The Rhine River must be one of the most elegant arteries winding its way through Europe. Read more about rambling, romance and rail travel in Germany's Rhine Valley.
Although ‘romance’ is a subjective concept, Germany’s Rhineland has romance to float everyone’s boat. Whether you get your wanderlust thrills by hiking on the iconic Rheinsteig Trail, taking a tandem along the Rhine Cycle Path, bathing in an ancient thermal spa, visiting one of many fairytale castle or taking in riverside views with a glass of fine, local wine, this artery gets many a heart pumping.
Most importantly, so much of this stunning area of Germany is accessible by train. The Rhine Valley, which takes a 1,324km journey from the Swiss Alps’ source up to its mouth in the North Sea at Hoek van Holland is peppered with historic train stations. The most popular train route is between Cologne and Koblenz, two of the main Rhine cities. This route, which takes just under an hour by train, clings to the iconic river for 80km. With the former capital city of Bonn along the way.
Hiking on the Rheinsteig
It is not surprising that the Germans invented the word ‘wanderlust’ meaning, literally, ‘a lust for hiking’, with a plethora of long-distance walking trails stretching across the country. One of the most famous is the Rheinsteig, a 320km waymarked trail on the right side of the Rhine, linking Bonn, Koblenz and Wiesbaden.
Although it follows the river, don’t be fooled into thinking the Rheinsteig is a flat, waterside stroll. You are entering gorgeous gorge territory here, with trails that take you over vine-covered hills, escarpments bedecked with ancient forests or atop dramatic river cliffs, such as the Lorelei in the Rhine Gorge. You can take in the Lorelei from the town of St. Goarshausen, which you can access by train from Frankfurt in just over an hour and a half. St. Goarshausen is also in the heart of Nassau Nature Park, which covers 600km² of the Rhenish Massif and Lahn Valley. That’s a lot from just one station on the Rhine.
The Rhine Gorge
The Rhine Gorge, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is the name given to a 65km section of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley between Koblenz and Bingen, a train journey which, although it takes under an hour, feels totally timeless. Its canyons, some of which plunge to 130m, have been the subjects of painters, composers and writers over the centuries. One most famous being JMW Turner, the English landscape artist considered to be one of the greatest Romantic painters of his time. His celebrated collection of sketches and watercolours of the Rhine are celebrated on the William Turner Route, where 26 plaques mark the famous landscapes he portrayed so magnificently. Access various points along the way by train, including Rüdesheim, Mainz and Boppard.
The Rhine Cycle Route
The Rhine Cycle Route, otherwise known as Eurovelo 15, is a 322km cycle path crossing all of the Rhine’s natural borders. In Germany, the most popular route is heading north along the left bank, through some of Germany’s most ancient towns including Speyer and Worms, both railway towns. You can also cycle the length of the German Weinstrasse or Wine Route, following mostly off-road paths. Read more about bringing bikes on trains in Germany.
The Black Forest
Travellers don’t always associate the Black Forest with the Rhine but this forested mountain range is bounded by the Rhine Valley to the west, and has been well served by trains making the journey up from the Valley floor over the centuries. Great spots to seek out by rail include Freudenstadt, Titisee and Triberg, where Black Forest kitsch, communities and, of course, cake abound. From the Rhine itself, the stations you need for heading up into the hills are Rastatt and Offenburg. With over 24,000km of hiking, cross-country skiing and cycling trails to explore, this is family holiday heaven too. Especially given that children under the age of 15 travel free of charge on German trains, when travelling with an adult. Read more about the ins and outs of booking tickets and seats with Deutsche Bahn, the national rail provider.
Image credits top to bottom: Laufenburg in Baden Wuerttemberg on the Rhine River, Germany iStock ©Thor767, Rheinsteig sign painted on a tree along the trail in Germany iStock ©Mlyons, The Lorelei (Loreley) on the right bank of the River Rhine in the Rhine Gorge ( Middle Rhine) at Sankt Goarshausen in Germany iStock ©Leamus, Vineyards and an old shed in Bernkastel-Kues in the Mosel Valley, Germany iStock ©jacquesvandinteren, A woman cycling on an unpaved forest road on a cold winter day. The fresh snow is falling from the trees and the sun breaks through. This creates a fantastic atmosphere in the woods iStock ©Leamus
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