Whilst some people might think I am slightly mad, I really enjoy going to tourist areas out of season.
Yes, some businesses might be closed and the locals might wonder why they kept tripping over a man taking photos and interviewing folk in the drizzle, but surely that’s better than fighting your way through throngs of tourists all looking around them, but not actually looking where they are going?
I undertook such an adventure recently with my fiancée when we visited the Romantic Rhine region of Germany. We based ourselves in the town of Bingen, and its neighbour across the river, Ruedesheim. Both towns are steeped in the wine industry, and are surrounded by acres of vineyards. This particular area of the Rhine is known for its Riesling wine and it was fascinating to discover the number of varieties available.
The vineyard owners around Bingen have worked together recently to create Vinothek, a stunning building overlooking the Rhine which acts as a wine restaurant and tasting room. On our visit, I was able to renew my acquaintances with Dieter Glabb, the head of tourism for the town. I had met him in the exact same place 2 years ago on my first visit to the region. Dieter led us through a tasting of 4 local wines and was able to tell us virtually which field the grapes came from, and how he knew each winemaker personally. You don’t get that in the supermarket!
After the wine tasting and a plunder around some local shops, we arrived at one of the Rhine’s most famous landmarks, Klopp Castle, for dinner. The restaurant is based in an historic castle that dates back to the 1600’s and makes for a stunningly atmospheric place for a meal. The food was as amazing as the building and was, of course, accompanied by local wines.
The following morning found us, and a group of Japanese tourists, on a cruise trip up the Rhine Valley to the village of St Goarshausan. On the 90 minute voyage, we passed many castles, picturesque villages and some spectacular scenery. A quick journey back down the river by train found us in Rudesheim before lunchtime. Accompanied by the town’s tourism manager, Christian Schuller, we decided to get a closer look at the Niederwald Monument, which overlooks the town and marks the foundation of the German Empire. The location provides for amazing views across the valley and the river. In season, a cable car runs from the town centre up to the momument, that trip would normally be followed by a brisk stroll across the nearby hiking trail and a trip by chairlift down to neighbouring Assmanheusen before getting a ferry back to Rudesheim. As we were visiting on a drizzly February day, we got a taxi.
Ruedesheim is a popular place during the holiday season. Indeed, some 3 million people visit its famous Drosselgasse every year. This little street is only 2 metres wide and is host to a plethora of restaurants and shops. Luckily for us, the other 2,999,998 people decided to stay at home at the time we visited as we had the street to ourselves, which was great for taking photos!
Nearby is somewhere quite special, Siegfrieds Musical Cabinet Museum. The building houses a private collection of mechanical musical cabinets, some of which are very fragile and are over 100 years old. The fact they still work and produce music is testament to the care they are given by the man who started the collection. Indeed, if you visit, you might even meet the man himself, just like we did.
Now, you might be concerned that it appeared to be a whole day since we had sampled any local wine, but fear not as we joined a wine tasting class in the wine cellar at Breur’s Ruedesheimer Schloss, a wine hotel on Drosselgasse. Whilst the class was in German, we teamed up with an American couple who appeared as bewildered as we were and followed the actions of the others in the room.
Dinner in the hotel’s restaurant was superb. Local specialities were the order of the day and the meal was finished off with a Ruedesheimer Kaffee, a coffee with locally made Asbach Brandy. The server prepares the drink at your table, setting fire to the brandy in the cup before adding the coffee and cream.
Whilst we could happily have sat there all evening, we had to dash back to the ferry to get back across the river to our hotel. We stood on the deck to make the most of the view, knowing the staff were looking at us quite bemused as they huddled round a heater inside. Indeed, the bemusment of locals continued when we decided to stop in at the Vinothek and sit outside with a glass of wine watching the barges on the river while entire dinner parties sitting inside thinking we had obviously lost the plot. The things you do on holiday!
The following day, we visited the city of Frankfurt, famous for its old town Romerplatz and ornate cathedral. We ate like locals again and enjoyed the famous Frankfurt Green Sauce, which is served with hard boiled eggs and potatoes, and only available in the city itself.
The area has many types of accommodation, from campsites to large hotels. There are many local family hotels in the region too. However, due to our “out of season” visit, we stayed at the NH Hotel, which sits at the meeting point of the River Rhine and River Nahe.
Travel in the region was very simple. We had arranged train travel in advance with DB (Deutsche Bann) through their website and we flew with Aer Lingus from Dublin to Frankfurt.