Unable to move on because of the wine fest we elected to use Saarburg as a base from which to visit nearby towns.
We had enjoyed a short boat trip up and down the River Saar when later in the day during an impromptu wine tasting session in the ‘Bonsai & Wine’ off- licence on Kunhof, the very friendly and knowledgeable chap running the place suggested we visit Trier and the much smaller town of Traban-Trabarch. So off we went.
Vanya wasn’t keen on our visiting Trier (her hip was causing her some considerable pain and she wouldn’t be able to walk both Trier and Traban-Trabarch in the same day) and so we headed directly for the much smaller town of Traban-Trabarch some 50 miles north east of Saarburg on the River Moselle.
Traban-Trarbach (Traben is on one bank of the Moselle and Trarbach is on the other) is a charming little town of about 6,000 people famous for it’s castle and it’s wine. Unfortunately, there must have been nearer 26,000 people in the town as we arrived (I’d forgotten all about the wine-fest) and even after driving an almost complete circuit of both Traban and Trarbach we couldn’t find a parking space anywhere near the old town centre. Vanya simply wouldn’t cope with the walking. Once again we were required to improvise but this time it was easy. All the work was done for us. As we drove in ever widening circles in search of somewhere to park (that’s a bit of an exaggeration), we stumbled upon the small village of Wolf an der Mosel.
Surrounded by meadows and vineyards Wolf, is just 3 kilometres up the Moselle from Traban-Trabarch and not far from the beautiful little castle at Bernkastel-Kues. It’s a winegrowing village almost completely surrounded by a loop in the river and it even has it’s own municipal campsite. Perhaps most important one of the Wolf wineries, Weingut Comes, was open and serving. After a good walk around the village, that was to be our destination.
The family in Weingut Comes were very welcoming and the wine was good. We enjoyed glasses of a 1921 Rivaner Trocken (a dry Riesling) and a younger 1922 Schieferlay (another dry Riesling with a stronger flavour) with Vanya favouring the Rivaner and me opting for the Schieferlay. We drank them with a shared breaded cheese which was fantastic and left with more than a few bottles in the back of the Van.
It’s odd but sometimes the simple little stops such as in Wolf can make for as good a day as any in a historically rich and interesting city.
This was a return to the Rheinland Palatinate but our first time in the popular tourist town of Saarburg. We expected Saarburg to be busy but were unaware the town holds it’s annual “Saarweinfest” during the first complete week of September and we arrived on Tuesday 5 September to find the place absolutely teeming. Ordinarily a wine festival is reason to celebrate but there will be wine festivals throughout all of Germany’s wine producing areas during the month of September and this will make it very difficult for us to find suitable camp sites along our intended route. And so to Plan B. We had secured the last available space in the Leukbachtal Campsite but were able to stay on beyond our planned one night (Possession is everything in camp sites across Europe). We decided therefore to stay on in Leukbachtel and use the place as a base from which to make day trips around the area until such time as something resembling normality returned. Plan B worked. Over the next three days we saw all we needed to see of Saarburg, took a boat trip up and down the River Saar and visited both the little village of Wolf and to a lesser extent Traban-Trabarch in the Van.
Saarburg old town isn’t that big but it is very picturesque. It’s most interesting features appear to be, in no particular order, the 10th century castle ruins (Burg Saarburg), it’s two primary churches (St Laurentinus and the Evangelical Church) and the very scenic cafe area bordering the tiny River Leuk and it’s town centre waterfall. This latter area has been referred to in certain blogs as Little Venice because of the number of footbridges crossing the River Leuk but that, I suspect, will have been by people who have never been to Venice. No matter, it is still very much worth seeing.
My first exploration of the town took me from the Leukbachtel, past the Parish Church of Saint Laurentinus (I wasn’t particularly impressed with this church – contrary to what I’d read about the place, it is very plain inside and the stain glass windows are not at all grand) and then on up to the highpoint of the town, Burg Saarburg. There is little left of the original castle, other than it’s keep. The castle was dynamited by a French army in 1709 and was left an almost total ruin. The focus of all the recent restoration work appears to have been towards creating a restaurant, viewing points over the town and a series of lifts and ramps for the disabled but the views are impressive and the short walking route up to the castle takes you by the pretty Evangelical Church which is made entirely out of sandstone.
I didn’t stay long in the castle because one of my primary objectives during this first walk around Saarburg was to find a decent restaurant and book a table for the evening. This search took me directly to the scenic cafe area and waterfall… and I was fortunate enough to secure a table in a pleasant spot by the river for dinner.
I’ll let the photos of the River Leuk do the talking…
Dinner that first night in Saarburg was pleasant enough, with Vanya’s dessert very much looking as if it were the main event but my apfelstrudel wasn’t bad and the local Riesling wine was fine.
Over the next couple of days we made frequent returns to the old town and were always there for dinner. Vanya has always liked ice cream and now she has discovered ‘spaghettieis’, a dessert created by Dario Fontanella in Germany during the 1960’s. Vanilla ice cream is extruded through a potato ricer, giving it the appearance of spaghetti. It is then placed over whipped cream and topped with strawberry sauce (to simulate tomato sauce) and grated almonds to represent the parmesan cheese. It is very popular across Germany and with Vanya.
No visit to Saarburg would be complete without a walk down to the Saar River where it is possible to cross the town bridge to the Saarburg suburb of Beurig and/or take short boat trips along the Saar.
We did both, starting with the short (1.5 hour) boat trip up and down the river. I wouldn’t particularly recommend this trip (there was little to see) but the weather was ideal for a short cruise; we could take the dogs with us on the boat at no extra charge and; the bar stocked bottles of the locally produced sparkling wine which we enjoyed in the company of a couple of two friendly Dutch ladies. Well, Vanya enjoyed it. I succeeded in spilling two glasses of wine and shattering one champagne flute which almost took the edge off our little cruise.
Saarburg is a lovely little town. We were perhaps unlucky arriving during a local holiday while the place was so busy but, in response to that, I recall our arriving in Colmar in France during the Covid Pandemic two or three years ago and our finding the streets, even the town centre, totally deserted. That was most disconcerting and, when all is said and done, much about these places has been created for people to enjoy.
One final bitter sweet observation about Saarburg: There are numerous stolpersteine (stumbling stones) dotted all around the town. Outside one house in the suburb of Beurig, I stumbled on ‘stones’ recognising a family of ten. These small brass blocks or ‘stones’ stand outside the homes or workplaces of people who were persecuted by the Nazis during and in the lead up to World War 2. The 10 stones in the photo below are outside what was the home of a Jewish family on Kloster Strasse in Beurig. There is a stone for each family member and the stone identifies their name and birthdate and what happened to them; being the year they were arrested and/or deported, where they were taken to and what ultimately happened to the person (where and when).
In many cases, stolpersteine serve as the only memorial to so many ordinary people whose lives were devastated by the Nazis and the initiator of the scheme (Gunther Demnig and his team) and the towns and villages which support his initiative (Saarburg included) are to be applauded.
And so to Tour 8, which started somewhat inauspiciously with our discovering, the day before departure, that the refrigerator in the Van was faulty. The inside of the fridge was warm; so warm Vanya felt compelled to throw almost all of the food out. That was not good but, worse, was the thought of setting off into a hot summer in Europe with no facility for keeping our wine and beer cold… that thought kept me awake almost all of the Sunday night and resulted in me contacting Lee from Raemoir Caravans at 4.30 on the Monday morning. Bless him, he was round at our house by 06.30 trying to fix the problem. He was unable to say for sure what the fault was and suggested we might need a new fridge. Shock! Horror! The last one cost me 2,000 euros and that was pre-covid when everything was much cheaper. I preferred to think that it could just be an air block in the gas pipe caused by parking the Van on the fairly steep slope that is Balsdean Road (that’s an altogether cheaper thought) and resolved to test that theory by driving through as many large pot holes as I could find on the way to Le Folkestone Shuttle. England’s children are back at school today after the summer holidays or I would have opted for a time trial drive around the local schools with all their speed bumps – sleeping policemen we used to call them.
And so to Tour 8… Some eight hours after setting off; shaken, battered and bruised and with much of the contents of our cupboards now scattered all over the Van floor (there are a great many pot holes between Brighton and Folkestone) we reached Guise in the Hauts de France. We’d find out if we’d dislodged the hoped for air bubble the next morning.
It was late Monday afternoon when we arrived in Guise – just enough time for a brief exploration. I should have remembered that in rural France, lundi is much like another Sunday. Indeed the weekend in such places will often extend across the Monday and Tuesday. The town was very quiet and, certainly, there were no restaurants open. We settled for one of the small Turkish run cafes. We found one without too much difficulty which served a reasonable bottle of wine, a bucket of moules and a large plate of exceptionally good chips. Oh and chews for the dogs, all for 25 euros. The owners were very welcoming and it seemed we were back on track.
I didn’t notice any rail station during my brief tour of the town but there was evidence of one in the graffiti.
Guise is a small town of almost 5,000 inhabitants situated on the L’Oise River towards the south of the Hauts de France. It’s the agricultural centre of the Aisne Department but it doesn’t have a great deal going for it other than the remains of a medieval castle (which was closed when I arrived at it’s gates) and for being the birthplace of Camille Desmoulins – a prominent figure of the French Revolution who along with his close pals, Maximilien Robespierre and Georges Danton, lost his head to the guillotine. Actually, Camille Desmoulins was executed after complaining about the excesses of the Reign of Terror. His old pal Robespierre thought he’d gone soft and in those days, that was enough to see you denounced as a traitor to the revolution.
I’ll say no more about Desmoulins or Guise except that it served as a useful place to break our journey towards Germany. We planned to start our tour in Germany in the Rhein Palatinate – a place called Saarburg. I’ll leave you with a few photos…