My college boyfriend had three crushes: Asian girls with giant racks, me (not Asian, no giant anything to speak of) – and Germany. I could never understand that third one: for me, Germany was not country to be visited. It wasn’t even a place — but a concept.
Growing up in the USSR, I was instilled with only one association with Germany – that of my Motherland’s enemy in the Great Patriotic War and the greatest military adversary in history. That was it, the only context within which I (and dare I say millions of others in the former Soviet Union) could think of Germany. That association stayed throughout the “thawing” of the Gorbachev years (even though by then USA has long replaced Germany as USSR’s #1 geopolitical/nuclear/ideological foe) and a good decade into Russia’s post-Soviet era, during which Germany, ironically, became arguably Russia’s strongest European partner. Eventually Germany also became that place that was really clean and made good cars, but if you asked me to come up with a visual association, there’d be none – no beer and sausages, no gingerbread houses and lederhosen, not even Berlin Wall and Brandenburg Gate – nothing, save for Tiger and Panther tanks. #MadeInUSSR
So when College Boyfriend raved about German food, landscape and castles, I thought he was a bit mad. Never mind the fact that by then I had a poster of Neuschwanstein Castle on my dorm room wall – somehow it wasn’t in Germany but in some place I could never visit and which possibly mightn’t even exist in Real Life.
Fast-forward half a decade, and a seven-hour layover on my way from Prague to New York takes me right to Munich. And OH! – the Gothic spires of Marienplatz, the pastel-colored townhouses, the clean and fast transport, the super-polite people, the glorious food and drink! I stuffed my face with as many pastries as my ridiculously short accidental visit would allow, and resolved to come back to Germany right then and there.
Yes, like a good little Russian/carb addict I decided that a country was worth visiting because I liked their bread.
As I perused Google Images and travel blogs, my German pièce de résistance began to take shape: the Rhine Valley.
Five things make the Rhine Valley an Ultimate Anna Destination:
- Gorgeous nature / landscape /scenery, perfect for hiking and photographing
- It’s a wine country (of the rare kind of wine I actually enjoy – white, dry, sour)
- Water! Boats! Water!
- Quintessential German architecture – tinder-beamed houses and flower boxes galore
- Castles! I just love castles (Romanticism is strong in this one)
The Rhine Valley delivered on all counts, the main one being that it was stunningly beautiful as I had imagined. The dramatic Upper Middle Rhine Valley stretches for 65 kilometers and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most Valley sights are located between the tourist village Rüdesheim and the city of Koblenz. In-between you are treated to vineyard-covered slopes and medieval castles perched up precariously like falcon nests.
The German and I spent two days in the Rhine River Gorge – driving the Rüdesheim to Koblenz stretch on the first with multiple pit stops, and taking the boat tour on the second. If you have the option, I strongly recommend doing both – the Valley looks and feels very different from the car vs. a boat. Driving is a great way to explore the dozens of nearby villages, castles and hiking trails, and there’s no better way to relax from all that sightseeing than by taking in the beauty of the Rhine River on a leisurely cruise with a glass of chilled Riesling in your hand.
There are many Rhine Valley boat tour options that leave from Frankfurt, Mainz or Rüdesheim and go to Koblenz. You can actually sail even farther up to Bonn and Cologne, but it’s a more developed, less pretty area; however, the valley of the Moselle River, which flows into Rhine at Koblenz, is just as picturesque as the Rhine Valley and in spots even more so.
Some package deals, like those offered by Viator, include city tours of Mainz or Frankfurt, stops at Rüdesheim, castle visits and wine-tasting. Others are more of a basic hop-on, hop-off ride. We used the KD Rhine service – timetable here. For more ideas on what to do in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley go here. Reserve combination tours well in advance as they get sold out during peak tourist season (summer; wine harvest), and check out the schedule of all boats in advance too: they move at a rather slovenly pace and sometimes with long gaps in-between the rides. The Rüdesheim-Koblenz-Rüdesheim trip becomes an all-day affair if you want to come ashore anywhere along the way. Bon Voyage!