Tuesday October 3rd – Day 11, Zell an der Mosel
An early-ish run saw me head down the river towards Rissbach, and its lovely timber-framed houses. There was a detour to avoid a tree marked as having a hornets’ nest in it, and a slight loss of direction at the camp site (I was slightly distracted by the signs for a cafe offering German and Dutch specialities – if you know anything about food in the Netherlands you won’t be surprised to know it had a picture of a slice of cheese and a boiled egg on it though presumably you’d not be allowed to have both at the same time! – that left me slightly mind-boggled at the idea that anyone would want to import Dutch food). I made it all the way to the bridge and decided to head back up the other bank of the river, a very pleasant if longer than planned run.
We had an easy day planned with a river trip to Zell an der Mosel our only plan. After a very satisfying breakfast we got on board and settled in on an almost empty boat for what was apparently the last trip of the season to the famous wine town. It was a public holiday (German Unification Day) so we weren’t sure whether this would mean a lot of places were closed. As it turned out, pretty much everywhere was open with the last of the tourist season still in full swing.
The stretch of river to Zell is picturesque, which is very much the case on most of the river of course, and there were plenty of vineyards either side of the small towns. There was also the lock at Enkirch to be navigated, a process that took quite some time.
Running alongside the river for part of the journey is the railway line which these days terminates in Traben-Trarbach, and which looked as if it might have been worth investigating, if only we’d had time. Rather like the boats to Zell, it seems to run on a fairly limited timetable, with buses mostly substituting for trains for most of the valley. It all looks rather delightful and having looked it up since we got back I suspect that what we could see was the Pünderich Hangviadukt, a viaduct built on the edge of a hill requiring higher supports on one side than the other. The viaduct is 786 metres long, and has 92 spans each with an internal diameter of 7.2 metres. Pünderich also used to provide an access point for passengers at the depot where the line to Traben-Trarbach branches off.
We passed a number of pretty villages before finally fetching up at the landing stage in Zell where we were told when we needed to be back if we didn’t want to miss the only boat of the afternoon.
The town is mid-way between Koblenz and Trier so could claim to be the mid-point of the Mosel. It sits on both sides of the river, and with 331 hectares of vineyards is one of the largest wine-growing communities in Germany. The one vineyard that everyone knows though is the Zeller Schwarze Katz, a similarly hued cat being painted on one of the pillars of the bridge.
Because a series of fires destroyed much of old Zell between 1848 and 1857, it’s not as medieval looking as most Mosel towns, but it does have two towers left from the medieval town fortifications as well as a Gothic building, the house Caspary in Balduinstraße, and the parish church of St. Peter and St. Paul which survived the various conflagrations. The central point of the town is the marketplace with the Zeller Schwarze Katz fountain, a monument to the town’s trademark wine. In addition to the statue, the feline appears all over the town in all sorts of guises.
We had a vague walking plan and thus set off uphill to the Round Tower, which is just by the cemetery, and visible from far and wide. First though we encountered the Quadrangular Tower or Bachturm, all 22 metres and six storeys of it. The unplastered tower with its quarried stone Brook Gate served as a protection against the troops in the brook valley, hence the name. It was also used as a prison until, in the 19th century, two arches were created to make a passage to the cemetery.
The steps leading up are shallow so it was an easy walk to the Round Tower which was once used as a gunpowder tower. Most of the city walls were demolished in 1848 after a major fire but the Round Tower was left intact and was pressed into use as emergency accommodation. Today it serves as an emblem of the town and often appears on wine labels along with the ubiquitous cat.
We considered walking up to the top of the local vineyards, a trip many were taking, but it was a hot day and we didn’t have that much time. Instead we headed back down into the town and made our way to the Parish Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. In 1781, when the former church was declared derelict, the new church was commissioned. Between 1786 and 1793, before the gates of medieval Zell, in the garden of the old kurtrierische Kellnerei (the Electorate of Trier’s wine taxation authority), the Baroque church of St. Peter was erected. It is regarded as one of the finest classical style churches in the Mosel region.
It’s not particularly ornate, but it does have a small reliquary of St. Peter, a foot bone dating back to between 1180 and 1190. The most valuable item of ornamentation is, however, the figure of the Holy Mother from the 15th century, located to the left side of the altar.
Outside is a mosaic showing the history of the town of Zell with its coat of arms, its partner towns and its cultural monuments.
A little further along is the Hotel Schloss Zell, built in the old Zell Castle. We considered going in but we didn’t want lunch as we’d had coffee and cake on the boat, and were looking forwward to a good dinner, so we wandered back to the square in the centre of town. In this market square we found the Zeller Schwarze Katz fountain, with a sculpted cat standing on top of a black basalt fountain, erected in 1936.
The actual significance of the cat is lost in the mists of time, but the story that is told is that in 1863 two wine merchants wanted to buy a cartload of wine. They tried one barrel after another and couldn’t decide which was best. After all that wine tasting they were pretty drunk and were considering putting off their decision when a black cat crept into the cellar, leapt onto one of the barrels and spat at anyone attempting to approach it. It was thus clear to the wine merchants that this was the wine they should buy. The wine was so good that they came back to Zell to buy out the entire stock. In Zell, the name “Zeller Schwarze Katz” was henceforth adopted for the best vineyard.
In the town square, apparently in celebration of the bank holiday, there was a bar offering the local wines in both still and effervescent form. It was still sunny, if rather windy, so we decided to grab a table in the sun, and try a glass of sekt. It was very nice, as was the Mosecco (their name for the prosecco variant sold in these parts – we’d already seen Trosecco in Trier, and just plain Secco along the river). It was sufficiently pleasant that we decided we’d better try a second one! And then we bought a case to take back with us, knowing the landing stage at the other end was just next to the main hotel entrance.
And then it was time to go back. A glass of wine on the boat slipped down a treat, especially as we waited for what seemed like forever to enter the lock at Enkirch, only for a pair of swans to emerge at a stately pace to the general amusement of the passengers on board our boat.
We were soon back in the hotel, changing for a trip to the hotel bar and then dinner in the hotel restaurant, the Belle Epoque. We didn’t want to have to cast around the town that night in case of bank holiday related closures (though we probably would have been fine). However, it was nice not to have to go very far in order to be fed.
We started with a caipirinha made by the lovely Joshua, and a study of the menu. This being Germany, once we were at our table there was bread and butter. Very good bread and butter.
For starters we both chose soup,with a portion of pumpkin soup, with pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil. I think it’s fair to say that it was very much the essence of pumpkin, which shouldn’t surprise any one. It was very good.
The other soup was a more exotic affair, a Thai curry-flavoured crustacean foam with udon noodles and a swirl of coriander creme fraiche. It had some heat but was more spicy than fierce.
For mains we’d been lured to the more exotic end of the meat counter, which again won’t surprise anyone who knows us. We shared two mains. The first – and lighter – one of sweetbreads studded with hazelnuts, with Jerusalem artichokes, glazed salsify and truffle glazed mushrooms. It’s rare that anyone can convince me of the point of Jerusalem artichokes, but this got very close.
The other main was initially brought to the table to show it off. An Anjou pigeon had been cooked whole in a Roemertopf with Autumn vegetables, small and buttery yellow potatoes and truffle jus. The meat was tender and beautiful and I made a valiant effort to finish it all!
After dinner we retreated to our massive room, collapsed on the sofa and watched a comedy about the fall of the Berlin wall, “Bornholmer Straße” – I had to translate as we went along so that Lynne would know what was happening, but it wasn’t too complicated and we both enjoyed it. We would have watched “Goodbye, Lenin” instead, but we’d already seen that a couple of nights before.