Viking River Cruise: Quaint Historic Towns Along the Rhine and Moselle

Cochem, Germany and the Moselle River seen from the Reichsburg Castle. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Cochem, Germany and the Moselle River seen from the Reichsburg Castle. Photo by Claudia Carbone

Like me, you may have visited many of the iconic cities of Europe—Rome, Vienna, Geneva, Venice, etc. But it wasn’t until I took a Viking river cruise that I was able to spend time in the smaller quaint villages dotting the hillsides along the Rhine and Moselle Rivers, and doing it leisurely without huge crowds of the big cities. Certainly, these small towns have just as much history and maybe a little more charm!

Lorch, Germany. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Lorch, Germany. Photo by Claudia Carbone

At each port, we disembarked for shore excursions with local guides. We walked narrow streets, listening on our headsets while they pointed out distinguishing features, landmarks and fascinating history of these “Hansel & Gretel” towns. After the tours, we had lunch at a sidewalk cafe and then explored more on our own, followed by a late afternoon stop at a patisserie for coffee and pastry. Because. . .it’s the European thing to do! 

A patisserie in Strasbourg, France
A patisserie in Strasbourg, France

The old towns are very walkable (if you don’t mind uneven surfaces and hills) and easy to navigate with the help of maps available on the ship. Bustling sidewalk cafes, colorful window flower boxes, half-timber houses, cobblestone streets, and oh, yes, magnificent cathedrals—this is what we found in every town.

Here are some of the river towns we visited.

Strasbourg, France on the Rhine

The Ill River bisects the town. Photo by Claudia Carbone
The Ill River bisects the town. Photo by Claudia Carbone

On the border of France and Germany, this city changed nationalities many times. As a result, it’s been French since 1945 but has influences of German culture, especially in food and wine. The modern city is home to the European Parliament and is the cultural center of France’s Alsace region.

The Ill River bisects the city, surrounding the Old Town that was originally a Celtic village, then a city of the Holy Roman Empire, as most of these towns were. Here we found medieval buildings with the half-timber design where the wood framing is on the outside.

Half-timber houses of medeival times. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Half-timber houses of medeival times. Photo by Claudia Carbone

Strasbourg is famous for its Cathedral of Notre Dame, an intricate Gothic construction that took 250 years to build! The magnificent basilica was once the world’s tallest building from 1647 to 1874.

Cathedral of Notre Dame. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Cathedral of Notre Dame. Photo by Claudia Carbone
One of many stained glass windows of the Cathedral. Photo by Claudia Carbone
One of many stained glass windows of the Cathedral. Photo by Claudia Carbone

Inside, our guide explained the amazing astronomical clock (requires a ticket that was included in our tour).

Famous astronomical clock whose parts have been moving on time for hundreds of years. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Famous astronomical clock whose parts have been moving on time for hundreds of years. Photo by Claudia Carbone

Speyer, Germany on the Rhine

The Square in Speyer. Photo by Claudia Carbone
The Square in Speyer. Photo by Claudia Carbone

The Imperial Cathedral here is the largest preserved Romanesque church in Europe and burial place of eight emperors. They rebuilt it in the 18th century after France’s Louis XlV plundered it and left the town in ruin in 1689. Fortunately, the church was spared during the devastating bombing of WWll.

Romanesque architecture of the Imperial Cathedral. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Romanesque architecture of the Imperial Cathedral. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Imperial Cathedral. Photo by Larry Haack
Imperial Cathedral. Photo by Larry Haack

Today, the town has a delightful cafe-lined square and a huge Technic Museum, if you like aircraft and railroad stuff.

Mainz, Germany on the Rhine

Fischtorplatz, a tree-lined boulevard in Mainz surrounded by 19th century homes. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Fischtorplatz, a tree-lined boulevard in Mainz surrounded by 19th century homes. Photo by Claudia Carbone

Like most of these historic towns, the Romans established Mainz some 2,000 years ago. We found proof in the Museum of Ancient Navigation where remnants of Roman vessels uncovered while excavating for a new hotel are on display. Other artifacts and displays depict life in the Roman navy back in the day.

Relics of ancient Roman ships. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Relics of ancient Roman ships. Photo by Claudia Carbone

Mainz is the birthplace of Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the movable-type printing press around 1440. The Gutenberg Museum is a must-see attraction, as is the 1,000-year- old Mainz Cathedral.

An endearing set of six little Mainz men invented in 1962 by a cartoonist have become popular cult figures representing the town. Consequently, you will find them in every gift shop and even on the traffic lights!

One of the Mainz Men. Photo by Claudia Carbone
One of the Mainz Men. Photo by Claudia Carbone

Koblenz, Germany on the Rhine Moselle

Koblenz old town. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Koblenz old town. Photo by Claudia Carbone

At the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers lies the city of Koblenz, a quintessential German medieval town. Before we approached it, we passed by more than 20 ancient “fairytale” castles spread throughout the Upper Middle Rhine Valley UNESCO site, many perched high above vineyards that produce the famous Rhine Wine. 

Medieval castle along the Upper Middle Rhine UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Medieval castle along the Upper Middle Rhine UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo by Claudia Carbone

Walking the narrow streets, our guide told us a cute story about naughty street urchins known as Schängel during the French occupation. A fountain in the courtyard of the town hall is dedicated to them.

The Schängelbrunnen statue in Koblenz. Photo by Larry Haacktue in Ko
The Schängelbrunnen statue in Koblenz. Photo by Larry Haack

The 2,000-year-old history here is evident in this old Roman wall.

Roman wall in old town. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Roman wall in old town. Photo by Claudia Carbone

You can’t miss seeing the cable car that spans across the Rhine river to its right bank and the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, the second largest in Europe. The Prussians built it in 1828 in the footprint of an old one dating to the 11th century. There’s a museum with displays written in German (alas, we couldn’t read them!). And there’s not much to see inside the empty fortress. So, we spent most of our time browsing the charming town.

Cochem, Germany on the Moselle

This picturesque little town of 6,000 residents on the Moselle River is closed to cars between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. during April-October, making it a perfect pedestrian village. The centerpiece of Cochem is the magnificent Reichsburg Castle sitting high on the hill like Cinderella’s fairytale.

Reichsburg Castle sits high on the hill overlooking Cochem. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Reichsburg Castle sits high on the hill overlooking Cochem. Photo by Claudia Carbone

Our city tour included a visit to the castle and its grounds. We learned it dates back to 1000. But King Louis XlV destroyed it in 1689 and left it in ruins. It wasn’t until 1868 that a Berlin businessman restored it to live there with his family.

Reichsburg Castle. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Reichsburg Castle. Photo by Claudia Carbone

This stone gate is the oldest building in Cochem dating to 1620.

Oldest building in Cochem. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Oldest building in Cochem. Photo by Claudia Carbone

Wines produced from these vineyards are very young, called “green wine.” 

Vineyards in the Moselle Valley. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Vineyards in the Moselle Valley. Photo by Claudia Carbone

Bernkastel-Kues on the Moselle

Half-timber houses in Bernkastel's marketplace. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Half-timber houses in Bernkastel’s marketplace. Photo by Claudia Carbone

This delightful old town is called “The Pearl of the Moselle.” It straddles the Moselle and is famous as a health resort and center of winemaking. Most noteworthy of the well preserved timber houses is the narrow Spitzhauschen built in 1416.

"Pointed House" in Bernkastel. Photo by Claudia Carbone
“Pointed House” in Bernkastel. Photo by Claudia Carbone

Across the river in Kues we sampled wine in a unique wine cellar built in 1458. Indeed, it was a “help yourself” system. Terraced vineyards on steep slopes produce wines, mostly white, in this region. Grapes are picked by hand. I did not taste a wine I didn’t like!

Wine cellar in Kues. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Wine cellar in Kues. Photo by Claudia Carbone

Trier, Germany on the Moselle

Trier is the oldest city in Germany, founded in 16 BC by Emperor Caesar Augustus as a major outpost of the Roman Empire. The city’s gate, Porta Nigra, stands as a relic of the time.

Trier's Porta Nigra. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Trier’s Porta Nigra. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In addition, there are well-preserved ruins of a 20,000-seat amphitheater, three Roman baths, Moselle Bridge and the Igel Column. Emperor Constantine built many churches here; a few still stand—the Cathedral of Trier and the Liebfrauenkirche, the Church of Our Lady, and Aula Patina Basilica. These are the oldest Roman ruins outside of Rome!

Yet, across the street from the Porta Nigra we found a restaurant that served a delicious German Apfelstrudel!

Apple Strudel. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Apple Strudel. Photo by Claudia Carbone

More rivers are calling me. . .Viking, will you take me to them?

Viking Kvasir longship. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Viking Kvasir longship. Photo by Claudia Carbone

For information on Viking, visit vikingcruises.com.

Claudia Carbone is an award-winning travel writer based in Denver. Read about other places she’s visited in Sleepin’ Around.

 

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