The Romantic Rhine Valley is a stretch of the Rhine river that begins in the town of Rudesheim and ends in Koblenz. Millenniums ago the river cut a swath through the Rhenish mountains and left steep terraced hillsides that were developed into rugged and steep vertical vineyards. Medieval castles were strategically placed along the overlooks and charming little villages were developed all along the Rhine. These towns faced the challenges of fealty to robber barons including knights, princes, clergy; robbers who extorted the local populace until finally the French under Louis XIV ravaged most of the cities and castles. Most of the villages have been rebuilt, some of the castles also have had some restoration done, but the river, which could never be broken by mankind, remains an active waterway with barges and cruise ships plying the waterways. Prussian kings, German poets and British painters all helped redefine the beauty of these 65 kilometers of river and in 2002 Unesco designated this portion of the Rhine as a World Heritage Site.
We hopped a boat out of Rudesheim for an hour and a half cruise down the Rhine to St Goar and then jumped onto a local train for a quick ride to Boppard, a quaint town on the Rhine with a history dating back to the fourth century. The first castle we saw along the river was Ehrenfels Castle whose ruins at one time housed treasures from Mainz Cathedral during the wars of the 15th century.
Almost directly across from that castle is the Mouse Tower which sits on an island in the middle of the river and is used as a signal tower today. History has it that the evil Bishop Hatto II (968-970) was imprisoned there for his heinous deeds and was supposedly eaten by the mice with whom he shared those inglorious digs.
The Rheinstein Castle was built in 1316 and quickly fell into disrepair by 1344 and was largely ignored until Prince Frederick of Prussia bought it in the 19th century and had it restored. A succession of German nobility became owners until 1975 when it came into the possession of the Hecher family, and in the 1980s it was donated to the German government who turned it into a museum.
Built in the 11th century by a robber baron, and handed down to his successor robber barons, Reichenstein Castle served as the launch pad for illegal seizures of territories, non-viable feuds and a host of many other infringements on the peace of the land. In 1290, King Rudolf of Hapsburg had the robber barons put to death and ordered the destruction of the castle and further ordered that it not be rebuilt. Again as was the case of other deserted castles in the area, Reichenstein saw a huge restoration begin in the 19th century that resulted in a hotel with completely restored sleeping rooms, dining facilities and venues for weddings concerts and birthday celebrations.
The most fairy tale like castle along this stretch of the Rhine, Sooneck Castle was built in 1010 and as a lot of the other castles it became the domain of robber barons. And like a lot of the other castles in the area it was ordered destroyed by Rudolf of Habsburg in 1282. Some of the fortifications of Sooneck still standing, the turrets and the great hall, date back to 1349 when renovations were started after one bad epoch of marauding. King Louis XIV again destroyed it in 1668, and in 1823 a member of the Royal Prussian family bought the castle, and the rest of the castle was built in 1842.
Located right in the middle of the World Heritage Site lies the walled town of Boppard. Tracing its history back to the times when Julius Caesar was conquering the lands of Gaul, Boppard became one of many Roman settlements along the left bank of this stretch of the Rhine. Situated both along the river and amidst a wooded mountain landscape, the finest preserved Roman fortification of Boppard has become a center for hikes, walks and bike rides as well as being a romantic destination and a gastronomic center.
The center of town since the Roman occupation, the square housed baths for the soldiers as well as other accommodations. When the Romans pulled out in the 5th century the baths were converted into a church and over the following 1600 years the church has remained the center of life for the citizens of Boppard.
St Severus is the third church to be built on this site, construction was finished in 1236 and is the finest example of late Romanesque church architecture in the region.
To contrast the timelessness of architectural beauty, the triumphal cross of Christ hanging high over the main altar dates back to the building of the church in 1236. A contrast in time, the stunning stained glass windows located in a side nave were made by a local artist in the 1980’s.
German public administration was relocated to Boppard in 1987 and is housed in two historical buildings. One is the former Franciscan monastery which was built in the mid-17th century and was active until 1802 when religious values were minimized. Falling into disrepair it was restored as a teacher training college. The second building is one of the oldest buildings still standing in Boppard, dating back to the 15th century and was owned by an influential noble family before coming into the hands of the German government.
At the end of Bingerstrasse, a delightful cobbled street incorporating Old Town, is the Bingen Gate. Here one can see the height of the wall that surrounded Boppard built during the Roman occupation in the 4th century.
The original layout of the walled fortress was a rectangle 308 meters long by 154 meters wide and had 28 towers and a wall measuring over 8 meters in height. One stops and thinks when confronted about the history that dates back to 50BC and partially lies as it was back then.
The monks of the Carmelite order date back to 1265 and the church, unpretentious from the outside, is a gallery of rich interior decorations. Divided by two altars, one altar shows the founder of the Carmelite order, Simon Stock, with the Virgin Mary and a side view of the famous and elegantly carved choir stalls that date back to 1460.
The other altar depicts the Lord’s Supper and the veneration that the Carmelites had for the Virgin Mary is exemplified with “Standing Madonna with Child”.
A three hour hike through this gorgeous town called for a stop at a local beer garden though a couple of us chose a local wine. This joint was such fun we came back for more after dinner…friends Keysha and Richard and niece Annya.
A whole slew of recipes to share, mostly summer oriented, but this one could start your early spring when it is still a little cool to cook outside. An all-in-one recipe that is a little green, a little red and some white – lika da Italian flag. We call it flaky pastry pesto chicken. Enjoy.