A Food & Wine Tour of West Germany: Wiesbaden to Aachen in 48 Hours
Ever since coming back from Italy with my first drinking qualification, I’ve been on some kind of protracted wine mission. So much so that when discussing a road trip between Christmas and New Year, I managed to persuade three unsuspecting victims to join me on a German wine tour through the Rheingau and Ahr wine regions, and another two to meet me along the way. What I hadn’t considered, however, was how much of Germany was likely to be closed for the holidays – which turned every restaurant reservation into a game of Russian roulette. So while this food and wine itinerary covers a little over two days, in actuality my research was spread over six. I thought it best, all things considered, to spare you the parts of the trip that involved going back to the same restaurant two nights in a row or spending New Year’s Day in a kebab shop. You’re welcome!
Day 1 morning: Wiesbaden
Just west of Frankfurt, Wiesbaden is a picturesque spa town that remained mostly intact during the war – which means the architecture is generally older and prettier than many other urban areas you’ll find in this part of Germany. Around the holiday season, Wiesbaden has its fair share of Christmas markets (or Winter Wonderlands as they go by nowadays, to stay open that bit longer) so you can get your fill of glühwein and bratwurst to stave off the winter chill.
If you’re looking for something rather classier, however, start your day with a stop at Café Maldaner: a mecca for connoisseurs of coffee and cake. They roast their own beans, bake their own pastries and concoct a beautiful array of confectionary – including the decadent Maldaner chocolate torte, which was a hit even with those of us not in possession of a sweet tooth. And that’s without mentioning the venue itself: Café Maldaner channels Viennese luxury with its sumptuous stucco ceilings, velvet upholstery and white linen tablecloths. A must when in Wiesbaden.
Day 1 afternoon: Rheingau wineries
Wiesbaden is in the heart of the Rheingau wine region, known for its Rieslings and Pinot Noirs (or Spätburgunder, as Pinot Noir is known in Germany). Most of the region’s grapes are grown on the north banks of the two rivers – the Rhine and the Main – facing south to ensure enough light and warmth for ripening.
Driving about half an hour west of Wiesbaden along the Rhine River will take you to Kloster Eberbach – a former monastery that’s since turned into a winery, which hosts tastings, tours and events. The day we visited in late December probably wasn’t the smartest moment to show up since much of the monastery was closed. We did, however, taste several of the wines on offer at Kloster Eberbach’s extensive shop and tasting room, and bought two bottles to take with us. One sparkling “Blanc de Noirs” brut to enjoy on New Year’s Eve, and one juicy Spätburgunder to take home to Amsterdam. Kloster Eberbach is one of the larger and more commercial wineries in the region, so if you’re there during harvest time you’ll likely be able to find smaller, more intimate experiences on offer.
Day 1 evening: dinner in Koblenz
The next main city you’ll reach if you continue driving northwest for another hour or so is Koblenz. And after all that sightseeing and wine tasting, you’ll no doubt be looking for sustenance.
If having eyes bigger than your belly is a problem you share with me, then make a date with the schweinshaxe at Altes Brauhaus in old town Koblenz. This enormous German speciality – it’s essentially an entire roasted pork knuckle – comes with mashed potato, sauerkraut and a meaty gravy. Altes Brauhaus is a brewery as well as an atmospheric restaurant, so be sure to order half a litre of the local Weissbier (white beer) to wash down all that pork. Not for the faint of heart – or stomach.
Day 2 morning/afternoon: Ahr valley wineries
Next morning, say goodbye to Koblenz (it’s not the prettiest city to linger in) and get on the road heading northwest. Avoid the motorways and wind your way along the postcard-perfect Rhine River for a little under an hour until you hit the next wine region: the Ahr valley – one of Europe’s northernmost wine areas and the smallest in Germany. Sadly, the Ahr valley was extremely hard hit by the disastrous flooding that took place around the German-Belgian-Dutch border in summer 2021. We stopped for coffee and cake in Bad Neuenahr, and even 18 months later there was still plenty of evidence of the devastation.
So it’s all the more important to visit some local wineries… Because buying wine isn’t just about drinking – it’s about supporting the recovery of the local economy! We stopped in at Weingut O. Schell in Rech – two villages along the Ahr River from Bad Neuenahr – where we were greeted by a couple of the winery’s enthusiastic proprietors in their cosy tasting room and shop. The region is known for its Spätburgunder, so we tasted plenty of those, as well as Schell’s fantastic “Domina” red (made from the grape of the same name) and a medium-dry Pinot Blanc. Suffice to say, my suitcase got significantly heavier on the way home!
Day 2 evening: Aachen restaurants and bars
From Rech, it’s about another hour and a half to Aachen – just over the border from the southernmost tip of the Netherlands (and therefore on the way home, for us Dutchies). Aachen’s old town is a beautiful collection of winding cobbled streets and impressive cathedrals, which is well worth a wander by itself. But by now you’ll be wanting dinner.
We checked out two options: one traditional German, the other Greek (in case you’ve had enough sauerkraut by this point). Am Knipp, with its decoratively tiled walls and stained glass windows, is all about the schnitzel. Yes, that’s more pork. Mine came with a fiery pink peppercorn sauce, crunchy fried potatoes and a perfectly dressed salad. Needless to say, more beer and wine was consumed. I’d recommend the Benediktiner Weissbier Dunkel – a dark, malty beer that’s perfect for winter. Am Knipp’s prices are pretty reasonable, too (at least, in comparison with Amsterdam).
Alternatively, try Greek restaurant NOIMA by Reuters House, where you’ll find mezze dishes aplenty and some Mediterranean wines to go with them. We enjoyed the whipped feta and aubergine salads as well as the spicy sausage (loukaniko) and meatballs (keftedakia). Lots of the mains looked tempting, but (for some reason) I decided to go for yet another meat feast: the mixed grill made up of pork skewers, beef kofte, lamb cutlets and more sausage. Even with the help of the dog, I couldn’t finish it all! Still, I appreciate a generous portion in these straightened times, and NOIMA was a friendly and inviting place to spend New Year’s Eve.
If you’re all wine-ed out by this point and are looking for an after-dinner cocktail, wander just past Aachen’s Rathaus (townhall) to The Gin Library. More than just gin, you’ll find an extensive cocktail menu featuring everything from old classics to modern creations at this laidback lounge bar. I tried the French 75 (a mix of gin, lemon and bubbles) and the Whiskey Sour – both of which tasted exactly as they should.
Day 3 morning: Aachen cafés
By this point, you’ll probably have a hangover and be in need of a coffee (or possibly a hair of the dog) before heading on your way. By far the best coffee I drank during our entire trip came from Café Dom, where the baristas serve up a perfect flat white (with oat milk, if you prefer). The menu features an excellent selection of breakfast dishes, from stuffed croissants to yoghurt and granola, depending on whether you feel like going healthy or hearty. The décor is hipster grandma and the view is unbeatable: take the love seat at the back of Café Dom and you’ll be looking straight up at Aachen’s cathedral.
Alternatively, if beer and flammkuchen are the only way to send your hangover packing, head to Café Kittel. It’s a bit student-grunge, but Kitt’ll hit the spot. (See what I did there?)