Happy Wednesday! Hope everyone is powering through the week after the long holiday weekend.
A couple weeks ago, Haley + I popped over to Germany for a few days (which was SO easy thanks to Eurostar). I had never been before, so I was so excited to finally check another country off my list!
While Germany is HUGE and has so many places I'm dying to visit, we opted to start with the Rhine Valley. Named after the Rhine River, this region between Koblenz and Frankfurt (roughly) is home to Germany's most dramatic landscape: forested hillsides, castles, idyllic villages and vineyards galore (now you know why we chose to come here first-castles AND wine!)
We started in Cologne, with the plan of driving along the Rhine River until we hit Mainz (and then cut over to Frankfurt). While we did divert from the plan a bit, I'd highly recommend renting a car and making a drive that's similar to this. It lets you see and do things on your own timeline, so if you want to stay at a castle or a winery a bit longer, it's no problem.
But first, let's talk about our time in Cologne (or Köln). This 2,000 year old city in western Germany is known for it's stunning twin-spired cathedral. (Bonus tip: It's incredibly easy to get here from Brussels via a train if you're already in Belgium and wanting a quick taste of Germany!)
A little bit of advice: if you come to Cologne in the winter, DRESS AS WARM AS YOU CAN. It was SO cold, and I was so thankful that we packed as many layers as we did. You can shop the ones I wore here:
After walking around the city and scoping out the cathedral, we needed a little bit of relief from the cold, so we checked into our hotel to warm up.
We LOVED staying at Hyatt Regency Cologne! We had a beautiful room that overlooked the cathedral + Rhine River (which meant we could enjoy the view while staying warm.) The room itself was clean, had such a comfortable bed and had all the standard amenities you hope for in a hotel. We put on some jazz music, popped a bottle of champagne and unintentionally took a little cat nap because we were so relaxed.
I did a bit of hotel research and Hyatt Regency Cologne was hands down the best option I found if you want a luxury experience with the best views of the city. I highly recommend staying here whenever you visit Cologne!
Even in the cold, we loved exploring all that Cologne has to offer. We popped into a biergarten for a paint of their local Weißbier (which is the German name for a standard white wheatbeer) and a plate full of German meats like bierwurst, teewurst, mettwurst and salami. Some looked... interesting (to say the least) but tasted delicious. Others tasted as interesting as they looked. But overall, it was fun to try the local cuisine and experience
Quick Tip: One thing we found was that very few places accepted credit card, so be sure to carry plenty of cash (in this case, euros) to avoid getting stuck.
After our time in Cologne, we hopped in the car and drove about an hour south along the Rhine to Königswinter so we could see our first castle: Schloss Drachenburg. This beauty is a private villa in palace style that was built in the late 19th century. Unfortunately it closes in the winter so we weren't able to tour it, but it was still beautiful to see on our drive along the Rhine (and it's someplace I recommend stopping to see no matter when you visit).
We were told how wonderful the wines are in the Rhine Valley, so we made sure to visit a couple wineries in between castles (you'll notice most of them are situated on steep hillsides).
Wine situated in the Rhine region makes up approximately 60 percent of all Germany's production. They're most popularly known for their white varietals- particularly Riesling. If you'er like me, Riesling typically makes you think of the sugary "wine on training wheels" we used to drink in college. But that's actually a common misconception. While they can certainly be sweet, there are also lots of great Rieslings that are very crisp and dry.
Among those great whites, we loved visiting Winery Lunnebach. Several wineries had already closed for the season, we were so happy to find they were open and ready for us to taste some of their delicious wines (I bought 4 bottles to bring home and have no clue how I'm going to fit them in my suitcase- but that's a problem for another day).
We ended up spending more time wine tasting than originally anticipated, so we ended up staying in Mainz for the night instead of heading all the way to Frankfurt (I'll just save that city for another trip!) Turning in early for the night was necessary, because we woke up early the next morning to visit what we were most excited about: Eltz Castle!
This medieval castle is owned by a branch of the same family that lived there 33 generations ago (that's the 12th century!) It's located just between Koblenz and Trier (above the Moselle River) and was an absolutely gorgeous drive to make. Again, this time of year it was closed so we couldn't tour the inside (it's open from April through October if you want to do that) but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't awesome to have the whole place to ourselves!
Once we left Eltz Castle, it was time to drive back up to Cologne to return our rental car and catch the train back to London via Brussels. It really was such a quick trip and I wish we could have stayed a bit longer! But nonetheless, we got to see some of the most beautiful landscapes + castles, and drink some tasty wine. So overall? A great success in my book!
Regardless of where you choose to go in Germany, here are a few things I found to be true during my short time there:
- Germans are direct. This doesn't mean that they're being rude- it's just status quo to be a straight shooter (which can seem a bit counter-cultural coming from the south where people LOVE to throw in lots of fluff and sugar coat everything).
- Germans also love structure and are very punctual. Do your best to be on time for wine tasting appointments.
- Most people speak at least some English, but learning a few basics like "danke" (thank you) and "guten tag" (good day) is a common courtesy.
- As previously stated above, carry cash. Credit cards aren't always accepted- even at restaurants that seem like very modern establishments.
- Also previously stated, if you visit in the winter- DRESS WARM.
Anything else you want to know about Germany? Let me know in the comments!