Half-timbered houses with sloping roofs, cobbled lanes and sycamore trees, large signs crafted out of metal and wood, window boxes bursting with blooms, walls covered with vintage murals, shops with wooden toys, nutcracker men and nativity figurines. I am in Rudesheim am Rhein, a small town in the scenic area of Rhinegau, a small strip of land bordering the Rhine, in Germany, surrounded by vineyards on terraced slopes.
Long ago, Rudesheim was a wealthy vineyard town, and made its money from wine-making and shipping. Soon after the town, there is a bend in the Rhine river, so Rudesheim became a popular spot to change boats, unload goods, and rest the horses. “Today the population of the town is only around 10,000 but we have 1.5 million tourists per year,” says guide Sebastian Eickenbusch. Most of the visitors are those who land here on a river cruise down the Rhine.
The south-facing slopes surrounding the town get many hours of sunshine, and this is home to the finest Riesling wines. Wine-making has been a tradition here since Roman times and today most vineyards are family-owned. Every summer the town has a wine festival when a wine queen and her princesses are crowned to represent the town.
The centre of all action in town is the narrow cobbled street called Drosselgasse, lined with wine and beer taverns, souvenir shops and open-air restaurants that buzz with revelry throughout the day. “Long ago it was the path used by boat owners to move goods to their homes,” explains Eickenbusch. As evening progresses, groups of people sitting on terraces start singing and dancing to music by brass bands, and singers belting old classics. Glockenspiel bells made of porcelain ring every half-an-hour, with a parade of figurines, and remain another tourist attraction.
My home away from home is the Hotel Linderwirt, where I have a lovely room overlooking the terrace and the busy Drosselgasse. If you are adventurous, you can even choose one of its six special rooms, made from converted wine barrels. Eickenbusch recommends we do the Ring Tour that takes you in a circuit through the vineyards, to the towering Germania monument, then to the red wine town of Assmannhausen and finally a boat ride on the Rhine, back to the town.
Taking the cable car, we get a unique view as we float over the geometric rows of the vineyards reaching the top of a hill, with panoramic views over the Rhine Valley. We walk to the gargantuan Germania monument—a German ‘Statue of Liberty’ with a woman holding a crown and a sword—which was erected in 1871, after Germany became a unified state for the first time.
We continue from the monument, doing a three-kilometre trek through a thick beech and oak forest. This is located in a national reserve which was developed by Count Ostein, in the late 1800s. On the way back we take the chair lift to the village of Assmanshausen, which is the only area that grows red wine in these parts. It’s a tranquil downhill ride passing through the homes of locals, sliding over their terraces and peering into their living rooms, down to the town. We walk to the pier and take a boat back to Rudesheim, enjoying the views over the Rhine.
The highlight of the meals is the Rudesheimer coffee made with locally produced Asbach Brandy, flambéed and mixed with coffee, whipped cream and grated chocolate. Before I leave town, I visit Siegfried’s mechanical cabinet Museum. This quirky museum showcases the owner’s collection of self-playing musical instruments ranging from tiny music boxes and mechanical violins, to orchestras. It harks back to an era when people created music without electricity, with just their mechanical skills! It’s a feast for the senses, like everything else in Rudesheim.
How to get there: Fly to Frankfurt and connect by train to Rudesheim. What to do: Take a cable car ride, hike through the vineyards, take a boat ride on the Rhine.