We live in a region known as the Rheingau, one of 13 officially recognized wine growing regions in Germany. Most of the wine produced here is Riesling with a very small percentage of pinot noirs (Spätburgunder) and even smaller portions of other wines. The entire district (gau) only makes up a fraction of the total wine production in Germany but has one of the best known international wineries, Schloss Johannisberg, another destination on my travel wish list. Winemaking has existed here since Roman times (though debated, as different documents from the middle ages claim different start times) and the vineyards stretch all over the hills and valley floor.
The Rheingau is a smaller part of the Rhine Gorge, or the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, which runs from Bingen to Koblenz and since 2002 has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We have driven this route many times and have also done variations through the Tanus and other hilly regions that border the river. The main highway along the river is the probably the best way to explore and there are ferries (no bridges from Wiesbaden to Koblenz) that allow you to switch banks, though there is of course train travel available (which we’ve also done, and it gives a slightly different, sometimes higher view of all the towns). When one thinks of the traditional German fairytale or medieval castle or dragons and royalty, this is the region where they appear to be created. The river is dotted with castles in various stages of ruin or complete restoration and preservation and most are open to the public. They all sit high on hills above the valley floor and oversee the small villages that are completely tucked into the mountain sides they’re built upon. It’s honestly absurdly pretty and romantic and I always feel much calmer when we travel through here. Sometimes though, I look at one of the adorable little towns and think “that’s not real, there’s no way nothing looks that perfect and fairy-like” but they’re all real and they’re all wonderful.
One of the towns nearest us that has a large wine-making tradition is Rüdesheim am Rhein. Though we went to Rüdesheim in late July, I’m writing about it now because the Rheingau and Wiesbaden are celebrating Wine Woche, and it happens to be the 40th anniversary of this festival. Rüdesheim is about half an hour from Wiesbaden and is set up to handle incoming tourists. There’s plenty of parking and lots of places to eat and drink and the town is one of the largest tourist attractions in Germany, second only to the cathedral in Cologne.
I am not a Riesling fan but I’m also not one to pass up a glass of wine in the very place it was grown and produced. We needed a day trip and I’ve been wanting to check this place out for awhile; unfortunately it was a typical gray German day so the pictures aren’t bright and colorful but we had a great time. The heat also broke for a bit so we needed jackets and long sleeves, a nice break from sweating. One of the attractions that brings people in is the change to hike part of the Rheinsteig, a long trail that runs along the river. When the trail meets Rüdesheim, it continues up into the hills and through vineyards. There’s lots of options and directions to go if you want to get to the top (there is a statue and some food and wine stands) but the town has an excellent gondola that takes you up the hill over the vineyards.
After parking, we walked into the center of town to scope out a good restaurant; we ended up picking one that was next to the entrance to the gondola. Food is pricey, about 15 euro for a main pasta dish, but it is tourist season and we picked the middle of town to eat. After lunch we went to purchase tickets for our gondola ride. I’m not sure why the line was so incredibly long, nor why people didn’t just purchase tickets at the machine, but that’s what we chose and we walked right up to the front with our pre-paid tickets. The gondola cars are small and they can be a bit wild if you’re not sitting still, plus they’re open so the wind was chilly. However, the view was fantastic and gave us a great idea of the layout of all the vineyard trails.
At the top is the statue Niederwalddenkmal, built by Kaiser WIlhlem I in 1871, to commemorate the Unification of Germany (not to be confused with the Tag der Deutschen Einheit, a different German unification). The statue is visible from the gondola but hidden by the trees at the top where the exit is. So when you approach the last corner of the trail from gondola to statue, it appears out of the forest as a huge monument, taking up much more space than it appears from down in the town. She is called the Germania, a romanticized figure from the Romantic Era of the 1800’s; she represents an idea of “Germany” and what it means to be German. It’s a beautiful piece and it’s surrounded by large lavender bushes. There is a wine stand and an ice cream stand near the bottom of the monument plus plenty of overlook and seating space; since the Rheinsteig passes this place it would be an excellent spot for a hiker’s picnic.
Once we were back in the center of town, we went for a long walk through all the little tiny roads. Right in front of the square that the gondola entrance is in is the Drosselgasse, a popular and picturesque alley. We took lots of pictures here and had an Erdbeerenbowle (a strawberry wine punch) and we also tried a Rudesheim speciality, a wine brandy. While the actual drink is served in a special mug and saucer and poured into coffee and lit on fire, we just had a few sips at a shop. Brandy is not my drink though so no temptation to bring a bottle home.
There is also a Christmas shop at the top of Drosselgasse but it was sort of a watered down version of a Christmas Markt. Since I know we’ll be going to a few of these this winter, again no temptation, but if you are in the area outside of Christmas time, it’s definitely worth a stop.
Returning home the sun finally came out but I was feeling a little wine sleepy so the rest of the day was spent in a wine coma at home.