Starting out in the picture-perfect little town of Rüdesheim am Rhein, the tour begins in the touristy way. The small cobblestone streets there are filled with people visiting and restaurants and hotels that are vying for your business. But once you buy your ticket (a bargain at 16€ for almost an entire day's outing), you are sent out alone above the vineyards on the Seilbahn (cable car) trip to the top of the hillside, all the while looking out over the Rheingau river valley. Also touristy but worth it: get the mini bottle of Sekt and two keepsake glasses for the ride up. At the top, it is a very light hike (about an hour at a leisurely pace and inclines are minimal) through the serene forest, with stunning views and lookout points along the way. Not to be missed: the tower lookout over the river and the man-made, pitch black tunnel which you must crouch down and navigate entirely blind.
After enjoying a relaxing wander through the woods, the Seilbahn (chair lift) down awaits just beyond a preserve for local deer (which you can feed). While not quite as sweeping as the views on the way up, the scenery on the way down might be even more spectacular with castles dotting the hilltops in the distance, forest surrounding you and the first glimpses of the other picturesque town on the tour: Assmannshausen. If you happen to meander through this lovely town around a meal time, I highly recommend sitting down across the river outside at Restaurant Zum Anker and ordering a glass of wine and the peach melba schnitzel. You will not be disappointed.
A quick boat ride across the river puts you at the next destination on the tour: Castle Rheinstein. Similar to my very favorite castle in Germany, it sits on a rocky outcrop, overlooking the valley below. The trek up can leave one a bit short of breath, but the views from the top are well-worth the climb. The castle interior is a bit too refurbished to feel totally authentic, but the exterior staircases and patios overlooking the river, as well as the garden bar that offers wine and light snacks during the peak season, make this a great spot to spend some time - just don't forget to get back to the dock in time for the last boat back to Rüdesheim.
For me, this tour never gets old. The serenity of the forest, the sweeping views of the vineyards, the ample opportunity to just relax with a glass of local Riesling and take in the scenery. It's a tour at your own pace, where you see what you want to see and pass up what you don't. Even this, probably our fifth time on the tour, we discovered things we hadn't experienced before, like the tiny diorama in Assmannshausen of the Seilbahn into town and the castle restaurant, where we ate the most delicious Flammkuchen I've had in all of Germany. We also made a new friend over that meal who very nearly came home with us - or at least, the patrons at nearby tables asked why we left our dog behind when we got up to leave.
Oh, Romantic Tour, I will remember you fondly...
The Rheingau Romantic Tour
runs from late March through late October
for more information, see website