I have to admit something … I didn’t know Germany had a famous winery culture (or even one at all) prior to moving to Cologne in 2019. I thought beer was the main alcohol consumed here. I had no idea that wine was also an important industry. That misconception was quickly dispelled after my first visit to the Mosel Valley!
Characterized by the snaking Mosel river, half-timbered towns, and hilltop castles, the Mosel Valley is a popular summer and fall destination with German travelers. It is still relatively under-the-radar as a tourist destination, especially for North Americans. Hardly anyone I know from the US or Canada is familiar with the Moselle, but now I tell everyone I can. I love traveling in the Mosel! Spelled Moselle in English or Mosel in German, I will use these two spellings interchangeably throughout this article.
You can visit the Mosel Valley throughout the year, but you’ll find that tourism peaks from late August to early October during the wine harvest. I have visited the Mosel twice, both times in September for my wedding anniversary. You can go behind the scenes of my experience on my Instagram stories. It was pretty obviously busy, but it wasn’t a major hurdle. We had to book hotels about a month ahead, and dinner reservations were important. The middle of summer is a lovely time to go because everything will be green and lush with minimal crowds. The weather also permits you to hike and cycle the region more comfortably.
This is the perfect long weekend itinerary for the Mosel Valley
About the Mosel Valley
Flowing from France and Luxembourg, the Moselle river winds through the hilly German state of Rhineland-Palatinate like a snake, carving these steep massive curves in the hillside to form the Mosel Valley. This picturesque region is renowned for white wine, especially its Riesling. Grapes in the Moselle Valley originate from the Roman times when they brought grapes here in order to provide a local source of wine for their garrisons.
The Moselle Valley is one of Germany’s most important wine producing regions, although Riesling grapes are grown throughout the country. You’ll find that Germans are quite proud of their white wine and Riesling is incredibly popular. In fact, Germany is responsible for approximately 50% of the world’s Riesling cultivation and production. Combined with the Upper Rhine River Valley, this part of the country produces 70% of all German wine.
How to Get Around in the Mosel
There are three primary ways that you can explore the Mosel Valley on your long weekend itinerary.
Mosel Valley by Car
Both sides of the Moselle River are flanked with two lane roads, sometimes called the Wine Road (Römische Weinstraße in German). Driving in this region is pretty easy. I find the navigation to be simple and the roads are well-marked. If you are short on time or want to cover a lot of distance, this is the easiest way to get around. Driving alongside the Mosel River is quite beautiful, and it is one of my favorite road trip destinations, especially on a sunny day. As long as you are outside the old city centers, parking is fairly easy to come by with free street parking and paid lots.
Mosel Valley by Train
Deutschebahn connects many of the small towns along the Moselle River, so it is fairly easy to travel in this region via train. The most common trains are regional trains. They run from Koblenz to Trier with stops in the larger towns of the Mosel. You can book point-to-point train tickets ahead of time, or buy them on the train. If you plan to do a lot of train travel, you can also get multi-day rail passes with Deutschebahn.
Mosel Valley by Bike
Perhaps my favorite way to experience the Mosel is by bike–and I’m not the only one. You will see lots of people cycling in the Moselle Valley! There are bike paths along either side of the river. The terrain is flat and appropriate for all skill or fitness levels. In fact, you are likely to see some elderly German riders passing by you on their e-bikes. You can rent bicycles for a day trip, bring your own on the car or train, or rent outfitted bikes for longer rides or multi-day biking trips.
Mosel Valley Long Weekend Itinerary
Day 1: Koblenz to Cochem
Because of its advantageous location at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel rivers, Koblenz is a perfect destination to start your long weekend in the Mosel Valley. You can see most of the major highlights within a few hours, so dedicate a morning and early afternoon to exploring this historic city.
Koblenz ranks among Germany’s oldest cities and bursts with sights from the past 2,000 years. Start the day with a cable car ride over the Rhine river up to Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. This strategic military outpost is perched on a high rock plateau that has been almost continually occupied since as early as the 4th century. The fort itself has been converted to a museum, which I found kind of boring. But what you really come up here for is the view! The fort offers the most incredible view of Koblenz and you will get a bird’s eye view of the Rhine & Moselle coming together.
Head back down to the city for a few attractions and lunch before moving on to your next stop in the Mosel Valley. For sightseeing, Koblenz’s old town hosts a variety of interesting sites, like the Basilica of St. Castor, Romanesque Church of Our Lady and the city’s history column, a sculptural marvel that documents the 2,000 year history of Koblenz. If you’re not one for sights, simply wandering the romantic alleys and narrows streets in the Altstadt will keep you occupied.
From the Koblenz main train station, you can hop on a regional train heading to Cochem which is your next stop on your long weekend in the Mosel Valley. If you prefer to drive, it will take about 45 minutes but the main road runs directly along the banks of the Mosel River. You’ll get your first lovely views of Germany’s famed wine region. The town of Cochem itself is a little touristy in my opinion, so I recommend staying outside of the Old Town area (more on that below).
Cochem is fairly well-known because of its beautiful and Instagrammable castle in the center of town. Known locally as Reichsburg, Cochem Castle is precariously perched 300 feet above town along the river banks. You are able to walk up to the castle walls for free without a ticket. The walk up is lined with shops and restaurants, as well as a few parks and nice viewpoints. If you want to go inside the castle, you’ll need to be on a ticketed tour.
Believed to have origins dating back to 1100, this castle has seen many iterations over its long history. King Louis XIV actually had his troops destroy the castle completely in 1689, after which it sat in ruin for almost 200 years. It wasn’t until a wealthy Berlin businessman bought the ruins that the castle was rebuilt into the splendor you see today. The original castle was built in a Romanesque style, but when the new one was constructed, it took on a largely neo-Gothic appearance.
Day 2: Burg Eltz + Wineries
One of the most iconic castles in Germany resides in the Mosel Valley — Burg Eltz. You have undoubtedly seen the cloud shrouded valley and stone bridge of this castle on your Instagram feed. It’s relatively remote location also protected it during the war periods, which means it remains largely in its original condition. Eltz Castle is a 30 minute drive from Cochem, or an hour bike ride. It isn’t super easy to access via public transportation, but there are plenty of local operators offering shuttles and local buses.
Because of its notoriety, you can expect crowds at Burg Eltz. I have heard horror stories of people waiting an hour or more to buy tickets. This is less common during covid times when scheduled time slots are required. For clean, unobstructed photos worthy of your Instagram feed, you should plan to arrive early before it even opens. That’s exactly why I included it as the start of your second day in the Mosel; however, you could easily stop a Burg Eltz during your drive from Koblenz on day one if the crowds don’t bother you.
Construction of Burg Eltz dates back to the 9th century. This castle has been continuously privately owned by the Eltz family, whose 33rd generation of descendants still maintain the castle today. After paying for a ticket at the castle entrance, you will be whisked onto a 45 minute guided tour through the various Medieval styled rooms. Because one family has consistently owned the castle, you will find the rooms filled with original artifacts, like paintings, armor and furniture. Tours are offered in English and no photography is allowed inside during the tours.
Now that you’ve gotten your cultural activity for the day out of the way, it is time to drink some of that famed Mosel white wine! Unlike other wine regions in the world like Napa Valley, California or Rioja Spain, wine tastings aren’t a big part of the culture in Germany. Germans are a matter of fact kind of people – you come to the Mosel for drinking wine, not tasting wine. Wine is deeply rooted in the culture of the Mosel, so you will hear affectionate locals calling it “their” wine.
If you see wine cellars offering free wine tastings, that’s something they’ve set up for tourists. Wine isn’t drank to get drunk, but instead as a moment to share with friends or accompany a delicious dinner. You’ll see wine flights every now and then, but the most common way to sample wines in the Mosel is simply to order off the menu.
It is common to go into a wine tavern (Weinstube in German) and order a small pour of whichever wine seems interesting to you. You typically order in milliliters, opting for .1 or .2 liters. There are even special mini wine glasses to accommodate this.
The white wines of the Mosel are particularly cherished for their refreshing mineral notes and fruity aromas. This flavor profile comes from a characteristic microclimate that exists here, as well as the growing conditions on the steep silty slopes along the Mosel river. Riesling wines can be either dry (trocken), semi-sweet (halbtrocken), sweet (lieblich) or sparkling (sekt), although inexperienced Riesling drinkers are likely to find all of them a bit sweet.
Most of the vineyards in the Mosel are quaint family-run operations that produce mostly for domestic consumption, with some European exports. You can expect to discover some new vintners on your long weekend in the Moselle Valley!
Day 3: Cruise to Traben Trarbach
Now that you’ve explored some of the attractions in Mosel Valley, why not get out on the river? There are plenty of companies that offer multi-day Mosel River cruises on large river boats, if you are interested in a longer river experience with included accommodation. But it is easy enough to simply take a day trip if you prefer to save the money. It also gives you more flexibility on where you stop and for how long.
One main ferry boat company, Gebrüder Kolb, offers day trips along the Mosel river. With more than 20 passenger ships, Kolb is the largest provider of boat tours on the Moselle. There are three routes that the boats travel–from Koblenz to Cochem, from Cochem to Bernkastel-Kues and from Bernkastel-Kues to Trier. You can board the boat going either direction, and you can get off at any of the ports. The boat has a small cafe so you can order food or drinks while riding along the river. This is a flexible and laid-back way to explore the Moselle at your own pace!
I think the middle region from Cochem to Bernkastel-Kues is the most scenic. It has the best assortment of cute small towns, so this would be my recommendation for your ferry ride. The scenery along the winding river is lovely, full of wineries and deciduous forests. It is especially vibrant in the fall colors. Along the river, you will pass by a number of charming small German towns with wood timbered homes. A few towns that are worth a stop include Beilstein (but I’ll talk more about that below), Zell, Traben-Trarbach and Bernkastel-Kues.
Day 4: Cycling Trip To Beilstein & Bremm
Prior to my visit to the Mosel, I really didn’t understand how ubiquitous cycling is in this region. Immaculately maintained bike paths line both sides of the river from Trier to Koblenz. Unless you decide to bike up into the wineries or to a viewpoint, the paths are almost entirely flat. Biking along the river is totally manageable for all skills and fitness levels – even if you are not an experienced bike rider! We biked about 80km during our long weekend in the Mosel, simply enjoying the scenery and stopping in whichever towns seemed interesting to us.
Cycling is a nice way to drink some wine at the various wineries you pass without worrying too much about driving in a car or working around the train or ferry schedule. You can also easily stop at any cute towns. It is also possible to bring bikes on the ferry boats (you’ll see a lot of people doing this), so you could combine day 3 and day 4 of this itinerary. My husband and I did exactly that – we took the ferry to Traben-Trarbach and then biked back to Cochem from there. We are regular bike riders, although not cyclists, and found this to be a manageable amount of biking for one afternoon.
If you are staying in Cochem, then Beilstein is a great biking destination. It is a 10km bike ride one way, so it can work as a test for your endurance and desire to bike in the Mosel. Maybe my favorite small town in all of Germany, Beilstein has a special place in my heart. This town is one of the best-preserved in the Mosel Valley with an original settlement dating back to 800 AD. You can even visit some ruins of an old castle.
Located on a picturesque bend in the Mosel River, Beilstein is a picture perfect town with coordinating building facades and minimal tourist crowds. It’s like local people purposely paint and decorate the exteriors of their home to match each other. It feels like a living museum, and clearly some tourists treat it that way because you’ll see signs that say things like “We Actually Live Here” or “Private Property, don’t just walk into our house”. The planter boxes and hanging flowers are the cherry on top of this picturesque place!
If your legs aren’t burnt out yet, I would recommend continuing your bike ride to Bremm. The ride is about 15km further up the river from Beilstein, but you will be rewarded with some of the most beautiful views in the entire Mosel Valley. When you reach Bremm, park your bikes at the trailhead of the Calmont Klettersteig. It is part of the larger Moselsteig Hiking Trail. There are lots of signs and you’ll probably see lots of people.
You will hike up the 300m hill through the Calmont vineyard, which is the steepest vineyard in all of Europe. If you’re lucky, you’ll see some of the winegrowers at work. They literally rappel down through the vineyards to pick and harvest the grapes. All the work is still done manually because machinery is too hard to manage in this terrain. I would say this hike is moderate to challenging. If you want to do it, I recommend going in the early morning or late afternoon because there is not much shade along the trail.
The summit cross (Gipfelkreuz in German) at the top of the hill is your sign that your hike has come to an end. Well that, and the breathtaking views. This view point overlooks a narrow horseshoe bend in the Mosel River, so you can really get a sense of the slithery curves this river makes. Catch your breath at the Weingut Michael Franzen wine tavern on the summit. A tangy Riesling is just the thing to quench your thirst after a day full of activity!
Where to Stay in the Mosel
There are plenty of worthy accommodations at in the Mosel, so you’ll have an abundance of good choices depending on your budget. Deciding where to stay is key for determining how you are going to organize the schedule of your long weekend in the Mosel. If you opt to stay in the middle, you can go up the river one day and down the river another day. Selecting a hotel that is at one of the ends of the river (such as Cochem) means you will traverse the same stretch of river several times. None of them are bad options, it just depends on your preference or budget. I stayed outside of Cochem on one trip and in Leiser near Bernkastel-Kues on another trip. Both worked great!
Choosing a unique hotel option, like a wine hotel or a spa hotel, is a way to add a little extra romance and personality to your getaway. We had a lovely stay at the Hotel Kessler-Meyer, a wellness hotel with a lovely full-service spa. Plus the in-house restaurant offers delicious dinners and a great breakfast buffet. Weingut Gehlen-Cornelius is a wine hotel located directly in the vineyards, so you can expect morning chats with the owners and lots of wine drinking. For a truly wonderful stay in the Mosel, the Schloss Lieser is an ideal luxury option. It is a magnificent and imposing castle built in the late 1800s which has been completely restored in its former glory.
Where to Eat in the Mosel
In my experience, good wine regions are typically accompanied with good food regions. It’s a match made in heaven! The Mosel is no exception. Hardly any other German region has a higher density of award-winning restaurants than the Mosel. Most of the cuisine in the Mosel is regional German fare, including a few noteworthy local specialities. My personal favorite is Flammkuchen, which is a German flatbread. You’ll find it in most restaurants, but the most delicious one is at Zehnthauskeller in Beilstein. Best Flammkuchen of my life! I loved it so much that we returned two nights in a row. Burgruine Landshut is another favorite, especially around sunset. This restaurant is situated inside the ruins of an old castle with stunning views of the river, serving elevated German cuisine.