The middle Rhine is a wine region in Germany. It also seems to roughly refer to the Rhine river gorge from Koblenz to Mainz - which just happens to be the section we visited. It's called a gorge but it really wasn't quite as scenic as we were expecting. The river itself is fairly wide with a lot of sand bars. There are railroads and roads on both banks and often power lines as well. Having said that, if you ignore the river and focus on the steep terraced slopes on either side there are some impressive views.
We drove downstream along the western bank of the Rhine. We passed through several picturesque villages that were just far too crowded to even try and stop in. We did expect it to be crowded in September and so we had no particular itinerary - planning to stop in the first interesting town that we could easily park in. That happened to be Bacharach which has the enticing tunnel-entrance under the railroad. The castle up above doesn't hurt either.
You can drive in Bacharach but there's not much point. The town is very small and from the parking area along the Rhine nothing is more than a few minutes walk.
There's not a whole lot to really do here, but we spent an hour or so wandering around this ridiculously picturesque village. The steep vineyards that are typical of the Rhine and Mosel valleys are visible from most of Bacharach as well. Incidentally, we had some gelato in town and as usual, were unable to refrain from the weird instinct to try the flavor we had never ever seen before. Riesling, it turns out, is not really a great gelato flavor. As David's mother pointed out later - if it had been a good gelato concept the Italians would already have come up with it.
Ah, the Lorelei. We could wax romantic about it because that's what people seem to do. The fact is, if it didn't say Lorelei in big white stones on one side of it we would have driven past blissfully unaware that it was a notable landmark. There's nothing really wrong with it as lumps of rock go, but somehow after Wagner and the legends we expected something more dramatic.
The middle Rhine is probably best known for castles. There are dozens of them on both sides of the river. Long distance hiking trails along both sides of the river connect them as they mostly run along the ridge tops. The terraced vineyards are equally impressive. Many of them have little carts on rails that move up and down the rows. We're not sure how people actually stand in the rows to harvest the grapes without falling off the mountain.
Just downstream of the Lorelei is St. Goar. St. Goar is sort of the unofficial center of the region and one of the larger towns along the Rhine. While Bacharach was quiet and relatively low-key, St. Goar represents all things touristy. Buses and cruise boats continuously visit the town and if you happen to be in the market for a pewter figure of the Lorelei siren, this is definitely the place for you.
Across the river (accessible by car ferry) is St. Goarshausen which has its own castle of course. There are ferries at regular intervals along this portion of the Rhine.
Are the boats a more scenic way to see the valley? We have no idea as we didn't take one. They do seem to run more frequently than the trains do, plus it's not as important which side of the river you're on. We found it fairly easy to explore by car. The road rarely leaves the side of the Rhine and when it does, you still get impressive views like this near the town of Spay.
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