We’re both looking at each other thinking the same thing, then Jess says it: ‘This place doesn’t look real’. She’s right. The chocolate box buildings and weaving cobbled streets look like something out of a fairy-tail. The effect is finished off perfectly by the castle dominating the skyline. We are in Braubach, a small medieval town on the River Rhine in Germany. It’s deadly still and quiet, the town certainly has a sleepy quality to it.
Suddenly the silence is broken as the noise of 30+ carriages of freight being pulled by diesel train fills the air. The sounds is certainly loud but also out of place. I look through the window of one of the beautiful houses to see the silhouette of the freight train passing by. It seems the castle isn’t the only thing that dominates Braubach. We return to our campervan, our home for the next few months and watch the barges go up and down the Rhine; what a relaxing end to the day.
Four days ago we left the UK with nothing more than a vague route and our campervan. From here we made the small drive to Gravelines, a favourite overnight aire haunt of ours that overlooks the estuary. A late crossing and the hour time difference means nothing is open but we take the chance to wonder the intricate town walls and deserted town streets. It all feels so different, so French, despite being probably less than 30 miles from the British Isles.
The next morning we get our obligatory fresh baguette and make our way across the border to Belgium and onto the small town of Grimbergen. On first appearance Grimbergen feels like a drive through town. The houses look very modern, albeit well kept and the roads are wide and interest free. We only really came to Grimbergen to visit the neighbouring city of Mechelen (as its the nearest campsite) but a mechanical problem with the bike forced us to spend an additional day here.
A day in Grimbergen is no bad thing. Take a turn off the main road towards the centre and you are awarded with cobbled streets and a huge abbey; where they used to brew the beer Grimbergen. Grimbergen has since been bought by Heineken but there is still a museum and more importantly a cafe bar where you can buy the beers on draft. There are other interests hidden around town including: a castle nestled in a unassuming treelined park and various museums.
The city of Mechelen is only 8 miles from Grimbergen and is one of our favourites. It feels a lot less touristy than Bruges but is just as interesting. The old part of town centres around it’s Cathedral. From here tiny streets meander off, each one holding potential gems of restaurants, bars and culture. We could write an entire blog post about Mechelen, but it’s probably best to get yourself a use-it map of the town. These maps are free, non-commercial and a little bit alternative which is what we like.
The drive to Braubach from Grimbergen was inspired by a lonely planet book: Europes best road trips. We were determined not to ‘blat through’ Germany this year, as we had more time, so we chose the ‘Romantic Rhine’ route, as it was vaguely in the right direction. We’re already glad we did.
RHINE VALLEY TRIP NOTES
If you are in the Rhine valley then a trip to Braubach is recommended. Van dwellers can either use the campsite or stellplatz (like a french aire) which are both close to town. The nearby town of Boppard (pronounce Bo-part) is a short bike ride away where a hike or chairlift up the grapevine filled hills will reward you with stunning views over the Rhine (and if your lucky some entertainment courtesy of the paraglider’s). No trip to the Rhine would be complete without visiting one of the many wineries of the region. We visited the Didinger winery and spent a very relaxing few hours tasting the sweet Reisling wines while looking over the Rhine.