As far as pretty European towns, Cochem, Germany, is one of the best. With the stunning, hilltop Reichsburg Castle, cobblestone streets and waterside promenades, this delightful destination is a popular river cruise stop and well worth some extra time to explore. Here’s what I love there, including the castle, of course, but going beyond the ramparts.
Also known as Cochem Castle or Schloss Reichsburg, this storied fortress dates back to approximately 1000-1100 AD. Legend has it that at one point the citizens of Cochem warded off attackers by sending empty wine barrels down the hills, known colloquially as “The Battle of the Barrel.” The colorful history continued until King Louis XIV and his armies invaded in 1689 and burned down the castle. In the 19th century, the Berlin Councilor of Commerce, Louis Ravené, stepped in and rebuilt the castle in neo-Gothic style as his personal residence. While some original elements remain (look for the four-story Octagonal Tower and the Hexentrum, or Witches Tower), Ravené oversaw the impressive design of the knight's hall, dining room, hunting room, bower and more.
Several tour types are available that tell the story of the castle and reveal its intricately designed interiors. One of the most interesting follows in the footsteps of Ravené, and includes a peek at otherwise closed public rooms of the family, as well as the beautiful chapel that is typically only accessible during private weddings. As you wander, appreciate the armor displays, Louis XIV-style furniture, Baroque artwork, tapestries, fine wood paneling and stained glass.
Undeniably charming, the Cochem’s Aldstadt (or Old Town) draws you in through its 14th-century gates (three of four remain intact) with its gabled, half-timbered houses and cobblestone alleyways. Pop into a shop for lunch fixings and sit near the Marktplatz fountain to soak up life as a local. Take time to visit the largest of the medieval city gates, the Enderttor, with an attached guardhouse. For centuries, this was the first glimpse of Cochem for travelers riding in stagecoaches to Cologne or Frankfurt.
Walk along the Moselpromenade from the upper part of Old Town, as the walkway broadens into a park. From the Skagerrak-Brücke (bridge), take in the views of town, the castle and the Moselle Valley.
If you’re sailing into town between mid-March and November, make it a point to ride the gondola up to the Pinnerkreuz lookout. When you reach 800 or so feet, you’ll have an incredible vantage point of the graceful loop in the Moselle, precipitous vineyards and all of Cochem. Up top, sip a beverage from the cafe terrace and savor the view, or take a hike in the vineyards.
If mustard is among your favorite condiments, don’t miss the chance to take an expertly guided tour of this historic mustard mill by the miller himself, Wolfgang Steffens. The mill’s origins date back to 1810, though the facilities you’ll see only opened in 2001. Learn the story of the original recipe of the award-winning mustard, and try some (or all) of its nine different variations, including Riesling-infused, curry and honey mustard. (Or course, bratwurst is available to order to make the mustard-tasting experience complete!)
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