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Sep 13

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River Cruise Journal: Castles, Rhine and Mosel Wine

Few things can compare to waking up to a balcony view that is picturesque enough to warrant UNESCO World Heritage status. This morning was one of those rare occasions: Everyone on board was treated to the amazing views when they opened their drapes.

View of mansions along the Rhine seen the morning we took Mosel wine tour

Our morning balcony view on the Rhine

Cruising through the Upper Middle Rhine Valley

We all spent a relaxing morning cruising through the area known as the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, known for having some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The floor-to-ceiling windows in Bragi’s dining room ensured that no one would miss out, but most of our fellow passengers chose instead to join us on the Sun Deck for Program Director Dewi’s lively commentary.

History comes to life at a time like this. Many of the river’s terraced vineyards date from Roman times. They seemed to use every available inch of arable land!

Even though some of the passengers had cruised the Rhine before there was so much to see – and learn – that the entire experience seemed completely new to us. For 64 idyllic kilometers (40 miles) Bragi sailed past quaint churches, terraced vineyards, and charming small towns. Some towns had sprung up in places that were so narrow they could hold little more than a single row of houses, a road, and a railroad track!

German town along the Rhine

And yet, that wasn’t the highlight of our journey. Far more impressive was the 40-odd castles watching us from the hillsides above the river.

40 castles overlook the Upper Middle Rhine valley, a UNESCO site

One after another, each had its own unique story to tell.

Most were in a sad state of repair, but here and there we could see one that had been fully restored. Eyebrows raised when Dewi told us that a few have been turned into hotels. (Wouldn’t that be a fun experience!)

Beautifully restored castle on the Rhine river

One baron, who lived in a nearby castle, had a fortress built in the center of the Rhine. Chains strung across the river ensured that no ship could pass without paying a toll.

At the narrowest part of the Rhine we passed Lorelei Rock, named for the legendary Rhine Maiden who, like the ancient Greek sirens, lured sailors to their doom with her song. I’d guess that the legend probably began because of the strong currents and hidden rocks in the river. Perhaps a sailor was distracted by the wind whistling from the rocks above. Who knows?

Afternoon options galore

After lunch our ship docked in Koblenz, a large town at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel/Moselle river. Viking offered a number of interesting afternoon activities to choose from:

  • Marksburg Castle tour
  • Koblenz at leisure
  • Mosel wine tasting experience (optional tour)

Marksburg Castle is definitely worth visiting. It is one of the few Rhine castles that has survived intact, even down to much of the furniture. Even if you have no interest in armaments or what life was like in a medieval German castle, it’s worth a visit for the views.

Because we visited Marksburg Castle on our previous Rhine cruise we opted for the wine tasting experience this time around.

Tip: Marksburg Castle is not suitable for people with mobility challenges. There are a lot of rough roads and staircases to navigate. We strongly recommend that you spend your time exploring Koblenz or take the optional Mosel tour.

Mosel wine

A couple dozen people joined us on the bus for the wine tour, which promised an intimate experience. We headed out of Koblenz along the Mosel River, where we were treated to a landscape of terraced vineyards punctuated here and there by typically German towns.

Germany is justifiably known for its beer, but it also has 13 wine regions, including the Mosel (Moselle in French). The Mosel wine region produces unique flavors because of its cool climate and because the vineyards are on the extremely steep slopes overlooking the river.

The bus stopped along the way so everyone could get a good look at the Mosel valley.

Beautiful view of town and vineyards along the Mosel river.

Then we continued on to the Mosel winery.There we had an opportunity to tour the inner sanctum of wine production and see how they produced their wines.

Cruise passengers tour a Mosel winery.
Our final stop was the basement area, full of wine barrels, where their choicest bottles were stored. It was here that we finally had a chance to sample a few of their wines.

Viking passengers sample Mosel wine at Richard Richter winery.

Sampling wine in the basement of a Mosel winery.

Hostess at Richard Richter Winery explains what makes their wine special.

Our hostess explained that the northerly location of the Mosel results in Riesling wines that are low in alcohol and high in acidity.

Confession: I had seconds on both. Crisp and light, with a faintly floral aroma, they were unlike any of the sweet Rieslings I am accustomed to. Dan agreed. This was one of the few times we regretted not traveling with larger suitcases; we would have liked to bring some back home with us. (No, they don’t ship to the U.S. A pity, that.)

Leisure time in Koblenz

The last time we were in Koblenz, it was hosting the biannual Federal Horticultural Show. We were so busy enjoying the experience that we didn’t get much time to see the town itself. Fortunately, summertime in Germany means long twilight hours, so after dinner we took a pleasant stroll along the Rhine into town. We had a wonderful time walking through the quiet streets in the old city center, looking at its buildings and doing a bit of window shopping in the waning light.

Koblenz after dark

Koblenz city square at twilightAn intriguing wine shop in Koblenz, GermanyKoblenz really glitters after dark.

Nighttime view of Koblenz fortress

Koblenz church at twilight
Drummer statue in Koblenz

Whimsical fountain in KoblenzHanging out with the crew

Finally, long after dusk had fled and night had fallen, our feet grew tired and begged us to let them rest. That was our signal to head back. As we ambled back to the ship we ran into a group of Bragi’s wait staff, most of whom we had befriended on board. Having finished their day’s work they were off to enjoy a late evening meal at a favorite restaurant. We were flattered when they begged us to join them on their night out. Apologizing to our feet, we couldn’t resist accepting the invitation; it gave us a chance to get the real scoop on what it’s like to work on a river cruise ship.

Viking crew enjoy off time at a Koblenz restaurant

So what’s it like to work for Viking?

We left the get-together with a really good impression of Viking. Their crew members receive excellent employment benefits (insurance, retirement, etc.) and long enough breaks during their contracts that they have time to go home for a visit. A couple of them actually confessed that they were thrilled to be out of the ocean cruise environment which, they said, is not nearly as employee-friendly. That alone makes us want to take our next cruise with Viking instead of sail the open seas.

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Enjoying wine in a basement wine cellar

Castle on the Rhine

A pretty street in Germany's Mosel wine region

Note: As is common in the travel industry, Dan and Linda were provided with a complimentary cruise package for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced coverage, AWSI believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see the Disclosure page.
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  1. Kacy

    It’s one of my goals to visit all of the world’s wine regions someday, so I found this particularly interesting. What a beautiful area, and very interesting to know about the working conditions at Viking. I am getting more and more tempted to look into a future cruise!
    Kacy recently posted…[Wellness] Wins – Making Healthy ChoicesMy Profile

    1. Linda

      Kacy, you must be my twin sister! Or Dan’s twin. We’ve actually been talking about doing that exact thing! Dan’s hot button is the Chile-Argentina region and I want to explore all of France before moving on to Italy via Spain (can you say Manchego? lol). And that’s before we even get to eastern Europe and the Balkan region, both of which have wines that are severely underrated.

      What wine region are you looking forward to the most?

  2. [email protected] Well For Less

    So gorgeous. I’ve yet to visit the Rhine Valley and your photos reminded me I need to move a Viking cruise up further on my bucket list.
    [email protected] Well For Less recently posted…No Fees on Gift Cards, $50 From Rocketmiles, and More!My Profile

    1. Linda

      It’s worth it, Debbie! The only thing that could make the Viking cruise better would be if we could figure out a way to earn frequent flyer/cruiser/hotel points. 🙂

  3. Cellars Wine Club

    Germany is really one of the best place for wine aside from beers. They do have a great selection of wines and the place is so beautiful. Everything is in here, beautiful scenery and good wines. A must place for those who love wines.

    1. Linda

      We agree. Do you have a favorite Mosel variety?

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    […] River Cruise Journal: Castles Rhine and Mosel Wine […]

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