The joy is not just in drinking the wine; it is in running through the endless vineyards, feeling the leaves on your fingertips and smelling the ripening grapes…
On my journey along the Rhine in Germany last month, I knew I’d be tasting some of the world’s finest Riesling wines. But that I’d wake up in a wine barrel, work on a vineyard, indulge in a wine massage, and sample wines traditionally made since the middle ages in a remote nunnery – I didn’t.
Take my list, go to the Rheingau region, and indulge in the surprising world of German wines:
Sleep in a wine barrel!
Hotel rooms are boring. So I found myself curling up inside a cozy wine barrel in the town of Rudesheim am Rhein, surrounded by the aroma of wine. These real oak wine barrels were once used in Riesling production, and after being discarded, the creative folks at Hotel Lindenwirt converted six of them into rooms, fitted with twin beds, with a lounge extension and a spacious bathroom attached behind. Definitely one of the coolest places I’ve slept in this year.
Tip: I’ve heard that these wine barrel rooms get sold out months in advance, so book early!
Indulge in a wine spa
I loved finding deeper influences of wine, beyond drinking, in the way of life in the Rheingau. In Assmannshausen, one of my favorite little villages along the Rhine, the family-run Berg’s Auszeit (built as a horse stable in the 15th century) offers a spa with a wine bath and massages with oil extracted from wine grapes. That means you can relax not just your mind with the wine, but your body too!
Tip: Linger longer for a sumptuous meal of dukat with wine grape oil and forest mushroom crepes at Berg’s restaurant.
Hear Gregorian chanting in the wine cellar of a 12th century monastery
Kloster Eberbach, once a Cistercian monastery, is now Germany’s largest Riesling winery! Back in the day, the monks produced wines using ancient manual wine presses, and often performed Gregorian chants. No monks live here now, but it’s possible to catch a glimpse of their lives with wine tastings and Gregorian chanting or classical music concerts in the original 12th century cellar.
Tip: See the events schedule and plan a date with Kloster Eberbach.
Shadow a wine merchant in his vineyards
What’s better than hearing about the journey of the wines you taste?
Being a part of it.
I shadowed Jacqueline and Michael, my hosts at Weingut Rossler, in their vineyards and cellar in the picturesque village of Lorch. With the gorgeous backdrop of the Rhine, we spent a warm summer morning pruning leaves to expose the grapes to more sunlight, removing weeds for the younger plants to grow and discussing the harvest a month away. It made me realize how much work and love goes into every bottle – and changed the way I see and drink my wine.
Tip: Have a conversation with your hosts when you book their beautiful guest house, so they can free up time to take you into their vineyards.
Hike on the Rheinsteig trail
Read about Cheryl Strayed’s epic adventures in Wild? Hiking a short distance on the Rheinsteig trail reminded me of that book. It’s a 320 kilometer trail from Wiesbaden to Bonn in Germany, taking you through endless vineyards, ancient castles, postcard villages and dramatic scenery along the Rhine. There are guesthouses in every village along the way, offering a hikers’ breakfast and equipped to send your luggage to your next stop. I hope to go back and do it one day. You?
Tip: Try to time your hike during the fall season, when the weather is cool, the vineyards are turning color and there are wine festivals in many small villages along the way.
Let a kaleidoscopic cellar play mind games with you!
Chances are, you won’t believe me until you’ve made it to the twin towns of Oestrich-Winkel and experienced it yourself, but I’ll try anyway. The family-run Weingut Allendorf do their wine tastings differently – they don’t change the wines, they merely change the colors that it reflects. You take your glass of wine into a small studio, taste it in different colored lights, and wonder whether it’s your mind or your taste buds – believe me the wine tastes different every time! My tasting had a wine sommelier from the next town who was equally amazed, and the winery has won a prize for innovation in wine tasting. Go figure.
Tip: It’s better to fix a wine tasting at Weingut Allendorf before you go, and while you’re at it, ask to taste their divine late harvest wines.
Rent Queen Victoria’s favorite vineyard
In an attempt to help you bond deeper with the wines you like, many wine growers in the Rheingau offer parts of their vineyard for rent. As a tenant, you can assist the owners in the harvest, picnic in the vineyards, help in crushing the grapes, and get your own personalized bottles of wine. Doing this in the sleepy village of Hochheim is different – because you can rent Queen Victoria’s favorite Riesling vineyard! Its wines have been on the royal wine list since her visit in 1845, and Queen Elizabeth was the most recent royal guest.
Tip: Queen Victoria Vineyard (named in her honor) is managed by the Flick Family; you can rent part of the vineyard for 2-3 years, or just show up for a tasting.
Try late harvest wines where they were accidentally discovered
The year was 1775 and the location was Schloss Johannisberg; anxious monks awaited the much delayed harvest order, and when it finally arrived, the grapes were so acidic that they lent a wonderfully sweet flavor and aroma to the wines – voila, late harvest wines were born! Taste them in the cellar of what is Germany’s oldest winery, dating back over 900 years.
Tip: Go on a clear day to soak in the panoramic views of the Rhine Valley from the vineyards.
Study at a wine university
I was surprised to learn that the village of Geisenheim, along the Rhine, has an entire university dedicated to wine making and wine marketing! It’s a 4 year bachelor’s degree, involves an internship at a winery, and does some cool research work. I met a “wine queen” who is a fourth year student, and learnt that an ongoing project involves pumping a vineyard with CO2 to study the impact of climate change on wine making! Well done, Germany.
Tip: What can I say? If you love wine and haven’t enrolled in college yet, check out Geisenheim University! Most of the concentrations are offered in English for international students.
Also see: Life in Ibiza: A Photo Essay
Taste wines made by nuns
I remember walking the last stretch through the vineyards, up to the hill above Rudesheim where St Hildegard Abbey stands majestically, not sure what to expect. This is the only nunnery in Germany that has made wines since the Middle Ages, and when I entered through its old gates, it felt like entering another era. The nuns live austere lives, but that doesn’t take away from their passion for wine making. Stay a while, chat with them about their lives, and try fine Rieslings!
Tip: Make sure their wine shop is open when you plan to visit; you can do a tasting on the spot when you show up.
Have you had a different kind of experience with wine in Germany or elsewhere?
Note: I travelled to the Rheingau as part of the #NotJustBeer campaign with the German National Tourist Board. Lucky me!
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I’m the founder of this award-winning travel blog about offbeat and sustainable travel, and author of the bestselling travel memoir, The Shooting Star.
In 2011, I quit my full-time job, and gradually gave up my home, sold most of my possessions, stored some in the boot of a friend’s car and embraced a nomadic life.
Connect with me on Instagram to hear more about my adventures and personal journey.