One of my favorite restaurants is this beautiful place in a sleepy town called Kobern-Gondorf on the Mosel River. My husband and I have started going there for special occasions (wedding anniversaries, visitors from Texas, etc.), but we never spent any time in the actual town itself. And then a few months ago, as I was driving home from work, some construction on the main Mosel road detoured me through this very town, and I accidentally took a wrong turn and ended up in their Marktplatz. I couldn’t believe how pretty the center of this town was! From the main roads it looks like there really isn’t anything there to see, which is why we never strayed from the restaurant, but it was so gorgeous that I knew we absolutely had to come back and explore.
Living in the South Eifel, we tend to stay closer to Trier or within/close to the Middle Mosel (Mittelmosel). I think most people are more familiar with the Middle Mosel because that’s where Bernkastel-Kues is. Between Pünderich and Koblenz, you have the Lower Mosel (Untermosel), which is where Cochem is. Now, a lot of people know Cochem, but I’m not sure how many people spend time in the towns between Cochem and Koblenz. My husband and I have been to Alken and Brodenbach – albeit briefly – , and we do go to the wine festival in Klotten every year, but we really hadn’t seen much of this part of the Mosel beyond that.
Visiting Kobern-Gondorf has totally peaked my interest in this area. I guess all of the big touristy places are further south, so there isn’t a ton of information out there about the Lower Mosel. I’m telling you – the only reason I even knew this town existed at all was because I drive through it from time to time on my way home from work. There is a beautiful castle ruin that sits above the town on a steep hill, and that’s what got me interested in this town – which is how I found out about the restaurant.
So, chances are, y’all have also never heard of this place and have no idea what a hidden gem it is!
The town is made up of two towns: Kobern and Gondorf. Kobern is definitely the bigger town, and there is more to see here (at least, that was my impression). However, there is charm in Gondorf as well, so I certainly wouldn’t skip it.
We spent the majority of our day in Kobern. I did a little bit of research before we headed out there, and we had a rough plan of what all we wanted to do and see. There is a lot that you can do here, especially if you enjoy history, folklore, and hiking.
Because I had already seen how adorable the Marktplatz was that day I accidentally drove into it, we decided to start there. So, we parked in a little parking lot on Moselweg, which put us one small alleyway from the Marktplatz.
Although they finished working on the Marktplatz back in 2013, it still feels a bit like they are trying to revive the town’s tourism industry. We saw a number of hotels and restaurants that looked as if they had been abandoned, but there were also a lot of buildings that looked like they had just recently been renewed. They seem to have really put A LOT of work into restoring the Marktplatz.
Everything was so well taken care of and clean. There were flowers in the windows, fresh paint on the houses, and plaques designating historical buildings. They even have their very own mascot of sorts – the Tatzelwurm. Legend has it that a Tatzelwurm once lived in the area, so they now have images of the mythical creature all throughout the town.
We followed the historical walking tour through the Marktplatz and surrounding streets. We downloaded the map and used it as a guide so that we could make sure and see all of the sites. Every building of significance is listed on the map, and there is a corresponding plaque with additional information that you can read.
Everything was so pretty and picture-worthy that we actually did the walking tour twice, and then picked random streets to turn down. If you like half-timbered houses, you will be in heaven here.
Tatzelwurmweg (Hiking Trail)
After our leisurely stroll through the labyrinth of fairy tale houses, we headed up the Tatzelwurmweg for something a bit more challenging.
Now, every town along the Mosel has a hiking trail, or three or four, and Kobern-Gondorf is no different. There are several trails that meet and overlap here, but we wanted to stay on the Tatzelwurmweg because it goes up to the ruins of Niederburg and the Matthiaskappelle. Ever since the first time I rounded that corner coming into Kobern-Gondorf and saw that castle ruin looming over the village, I had been dying to see it all up close.
The hike from the Marktplatz to the castle itself wasn’t too bad. I mean, don’t get me wrong – it was no piece of cake – but the views were totally worth it.
The castle was built in the 12th century and destroyed sometime around 1688. Some parts of it have been rectonstructed, and there are signs on the various walls with what part of the castle it used to be.
Although there is not much to the ruin itself, it has a truly awesome view of the whole area.
From Niederburg, we continued on up the hill towards Matthiaskappelle. This part of the hike was pretty grueling in places because it was over 90 degrees (Fahrenheit), and the sun was absolutely baking us. Plus, the climb is pretty steep without many places to stop and rest.
Luckily, we were trying out some new hiking gear that day, so we had cold water and country music to help us along. (We are becoming quite the professional hikers!)
What I really enjoyed along this part of the trail was the fact that it was lined with these really large monuments depicting the stations of the cross. It made the hike feel more like a pilgrimage to a holy site. That’s something that I really love about Germany. You almost never see Christian symbols in the States anymore because they’re “offensive.”
Once we finally reached the top of this mountain that seemed like it would never end, we came to the Matthiaskappelle. It’s pretty small actually – much smaller than it appears from down below – but it was really impressive.
The story goes that a knight brought back the head of the apostle Matthias during the crusades. He built this chapel to house and protect it sometime between 1220 and 1240. The head of Matthias was kept here for more than one hundred years until it was relocated to the abbey of St. Matthias in Trier.
Because the chapel housed such a precious relic, it was a very important site for pilgrimages during the middle ages. But what also makes this chapel noteworthy is the style. It’s so noteworthy in fact, that it is the only chapel of it’s kind in all of Germany. The architectural influences are late Romantic, early Gothic, and even Oriental. Heinrich I, the knight who built the chapel, styled it after the Convent of Christ convent in Portugal, which was modeled after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (one of the most important sites in all of Christianity).
We were only able to sneak a glance inside the chapel as they were setting up for a wedding. That was kind of a bummer, but what can you do?
From the chapel, we could have jumped on to a number of different hiking trails, but we wanted to make our way over to Gondorf, so we continued on the Tatzelwurmweg back down towards the river.
Along the way, though, we stopped to see the Tatzelwurmhöhle (Tatzelwurm cave). Okay, so I’ve mentioned this Tatzelwurm a number of times now, but you’re probably wondering what in the world a Tatzelwurm is. Well, first of all, it doesn’t translate to something different in English. A Tatzelwurm is a Tatzelwurm. There are slightly different descriptions on the internet, but it was a mythological creature that was feared by people across parts of Europe in the middle ages. Some legends describe it as part lion, part snake – others describe it as part dragon, part worm.
Kobern-Gondorf has a number of legends about a Tatzelwurm living in the forests above the river, and the locals believe to have even found his lair.
I will say that this part of the hike looked quite different from the rest of the hike. We were no longer out in the open with stunning views of the valley. Instead, we were in this dense but strangely bright green forest, with trees that twisted in all directions. The ground was soft and almost carpeted with tiny needles. It definitely looked and felt like an enchanted forest, so I can totally understand history attaching fantastical tales to it.
After making it back to Kobern, we headed across the main road towards Gondorf.
At first, we walked along the side road that ran along the Mosel, but this area wasn’t pretty at all. The road had cracks and potholes everywhere. There were weeds growing up through the concrete. The houses didn’t look very nice, and there was just an overall ghetto feeling to the neighborhood. My husband whined and complained SO MUCH about how boring and ugly this part of town was that we turned around and went back. He was not having any of it! 🙂
We had actually planned on being done with our hike because we had already covered nearly five miles at that point (plus it was 90 degrees, remember), but I really wanted to see the castles in Gondorf, so we doubled back and picked up the Koberner Burgpfad.
Koberner Burgpfad (Hiking Trail)
This was a very different hike from the Tatzelwurmweg. We were basically in the forest the whole time, but the trail seemed to zig zag straight up at a ridiculously steep incline that just never seemed to end. I don’t know if we were just tired from the first hike, but this trail seemed a lot harder.
Not only was it steeper, but the trail itself was really narrow, sometimes slanted, and you really had to pay attention to each step. My husband and I had to walk in a single file line because we couldn’t both fit on the path at the same time. We pushed through, though, and cut off the trail once we got to Gondorf. Kobern and Gondorf are surprisingly far from each other – or, at least, that’s how it felt after several hours of hiking.
We were also starving to death, so we cut it short, but we could have continued on to a number of other sites. You could spend a whole weekend out here and still not see everything.
But finally, we made it to Schloss Liebieg, and man, oh man, did this place not disappoint.
It’s slightly unclear, but the general consensus is that a knight most likely built a castle here sometime in the 1200s. It changed hands a few times, and during the 1800s, a wealthy banker from Koblenz turned it into a country estate. A relative of this banker (possibly the granddaughter, I’m not totally sure) named Angelika married a man named Theodore von Liebieg, and they changed the name of the castle from Niederburg to Schloss Liebieg. (I know, that’s kind of confusing since the castle in Kobern is also called Niederburg.)
The Liebieg family was an OUTRAGEOUSLY wealthy family in Europe due to their textile business. Unfortunately, they lost a lot of their fortune and the castle changed hands again in the 1990s. Now, it’s an event location.
I’m not sure if you can tour the inside of the castle because it was closed by the time we got there, but we were able to walk around on the castle grounds.
On the edge of the property, there is also a large building that showcases “Oldtimers.” This German use of the English word is still so funny to me. For Germans, an Oldtimer is a classic car. So, this building – made with floor to ceiling windows – houses some really nice cars. And if you have a few hundred thousand euros (or even a cool million), you can buy one!
I have to be honest here. We didn’t spend much time in Gondorf because we were fairly exhausted at that point. We did take a little drive through the town to see the other castle and the half-timbered houses, but we basically just looked at everything from the car. There is a historical walking tour here as well, and we absolutely plan to come back another time and explore Gondorf.
Where to Eat
There are two really exceptional restaurants in Kobern-Gondorf: one super fancy and one laid back. If you plan on spending the day here and hiking, I would recommend that you go to the more laid-back restaurant for dinner. Save the fancy one for when you’re dressed up.
Winzerhaus am Brunnen
This is a lovely little restaurant on the Marktplatz, right next to the statue of the Tatzelwurm. The first time we were here, we actually didn’t eat anything because we already had reservations at the other restaurant, but we got caught in a massive downpour and had to seek shelter, so we just drank coffee. But the restaurant was so pretty, and the staff was so friendly, that we agreed right then and there that we would eat there next time.
The food did not disappoint. I ate a Flammkuchen, and my husband had a Schnitzel. Everything tasted wonderful, and the food arrived quickly. The staff was attentive and chatty, and the ambience was super inviting.
Alte Mühle Thomas Höreth
This restaurant is my favorite thing about Kobern-Gondorf. It’s a solid hour from our house, but I would drive it without complaint on any day of the week to eat here. We have started coming here for our wedding anniversary, and it’s always on the list of places to take friends and family who visit from the States.
I have NEVER been disappointed at this place – whether that be with the food, the atmosphere, the staff – nothing. It’s perfect Every. Single. Time.
Let me put this in perspective for you. I normally will only eat meat that is 100% well-done, borderline burned. I don’t want to see even a shadowy hint of pink. If I do, I won’t eat it. HOWEVER, at Alte Mühle, I will eat anything they put on my plate. They could serve something totally raw, and I would trust it! Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but I trust their chef COMPLETELY because the food is that amazingly good.
The first time we went, I ordered a filet mignon, and when the waiter asked me how I wanted it cooked, I said well-done. He kind of scrunched his nose, hesitated for a second, and then said it’s really better when it’s medium. So, I ate it medium, and it was divine. Now, I don’t even tell them how to cook the meat anymore. I eat it how the chef makes it – pink, red, whatever.
What I also really love about this restaurant is that the couple who owns it also has their own vineyard and makes their own wine. Oh, good heavens!!!! The best wine I’ve ever had is from their vineyard. I forget what it’s called, but on the menu it’s the number 40. You’ll thank me later.
They also have a gift shop where you can buy bottles of their wine (at much cheaper prices than in the restaurant itself), little decorations, confectionaries, and so on. You can even buy the plates they put on the table to mark your reservation. These are made by the wife – who also often works up front – and she’s also the decorator.
I just can’t say enough about this restaurant. It’s almost like it’s more than a restaurant – it’s an experience.
Kobern-Gondorf is a delightful place with a lot of fairy tale charm. It’s suprisingly underrated in the sense that not a lot of people seem to know about it. I really enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t overrun by tourists – and by the fact that it had a different flair to it than the towns and cities down closer to Trier. I also got the feeling that there was still a lot that we didn’t see.
If you’re looking for somewhere new to explore, or if you’re in the Spangdahlem area, Kobern-Gondorf is definitely worthy of a day trip.