For the past year, I’ve been teaching at a university here in Germany. It has been amazing in so many ways, and it’s been really interesting to experience all of the differences between German and American higher education – seriously, you have no idea how different they are! But, what I’ve always enjoyed the most about teaching is getting to know the students.
I recently had a rather *cough* enlightening conversation with a student who is originally from Berlin. We talked about cultural differences, struggles with learning the two languages, and how both of us ended up so far from home, and then this student asked me what part of Germany I lived in. I answered with a simple, “In the Eifel.” I didn’t give him my village name because it’s small and there was no way he would know it. I didn’t give him Bitburg as a reference point because I have met a handful of Germans who don’t know where Bitburg is. I could have given him Trier – which is usually my last resort as every German knows where Trier is – but I didn’t. I just said, “In the Eifel” because I figured that would be the easiest general answer as it is a region – and a very popular vacation area – and there are German TV shows on television right now that are all about life in the Eifel.
My student’s response?
“Is that in the Westerwald?”
Guys, I told my husband this story, and he hung his head in sadness. If you don’t know, the Westerwald is a totally different region in Germany. The student had absolutely no idea where or what the Eifel was – and it blew my mind. I thought all Germans knew the Eifel! We got to talking about the Eifel, and then he said, “Maybe I’ll visit that part of Germany one day. What should I do there? What should one see in the Eifel?” Being asked on the spot like that really gave me pause. What would I put on an Eifel Bucket List?
For the sake of simplicity, I’ve limited each category to my top two.
You can’t visit the Eifel and not go hiking. You just can’t. Because the number one thing the Eifel is known for is its nature. At the very top of the list would have to be the Eifelsteig Etappe 15. This is the section between the cities of Kordel and Trier. Now, you don’t have to hike that entire stretch, but along this trail (closer to Kordel) is the Genovevahöhle and the Römerpfad. The Genovevahöhle is a massive cave – and I mean MASSIVE – that is almost 50 feet at its widest point with a ceiling that’s over 30 feet high.
The Römerpfad zig zags and overlaps with the Eifelsteig in this area, leading you past a celtic ringwall, a Roman mine, and the ruins of Burg Ramstein.
What most people – especially kids – love about the Römerpfad is the section that criss-crosses the waterfalls. Not only do you hop over stone pathways and climb up rickety staircases, but you also walk over a series of suspension bridges.
This particular hike was even named one of the prettiest hiking areas in the Trier-Saarburg district.
And my second hiking trail – because one is never enough! – would be the Calmont Klettersteig. Now, the full Klettersteig might be too much for some. I still haven’t mastered all of it yet myself. This is a hardcore hike along the Moselle River that takes you up the steepest vineyard in all of Europe. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to call this “borderline mountain climbing.” But, it pays off with the most photographed view of the Moselle River.
Now, there is a back way to get up to the summit, so you can cheat a bit and hike the easier trails that don’t start at the bottom of the mini-mountain if you just want to catch the view.
What’s a visit to any region of Germany without a couple of castle pit stops? The Eifel has hundreds of castles, but if I had to pick two for the Eifel Bucket List, I would probably go with Vianden and Schloss Bürresheim.
The castle in Vianden (which is in Luxembourg) is the real-life version of the castle most of us envision when reading fairy tales. It’s big and imposing; it has those spires that reach up to the heavens; and it’s perched on top of a hill directly above a picturesque, quintessentially European, village.
It’s a gorgeous castle that is almost eerily affected by the weather. And what I mean by that is that if you go in the summer, when it’s a sunny day with blue skies, the castle feels and looks like one in which a beautiful princess might live with her faithful Prince Charming. But if you go in the winter, when it’s overcast and rainy, the castle looks and feels like it could have been the inspiration for Dracula’s castle or some other gothic story of ghoulishness. But, in addition to just looking at the castle, you can take a self-guided tour of the rooms which have been beautifully decorated and restored.
Schloss Bürreshiem is a very different kind of castle. It’s much smaller, much less imposing, and it sits out in the middle of nowhere. But it has a certain charm to it, and I especially love that it’s surrounded by that very typical Eifel landscape.
You’ve got fields of grass, forests as far as the eye can see, and a handful of castle ruins on the hilltops out in the distance. This medieval castle was never conquered and never destroyed, and the family even lived in it all the way up until the late 1930s.
They have since filled it with a unique collection of culturally significant furniture and paintings that make the castle tour more than just history.
Both of these castles are somewhat unknown outside of the Eifel, which is part of the reason why I would put them on my Bucket List.
Now, the Eifel is more rural than a lot of other regions, so we don’t really have any “big” cities. So, as far as city sightseeing goes, I would probably go with those places that embody elements that are unique to the Eifel. And, as the Eifel can actually be broken down into even smaller sub-regions, I would go for two places in two different parts of the Eifel.
The first would be Monreal. And I would choose Monreal because it definitely has an Eifel flare to it. This little village is surrounded by that typical Eifel countryside. There’s a small creek running right through the middle of town and two castle ruins looming above the houses.
The main row of houses, which are mostly Fachwerk, were once the homes of the many clothmakers who built up a prosperous industry using wool from the sheep in the area. That industry no longer exists today, but I think it is this history that makes Monreal worthy of the Eifel Bucket List. It’s connection to the land and the livestock are, I think, representative of many of the cultural ideals of the region.
But, Monreal is just one part of the Eifel. To get a more rounded picture of the Eifel, I would also add a visit to Bitburg. Most parts of Germany are known for a particular beer, and the most popular and well-known Eifel beer is absolutely Bitburger. So, how could you have an Eifel Bucket List without Bitburg?!
Bitburg has a very different feel to it than Monreal. It is bigger and definitely more city-like and modern. In addition to the famous Bitburger Brewery, you also have a lot of relevant historical sites connected to the Romans as well as WWII. You can see a display of artwork from the Eifel’s most famous painter Fritz von Wille. And in contrast with Monreal, you have hardly any Fachwerk – possibly none at all. So, you get to see different architectural styles that are popular in the Eifel. It’s especially interesting to go out on the outskirts of the city to see the more Fränkisch style houses (like the old farmhouses) and then drive through the newer sections that have almost impressionistic-looking houses.
Hands-down, no questions asked, first restaurant on the Eifel Bucket List would be Schloss Niederweis. The restaurant is gorgeous. The food is outstanding. And it’s on the grounds of a castle.
The village of Niederweis is small, idyllic, and fairly rural. I would choose it for the list because it’s probably the prettiest restaurant I’ve experienced in the entire region to date.
But for more traditional Eifel dishes, I would also add Zum Simonbräu in Bitburg. This restaurant has connections to the Bitburger Brewery, and the walls are covered with nothing but old photographs and relics of both the brewery and the city.
It’s not nearly as fancy as Schloss Niederweis – in fact, it’s quite a laid-back and casual place. But, their food is equally delicious. And like I said, what they serve is much more typical of the Eifel, and they use local meats and veggies.
The last two things I would add to this Bucket List (which by all means only scratches the surface of what the Eifel has to offer) would be drives and boat rides. The Eifel is much bigger than most people probably realize, and those “sub-regions” all have unique attributes when it comes to the landscape. So, a general drive through the Eifel is an absolute must.
I would even say it doesn’t matter where you drive, as long as it’s NOT on the Autobahn. Because when you get out into that countryside, you’ll find yourself on one curvy road after another, zig-zagging through forests, cutting through charming little villages, and driving through a seemingly never-ending series of rolling, green hills dotted with abbeys, volcanic lakes, castle ruins….and, of course, cows.
Finally, no visit to the region would be truly complete without a boat ride on the Moselle River. Yes, I know that the Moselle area isn’t technically in the Eifel, even though many locals call it the Moselle-Eifel. But, the two regions border each other, and when you’re on a boat on the Moselle, those hills behind the towns (on the west side of the river) and those fields you see beyond the vineyards are the Eifel. So, you do experience them together in a sense.
But, I wouldn’t take a boat ride out of Trier or Koblenz. Too commercial and the landscape isn’t as pretty. I would say, start in Leiwen and get off in Mülheim (or the other way around). Or start in Ediger and go down to Traben-Trarbach. Either one, I bet you’ll be blown away with how romantic it is.
So, tell me, did I get it right? What would you put on your Eifel Bucket List?