Saturday, 19 June 2010

Meandering Along the Mosel with some British Motorhomers

Up through France and along the German Mosel
Lesley’s bit –

In about April 2009, as part of our very early preparations for this trip, I joined a motorhome web-site called Motorhome Facts. It has a large membership and there always seems to be someone who can answer questions of the “what does this switch do” variety, or at the very least voice an opinion on any subject you care to post about, so it is well worth the £10 annual subscription. I’d noticed, before we left England, that they were planning an informal meet to meander along the Mosel and Rhine valleys some time in June and, as luck would have it, their dates coincided with the week we were planning to start heading north through Germany, so we decided to tag along and began to head north from the Chablis area on Saturday 5th June.

Planning by looking at maps can be dicey. Places are not always what you imagine they might be. We’d seen some large lakes north-east of Troyes on our map. Great – they would be bound to have lots of countryside aires around there. It’d be a perfect area to stop for the night on our way to Germany. However, the lakes turned out to be massive reservoirs which formed part of an extensive flood protection scheme controlling the flow of the Seine, and the few campsites around the area were equally large and geared to family holidays. In the end we stopped for the night on a much smaller campsite beside the river Aube at the village of Lesmont. It was a pleasant, friendly spot, with little to comment on other than a remarkable “halle” or market hall, a tall open-sided vault of wooden beams spanning the road, through which we drove to reach the campsite, but couldn’t drive back through the next day due to the whole village being seated there at trestle tables for an outdoor Sunday lunch.
Large "halle" at Lesmont

We were back on the Luxemburg stretch of the Moselle for Sunday evening, at the same car park spot in Ehnen, having filled up on cheap Luxemburg diesel at the stretch of petrol stations catering to clientele from many different parts of Europe – such is the attraction of fuel at 1€ a litre. At the village bar there appeared to be a small “do”, with locals dancing to tunes rendered only half familiar to us by being played by a band with their organ set to accordion.

We visited Trier on Monday, a city Rob had been looking forward to seeing and I, in my very geographically challenged way, had never even heard of. Rob said it would be interesting and attractive and we were not disappointed. Although the centre has been largely rebuilt after the extensive wartime ravages, it has managed to preserve some of the best Roman architectural remains in northern Europe. The basilica of Constantine was built to impress, with walls whose only function was to tower above the heads of visitors to what was essentially an audience chamber and throne room. The very informative display showed the many reincarnations of the building - at various times a ruin, an imperial palace of Charlemagne and a Protestant church complete with wooden panelled stalls for the pews, rare in this Catholic area. The firestorm bombings of 1944 left it gutted and its subsequent restoration has taken it back to something which gives the feel of the Constantine throne room, but keeps it as a very plain and open Protestant church.
The Hauptmarkt, Trier

In contrast, the Dom, the city’s Romanesque cathedral, and the large gothic church butting up to it (two churches in one spot seemed a bit excessive really) were much more ornate. Although the Dom’s exterior was a pleasingly plain early Romanesque style (think Norman arches), its interior was decked out to the glory of a Catholic God with furniture and fittings that make you hope he has a penchant for the baroque. The crypt harked back to the cathedral’s earlier origins, but the cloisters were magnificently gothic, complete with gargoyles.

The Dom, Trier

Rob’s bit –

For me Trier’s most outstanding monument was the blackened Roman city gate known as the Porta Nigra, on account of the grime it has accumulated on its stonework over 1800 years.  It stands three massive storeys tall and dominates the northern entrance to the old town, where the (now pedestrianised) road still runs through its enormous arches.  Once part of a ring of defensive walls and gates, it survived in part by being converted into the Christian church of St Simeon in the 12th century, the church being built right up into the central space of the gate, and a vaulted roof and ceiling closing in the top.   The church survived into the 19th century, and I don’t know why it was ripped down, but it must have made quite a sight.  It has left behind it a series of reliefs of bishops and ecclesiastical inscriptions in Latin on the inner walls of the Roman gateway, where they once formed the upper galleries of the church.
The Porta Nigra, Trier

Lesley’s bit –

Mosel meet – We found the stellplatz at Klϋsserath with no help from Garmintrude who wanted to send us up the road, over the river and back to the stellplatz via an imaginary bridge, when we could plainly see the sea of white vans through the opening of an underpass. This was our first experience of a stellplatz and they really are set up solely for motorhomes. We’d not seen so many vans together since the Peterborough show and the variety of styles was about the same, with some seriously huge ones which could swallow ours whole and still have a good 4m to spare. Some were towing Smart cars on trailers, with one where the whole caboodle was painted to match the motorhome. The sight of all the motorhomes put me in mind of a wild west wagon train, but they made Rob reassess the size of our van and he now realises that it is not a large van by comparision. Meeting up with the other MHF people at Klüsserath after a month with barely a Brit to talk to was good, especially as it gave us a chance to exchange information with other like-minded people, though seeing so many GB registrations in one go was quite a culture shock and we had to resist keeping on shouting out “British van”!  As this was a pretty informal meet we sort of ambled up to people and chatted for most of the evening, drawing all our various camping chairs into a large circle and clinking our wine glasses until the sun went down, motorhomers being the opposite of vampires in that they go indoors at sunset.
Meeting at Klüsserath on the Mosel

 Rob’s bit-

The Mosel valley between Trier and Koblenz appears as a snaking line of red stars on the stellplatz atlas, and they are so frequent on the middle stretch that virtually every village seems to have a dedicated space for motorhomes.  The river has at points wide flood-meadows, and these are used to great effect in villages such as Klüsserath and Enkirch to create generous, green summer stellplätze that easily accommodate dozens of motorhomes right by the river.
Mosel View 

The Mosel is one of Germany’s main wine-producing regions, and Mosel wine means above all Riesling.  A few pinot blancs and noirs (Weiss- and Spätburgunder in German) are produced, as well as a sweeter red grape called Dornfelder, but the Riesling grape is king, in a variety of classifications relating to sweetness, sparkle, picking and quality conditions that we found hard to master.   From dry to sweet you have trocken, halbtrocken and lieblich, but feinherb also fit somewhere in the middle.  In addition these intersect with Spätlese and Hochgewächs, which may also be Qualitätswein or Kabinett or mit Prädikat.  A few places also make a sparkling ‘Sekt’.  The origin of the wines is then identified by the particular hillside (Lage, or ‘position’) on which the vines grew, and these names are picked out in white letters on the valley sides all along the Mosel – names such as Klüsserather Bruderschaft, Graacher Himmelreich or Enkircher Steffensberg.
Mosel View

We went wine-tasting in Klüsserath with others from the group, in a rather upmarket winery that had the benefit of speaking good English and providing as much explanation as we could take in.  Over the next few days Lesley and I tried wines from each of the villages we stayed in, attempting if possible to find one from the hillside that we could see from the stellplatz.  I can’t say the quality of Klüsserath, Graach or Enkirch wines really stood apart but we drank some pleasant light stuff with our barbecues and enjoyed the experiment.
Enkirch from the vineyards

Lesley’s bit –
Between Tuesday and Thursday the wagon train moved along the Mosel at a snail’s pace, spreading themselves out among the various stellplätze. We went some 22 miles, which took us a couple of hours, including a stop at Bernkastel-Kues, a pretty painted fachwerk-filled town. It was incredibly touristy, but the attraction of the higgledy-piggledy houses nestling among the vine hills merited this attention. We had a meal in a restaurant there – one of the very few so far this trip – and I managed to render mine completely inedible by accidentally emptying the contents of the salt-cellar over it. I was very, very angry at the whole world for a bit after that! Rob returned to Bernkastel in the evening on one of his bike rides from our new stellplatz at Graach, and he felt the whole place was much improved by the departure of the tourist crowds.

Bernkastel-Kues - A Touristic Treat

Graach stellplatz was a bit car-parky – with gravel pitches and neatly lined up vans – but we could get the internet there, so we managed to get some online jobs done, which is not always as easy as we’d like it to be. We had an evening BBQ with some new motorhome friends and the heavens opened about 10 p.m., which only sent us heading back to our van after about an hour of rain.

Thursday saw us heading at our usual leisurely pace along the Mosel, passing through Traben-Trarbach, Traben on the north bank of the river and Trarbach on the south bank, which was a pleasant enough little town only really notable for a few stunning Art Nouveau - “Jugendstil” - villas built around the turn of the twentieth century, when the area enjoyed spending the wealth from its position as the second largest wine trading centre in Europe. Probably the best example is what is now the Bellevue Hotel, which was built in 1903 as the Hotel Clauss-Feist by the famous Berlin architect Bruno Möhring, but the very flowery style can be seen in many of the villas facing on to the river.

Our last stop on the Mosel was at Enkirch, a picturesque village with winding streets and timber-framed houses, where the stellplatz was on one of the wide river meadows facing the village of Kövingen, with its station, which could be reached by a small ferry for 1€. Enkirch had a very good range of shops for such a small place and we spent our usual small fortune on meat, bread and wine – what more do you need? A wander through the cobbled streets took us past the “idiot’s cell”, which was a sort of revolving cage in an alcove in a wall.


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