German vacations bring to mind images of great beer, Oktoberfest, Bavarian cuckoo clocks and BMWs speeding along the autobahn. However, there’s another side of Germany—relaxed and romantic, where you bike through vineyards, explore centuries-old castles, cruise on the river, soak naked in thermal waters and enjoy a local bottle of Riesling. This laid-back Germany is found in the Rheingau—the wine and spa region running along the Rhine river, less than an hour from Frankfurt International Airport.
The quaint town of Rüdesheim (Ruedesheim.de), right on the Rhine, is surrounded by vineyards planted vertically on the hills so they get maximum sunlight each day. Those conditions lead to perfect grapes for award-winning Rieslings. While many think of Riesling as a sweet dessert wine, there are many German Rieslings, including dry and semi-dry, that pair well with a variety of foods.
You can pair great local wines with German foods—like schnitzel or chanterelle cream sauce over bread dumplings—at restaurants that are often attached to small boutique hotels. Staying and eating at local places like Rüdesheimer Hof (49-0-6722-91190, Ruedesheimer-hof.de), Breuer’s Rüdseheimer Schloss (49-0-6722-90500, Ruedesheimer-schloss.com) and Zum grünen Kranz (49-0-6722-48336, Gruenerkranz.com) gives travelers a taste of real local flavor; those businesses been family-owned & operated for generations. You’ll find the current owners stopping by your table to say hello and suggest a pairing for your dish with Rieslings from local wineries such as Georg Breuer (49-0-6722-1027, Georg-Breuer.com) or Josef Leitz (49-0-6722-8711, Leitz-Wein.de). Save room after dinner for Rüdesheimer Kaffee, where local Asbach brandy is flambéed with sugar, then combined with coffee and topped with fresh whipped cream and chocolate flakes—all in a specially made mug.
Romance on the Rhein
he area along the Rhein around Rüdesheim boasts about one centuries-old castle per mile. Combine that with the vineyards and river views, and you can plan a day that never stops being picturesque while you bike on paved trails next to the river, or catch a ride on a boat or ferry along the waterway.
Views, vineyards and castles are all included in one ticket in what is known as the Ring Ticket or Romanticism Tour (Ruedesheim.de). It starts with a cable-car ride over the vineyards to the 125-foot-tall Niederwald Monument, which sits on a hilltop overlooking the river. You then walk through the forest or vineyards to a different chairlift down to the village of Assmannshausen for lunch. The next leg of the journey is a ferry across the river to Rheinstein Castle, which dates to the 14th century. You can climb one of the towers for great views, have a meal while overlooking the river from the terrace or even arrange to stay overnight. The final part of the tour is a boat ride back to Rüdesheim: Plan on spending the whole day to take in the entire experience at a leisurely pace.
Soothing Thermal Waters
One of the treats of a German vacation is visiting the thermal-water spas, which offer a very different version of the spa experience than what we usually expect here at home.
The city of Wiesbaden (Wiesbaden.de), about 20 miles from Rüdesheim, has a long history as a spa town where people have been coming for hundreds of years for the curing effects of underground hot springs, but also as part of a health and wellness regimen. Three of the most popular spas offer unique ways to relax and unwind with courses of alternating waters and saunas, ranging from the blazingly hot to stunningly cold.
Thermalbad Aukammtal (49-0-611-31-7080, Wiesbaden.de) is a large, modern complex complete with its own indoor and outdoor pools situated amid a garden area. Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme (49-0-611-31-7060, Wiesbaden.de) is the most traditional, with a classic Roman-themed interior, and sits in the heart of the old town.
Nasseur Hof Therme is part of the beautiful Hotel Nassauer Hof (49-0-611-1330, Nassauer-hof.de), which is celebrating its 200th year in 2013. Take advantage of special packages combining spa treatments with hotel stays, or try the Gourmet Journey, which features a four-course meal from the on-site Michelin Star-awarded Ente restaurant and admission to nearby Casino Wiesbaden (49-0-611-536-100, Spielbank-Wiesbaden.de) in the beautiful Kurhaus, an upscale, international place that brings to mind James Bond rather than the bright lights of Vegas.
Unlike your local spa, certain parts of the German spas are nude only—that’s co-ed nude, with no choice about whether to wear a swimsuit. Everybody walks around naked without being the least bit concerned about it; all adult ages, shapes and sizes are on full display. The German attitude is, “Everybody’s got a body, and here’s mine with no apologies.”
So, relax and enjoy the romance of the Rhein and your newfound naked freedom with a bottle of great German Riesling.
The Travel Tramps write about their treks for City Weekly and host The Travel Brigade podcast.