I absolutely love Germany. To me, this is the essence of old world Europe. I’ve only been twice but saw a good amount of the country and can’t wait to go back.
On my first trip to Germany, I discovered the treasure of Rick Steve’s Audio Europe. Don’t know about Rick Steves? Click the logo below to read more. You can also click here to buy “Rick Steves Germany” on Amazon.
There are several airports depending where you are headed. I flew into Munich for my first trip because I was headed to Oktoberfest. On my second trip I flew into Frankfurt because Condor Airlines was offering direct service from New Orleans.
The great thing about Europe is that you can easily connect between European countries once you are on the continent. It is relatively small in that flying from France to Germany is like flying from New York to Washington…and those connectors are cheap.
Another thing I love about travel in Europe are trains. We just have no concept in the U.S. because our railway system is not set up for tourism. But in Europe, you can easily go anywhere by train which is often cheaper and sometimes faster than going to the airport and taking a flight. Its also more fun and allows you to immerse and feel like a local. TIP: There are many great apps that give you instant access to train schedules and tickets. Rail Europe and Omio are currently the best.
Destinations – Click a location to jump
I stayed at the Platzl Hotel in Old Town. I had made very last minute plans to go to Oktoberfest, but I would look no further than the Platzl if I went back to Munich. Modest but clean (its Germany – they are fastidious which I love) and ideally located for exploring the old town.
The breakfast buffet, which was included with the room rate, made me embarassed for any European traveler that comes to the U.S. and stays at a hotel offering a “free continental breakfast”. In the U.S., that means crappy pastries and muffins that were frozen and thawed, and scrambled egg-product. In Europe, it is a smorgasbord of all the breakfast things you expect made fresh PLUS deli meats, cheeses, yogurts, candied fruits, breads, marmalades, muselis and wursts. The Platzl’s Bavarian restaurant was a highlight of my trip. You’ll do a lot of walking so no reason not to have a hearty breakfast.
I only spent 2 nights in Munich and one day was dedicated to Oktoberfest. For the other, I attended a Sunday mass at St. Michael’s which was amazing. The choir was spectacular. Then I just wandered around checking out the shops, biergartens and restaurants.
TIP: Bring headphones and let Rick Steves bring this city alive for you with his audio walking tour “Munich City Walk”
While I had limited time, I made the most of my time and ate as much as I could. Some people think German food is boring – all sausages (wursts) and potatoes. That sounds like heaven to me, especially if it is smothered in sauerkraut and has a cold Augustiner with it.
One of my favorite all-time food discoveries was the knodel. They vary from place to place, but its basically a mashed potato ball somehow made slightly crisp on the outside and sometimes stuffed with some meaty goodness. Potato lovers will appreciate.
- Zum Durnbrau – romantic but lively and warm atmosphere, outdoor seating. Sauerbraten, duck, homemade spaetzle.
- Nurnberger Bratwurst Glocke Am Dom – super charming spot with both indoor and outdoor seating. Tucked around several places with similar feel. The knodel here was divine.
- Hofbrauhaus – One of Munich’s famous beer taverns. Think huge glass mugs of beer and waitreses in dirndls. They have tons of space if you have a group.
Being from New Orleans, I’m pretty familiar with large scale drinking festivals. But I much prefer the way the Germans do it – organized, tidy, efficient. This was my kind of drinking festival – colorful, spread out, something for everyone and plenty of clean bathrooms. A far cry from the sloppy debauchery of New Orlean’s Mardi Gras.
Oktoberfest actually happens in September, so be aware if you are planning to go. It is held at a permanent fairground where all the major beer brands have built massive indoor biergartens. While the festival itself is free, you need a ticket (not something you can just buy online – need a local connection) to actually be seated and served in any given biergarten. I was a tourist and not with a group so I just wandered around and checked them all out. I got my beer and food at stands outside of the pavillions, no problem.
Stop and stay awhile in a garten. Just watch. First, take in the simple happiness and comradery of the groups of friends having a great time. Each garten has a live band, usually traditional music, but every so often something crazy happens. Special dances (think chicken dance) or drinking challenges singling out a brave festival goer. It was absolutely priceless entertainment.
The attire: Despite what I read online, EVERYONE was wearing liederhosen and dirndls (the female garb). And apparently that is not uncommon around Munich even when its not Oktoberfest. So I bought one. There were plenty of stores in Old Town selling them – the hardest part was which one and whether to go with a traditional dirndl or the more modern ladies liederhosen shorts. So I got both and still use them when I visit Oktoberfest celebrations in the U.S.
There were rides and carnival games for kids. Families were equally mixed in with the rowdy youth of Germany (and really, the world). I was lucky enough to have a perfect weather day.
The Mosel River Valley
The Mosel River (Moselle) was described by Rick Steves as “The Rhine’s sleepy little cousin”. Winding rivers shrouded in morning mists, forests with hidden castles and all the brats and kraut you can eat.
I used Rick’s Germany guidebook when planning my trip here. It is a great destination that can easily be linked to France (see my France page, Alsace Region). Enjoy!
Getting There/Where To Stay
The Mosel River is an offshoot of the larger, more active Rhine River. The map here shows that it would be accessible from Amsterdam, Switzerland or France.
I was coming from the Alsace Region of France and made a pleasant trip via Train through Koblenz to Cochem where I made a home base. I did a simple internet search and got a spectacular apartment with a balcony overlooking the river (Moselapart 1) which was owned by a fabulous couple who have thought of every possible convenience and are experienced in catering to an international crowd. Highly recommend this apartment!
NOTE: Compared to Paris and Alsace, it was a little more difficult to navigate around this area knowing only English. Just a heads up – but very doable especially with Rick’s guidebooks.
Things To Do
Cruise the River
The river is the main highway in this area. You can take scenic cruises, tours to specific places or just use the boats as taxis and explore the surrounding towns on your own.
I visited several towns, one more charming than the next. My favorite by far was tiny Beilstein. I found a riverfront patio restaurant serving buttery spaetzle with Pfifferlinge (the German word for “chanterelles” which are a seasonal crop here – I was so thrilled that I figured out what the word meant in time to enjoy it!)
There are tasting rooms all over the villages. The usual Rieslings and Gerwurztraminers, but also some fine liquors (I got a peach flavored one that I’ve been treasuring ever since).
This is the real deal. The castle you’ve dreamt about. Located about 30 minutes drive from Cochem and hidden in a forest, you can tour Burg Eltz and see that it is decorated much as it was 500 years ago. Through a history of clever marriages, this castle has remained in one family and therefore never burned or destroyed as many castles in the area were.
It’s cozy – only 80 rooms, 40 fireplaces. There is a guided tour overviewing the history. After, treat yourself to a delicious German lunch on the deck.
The best way to reach Burg-Eltz, the way that makes it most magical, is by foot through the woods on the Eltz Castle Trail. I took a train to Moselkern, walked a short way through the tiny village and set off into the forest at Landhotel Ringlesteiner Muhle, a charming little hotel with restaurant at the entrance to this trail.
The hike is a 2.9 mile out and back trail, not difficult at all except I remember there not being much for signage or trail markers and I got a little nervous at one point. Usually there would be moderate traffic and you could just follow the other hikers, but have a map. I had no cell service in the woods. I highly recommend the hike as it really did make for a great outing vs. just driving up to the castle.
NOTE: I think my original plan was to get a taxi back to Cochem from the car park at the castle. It was quite a long walk from the entrance to the actual parking lot, and then I was told it was still miles to a main road where you could get a taxi. So I returned on foot.
The Food, The Beer
Hearty meat and potatoes meals. Some don’t love German food, and if so you might starve here. I loved every bite. Highlights below.
- The Burg Hotel – Cochem – The dining room was a hodge-podge of rustic and ecclectic artifacts. Huge menu, literally every possible meat or wild game you could want. Upscale, romantic.
- Zum Kapuziner – Cochem – hearty basics
- Alte Stadtmauer – outdoor terrace overlooking the river in Beilstein
The Rhine River Valley
Koblenz is a bustling port where the Rhine meets the Mosel. I stopped here for a few hours on my way to my next stop in Oberwesel.
Bacharach was a great day trip from Oberwesel (see below). Wandered the small village, visited the ruins of a church and walked the towns walls. Then did a wine tasting and discovered a locally made peach liquor that I smuggled home and treasure to this day.
After visiting the Mosel, I was headed to Frankfurt for my flight back home. I didn’t want to spend a night in Frankfurt – I hear it is a nice city but after 10 days in the river valley I didn’t want to go back to civilization.
I decided to spend my last night in Oberwesel. This is on the Rhine River, the larger cousin of the Mosel and a much more active area for tourism. From Oberwesel, I could jump on a train and connect at Rudesheim, and then go straight into Frankfurt airport.
Hotel Schonberg, Oberwesel
Last night of the trip, better make it count!
I did my research and chose Oberwesel mainly so I could stay at the Schonberg Castle.
Way, way up on a hilltop overlooking the Rhine River perches this sprawling medieval castle. You will be transported back in time.
The hotel has many rooms to choose from, all totally unique. You can wander the hotel on your own, finding hidden nooks, libraries, courtyards. You can stroll the small garden and grounds area. But the restaurant is a must for a special night. An absolutely spectacular and memorable meal in the castle dining room.
Oberwesel has a small village to explore including an old tower and a memorial to the generations of riverboat pilots that come from this town.
This concludes our Mosel and Rhine River destinations for now. I’ve outlined one additional Germany destination below – Triberg in the Black Forest which I visited on a day trip from Colmar in the Alsace Region of France. Link to the France page below.
The Black Forest, Germany -Day Trip!
While staying in Colmar in the Alsace region of France, I decided to take a drive into the Black Forest of Germany – it’s very close!
Fantastic drive through flatlands and farm towns and then into the misty Black Forest, up steep inclines and winding back down in the mist.
Spent some time in the town of Triberg where they make cuckoo clocks. Ate a huge plate of German sausages and kraut, and black forest cake.
The town was a goldmine of handcrafted souvenirs and charm. They have a waterfall attraction here.
This map shows many options for day trips – You could be in Basel, Switzerland just as easily. That’s the beauty exploring Europe!