Flowing through France, Luxembourg, and Germany, the Moselle River is known for its picturesque medieval architecture and excellent white wines. The Rhine's peaceful little sister, the Moselle meanders from sleepy village to village, offering views of fairytale castles and stone-clad fortresses, some beautifully maintained and restored, others in ruins from battles long ago. Wineries and quaint hillside towns are hidden around every major bend of the river. The Moselle River provides excellent opportunities to relive history, soak in the sights of untouched nature, or sit quietly in a riverside café with a plate of cheese and a glass of the region's sweet, floral wine.View Moselle River Cruises
- Countries: France, Germany, Luxembourg
- Source: Vosges Mountains
- Mouth: The Rhine River
- Length: 339 miles
The source of the Moselle is at the western slope of the Ballon d'Alsace in the Vosges Mountains in France. The Moselle flows through the Lorraine region, west of the Vosges. Then, it winds its way through Luxembourg and into Germany, forming the division between the Eifel and Hunsrück mountain regions. At Koblenz, the Moselle finds its match as it joins the Romantic Rhine.
The climate, soil and topography along the Moselle create a perfect environment for the cultivation of world-class wine. The cool, northern continental climate is balanced by the reflection of the sun off of the river's water. The region is also well-known for its steep slopes which, when facing south or southwest, are extremely effective in optimizing the vines' exposure to the sun, aiding in the ripening of the grapes. The dark slate soil of the region absorbs heat during the day and radiates it back to the vines at night. The Moselle wine region is Germany's third largest in terms of production but is the leading region in terms of international prestige. The region's most notable among the wines produced here are Riesling, Elbling, Müller-Thurgau, Kerner and Auxerrois.
It is believed that viticulture was brought to this area by the Romans in the 2nd century. The high cost of transporting wine north from Italy or across the Vosges Mountains from the vineyards in Gaul made it impractical. The Romans considered creating a canal between the Saône and the Rhine before ultimately deciding to plant vines in the area. Wine-making was certainly flourishing in the area by the 4th century when the Roman poet Ausonius wrote about the beauty of the Moselle valley at harvest time.
In the Middle Ages, many "wine villages"—called "Winzerdorfs"—were established in the region and included paths from the town center up to the area's vineyards. At the center was a community wine cellar where all the area's growers could store their wines. Toward the end of the 17th century, the Moselle began to identify with wine made from the Riesling grape. That tradition continues to this day, with Riesling comprising more than half of the grapes harvested along the river.
After Napoleon lost the Hundred Days War in 1815—and with it the lands west of the Rhine River—the Moselle region became a part of the Kingdom of Prussia. This marked the beginning of a golden age for Moselle wine producers since they benefited from tax-free export of their wines to Prussia. The prosperity was short-lived, however, as an unfavorable Prussian tax policy in the 1830s coupled with bad weather sank many Moselle vintners into poverty. Karl Marx, born and raised in Trier, was appalled by their suffering. He criticized the government, violated press censorship requirements and eventually was forced to leave into exile.
The Moselle River would go on to become a pivotal crossing during World War II and a strong connecting force in post-war Europe. Today, the Moselle's crisp white wines signify the mellow, simple pace of life in the region. The villages along its banks happily welcome visitors even as they cling dutifully to their rich culture and history.
One of the first outposts on the Moselle River is Metz, France. Here, the Palais du Gouverneur has a colorful, Disneyesque flair and is a fitting welcome to this fairytale land. The river continues on to Remich in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, a quaint town nestled among rolling, vineyard-covered hills.
As the river winds its way into Germany, it reaches a venerable Episcopal city, Trier. It is the oldest settlement in Germany and, some claim, even older than Rome. The famous Porta Nigra is the only surviving fortified gate from the original Roman city and it still gives access to the town center.
In the middle of the Moselle region is the charming wine village of Bernkastel with its well-preserved half-timbered houses surrounding the beautiful Marketplace. Wine growers in this area look after Germany's largest expanse of vineyards, the most celebrated of the vintages being the Bernkasteler Doktor.
Continue on to peaceful Zell with its turreted buildings and famous Black Cat wine. Vineyard-covered hills line the shores from Zell to Cochem. Reichsburg Castle is a highlight here, as it sits atop a conical hill overlooking the town of Cochem nestled below.
A Moselle River cruise is a must for anyone with an appreciation for wine. Relaxation and enrichment headline this slow-moving river lined with sleepy villages and lush slopes covered with vines. Children (and children at heart) will enjoy experiencing the lands of fairytales come to life. Fresh, local cuisine and lost-in-time landscapes make the Moselle River valley a perfect backdrop for a soothing escape from the rigors of everyday life.
Did You Know?
- In the tale "The Seven Swabians" by the Brothers Grimm, the Swabians drown trying to cross the Moselle.
- The Moselle wine of the Roman period was described as light-bodied and austere. In the winter time, vintners would heat the wine in a kettle and drink it like a tea. This practice still continues among some modern vineyard workers who enjoy a sip of hot wine from time to time.
- The Calmont, the steepest vineyard in Europe at a 65 degree incline, rises up from the banks of the Moselle.
- In the 18th century, the Prince-elector of Trier mandated that every vine in the Mosel area was to grow Riesling only. Today, Riesling is grown on roughly 60 percent of the region's cultivated vineyard surface in 2008, with white grape varieties accounting for 91 percent of the region's total harvest.*