothic cathedral of Cologne (on which my opinion is that it’s a shame really they can’t scrap the outside and just keep the inside). From Koblenz you can take a boat ride down the Moselle or the Rhine, and it’s well worth doing both if you’ve got the time. Tranquil river scenery, vineyards on mountain slopes, castles standing high on forested peaks, all combine to put you in a thoroughly good mood.
German cookery is now completely international, and you are as likely to find pizza, enchiladas or Thai curry on sale as the traditional sausages and dumplings. We decided that the best places to eat were the taverns, sometimes known as “wein-haus” or “weintrube” (wine-parlour). Here you can get a wide range of local German wines in small carafes to taste and compare, or vary throughout your meal. Menus tend to be short and traditional, dominated by schnitzels and sausages, but both of these can be excellent if you go to the right establishment. The “sekt”, a champagne-type of wine made in the Rhine area, is fresh, crisp and refined. The whites of the Moselle and the Rhine are good to enjoy well-chilled on a hot evening. The Germans drink them in the afternoon with a plate of ham, which I wouldn’t emulate! There are more and better German red wines than one might imagine - the Dornefelder reds are delicious, as are the burgundy-type of wines made in the same area, and I even found a Rhenish rosé in one weintrube.
Problems? Well, if you think hay-fever from the flowers is a problem, or getting a bit sunburnt on your river cruise, or maybe meeting a few strangers who were too friendly and talkative when you wanted to snooze on the train, those truly were the only hitches we encountered. I have brought back as a souvenir some little painted wooden eggs, which the Germans hang on trees as Easter-time for decoration, and very pretty they are too.
How to get there?