The iconic photo from Cochem always shows the castle (Reichsburg) on top of the hill. It is surrounded by vineyards, which in autumn change from green to yellow and red. At the base of the hill, there are many colourful houses. Big cruise ships slowly go down the Mosel river. This tranquil scenery has been caught in thousands of photos. What is so special about this place? Why is everyone so hypnotised by Cochem?
Cochem has all components of a fairy tale village: castle on a hill, narrow cobbled streets, medieval half-timbered houses, hidden staircases, workshops and wine. It is where childhood dreams about becoming a princess come true.
I traveled to Cochem from Mainz through Koblenz. On the way, I met a lot of people prepared for hiking in the Mosel valley, with rucksacks higher than their heads and trekking shoes covered with mud. The train goes directly along the river. It felt like being on the fast ship. Many stops make it possible to hop on and off in small villages on the way. It also makes the ride longer and gives you more time to enjoy the views of steep hills covered with vineyards and castle ruins. The vibe was very similar to the Rhine valley.
The train station (impressive half-timber building, but in poor condition) was less than 1 km away from the Tourist Information. People there were asking about wine tasting and cruises on the Mosel river. Equipped with a map, I started my tour by exploring the promenade and Old Town. All restaurants and cafes were crowded with people sipping wine or coffee.
My expectations of Cochem being a tranquil romantic village vanished immediately. The place was full of tourists, who were buying souvenirs and going on city tours. The busiest place was obviously the market square. I loved the half-timber houses with window boxes full of flowers. I always wonder how those houses look inside.
Other buildings were painted pastel yellow, peach and pink. Beautiful scenery for a movie or photoshoot. Strolling around I found many shop signboards inspired by medieval fonts, which enhanced the feeling of moving back in time. Narrow streets were cobbled and steep. Sometimes, I had to climb the stairs, so I had some exercise. Although the place is small, it was easy to get lost in this labyrinth. Many people stopped me on the way to ask how to find a castle.
Reichsburg – Cochem castle
The castle was built on the hill, so it is visible from many sites in the town. There were many routes to reach it. On my way, I found a great view spot from where I could see the roofs of buildings in the town, a bridge and a river, but also the vineyards surrounding the castle.
The entrance to the castle was possible only as part of a guided tour. It was offered in German or English. In addition, everyone could get a printout with all information in a selected language. I took one in Polish, but it was definitely not written by a Polish person. The disadvantage of this tour is that you have only 1 hour to see the insides and you need to follow your group all the time.
I was lucky to visit the castle in October, in the middle of autumn when everything was covered with red leaves. My favourite elements were stained glass windows, golden lanterns, old clocks and secret passages. The highlight was balconies decorated with red geraniums with an amazing view of the Mosel.
In contrast with the busy town, the other side of the river is calm and peaceful. Not everyone knows that the vineyards can serve as hiking paths and everyone can explore them for free.
One of the described trails is Apolloweg – up and down path of about 7.5 km with many turns. It offers a panoramic view of the valley with fascinating sceneries.
As mythical Apollo lived on Parnassus, the butterfly Apollo (Parnassius apollo) has its home on the banks of Mosel river and this trail is where you can see its largest single population in Germany.
The hot stones make the perfect environment for the growth of sedum eaten by caterpillars. Butterflies often sit on pink and blueish flowers such as thistle, which are also common here.
Apollo is the only European butterfly that makes sounds. Its characteristic feature is red dots on the wings and each of them is unique, like a fingerprint. This vulnerable species has a very short lifespan – only about 1-2 weeks. June and July is the end of metamorphosis and that is when most of them are flying around. Unfortunately, I was too late to see it. Definitely, I would like to have them in my photo collection of butterflies.
The hike was a typical vineyard experience. The hot soil had a strong scent of sulfur. I was walking on the stones, between the bushes, looking at the bright yellow trees reflecting in the deep blue waters of the Mosel. Ripe grapes were hanging hidden under the leaves. Although the golden hills of Apollo were an unexpected addition to this trip, they were definitely worth every minute spent.