Romance in the Rhine Valley
The Rhine Valley is Germany at its most romantic, with woodland and hilltop castles flanking the river as it flows through the country’s west. It makes this 225-mile road trip, which broadly follows the river’s route, a fine year-round proposition. Beginning in Dusseldorf, one of Germany’s most sophisticated cities, the road twists through the landscape before culminating at Heidelberg, one of its prettiest. Koblenz, Mainz and Worms offer engaging stop-offs along the way.
Napoleon called Dusseldorf “a little Paris” when he passed through in 1806, and the city remains a striking one. These days, however, its older buildings are offset by cutting-edge architecture. Fittingly for the home of electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk, the city thrives on innovation. Walk the lanes of the Altstadt (Old Town), see the modern art collection at the K20 Gallery or ascend the Rhine TV Tower for 168m-high views across the city. For an elegant dinner, sample the modern German fare at Im Schiffchen. The road leads south to Koblenz.
The town of Koblenz sits at the northern end of the spectacular Rhine Gorge, where the Rhine and Moselle rivers converge. In the past, this strategic location made it prized territory – the Swedes, French and Russians all fought over it. History aside, the main draw in Koblenz are the rivers themselves; various scenic cruises start here. On land, catch a cable-car up to the Ehrenbreitsein Fortress, then enjoy a seafood meal for two at Bistro Filip. Back behind the wheel, Mainz is just over an hour away.
As state capital of the Rhineland-Palatinate region, Mainz gives a resolutely urban flavour of western Germany. That’s not to say it’s without charm. Its six-towered Dom (cathedral) makes for a magnificent backdrop, while the smaller St Stephen’s Church has stained-glass windows by artist Marc Chagall. The town also showcases the first printed Bible, found in the Gutenberg Museum. Couples will enjoy the chance for riverside walks, while February sees carnival season hit the streets in the form of Rosenmontag (Rose Monday). A 45-minute drive then brings you to Worms.
Granted, it’s not the most romantic name. But Worms (pronounced “vorrms”) is an attractive city, and one of Germany’s oldest. Its medieval centre still has some of its original fortifications – the old town wall contains a museum dedicated to the Nibelungleid, German literature’s epic tale of love and legends. Elsewhere, call in for kaffee und kuchen at Dom Terrassen, take an on-foot tour of the city’s historical core or try the schnitzel at Wein Und Bier Schanke. The last stop, Heidelberg, sits around 30 miles further up the Rhine.
German car-hire adventures deserve somewhere special to round off an itinerary, and Heidelberg fits the bill. A magnet for visitors since the 19th century, the city’s spread of hilly greenery and riverbank spires is still topped by a wide castle. It’s some sight, especially at sunset. Try to bag a table at Zum Seppl, which serves quality regional food, then take an evening stroll across the Alte Brucke, described by Goethe as a bridge “of such beauty as is perhaps not to be equaled by any other in the world”.