Marcos and Marco are father and son. They also happen to own a castle. Not just any old castle you understand, but a real, solid, medieval one, sitting up on the banks of the mighty Rhine valley just up river from Rudesheim.
The view from Rheinstein Castle is as stunning as is its long and colourful past; with an Archbishop, a Prussian prince and princess (who incidentally still lie side by side in the crypt) and a once fabulously rich widow all part of a long list of former owners. Said Father and son are third and fourth generation whose grandfather, the former opera singer Hermann Hecher bought it in disrepair.
Together they have restored it to its former glory, and added a guest room or two and a gourmet restaurant. The castle is one of 35 others you’ll discover along this UNESCO protected stretch of the middle Rhine, and during the annual Rhine in Flames celebrations, you’ll see them all lit up red from Bengal Fires, the perfect backdrop to a night of fireworks on the famous river.
The festival is quite something to behold. 50,000 people on boats and lining its vineyard covered banks, watch the show in a tradition dating back to the 18th century following the unification of Germany. The festival runs from May to September in a separate location along the Rhine each month, and the Middle Rhine region was true to form and turned out in their thousands.
Rudesheim itself has a chequered past of its own of course. The gateway to Riesling country, it was perhaps one of the very first tourist destinations in Germany, with visitors attracted there by the fruits of the vine.
It is still a very picturesque medieval town with vines everywhere you look and a regular stop for Rhine cruises. The narrow streets like Drosselgasse play host to many traditional restaurants, none perhaps more famous than the Hotel Zum Grünen Kranz whose owner, one Ralf Nägler, has had seven generations of experience. Ralph grew up picking grapes in the family vineyard and serving in the hotel as a boy. “my grandfather used to put a wreath up on the door to tell people when we had wine to sell” he says, “when we sold it all we had enough money to go and plant more vines.”
Not only does he serve some delicious local dishes including Handkäse mit Musik a very tasty cheese mixed with onions and a plate or two of local meats, he revels in pouring wine directly from his vineyard. You might even get a story or two along with it!.
The Mechanical Music Cabinet is well worth a visit,. Seigfreid Wendel’s stunning personal collection of musical machines date back nearly 200 years. These fantastic examples of 19th century ‘juke boxes’ offer a glimpse of what domestic entertainment was like, not to mention the extraordinary skill and craftsmanship needed to create them. Some call them the 8th wonders of the world. The machines have been lovingly brought back to life as you’ll hear when you take the tour.
One of the summer highlights in the town is to take the cable car up to the Niederwald Monument commemorating the founding of the German Empire after the Franco-Prussian war. High above the Rhine, the monument offers a startling view of the river and the vineyards as far as the eye can see. Of course you can always just walk up through the vines if the mood takes you.
The monument is on the opposite bank from Rheinstein Castle; two aged structures standing as twin sentinels guarding a wealth of history in-between them. Worth a toast or two of Riesling in anyone’s book.