Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Trier & Cochem: The Ultimate Day Trip

Whether you’re in search of castles, vineyards, charming villages or outdoor adventures paired with astounding views, there are loads of great places to visit in and around Luxembourg. But if you’re going to leave the Grand Duchy in search of a cross-border outing, I’d argue that there’s no better bang for your buck than a day trip to the German towns of Trier, Germany’s oldest city, and Cochem, a postcard-perfect wine town on the Mosel.

Before you read on, though, I think I should give you fair warning: this is almost too much blog for one post.

You see, when I take friends and family on day trips, I typically take them to Trier or to Cochem – or to both, on separate days – because there’s a lot of ground to cover in both places. But when my good friend Kelly came to visit last month, calendar constraints meant that I had to rise to the challenge of squeezing both places into one jam-packed (or in our case, Reisling-packed) German adventure. Here’s a rundown of our trip, in case you’d like to attempt the same feat:

First Things First
You’re going to need a train ticket. CFL runs an inexpensive day trip special to both Trier (8€ round trip) and to Cochem (23€ round trip) from Luxembourg Ville; both discounted tickets are only available at the ticket sales window at the Luxembourg Gare.

If you have the time, do these trips separately so you can truly experience everything and give yourself a little time to spare for some aimless wandering (by accident or on purpose). But if you’re on a tight schedule and need to see both in one day, buy the Cochem day trip ticket. Having this ticket means that you can take any train to Cochem and any train back, all day long – as long as your train home pulls into the Luxembourg Gare before midnight, when your ticket expires. Since Trier is on the way to Cochem, think of it as a layover.

Ruins of Roman baths in Trier.
Trier is a 45 minute train ride from Luxembourg Ville (8€ round trip by train). It’s a university town and home to a lively shop and restaurant filled pedestrian area that transforms into a busy, festive Christmas market in December. Trier is the oldest city in Germany, founded by the Romans in 16 B.C. (Yes, you read that right!) The city is home to some impressive ruins, like the ancient city gate, the Porta Nigra, as well as Roman baths and an amphitheater. You won’t have time to tour them all if you’re planning to see Trier and Cochem in one day, but each of these ancient sites do allow you to enter for a small fee and look around.

The Roman ruins are within walking distance of the train station and the pedestrian shopping area, but there are a few other must-sees along the way. You’ll definitely want to stop into the Trierer Dom, a large cathedral and the oldest church in Germany (according to their web site). In the chapel behind the altar you will find the most precious relic in the church: the Holy Robe, a tunic said to have been worn by Jesus Christ, either just before or during his crucifixion. The history of the tunic is only reliable in written records since the 12th century, but the legend is that it was brought to Trier by Saint Helena, empress and mother of Constantine the Great. (The cathedral was built on the site of her palace.) The tunic is kept flat in a wooden box, which is encased in an air-conditioned glass shrine that is visible from the entrance to the chapel. Every so many years, thousands of pilgrims travel to the Dom to visit the robe; on pilgrimage years, the chapel is opened and pilgrims can get closer to the robe. The last pilgrimage was in 1996 and the next one will be April 13 – May 13, 2012. Click here for a web site with details (in German). 

Kurfürstliches Palais, with the brick
Konstantinbasilika in the background.
While in Trier, especially in the spring and summertime, be sure to walk by the Kurfürstliches Palais (Prince-Electors’ Palace). It’s a lovely pink rococo palace that served as home to the Electors (archbishops) of Trier from 1700-1794, and it faces an even lovelier garden full of flowers, statues and a long mirror pond. You’ll take some terrific photos here. Stroll through the garden and follow the path along the stone wall and you’ll find yourself staring head-on at the large remains of old Roman baths. Once you’ve had your fill of the baths, follow signs to the Roman amphitheater by using the underground walkway to cross the busy street above. It’s about a 10-15 minute walk from here to the amphitheater.

Once you’ve reached the amphitheater, I highly recommend making the trek up to the top of the Petrisberg, the vine-covered hill that sits above. You’ll not only get a great (free) peek inside the amphitheater ruins from above, but if you make it all the way to the top you’ll be rewarded with an incredible view of Trier and a large map that points out all of the most important historic buildings in the city. Halfway up the hill you’ll see the entrance to the Weinkulturpfad; don’t be fooled like I was the first time I stumbled upon this…it’s not a path where you’ll find places to taste wine (unfortunately) but you can take a very nice stroll on this path through the vineyards and drink in the sunshine and the views of Trier and the countryside below. There are picnic benches dotting this path, so it’s also a nice idea to buy a few picnic items and a cold bottle of local wine in town and treat your group to lunch with a view. It’ll be a well-deserved reward for hiking up that hill!

Also worth stopping by on your way back to the train station is the Konstantinbasilika, constructed in 310 as Constantine’s throne hall. It’s a large, airy place with great old photos that adorn the far wall, with accompanying descriptive text in English. The basilica is located right next to the Kurfürstliches Palais.

If you’re hungry, you might want to check out Zum Domstein. It’s on the Hauptmarkt and a bit touristy, but as good as anything else you’ll find in the pedestrian shopping area. I like it for the wine sampling; you can order local wine by the taste or the glass, or you can try one of the regional wine flights on offer. An interesting bit that I’ve read but not yet tried is that Zum Domstein offers a Roman menu, recreated from a cookbook of old Roman recipes – a fun thing to try while in a town full of so much Roman history, for sure! For lighter fare like salads and baguettes, check out Weinstube Kesselstatt, where you can also select from a large sampling of regional wines by the glass or bottle.

I’ve mapped all of the places above out for you, with descriptions, on the Google Map below.

If you’re heading back to Luxembourg Ville, note that trains depart once an hour at about :50 minutes after the hour. If you’re heading on to Cochem, trains depart at :13 (45 minute ride) and :21 (1:03 ride) after the hour.

Give yourself at least 20 minutes to get back to the station…or if you’re like Kelly and me, stop for a proper German lunch in the sun on the Hauptmarkt. Then, take forever to attract the eye of your busy server to ask for the die rechnung, pay up, and then run like a crazy person to get to the station to catch your train to Cochem.

View Day Trip to Trier, Germany in a larger map

Cochem is one of many adorable wine towns that dot the Mosel River, and the perfect spot to spend the day or a long afternoon. From Luxembourg Ville, it’s an hour and a half train ride each way (23€ round trip). Here, you’ll find a smaller town of about 5,000 people, nestled beneath the kind of charming mid-size castle you want every quaint German town to be nestled beneath. Narrow streets wind through the old town, past scores of timbered buildings, and remnants of the old city wall still stand as stone towers. Last, but certainly not least: because Cochem is in the heart of Mosel wine region, you’ll find lots of good wine to taste and to buy.

From the train station, turn to your right when you exit and walk down Ravenéstraße; it’s about a 10 minute walk into town. You’ll come to a bridge that crosses the Mosel (a great photo spot for shots of the Reichsburg castle illuminated at night), and this is where the fun begins. From here, you can take your time wandering through the old town, popping into shops to taste liquors, mustard (there’s an old mustard mill on the other side of the bridge), or other treats. When you’re done wandering, walk up Schlossstraße all the way to the top to tour the Reichsburg castle...or take the longer, harder route that starts from the street running along the Mosel River and winds up a long set of stone stairs behind the castle.

Cochem's Reichsburg castle.
The foundation of Reichsburg castle dates back to 1100, but the castle that sits atop the hill these days is much newer. The original castle was set on fire and blown up in 1689 by troops of the French King Louis XIV. It sat in ruins until 1868 when a businessman from Berlin purchased the grounds and began to reconstruct a castle in the neo-Gothic style that was popular in Germany in the 19th century. It was also popular at the time for nobility or for the wealthy to purchase and refurbish castles to use as family summer residences. Despite its newness, the tour is inexpensive and worth taking if you have the time. The view of the valley from the castle is expansive, and though the tour will be given in German, you’ll still learn enough about what you’re seeing in each room from the English language handout you’ll be given at the start of the tour. Those with children might also be interested to know that costumed dinners are offerered at the castle on Friday and Saturday nights (think giant turkey legs), more info is here.

View of Cochem from the top of the chairlift.
For a different view of the Reichsburg castle, take a ride on the Cochemer Sesselbahn. A round trip ticket on this chairlift is just under 6€ and definitely worth it. You’ll scale a hill that faces the castle and from the top you’ll see incredible views of Cochem and the entire valley, as well as the castle itself. While you’re up there, treat yourself to a glass of wine or to one of the many delicious ice cream concoctions on offer at the hilltop café.

And finally, if you’re after a little bit of weinproben, there are at least three places that offer free wine tastings in town that I’ve found so far. Descriptions follow, and I’ve also marked them on the Google Map below, along with the rest of the Cochem sites in this post.

When you’re wine tasting in Germany, there are a few helpful wine words to know that will help you describe the kind of wine that you like: trocken is dry, halbtrocken and feinherb are off-dry or semi-dry, and süß (pron: “suu-ss”) is sweet. Wine places that offer tastings will usually have a sign on their door that says “proben”. Tastings are free and while I don’t think there is an expectation about purchasing, my personal feelings on the matter are that these people make a living by selling wine, so, if I taste more than one or two samples, I usually make it a practice to buy at least one bottle. (And in Cochem, you’ll find that the wines are very reasonably priced – they’re a bargain, actually.)

Moselweingut Ring (Pater Martin Str. 10): This is the first wine tasting spot you’ll see when you walk into town from the train station. Situated along the Mosel just a minute from the bridge, Moselweingut Ring is located on the ground floor of the weinstube Zum Kapuziner. The place is very tourist friendly and will let you sample wine as a walk-in, but if you’re in a group of 8 or more you can schedule a tasting session by following the directions at this link. Upstairs, either inside or on the terrace, you can order cheese plates and try their wine, by the glass or in a wine flight.

Walter J. Oster, Felsenkeller zu Cochem (Schlossstraße 4): This basement cellar was created by hammer and chisel in 1400, as part of the Reichsburg castle cellar. Today the cellar holds crates and crates of wine available for sampling or for purchase, as well as an assortment of homemade liqueurs that you can bottle and take home. The two times I’ve been, it’s been staffed by just one man; he’ll help you when he gets to you, so be polite and don’t expect to taste more than a couple of wines if he’s busy. But do try the 2009 Bremmer Calmont Reisling trocken, which the proprietor steered me to on my last visit, and take home a bottle while you’re at it.

Weingut-Winzerhof Haxel (Enderstraße 26-28): Weingut Haxel is located outside the old town area, near the Cochem chairlift. I’ve been twice and both times have had to search for someone in order to order a glass or to sample wine. But when I’ve found help, the service is very patient and friendly. So, don’t be afraid to go looking if you arrive and don’t see anyone milling around. (The person you’ll probably find is a young man whom I believe is the owner’s son, and he speaks English very well.)

Heading Back to Lux Ville
When you’re ready to head back to Luxembourg, keep in mind that trains leave Cochem hourly at about :58 after the hour. If you’re traveling on a one-day ticket, you have until midnight to get back to Luxembourg; the very latest train you can take to get home leaves at 21:59, arriving in Luxembourg at 23:41.

If you’re like Kelly and me, you can wrap up dinner with plenty of time to spare, then head to the train station by way of the Weinstube-Restaurant Beim Weinbauer to pick up a bottle of cold Reisling to sip on ride home…because you can. And because you are on vacation. (Or in my case, because your very good friend is on vacation and you certainly wouldn’t want to be a bad hostess!)

Then, if you’re like me, you’ll completely forget that you’re actually on a schedule and, when stopped by American tourists enjoying wine outside the weinstube, you’ll pause for a quick chat. And the minute you learn that these American tourists are stopping in Luxembourg Ville the next day, you’ll put on your Friendly American Helper hat and will enthusiastically walk them through all of the incredible sights Luxembourg Ville has to offer. And then your friend will remind you that you have a train to catch…just in the nick of time because at this point, you’re going to be late if you don’t run. Which we did. But, we made it to the station to catch the last train home in plenty of time (two whole minutes to spare!) and enjoyed our last sample of cold Mosel Reisling in paper cups on the way. An excellent cap to an excellent – and busy! – day!

View Day Trip to Cochem, Germany in a larger map

Link Roundup
Trier Links:
Cochem Links:


  1. I'm so glad you're finding all these hidden gems! Even though I've been to both cities I missed out on a few things...I need the real house frau of Luxembourg to be my guide! (Even though you were in Trier, we'll blame the boy on not getting to see everything!)

  2. If we have to pick BETWEEN Cochem OR Trier (traveling with 10, 12 & 14 year old kids), which is better choice?

  3. Oh man...that's like asking me to choose between chocolate or cheese! I love them both... But if I had kids and had to choose, I would probably say Trier. Cochem is really nice, but more in the scenic vineyard, charming castle, quaint German wine town kind of way. In Trier, you get history, vineyards, there's a boat ride that's really nice and a bustling pedestrian area - probably more activities there that will keep everyone entertained. Have a great trip!

  4. Spending a few days in Luxembourg later this month and wanting to day trip to at least Trier and came across this blog entry. Exactly what I was looking for! Thanks for the suggestions and organized summary. I just wish the Luxembourg train website had English translation--don't have to think so hard!

  5. Im in Lux this weekend and just might take the trip as well :)

  6. I really enjoyed reading this and am finding it very helpful. Thank You. I am glad you had a good time with your friend.
    An American tourist (to be)

  7. Jessica, this blog is fantastic! I did the Trier+Cochem double earlier this month and used your guide to complete a long but rewarding day out.

  8. I will go to Trier for 3 days. I plan to visit Lux. Is it possible to visit Cochen also? It the time enought? How long i will travel from Trier to Cochen?

  9. Yes, you should have time! Cochem is not far from Trier at all, you could visit easily and enjoy a half day there if you wanted. Have a wonderful time!

  10. The blog is very well written. You have actually been 'in silico' guide. Do you have any such suggestions for trip to cologne and upper middle rhine valley. It will help

  11. I visited Trier and Cochem last week as per the suggestions given by you. The instructions are just superb. I actually ran to the train station the way you described to catch the train and remembered your blog all the time. Thanks a lot

  12. Good post, I like the way you start and then conclude your thoughts. Hotel Frankfurt-Oder