Germany’s Mosel River wine region is an area that I love to revisit when I want to take a holiday that moves as slow as a barge sailing up and down the river. The Mosel snakes along from Koblenz to Trier between dramatic vineyards carved into the steep cliffs and hillsides making one admire the almost mountain goat-like skill it must take to harvest the grapes. Both banks are lined by sleepy wine-producing villages, most of which will be ignored by the fast-paced, agenda-driven tourist.
Unlike the adjacent Romantic Rhine area, there are not many must-see sites along the Mosel. Cochem Castle is probably the best known and definitely worth the visit, however, I find the city itself to be quite disappointing. One need only try to find a reliable non-touristy meal and wallow thru some of the worst Google reviews of the town’s restaurants that I have ever seen.
The best way to enjoy the Mosel is to find a cozy Weingut or Airbnb, any place where you can comfortably kick back in your living room or terrace and sip a glass of the local wine. Staying in a Weingut can be particularly nice because you get to enjoy the wine made by the owners.
Many of the villages along the Mosel don’t seem to offer much beyond the cozy atmosphere of their weinguts, but a few offer at least a quaint old market square, castle ruin, or village center worth exploring. Beilstein and Zell are two of these that I recommend. But perhaps the village which offers the best combination of wine culture, picturesque medieval charm, hiking, and the only two breweries in the region (that I am aware of), is Bernkastel-Kues.
Bernkastel-Kues offers precisely the eye-popping half-timber setting which makes the perfect backdrop for a Christmas Market. After a year without Christmas Markets, 2021 brought a scaled-down comeback in some parts of Germany. While the rest of the Mosel region seemed content to go into a deep Winter hibernation, Bernkastel-Kues remained the one shining Christmas star.
What Bernkastel-Kues’ Christmas Market lacks in size compared to places like Dresden and Nuremburg, it makes up for in fairytale coziness. Only Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber can match it from the list of ones that I have visited. But not even Rothenburg has a centerpiece quite like the one in Bernkastel-Kues. Situated on the Marktplatz, the glorious Adler Apotheke building doubles as an Advent Calendar where a new window in one of the upper floors is opened every evening around 5:30pm, preceded by a short introduction from the Burgomeister. After the speech, an image of a Disney character is placed into the window, and while that doesn’t necessarily provide any cultural satisfaction, it is fun trying to guess who the next character will be.
Any visit to Bernkastel-Kues should include a short hike up to the highest point overlooking the city called Olymp. It is an easy 6.5km roundtrip which takes you thru the backside of the village, up past the Tinkel Kapelle to the peak and then back down past the Burg Landshut, a ruined 13th century castle with a nice restaurant cafe.
At least according to Brauns Brauerei Atlas, the only two breweries along the Mosel between Koblenz and Trier are in or near Bernkastel-Kues.
Bahnhof Cues (Cusanus Brau)
This brewery is located a short distance across the bridge on the Kues side of the river. The Kues or Cues comes from the famous 15th century German Renaissance thinker named Nicholas of Cues or Nicolaus Cusanus, who was a theologian, philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, you name it. The Pumpkin Eisbock is their strongest beer at 9.6% and it has just the right quantity of spice and sweetness without being too heavy.
Brauhaus Kloster Machern
Just a short drive up the river in Wehlen is this brewery restaurant housed in a former Cistercian monastery. The shop for buying bottles and beer steins is only open on Fridays and Saturdays. For dinner, I would highly recommend the pork tenderloins with spätzle (Zisterzienserpfännchen).
After having visited the Mosel region several times including stays in Bruttig-Fankel, Zell, and Cochem, Bernkastel-Kues is without a doubt the place I would prefer to stay the next time I am drawn to the area for a relaxing, Wine & Hike getaway. Cochem will always attract a lot of tourists because of its castle and proximity to the Romantic Rhine, but I think Bernkastel-Kues is hands down the best place to slow down, enjoy the mystique of this unique area, sip a local Reisling, savor a succulent, traditional German meal, and wash it all down with copious amounts of the region’s only craft beer.