Only a short 25 minutes drive from Frankfurt, stretching along the river Rhine from Hochheim to the town of Lorch, the Rheingau region seems to come straight out of a storybook with its gently rolling green hills dotted with magnificent ancient castles, churches, monasteries and quaint little villages.
In fact, according to the UNESCO World Heritage site the Middle Rhine Valley offers one of the largest concentrations of historic castles of any river region.
If this is not already enough reason to visit, here is another one that might just win you over: Rheingau is home to some of Germany’s best and also oldest wineries of international fame. Most are open to visitors, and many will offer wine tasting and let you buy their wines directly at the celar door.
Being also one of the country’s smaller wine-growing areas, Rheingau is easily explored walking or biking. There is a large network of both foot and bike trails linking the many wineries, castles and monasteries offering magnificent views over the impressive Rhine river valley.
The towns of Rüdesheim and Assmanshausen are perhaps the most famous towns of the areas. They are also by far the most touristy and especially from late spring to early autumn will get quickly crowded. Personally, I prefer the less frequented and more authentic towns like Eltville, Hattenheim, Oestrich-Winkel or Lorch. Here the number of visitors strolling the cobbled streets along the beautiful half-timbered houses is usually fairly low.
A reason to still stop at Rüdesheim nonetheless is the nearby Niederwald Monument. Located high above the river, it offers the most breathtaking views down the valley. If you don’t want to hike up, take the cable car that starts right at the end of the pedestrian Oberstraße in Rüdesheim.
The Rheingau region was one of the first German wine regions to focus on first class dry Rieslings. Generally, Rheingau Rieslings come with a fuller body and richer texture then other German Rieslings due to the region’s temperate climate bolstered by warming effects of the river along with a massive base of granite and loamy, alluvial soils.
Rheingau is also believed to be the first area in Germany planting Riesling grapes with cultivation of the grape here starting to be documented in the Middle Ages. Some of its most famous Riesling producing wineries are dating back to this time and they are still amongst the leading (and largest) Riesling producers today.
Built around 1136 by Cistercian monks on the east bank of the Rhine river, Eberbach Abbey is one of Europe’s best preserved medieval monasteries. It is also one of Germany’s oldest wineries, and remains the largest to this day.
There is an entrance fee of €9 per person if you want to visit the Abbey itself. However, access to the gardens are free and you can also hike a three kilometre trail leading around the whole area of the monastery that offers beautiful views of the property.
There is also a wine shop where you can taste and buy Eberbach wines.
Castle Johannisberg is another of Germany’s historic wineries where vines have been grown for more than 1,200 years. In fact, it is said to be the world’s first Riesling wine estate. The Castle was bombed and burned down in 1942 but later restored.
There is a nice wine shop on the estate, selling wines from both Johannisberg wine estate and the sister Mumm wine estate. You can also have a wine tasting at the shop or, if you prefer, head to the estates tasting kiosk located right at the edge of the vineyards.
Castle Vollrads was constructed between the 1470’s when first the water tower was built and the 1680s when the impressive manor house was added, followed by the other estate buildings around 1700. Wine growing at Castle Vollrads goes back some 800 years, starting well before the actual property was built. In fact, there are claims it is the oldest German winery which however can’t be clearly proofed. Check out the wine shop in one of the estate buildings, the former coach house, where you can taste and buy wines.
Alongside the century-old castle wine estates, there are many more wineries producing excellent wines in Rheingau. Most are looking back at a relatively long history as well and continue to be family owned. They nevertheless stand for a new style of wines, in particular the new dry German Rieslings.
Weingut Robert Weil is perhaps the most recognized of all Rheingau wineries. Founded in 1867 by Dr. Robert Weil, a former professor of German language at the renown Sorbonne University in Paris, it is nonetheless considered one of the younger wineries in the Rheingau. The estates wines quickly became noticed both nationally and internationally and the winery remained one of the top Riesling producers ever since. It is still owned and let by the Weil family in fourth generation today.
Where to eat and stay in Rheingau
As within many of the world’s best wine regions, the Rheingau area also boasts many excellent restaurants and beautiful hotels. You will be tempted to turn your visit into a real gourmet getaway.
Hotel Kronenschlösschen is constantly named one of Germany’s most beautiful country hotels. Originally built in the 1850s as a private residence, the nearly derelict property underwent a two year thorough restoration after it was bought by its current owner in 1990. Returned to its former splendour, the hotel’s 18 rooms are all styled individually and feature antique furniture and marble-clad bathrooms. The hotel has two restaurants, the fine dining restaurant and the bistro offering lighter-style menus. Check out the special menu offers including special themed tasting menus. You will be in for a treat.
Doesn’t it look as if Hotel Castle Schwarzenstein is build on the grounds of one of the many castle ruins dotting the hills of the Rhine river? Well, this part of the property was actually already built as a ruin at the time it was constructed in the late 1870s as a summer residence for the then owner of the Mumm winery.
Turned into a hotel in the late 1980s, additional buildings were added and today Hotel Castle Schwarzenstein offers modern luxury accommodation. There are various dining options on the estate: A small fine dining restaurant named after itss chef Nils Henkel, one of Germany’s Michelin-starred chefs; a bistro-style Grill & Winebar also overseen by Nils Henkel where a large number of open wines and barbeque-style food is served; and last but not least Burgrestaurant (castle restaurant) which serves traditional regional food.
Restaurant Schlossschänke at Castle Johannisberg offers excellent regional food prepared by chef Dirk Schröer, an acclaimed Michelin-star awarded chef who recently took over the helm at Schlossschänke.
Constantly rated as one of Rheingau’s leading restaurants, the focus at Restaurant Adler Wirtschaft is on traditional regional food which is sourced locally. In fact, Chef Franz Keller breeds his own Charolais cattle and pigs at Falkenhof farm which he also owns.
This traditional restaurant is operated by the local Laufer family in the third generation. With a traditional regional menu with a modern twist, Restaurant Weinhaus zum Krug is one of the constantly leading restaurants in the Rheingau areas. Its wine list is also quite impressive.
Have you ever visited the Rheingau region? What was your favourite part?