A Traveler’s Guide for Bacharach, Germany
—Amy M. Gardner
When you think of small towns in Germany, Bacharach is what you’re imagining, even if you don’t know it. The town of less than 2,000 year-round residents includes timber-frame houses surrounded by an old city wall originally constructed in the 1300 and 1400s with vineyards and a castle-turned-hostel peering down from the hills above the town. Bacharach is very walkable, located on the Rhine River and easily accessible by ferry or train, with more schnitzel than you can possibly consume, and it’s just plain adorable. We ended up there more or less out of sheer luck, and it’s a great place to spend a night or two if you’re headed to Germany more generally, or to Koblenz, Frankfurt, or Wetzlar.
When we decided to attend the International Leica Society LHSA meeting in October in Wetzlar, Germany, we were lucky to find a sale on Icelandair that would allow us to have several days in Iceland at the end of our trip (more on that later), but we would arrive in Frankfurt a day before we needed to arrive for the meeting. Rather than going to Wetzlar early when we were already going to be there for nearly a week, or spending a night in Frankfurt, a city we’d been in as recently as August, we decided to stay in a small town that would allow us to see a place we hadn’t visited, and to start getting over the jetlag. I belong to a travel Facebook group that has a discussion every Wednesday about where to go. One Wednesday I asked for suggestions of small towns within two hours of Wetzlar and Bacharach was one of the suggestions. A quick Google search indicated it didn’t have so much to do that we would feel shorted, but enough charm to let us know we were in Germany. After that less-than-complete research, we booked ourselves at a small bed and breakfast and proceeded to do no other preparation until we were on the plane and read the Rick Steves Germany chapter on Bacharach.
After arriving in the Frankfurt airport and waiting a very long time to get a car (evidently our pre-paid reservation had defaulted to 10 am, and our flight arrived in the afternoon, so the company initially insisted they no longer had a car for us), we finally got a . . . vehicle . . . (think spaceship + Oscar Mayer Weinermobile) and headed for Bacharach. After a stop at an Aldi to stock up on beverages and snacks, we arrived in Bacharach, checked into our basic but comfortable bed and breakfast (with free parking), and headed out for dinner (see “Meals” below for more on that).
The next morning we had an included, huge breakfast at Hotel Burg Stahleck down the street, which is apparently run by the owner of our bed and breakfast, and headed out to explore the small town following some version of the guided walk in the Rick Steves book. While most of the town’s businesses and restaurants were closed due to the Reunification Day holiday, the church, tower, and other highlights were all open, and we enjoyed the peaceful day exploring this tiny town.
After a wonderful lunch surrounded by locals exchanging gossip over beers (it was a holiday, after all), we left Bacharach to stop in some of the other small towns between Bacharach and Wetzlar. While others were also charming, none could compare to Bacharach. If you find yourself headed to Germany, we highly recommend it. Below are the details to make your visit as relaxing and enjoyable as ours was.
Getting around: You’ll get around Bacharach on foot, mostly walking on cobblestones, so pack comfortable shoes, and plan on reaching Bacharach by ferry, train, or car. (Be sure your lodging has easy parking.)
Favorite experiences in Bacharach: Walking the small town is wonderful, especially with the highlights explained by the Rick Steves Bacharach walking tour. People are friendly and welcoming, the views from the Postenturm (post tower) (especially in fall) are beautiful and worth a few minutes’ climb, and the whole town gives off a less hurried and more relaxing vibe than we’ve experienced in some other towns in Germany. As you walk past the ruins of the Wernerkapelle (Gothic chapel), it’s easy to get a sense of the town’s history, though you can also visit Burg Stahleck, the 12th century castle-turned-youth hostel on the other side of the valley from the Postenturm, and/or Burg Stahlberg, ruins of a castle dating from the 1100s.
Later in the week, we took a day-long Rhine River cruise, which was great and another relaxing way to see the Rhine River Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Meals: We only had three meals in Bacharach, but the breakfast included with our bed and breakfast was wonderful, as was our lunch at Jägerstube. Including soup and an entrée, a hearty (non-microwaved) lunch was about 11 Euros per person. Eavesdropping on the local men gather to gossip and drink beer was a free bonus.
One thing to note is that some of the restaurants seemed to keep inconsistent hours, so if you want to eat at a restaurant you come across as you’re exploring the town, be sure to double check the sign to make sure they’ll be open when you plan to visit.
Reality check: Our dinner was at a cozy but impossibly slow restaurant where we heard them microwaving the meals. I once thought there was no such thing as bad spaetzle. Maybe not, but microwaved spaetzle comes close. (Needless to say, while the owners were a delight, the restaurant isn’t the one we recommend above, despite its bizarrely high TripAdvisor rating.)
Lodging: We stayed at Gästehaus Ströter, which is right outside the city wall on the main road leading into town. It was quiet, reasonably priced, and very clean, with good free wifi, free parking, and it’s bookable through booking.com. Breakfast was included at the Hotel Burg Stahleck just a short walk into the town center. It’s not lavish but it was exactly what we were looking for, and host Brigit Ströter could not have been more helpful or accommodating.
Reality check: I was so proud when I used my very rusty high school and college German to check into our room. The next morning I was less proud when I realized Brigit spoke fluent English and was just humoring me. Oh well!
Overall: If you’re looking for nightlife or thrills, Bacharach is not the destination for you. But if you want to experience a quaint (albeit somewhat touristy) small town in a beautiful setting, Bacharach is a great choice for a short visit.