Beilstein is admittedly quaint as all hell, and the huge, romantic castle overlooking it pretty much clinches the deal: if you're going to visit a Mosel village, it might as well be Beilstein, I suppose, especially if you dig half-timbered houses and bus/boatloads of slow-moving elderly folks shopping for chintz and whatnot. Me, well, the effect is largely lost on me; if I'm going to wander around a town, I'd prefer it be hipster/alternative/decaying/modern/something else, and if I'm shopping, it's going to be for monofloral honey, random food, hipster bullshit, orthopedic shoes... not Christmas tree ornaments or a "weather station" that's a pebble suspended from twine. But that's mean of me to say so, and I'll stop.
Of all of the Moselsteig stages I've seen so far, this one turned out to be more or less nonstop money shots. You start in Beilstein, so you've got twee Mosel village, hulking romantic castle, a beautiful view of the river, dramatic cliffs, and of course grape vines all over the place. Cute! And from there the trail just heads up and out of town. Unlike a lot of the other trails, this one is decidedly a footpath, complete with warning signs about appropriate footwear and freedom from vertigo. In just a few minutes, after a relatively easy bit through vineyards, it's all very, very steep stairs that look like they were hewn centuries ago, complete with cables bolted to the rocks to help you drag yourself upwards. You pass through a gate designed to keep wild pigs out of the vineyards, and then you're in a truly special place: an ancient, centuries-old vineyard that had been carefully built right up the side of the cliffs on old Mosel slate terraces - and it's so tiny and narrow that you get to walk through the middle of the vines. It's technically challenging, the views down to the river are magnificent, and it's hella cool to be walking through a vineyard just like a 16th century winemaker would have done (and which 21st century winemakers still do).
Now, it being Thursday and wonderfully sunny, the trail was pretty dang packed. One of the advantages of hiking in moderately bad weather was that bad weather keeps daytrippers off the trails, so it's quieter, faster, and generally more fun (unless you enjoy chatting with strangers). I'll just stop for a minute to point out that folks trying to hike this segment - remember: dangerous to a point, slippery loose gravel/slate, steep, all that fun stuff - were not at all equipped for it, from general overall health to appropriate clothing. If you can't walk up the single flight of stairs to your office because you only ever take the elevator, do not walk up a ladder bolted to a cliff face. If you think espadrilles, no socks, are OK for walking on anything other that bitumen, don't. And if you're that guy with the multiple watches, the Alpine trekking pants, and the tchotchke-laden backpack, do not walk up that trail so slowly that you have to stop at the end of every switchback to catch your breath. Most of all, do not let me pass you while making sure your hiking poles are reducing the available foot space on the tiny, narrow trail to tiny squares more suitable to practicing my part in The Hard Nut for next Christmas. You, sir, are an ass. Please hie thee to a useless middle management conference on agile synergy and get your sorry, Jack Wolfskin-clad butt off of the Moselsteig. Thank you.
Still, the sun! The ancient vineyards! The cliff faces! And after passing wheezy smokers in Reeboks and ladies in pink yoga pants carrying teacup Schnauzers or whatever, we were free of obstacles and happily working our way up and down the rocky vineyards. It was awesome. Exiting through another anti-swine gate, things chilled out considerably and the trail reverted to farm roads, paved roads, easygoing type stuff, but hey, sunshine! Dang, that felt good after all of those rainy days. We kept going downriver, past more locks, and slowly headed down towards another town on the river. This, unfortunately, was also the site of perhaps the silliest trail routing on the entire Moselsteig. Completist that I am, I went along with it, but COME ON. There's a point where the trail reaches a somewhat busy road that has drainage ditches on either side of it, not especially deep - you could easily work your way up and down them if you had to. However, to get around them, the trail then heads left ALL THE WAY DOWN TO THE VILLAGE, crosses the road at a roundabout (no ditches!), and then heads ALL THE WAY BACK UP TO THE TRAIL, winding up about fifteen meters away from the trail on the other side of the road. Fun! Why not throw in half a kilometer downhill and back up? Sigh. But whatever: SUNSHINE! Yay.
Meandering around back up in the hills for a bit, then trail then decided to come back down to the same town, northern part of town division. Amusingly, there is a massive viaduct there, part of a train line that was never completely built, so they just went ahead and planted more grapevines on the top of the thing. Might as well, right? The town didn't look half bad, but as ever, most of the businesses appeared to be long gone, with only a few holiday flats and such remaining. Up next, however, was the Big Ascent of the day: 1,200m up a very steep canyon of sorts (not dramatic enough to be a canyon, but definitely more than a gully), complete with a warning sign about the bad trail. I have to say that I enjoyed the climb; although I'm generally not a fan of uphill bits, it was awesome walking a more technical trail that is often the case on the Moselsteig. Plus, the stream flowing the canyon sounded great, and the green lushness of it all was enthralling. Finally, at the very top, I took the detour to the Eisener Mast, which turned out to be a electrical transmission tower with a phenomenal view back down to the Mosel below. And what better spot than that to enjoy one of those luxury benches, take off my boots, and let my socks dry out a bit before continuing on? We drank some water, had a snack, almost fell asleep in the sunlight, and then suited up and carried on.
Here at the top of the ridge line, it was easy walking for a while, crossing meadows and farms and forests, occasionally seeing other couples stopping for a rest here and there, and finally closing in on a small hilltop village that was again either closed for the day or permanently out of business. A crew were busy renovating a small house with an amazing view through the dining room and down to the river; a friendly local raking leaves said hello; and some others locals out for their keep-healthy walks stopped at every overlook to enjoy what must be surely the near-last of the summer sun and watch the forests on the other side of the river slowly change into their fall colors. I felt incredibly privileged to be there amidst such calm.
Now, it had been a long day so far, what with starting only a third into the previous stage, but I wasn't feeling particularly tired. When the hiking is good and you're feeling great, you could probably just keep walking for hours, right? As views of a massive abbey appeared on the left, the trail then announced that it was time for another challenging section, again with orange signs demanding correct footwear. Sure enough, the trail narrowed, and dropped down through another set of pig-gates and into another wild up and down racecourse through ancient graveyards. These were still being farmed by a winery on the other side of the river, and they had rigged up some tasteful marketing, which seemed like a great idea to me: want to taste wines made from these grapes? Well, we're open and within walking distance from Cochem, so come check them out... or join our winemaker Saturday for a walk through these vineyards and let him explain it all to you. Cool! Here, the nature of the walkers had changed as well, with more families out on day trips from Cochem, and more retirees out to enjoy the sun and get in one more good day's walking before the autumn chill arrived. People were smiling, crickets were chirping, grapes were ripening. Yeah, it sounds dopey, I know, but what a day that was.
Finally, through the last swinestiles and nearly down to the river, and then wham, sorry, no, no easy walk into town for you: one last long, moderate uphill along a farm road and then a harsh left turn to a narrow, steep, rocky, slippery downtrough to a bus stop next to AfD posters in the somewhat unsightly part of Cochem across the river from the touristy part. Talk about a rude reentry into reality! But at least it meant we were closer to the hotel and a nice hot shower, so I was secretly very cool with it.
We crossed the river on a bridge clogged with ice cream eating tourists, and then I headed over to the tourist information office to get my passbook stamped. I'm pretty sure I offended some old dude with my smell - hiking twenty miles isn't pretty, kids - but whatever, his pipe stench was equally vile. A friendly young man stamped my pass and gave us directions to the hotel, and then we were off for the final stretch.
I'd received an email from the hotel the day before with a code to punch into an automated key dispenser, so we let ourselves in, got the key, and then walked up four flights of stairs to our quiet, comfy, just big enough room at the Hotel am Markt, which was exactly what I expected it would be for the price. The location was perfect, especially with an ATM in front of the hotel door; after cleaning up and resting some, I hit the ATM and we went out to find food. I had had vague plans to eat at San Christobal (sic), a Mexican restaurant, but didn't feel like it any more; still, Dan kinda insisted we go check it out, which we did, and yeah. Nope, not gonna happen. Bunch of steaks, nothing obviously Mexican, kinda gross looking. I toyed with the idea of a fancy wine restaurant, but then decided we should just jam econo and eat at Asia Wok, because honestly, screw it, I didn't want to spend the time and the money tonight. Dinner was fried check (go figure) doused in what tasted like Belgian pindasaus, the peanut sauce they put on French fries there. Throw in some cheap rice and a few token shreds of some unidentifiable vegetable, and boom, there's your six euros of "Vietnam style" food. Gross? Yeah, maybe a little. Did I eat it all? You bet.
Afterwards, I decided that maybe we should walk around town just a little bit to check it out, so we did. I saw a natural perfumery and sprayed some of their Mosel perfume on one hand. Verdict: very cinnamon, kind of like you'd jerked off a churro with no sugar on it. Not good. The other shops in town all seemed to be entirely tourist oriented, selling souvenir wine glasses and all kinds of tat. A number of bars looked like they'd gone out of business; what was left seemed ordinary and unexciting. I found a wine shop with a bottle of wine I thought might be fun (a decade old Riesling spaetlese from across the river), but they didn't have any chilled other than the tasting bottle, and they wouldn't sell a glass of that, so fine, no problem, back to the hotel. They had $9 bottles of Riesling at reception, so I grabbed one, drank a single glass, decided it wasn't worth going beyond that point, set the bottle and glasses on the room's table, kissed Dan goodnight, and fell asleep.