THE MOSELLE REGION OF LUXEMBOURG
The Moselle Valley is a region in eastern Luxembourg that has been promoted as a wine-growing region since the 19th century and has developed an important tourist industry around its renown as a rural idyll.
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg shares its important asset with neighbouring Germany – the wide, navigable Moselle River, tributary of the Rhine. Along the Luxembourg riverbanks are vineyards that produce a wine which connoisseurs rate as among the best in the Moselle Valley. A wine tour through the quiet villages and wine cellars of the region is a scenic and relaxing experience.
The principal town of Luxembourg’s Moselle wine growing region is linked to the German bank of the river by a bridge. Grevenmacher is an old town with narrow streets, the remains of medieval fortifications, and a 13th-century Belfry.
The town’s claim to fame is the wine cellars of Caves Bernard-Massard, whose sparkling wines are internationally acclaimed. The cellars are open daily for tastings from April to October from 9.30am to 6pm. There is a small museum in the town, and an exotic butterfly garden. Grevenmacher is also an embarkation point for regular scenic river cruises on the Moselle, which call at other quaint villages in the region.
In the Moselle region in the southeast of Luxembourg, nestling in the hills, lies the spa town of Mondorf-les-Bains, where thousands of visitors come on holiday every year to enjoy the verdant surrounds and thermal springs of what is billed as the most modern balneotherapy centre in Europe.
The Mondorf-les-Bains holiday resort consists of a thermal park set in 50 hectares of parkland, offering a variety of sports facilities and a balneotherapy pavilion with saunas, swimming pools, waterfalls, whirlpools and geysers. Visitors can also be pampered with massages and mud baths.
There is a casino in the town, as well as some interesting frescoed churches, a Roman fortress and some Art Nouveau-style houses to visit while on holiday in Mondorf-les-Bains.
The almost complete guide to The Moselle
Gliding 300 miles on its leisurely journey from France via Luxembourg to Germany, the Moselle winds past striking scenery and historic towns.
During the Moselle’s 300-mile journey from its source in the Vosges mountains of eastern France to its confluence with the Rhine at Koblenz in western Germany, the river carves some spectacular landscapes – but also washes past some dreary industrial views. Some of the banal, sweet wines produced on its banks may have you reaching for the mouthwash, yet there are also some classy vintages that sell at a premium. The Moselle’s lingering encounters with two-and-a-half countries (it merely brushes past Luxembourg), trace a fascinating story of culture and geography.
LET’S START AT THE VERY BEGINNING
The Moselle rises near the Col de Bussang in eastern France, about 30 miles west of Mulhouse. Initially, the river runs swiftly south-west, before turning right, then broadening out around Épinal – a thoroughly untouristy destination, though conveniently with a tourist office at 6 place Saint-Goëry (00 33 3 29 82 53 32, http://www.ville-epinal.fr).
Its main attraction is the Imagerie, an extraordinary collection of brightly coloured, quasi-cartoon characters located beside the Moselle at 42 bis quai de Dogneville (00 33 3 29 34 21 87, http://www.imagerie-epinal.com) and opens 9am-12noon and 2pm-6.30pm (afternoons only at weekends), admission €4.70 (£3.50).
You can access Épinal by rail; depart London at 12.09pm, make a swift change from Paris Gare du Nord to Gare de l’Est and you can catch the only direct train of the day, terminating in Épinal at 8.35pm, for a fare is around £100 return.
North-west from here, the Moselle passes through agricultural countryside before swerving west to embrace the curious, octagonal fortress town of Toul; it also avoids the handsome city of Nancy, which is well worth a detour for its wealth of Art Nouveau structures.
North of the main east-west railway, the river moves into the fiercely industrialised Pays de Fer (Land of Iron). This stretch is punctuated by the fine city of Metz, which – as the capital of Lorraine – has shuttled between French and German control over the last couple of centuries. Architecturally, Metz is a muddle of Roman, medieval and 19th-century German structures.
The city possesses some gems, notably the Gothic cathedral with Chagall stained-glass windows. The tourist office is at the Place d’Armes (00 33 3 87 55 53 76). From the UK, Metz is accessible with a single change of train at Lille, though there are only a couple of trains a day – and you have to walk the 10 minutes between Lille Europe and Lille Flandres stations. Turn your head as you leave the station for a proper view of the imposing Hauptbahnhof, sorry, gare.
FOR ONE OF EUROPE’S GREAT RIVERS, MOSELLE LOOKS PRETTY CALM
That’s a result of the “canalisation” of the Moselle in 1964, which connected the Rhine and the Rhône, and provided Luxembourg with an important link to two of Europe’s major waterways. The Lorraine chase down-river ends with a 15-mile meander northwards to Thionville, and then north-east through unthrilling countryside to a point where three nations meet – at a village whose name has become as much a part of Euro parlance as Brussels and Maastricht.
Schengen was the location for the signing of the treaty on free movement within the European Union, which took place on 14 June 1985; representatives of Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, France and Germany signed the Schengen accord while symbolically aboard the Marie-Astrid excursion boat, as it floated around in the middle of the Moselle. The village name has become synonymous with formality-free travel within Europe: airports are divided into “Schengen” (no passport checks required) and “Non-Schengen” (nations, including Britain, where identity checks are still carried out).
The Luxembourg border village has a boastful series of monuments to its status, some agreeable places to eat and drink, and the 1,025ft Stromberg – from the summit of which you can get a fresh view of Europe without frontiers.
There are no hotels in Schengen, but five miles downstream Remich provides you with a choice of places to stay, of which the four-star Hotel St Nicolas (00 352 26663, http://www.saint-nicolas.lu) is the finest. A double room, including breakfast, costs €90 (£65).
Fly to Luxembourg on British Airways (0870 850 9850, http://www.ba.com) from Gatwick for £165 or on Luxair (01293 596633, http://www.luxair.lu) for £115 from Heathrow, Stansted, London City and Manchester.
The road along the west bank of the Moselle, which marks the edge of Luxembourg, is dramatic, past vineyards clambering up steep slopes. At Wasserbillig the river veers east into firmly German territory, but if you continue for a few miles along the border around to Echternach, you find yourself in “Little Switzerland”, south of a Moselle tributary, the Sûre.
HOW CAN I WEND DOWNSTREAM ALONG THE MOSELLE WITHOUT MY OWN CANOE?
At Schengen, cross the river to the town of Perl, a far-flung terminus of the German rail network. From here, the railway line hugs the banks of the Moselle (or Mosel, as it becomes) almost all the way downstream to the river’s end, where it joins the Rhine at Koblenz.
A day ticket, valid on all the railways in the German states of Rhineland-Palatinate (where you are now) and the Saar (where you really don’t want to go), covers up to five people, for a total fare of €21 (£15). Once in Germany, the Moselle meanders its way through Rhineland-Palatinate nearly 150 miles between the Eifel and Hunsrück Hills towards Koblenz. This is the stretch of river that is the most scenic and celebrated. You’ll find rolling hills, stretches of forest and grand medieval castles that preserve a peaceful, romantic atmosphere from another age.
A BIT OF A BACKWATER, THEN?
Far from it. The valley formed one of the boundaries of the Roman Empire and the river was important for trade in ancient Europe. Germany’s oldest city, Trier, was founded in 16BC by Emperor Augustus. It rose to become capital of the Belgica prima province, an imperial seat in the 3rd and 4th centuries, and an important early Christian centre under Emperor Constantine, with a population of 70,000. But it was ransacked twice: by the Franks in the 5th century and the Vikings in the 9th.
From the Middle Ages, Trier was a significant political force, and its archbishop was one of the seven Electors of the Holy Roman Empire – the loose, shifting German alliance that endured from the mid-10th to the early-19th century. Trier’s location – well away from Germany’s industrial heartland – meant it escaped serious bomb damage during the Second World War.
Today, the city has an astonishing depth of history still on show, with some of the best-preserved Roman monuments in Northern Europe, as well as impressive medieval architecture. In 1986 several of its buildings gained Unesco World Heritage status. Pride of place goes to the Porta Nigra, a huge 2nd-century sandstone gate, which the residents used to defend the city with the assistance, when necessary, of vats of boiling oil. In the 11th century the gate became a church, the Simeonstiftkirche, named after St Simeon, a Greek hermit who took refuge in one of its towers towards the end of his life.
Almost as impressive is the vast Basilika, built as Emperor Constantine’s throne-room and originally adorned lavishly with marble inlay, mosaics, and statues. Unfortunately the Franks did not appreciate the decor and trashed its interior on their visit to the city in the 5th century. There is also an amphitheatre which in its heyday held 20,000 spectators. From April to October you can visit the underground cage rooms where animals, prisoners and corpses were kept, and admire the impressive drainage system under the arena (open 10am-6pm from Monday to Saturday, 12noon-6pm on Sunday, admission free).
ANYTHING MORE UP-TO-DATE?
Relatively speaking. Trier is packed with Gothic and Rennaissance buildings such as the House of Magi, a 13th-century tower, and St Gangolf, a 15th-century church. The best is undoubtedly the Dom, the cathedral. Most of what stands today was built in the 11th century on the remains of an immense double church. Constantine ordered the original construction as a showpiece for the Christian religion, alongside St Peter’s in Rome, the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Like much of Roman Trier, it was destroyed by the Franks and the Vikings.
Other than Constantine, Trier’s most famous ex-resident is Karl Marx, who was born here in 1831. His home, the Karl-Marx-Haus, is open to visitors 10am-1pm and 2-5pm daily (closed Monday morning), admission €1.50 (£1.10).
If you believe that some are more equal than others, check into the magnificent Blesius-Garten (00 49 6513 6060) which has an impressive wine list and a (mostly) French restaurant.
A double room costs €90 to €120 (£65 to £87), including breakfast. The downmarket alternative is the youth hostel (00 49 65114 6620), beautifully located on the river, with bunks for €16 (£11). Trier is also home to some excellent restaurants. The Kesselstatt (00 49 06514 0204, http://www.trier-tip.de/kesselstatt) offers haute cuisine and excellent wines in the splendour of a Baroque palace, while the Zum Domstein (00 49 6517 4490) has imaginative vegetarian and Roman dishes.
WHAT’S THE PROLETARIAN WAY TO TRIER?
Fly on Ryanair (0871-246 0000, http://www.ryanair.com) from Stansted, Prestwick and Bournemouth to Hahn (though Bournemouth flights cease at the end of October). Yesterday, return fares for travel in mid-October were £21 from Stansted, £19 from Bournemouth and £39 from Prestwick. From Hahn, buses run to Trier six times a day for a fare of €18 (£14) return.
HAHN: NOW WHERE WOULD THAT BE, THEN?
“Frankfurt”, in Ryanair-speak; but in real life, Germany’s financial centre on the Main is 90 minutes away from the airport by bus. The village of Hahn lends its name to a vast former US air force base in the Hunsrück. It has become Germany’s leading no-frills airport. While highly inconvenient for Frankfurt, it is an ideal gateway to the finest parts of the Moselle, and in particular the beautiful medieval “double towns” (one on each bank) whose names look like German estate agents: Bernkastel-Kues and Traben-Trarbach.
WHICH SHOULD I CHOOSE?
Each pair is accessible by bus from Hahn in half an hour. A well-signposted two-hour walk links them across the hills. On balance, you should select Traben-Trarbach as your base. A century ago, it was the second-largest wine-trading area in Europe, after Bordeaux, thanks to its close links to the Prussian government in Potsdam. Early in the 20th century, the Hotel Bellevue (00 49 6541 7030, http://www.bellevue-hotel.de) was born – a miraculous Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) creation overlooking the river.
Past guests include Baron von Richthofen, the Red Baron of First World War fame; present-day guests pay €100-€150 (£70-£110). On the west bank of the river you can find some other Art Nouveau villas and also worth seeking out is the Moseltherme (00 49 654 183 030), an uber-modern spa with jacuzzi, sauna and both indoor and outdoor pools.
Upriver in Bernkastel, consider the 17th-century Doctor-Weinstuben (00 49 6531 6081); a double room with breakfast costs €95-€125 (£67-£90).
HOW DO I EXPLORE?
Pleasure boats bob up and down the Moselle, though the season is now drawing to a close. For something more substantial, join a cruise. Peter Deilman Riverboat Cruises (020-7436 2961, http://www.deilmann-cruises.com) operates luxury trips on the Moselle.
Alternatively, ride along the cycle path that runs alongside the river.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE FAIRY-TALE CASTLES AND MEN IN SHORTS?
You’re thinking of Bavaria, although the Moselle Valley has its fair share of medieval fortresses. Burg Eltz (00 49 2672 950 500, http://www.burgeltz.de) is excellent. On the north side of the river, near the small double town of Treis-Karden, it rises spectacularly out of the surrounding rocks with an array of conical towers.
The castle dates back to the 12th century, although most of what is there now was built in the 1400s. Unlike many of its neighbours, it has retained its original features. Inside you can see collections of furniture, paintings, jewels, and weaponry. Do not be taken in by the Reichsburg in Cochem, a bizarre replica built in the 19th century on the site of a castle that the French burnt down in 1689.
AND THE END OF THE RIVER?
A touch ignominious, as the Moselle is swallowed up by the mighty Rhine. The city that grew up at their confluence, Koblenz, is almost as old as Trier; the Romans built a settlement here early in the first century. But it has not survived the intervening two millennia very prettily, and some would say that its main attribute is the railway station – a good way to arrive or leave the region.
A return ticket from London Waterloo, via Brussels and Cologne, costs £123 return through German Rail (08702 43 53 63), and the journey takes around seven hours. Alternatively, fly to Hahn and take one of the four or five daily buses to the main station in Koblenz. From here, you can easily get a train along either bank of the Rhine, which is at its prettiest upstream from here as far as Wiesbaden and Mainz.
Put some fizz into wine-buying!
Moselle is home to some of Luxembourg’s, France’s and Germany’s finest vineyards. Some people mistakenly think that German wine is sweet, disgusting stuff. In fact, the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer is one of Germany’s finest wine-producing regions. Although a small number of red grapes are grown it is the white varieties for which it is famous, the most popular being Riesling. These have a characteristic flinty taste due to slate in the soil, and the best is fragrant, crisp and fruity with an acidity that penetrates spicy food. Some have a touch of fizz.
Many of the vineyards are situated on steep inclines – up to an incredible 70 degrees – and harvesting the grapes has to be carried out by hand. The steepest slopes provide maximum exposure to the sun and reflection from the river.
The Moselle is also home to a rare sweet wine, eiswein, although it is not exclusive to the region. It is made with very ripe grapes, which, as the name suggests, are pressed while frozen in order to obtain the most concentrated juice. Two varieties are highly prized: St Nicholaswein and Christwein which have their grapes picked on St Nicholas’s day and Christmas Day respectively.
The region hosts numerous wine festivals between June and October. The biggest weinfest takes place over the first weekend of September in Bernkastel-Kues, where locals knock back gallons of their favourite tipple, Bernkasteler Doctor. At any time of year, you can organise wine-tastings or visit a wine cellar. The Vinothek in Bernkastel-Kues (00 49 6531 4141, http://www.bernkastel.vinothek.de/vinothek), situated in magnificent vaulted cellars, has more than 130 wines on offer.
Read more: www.travelluxembourg.org