It’s no secret that Germany’s Moselle area is one of the most romantic places in all of Europe. It just has a magical, fairy-tale charm to it that bewitches people and draws them in. Nowhere else can you find such a breathtaking combination of castles, half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets, rolling hills, and gorgeous river views. And while there are dozens of adorable villages worthy of a day trip, only one bears the nicknames “The Sleeping Beauty of the Moselle” and “The Mini-Rothenberg.”
The Sleeping Beauty of the Moselle
I can only describe Beilstein as something out of a movie. A Disney movie to be exact. Which is why it’s so surprising to me that more Americans aren’t familiar with it. I mean, let’s face it. Nobody loves Disney-esque destinations more than we do, and as much as I hate to admit it, nobody loves Bavaria as much either. (Sorry, Bavaria.) So, I know for a fact this is a place you will want to put on your bucket list.
And I’ve got a list of 10 things to do while you’re there.
1. Stroll Through the Maze of Alleyways
They don’t call Beilstein the Sleeping Beauty of the Moselle for nothin’. It’s quiet, tiny, and basically a ghost town during the off-season. And even when it’s packed with tourists during the summer months, it’s still incredibly laid back. Beilstein is where people go to relax and appreciate a place that seems to be frozen in time.
The village may be small, but it is made up of a surprisingly extensive network of alleys that crisscross and splinter around every corner. So much so that it almost feels like a labyrinth. No matter which direction you think you’re going to go, you will find yourself saying, “Ooooh wait. Let’s go this way!” every five minutes.
2. Lose Yourself in the Architecture
If you’re a fan of half-timbered houses, you will love Beilstein. Almost every building has Fachwerk, and it’s obvious that many of the property owners have put a lot of time and effort into their upkeep. Many of the buildings date back to the middle ages, and some of the houses that were built during the 19th century still have their original front doors.
However, there’s more to this town than the half-timbered houses. Beilstein dates back all the way to the 9th century. You can still see – and even walk through – the old city wall. And if you keep an eye out, you’ll find several plaques scattered throughout the town with historical information about the history, architecture, and former residents of some of the more exceptional buildings.
You can also walk through the market area that was designed in the 1300s and see the old Zehnthaus (which is where the farmers stored a portion of their crops/grain that were paid as a tax in place of money).
3. Climb the Stairway to Heaven
You might not know it just by looking at it, but this staircase is famous.
It’s made up of 108 steps, and, believe me, it is no easy task to climb. It starts in a charming courtyard surrounded by half-timbered houses and works its way up to a beautiful monastery from the 18th century.
People have been enchanted by this staircase for decades. Not only has it been used in a number of German films, but the BBC even used it for their TV series version of Vanity Fair.
4. See “The Black Madonna” With Your Own Eyes
During the Thirty Years War, Spanish armies overtook parts of the Moselle region. After 14 years of rule, they left the area. But as they had had a pleasant relationship with the residents of Beilstein, they gave them a sculpture of Mary that they had brought with them from Spain as a parting gift.
This sculpture, called Die Schwarze Madonna (The Black Madonna), dates back to the 12th century. Although it has moved around a bit over the years (from Cologne to Trier), it was finally given its permanent home in St. Joseph’s Church. People have been making the pilgrimage for hundreds of years now to see this statue.
While you’re there, you can also appreciate some of the other relics housed in the church, including an organ and stained glass window from the 18th century.
5. Explore the Ruins of Burg Metternich
As if the village itself wasn’t magical enough, high above the cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses sits a castle ruin.
No one knows for sure just how old it is, but most educated guesses put it’s construction sometime during the 13th century. Although the area was plagued by the Thirty Years War, Burg Metternich actually survived it all relatively unharmed. Until 1689, that is, when the French destroyed it during the Nine Years War. Interestingly enough, this war actually spilled over into the US; although, most of us learned about it in school as the Second Indian War or King William’s War.
The ruins of Burg Metternich are privately owned today, but during the tourist season, they open it up to anyone willing to make the climb up the hill. In addition to the view, you can enjoy coffee and ice cream.
6. Visit the Old Synagogue
At Weingasse 13, you’ll find a dark brick building with green shutters. Today, it’s home to the Beilstein museum, but between the 1300s and the 1800s, it was a Jewish synagogue. There is a record of the Lord of Beilstein Castle (not to be confused with Burg Metternich) being given permission to build a place to settle 10 Jewish families in 1309, so some people believe that this building was that original site.
It’s an interesting building to stand in front of to appreciate the history of Jewish people in Beilstein. There was a time when Beilstein had the largest share of Jewish residents in the entire administrative district of Koblenz and Trier. And because the nearby villages of Zell, Bruttig, and Ediger didn’t originally have their own synagogue, they came to Beilstein. For the most part, they received protection and reprieve in Beilstein, but they weren’t always free from persecution here. In the mid to late 1300s, some of the Jews in Beilstein were murdered as part of the Black Death massacres.
The Jewish community thrived in the village until the mid-1800s, but by 1920, their numbers had dwindled to just a handful, and the synagogue was abandoned.
7. Take a Hike in the Vineyards
If you’re feeling adventurous and have an excellent pair of hiking shoes, you can hike through the vineyards on the outskirts of town. You’ll get to enjoy some amazing views, but be forewarned – this trail is not an easy one. It’s incredibly steep, with lots of stairs and uphill climbs.
There is also a big sign at the entrance to the trail that warns anyone suffering from vertigo to “turn back now.”
8. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
As Beilstein is all about relaxing and enjoying the moment, there is an unsurprisingly large selection of restaurants and cafes for a town of just 140 residents. They serve mostly traditional German cuisine, but many of them offer specialty dishes that cater to other tastes. However, keep in mind that some of the restaurants close down during the off-season and many of them have their Ruhetag on Mondays.
My personal tip would be to try out the Klostercafe. Not only do they stay open on the weekends during the off-season, but they also serve wonderful food.
We were pleasantly surprised to find this out when we were in Beilstein recently. It was cold and dreary outside – still beautiful, but seriously cold and dreary – and we were able to warm ourselves in a very inviting atmosphere with the friendliest waiter I think I’ve encountered in Germany yet. The coffee was hot, the food was delicious, and the jovial hikers that packed the room created a lovely ambiance.
9. Unwind in a Wine Tavern
Although the Klostercafe serves wine and even Glühwein, I just couldn’t bring myself to drink alcohol in a church. Nope, nope, nope. But, it’s the Moselle, so, of course, there are wine taverns here. One of the most unique wine taverns is the Zehnthauskeller. This tavern is in a cellar of a building that’s been standing on the river for more than 500 years. But again, keep in mind that most of the taverns also close down during the off-season.
That whole Sleeping Beauty of the Moselle nickname is really starting to make sense, isn’t it?
10. Sail Away to Nearby Fairy-Tale Towns
No visit to any village on the Moselle would be complete without a boat ride on the Moselle River itself. Several times throughout the day, you can catch a boat that will take you all the way up to Cochem. It stops at two or three small villages in between, though, so you can hop on and off at your leisure.
You’ll also get the best views of Beilstein from the river. So, if you want to get an iconic shot of the castle looming over the town, definitely get on one of the boats.
Have you been to Beilstein? If so, let me know how you liked it!