Saturday September 23rd – Day 1, Eurotunnel, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany
And so the long awaited “big” holiday of 2017 rolled around and after much complicated planning we were off to spend two weeks (almost) meandering along the course of the Mosel (or the Moselle as the Brits call it), visiting castles, implausibly pretty little towns, Roman remains and vineyards. An early start on the Eurotunnel saw us arrive in France well ahead of 10am, ready for the drive to Perl-Nennig, a tiny town just over the border from Luxembourg.
The motorways were pretty clear, as is normally the case, and we made very good time , even after a stop for lunch (sushi and sandwiches picked up the day before)/, and in spite of a late-running Eurostar train. We hit our first destination by around 14:00 despite a slight residual fear of Luxembourg which loomed on our route no matter which way we chose to go. This dates from the early 1990s when, en route to Hockenheim for a race meeting, we somehow got sucked into the road system round the tiny country only to be spat back out again about 90 minutes later heading back the way we’d arrived and only got to where we needed to be by completely avoiding the country on the second attempt! No such problems this time, and we navigated our way through easily.
And so we found our way to Nennig. When I’d done the research this came up as being the site of a remarkably complete Roman mosaic floor, which I figured we’d want to see. It was thus also the location of our first hotel of the trip.
We parked up in the village and set off to take a look at the mosaic. This was not quite so easy. Everything pointed to it being open to the public, but we walked up to the building that protects it, tried the door, and found it locked. There’s a nice plaque on the wall though…
We took a look at the exterior from the three obvious sides, and then walked around the grounds where the remains of a variety of columns mark out the walls of the building that the mosaic was in, but of the mosaic itself (or more accurately a way into the building) not a trace, not a sign. German efficiency strikes again (my late lamented Dad was German and probably one of the least organized men on the planet – I know German efficiency to be a myth).
OK, so it was time to switch to plan B. Nearby to Nennig is another set of remains, this time of a substantial Roman villa, at Borg so after a short fight with the new Sat Nav we headed that way instead, only to find the car park full of competitive cyclists, their families, friends, hangers on and various marketing opportunists. We battled our way through the mamils (Middle Aged Men in Lycra), the mawils (Women likewise), and children of all ages, sizes and cycling ability and parked up. It was a hot, sticky afternoon, and we weren’t delighted at not being able to get close to the building. There didn’t seem to be an obvious way in, but a short conversation with a steward established that we could get to the villa, just not by the marked path.
We were told we should cut through the bike paddock and go in that way. We did as instructed, just about avoiding being run down by cyclists, and eventually located the door to the building which wasn’t signed in any obvious way. The interior of the villa is a reconstruction of the way it might have looked back in the day when it was at the centre of a massive agricultural estate.
The complex was discovered over a century ago, and has been very extensively researched in the years since. It’s still being excavated, the Roman gardens have been resurrected to as close a plan as can be managed, and work is being done to recreate the kitchens. There is already a cafe on site where you can try Roman dishes, or just sit and have a cold drink overlooking the gardens.
This would normally be a peaceful experience, but not when the place is full of sportsmen and women, no matter that many of them were amateurs. They had just kicked off what we established was a 6 hour race for teams of 4 or more cyclists, and their supporters were getting very rowdy, as was the commentator. Still, it was pleasant to sit there and drink iced tea, and watch the mayhem unfolding.
The gardens would probably have looked prettier without them but it was something different, so we went with the flow and took in both the historical setting and the modern sport going on around us.
I should also mention that they are very big on experimental archaeology in these parts, including the Glass Furnace Project that’s been going on since at least 2013, and that seems to kick off every Summer and means they have lots of glassware for sale, as well as on display, and, more importantly, they get to examine the technology of another age up close.
The baths section of the villa is rather wonderful too, and you really could imagine it with water in the various pools.
About half way round we noticed a number of mice (not real) tucked away in odd corners, and when we found the children’s area it became apparent that they were there as part of a small scale treasure hunt, the children being challenged to find all of them.
As we battled our way back out, we realised we had bypassed the ticket office altogether so we bought two entry tickets on the grounds that it would help towards further work on the site.
From there it was time to head back to the hotel, which was mere minutes away. Today we would be spending the night at the rather splendid Victor’s Residenz-Hotel Schloss Berg which sits on the edge of the village, right next to a hillside full of vineyards. It looked like the ideal location to us.
We were soon settled in our room, and investigating the balcony, which gave us a view of the fitness area, and also of the surrounding countryside.
It was time to sit in the sun for a while and wait for the hotel to stop feeling badly moored (long drives do that to us). The room was nicely appointed, with free water and wine, and a plate of pretty little maracons, jewel-like in their execution. It boded well for dinner in the adjoining restaurant.
Changed and cleaned up, we wandered to the bar only to find it full of people speaking English loudly. It turned out they were (possibly) yacht designers on a tour to Monte Carlo, all with Porsches to drive. It seemed a bit odd, but they did make the bar lively (and the car park more exotic than normal). I suspect, though I am unable to prove it, that they were on the way to the Monte Carlo Yacht Show, which was scheduled to start three days later. Anyway, we managed to find a table slightly away from the lively party and enjoyed a welcome glass of sekt before we made for the restaurant.
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Incredible that such extensive roman sites can be found this far!
There are so many Roman sites along the valley, and I’ll have more to say about them later. The local tourism board has planned walking, cycling and driving routes for anyone that wants to see as much as possible…
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That’s a great thing. And such a pleasure that you can drive there easily!