The Mosel: A green day in a very pleasant land

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The no-frills route to Frankfurt is also a gateway to the Mosel river, says Andrew Eames. But this 'dreamier version of the Rhine' is under threat, so enjoy this treasure while you still can

Frankfurt Hahn airport – which despite its name lies 75 miles west of Frankfurt, and is served from the UK by Ryanair – is not the most glamorous face of airline travel. This former US air force base feels more like a set for a made-for-TV Pimp My Hangar than a modern air terminus, and it doesn't encourage much lingering. But while most people queued for the bus to do the 90-minute slog across to Frankfurt, I hailed a cab for the 20-minute meander down into the Mosel valley, which wanders past Hahn's back door. And as I arrived in the Art Nouveau wine village of Traben-Trarbach, it felt as if I was entering a completely different world.

The Mosel is a cosier, dreamier version of the Rhine. Like the Rhine it is endowed with hill-top fortresses and webbed in steep, sun-worshipping vineyards, but it has fewer barges, more villages, and is altogether on a more intimate scale. Wonky half-timbered houses teeter along the riverbanks like old ladies who still insist on wearing their stilettos, while their washing lines run up and down the adjacent hills supporting a pattern of ancient vineyards, tartaned with blossom early in the year, and then curtained in green as the summer progresses.

I imagine most of Ryanair's British pilgrims to Frankfurt are unaware that such a delightful valley runs past Hahn's back door. And I'd only really noticed it thanks to the news of a threat to the valley's gorgeousness, and one which was being stoutly resisted by an eminent Brit.

I'd heard that they were about to build an autobahn bridge across the river by the small wine-producing village of Urzig, halfway between Traben-Trarbach and the tourist town of Bernkastel. The idea of this Hochmoselbrücke (High Mosel Bridge), planned to be 480ft high and a mile long, was to connect the Rhine and Mosel basins with Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Its design was of no particular distinction, unlike the Millau Viaduct in France, the creation of British architect Norman Foster, which has become something of a tourist attraction in itself.

In fact on this occasion the British had been wheeled out to criticise the bridge, in the shape of venerable wine writer Hugh Johnson, who criticised the "highway on stilts" as a "great shadow of uselessness" which will "banalise" what is essentially a 17th-century landscape. He was just one voice in an extensive anti-bridge campaign, a campaign which was deeply rooted in the local community and which manifested itself in everything from shop window posters to banners on the fences of the local schools. I hoped to have a look at that landscape before the valley was fully banalised. But first I headed down into Traben-Trarbach.

A riverside terrace in spring is always a splendid place to be, and I was lucky in choosing a café – the Bistro Moselschlösschen – which served Flammkuchen. This is the local equivalent of pizza, a thin crust covered in sour cream and bacon bits. It turned out to be both delicious, and free, because the waiter who served it pointed out a small hole in the crust and said he wouldn't charge me as a result.

An hour later things were even better. My hotel, the Bellevue, was just along the riverside prom. It is one of the finest-looking of all the Art Nouveau buildings in the village, complete with stained glass, wood carvings and a tower in the shape of a champagne bottle. And that authentic antiquity at the front end was backed up by a new part which did everything a fancy hotel should: spa, pool, business centre, roof garden. My room had a river view and a balcony, and I could gaze out at the other grand mansions, which mostly dated back to the late 19th and early 20th century, when this was Europe's second-largest wine trading centre after Bordeaux.

The Romans planted the first vines here. The sun and soil conditions are perfect for Riesling. But the steepness of the slopes has meant that big industrial viniculture has never caught on, so most of the vineyards are still small and family-owned, which makes the landscape look hand-made.

That's ideal for tourism, too, for every village is thick with winemakers – many of them offering tastings, cafés and guesthouses. Thanks to a bicycle I rented from the hotel, and the beautifully maintained Mosel cycle path, I meandered along the river, overtaking barge captains making lazy loops around the Mosel's U-bends, and admiring the dedication with which every scrap of south-facing land had been planted with vines. Vineyard workers were out on the hills, trailing tendrils in the directions they wanted them to grow, and whistling at each other across the valley.

Display cases of bottles lined the cycle path, encouraging passers-by to stop and buy. In the village of Kröv I was brought up short by one particular label design which showed a cellarman smacking a boy's bottom: an unusual way of selling a wine. Kröver Nacktarsch ("naked arse") wine, it was called. The winemaker himself explained the legend: how a cellarman had caught boys siphoning off his wine, and had punished them in a manner appropriate to the times. And how that story had made its way onto the label, and how only a select few vineyards are allowed to use the brand. So the nation that gave us Blue Nun, also offers Bare Bum, if you know where to find it. And I can vouch for the fact that Nacktarsch has a pungent, fruity taste.

As I neared Urzig itself, I passed a big painted awning showing the "dinosaur bridge" and the predicted effect it would have on the valley. But when I finally rounded the corner there was no sign of any bridge, nor even any road works. So I stopped to speak to a wine-maker whose vineyard came right down to the path. The bridge-making had just been halted, he said, thanks to local elections. The Greens had ridden into power on the back of anti-nuclear feeling resulting from Fukushima. "To be honest," the wine-maker admitted, "We never used to like the Greens – but now we love them!"

Perhaps no longer. For the valley was only reprieved temporarily. Last month the Green party, in coalition with the Social Democrats announced that the scheme was back on, with the building work expected to be complete by 2016.

For the moment, therefore, I can report that the Mosel valley remains wonderfully unsullied, extremely pretty, and very convenient for anyone flying into Frankfurt Hahn. I suggest you get there before everything changes.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Ryanair (0871 246 0000; has flights to Frankfurt Hahn from Edinburgh and Stansted. A taxi for the 20-minute journey from Hahn to Traben-Trarbach is around €35.

Staying & seeing there

Hotel Bellevue (00 49 6541 7030; at 11 An der Mosel, Traben-Trarbachhas has double rooms from €135 including breakfast. The Bistro Moselschlösschen (00 49 65 41 8320; serves a three-course menu for €32.

More information

German National Tourist Board (

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering