Known as the largest wine growing district in Germany, the city of Mainz was founded in 13 B.C.E. as a Roman outpost. It was ruled by the archbishops throughout the Middle Ages up until the French Revolution. Today, its location in the center of the richly fertile area known as the Rheinhessen makes it one of the best places to visit for the quality wines and regional cuisine. But there’s more to this medieval town than just food and drink, including important historical landmarks, beautiful half-timbered houses, and its own unique brand of charm.
Mainz is the capital of Rhineland-Palatinate, one of 16 states in the Federal Republic of Germany. Its unique location in Rheinhessen, also known as “The Land of the Thousand Hills,” makes it ideally suited for growing wines. There are, in fact, about 3,500 wine growers in this region producing some of Germany’s best white varieties such as Dornfelder, Riesling, and Silvaner, as well as Pinot Blanc and Pinot Grigio.
Mainz residents take their wines seriously and make it easy to sample them at the various restaurants, wine bars, taverns, and vintners. If you are not that familiar with German wines, you can learn all about them on a helpful website developed by the German Wine Institute. Here, you can peruse each “bottle’s vintage, grape variety, origin, quality category, type, and style of wine as well as its alcohol content, name of the producer, and the quality control test number.”
The Rhine River has always played a major role in this part of the country, and you will find pedestrians, kayakers, and cyclists all enjoying the paved path bordering the river. It is also here that you will find Bootshaus, a wine-inspired restaurant developed by one of Germany’s top chefs, Frank Buchholz.
The location Buchholz chose was the clubhouse of an old, local rowing club. The sheds out back still house the boats used by rowers right out front on the Rhine. The building was renovated with large, open, floor-to-ceiling views of the waterway and offers a clean, modern ambiance. The light wood flooring complements the other furnishings chosen by Buchholz, including Finnish lamps, Italian chairs, and German oak tabletops.
There are daily specials and an à la carte menu, but why hurry? Enjoy the impressive views with a locally produced Riesling or Kirner Weizen (a Hefeweizen or “wheat beer.”) Recently, one of the restaurant’s late summer offerings included three courses featuring cream of carrot soup with chili and tomatoes, stroganoff with potatoes, and Bavarian cream with grapes for dessert. Incredibly, you can feast on all this (except for the beer or wine) for just 15€ (about $17).
Weinhaus Wilhelmi is a small family-run restaurant, more than 120 years old, in the heart of Mainz. The small building only accommodates about 35 diners (upstairs and down) but the ambiance is pure, Old World, cozy charm. They serve simple, regional dishes such as schnitzel, but do try one of their specialties: Spundekäs, a homemade cream cheese with onions best eaten spread on dark German bread or pretzels (6.90€).
Other local foods can be found in the shadow of the 1,000 year old St. Martin’s Cathedral at Market Square. Farmers and vendors offer everything from home-produced breads, cheeses, jams, vegetables, and a variety of other tasty foods. Unlike bratwurst, which is popular in other parts of Germany, in Mainz they prefer fleischwurst, or “meat sausage.” These come in large, semi-rounded shapes and might remind Americans of bologna with a mix of garlic. This sausage is served with bread and any number of condiments on the side.
Of course, like other historic small towns in the country, cake and coffee are popular for an afternoon respite. At the Dom Café overlooking Market Square, you can enjoy some of the finest pastries in Mainz, including their daily specials like the light chocolate cake filled with pistachio cream — simply delicious!
While eating and drinking can certainly occupy your time here, you will want to explore the city’s other treasures. This includes restored half-timbered houses in Kirschgarten Square, shopping in the many boutiques and small shops along the various streets, and visiting the area’s many cultural attractions. One of the most popular is the Church of St. Stephan’s. Set on a hill overlooking Mainz, this Gothic-style church was built in 997 C.E. and remodeled in 1970.
St. Stephan’s attracts more than 200,000 visitors per year who come to see the magnificent windows constructed by Marc Chagall. A symbol of peace and reconciliation between Germany and its former enemies, the windows depict Old Testament themes and bathe the interior in a vibrant and iridescent blue light.
Another important not-to-be-missed landmark is located just across from the cathedral — the Gutenberg Museum. Johannes Gutenberg was born in Mainz around 1400 and is its most famous son. He introduced the printing press with moveable type in Europe, and his influence was nothing short of profound. The 180 Gutenberg Bibles printed on his presses helped to spread Christianity throughout the world, including during the Reformation.
Today, the museum houses two of the 49 known surviving copies of Gutenberg’s Bibles. You can view these incredible copies and their ornate illustrations along with many early printing presses and demonstrations of how a reproduction of his press actually used moveable type to create pages from the Bible. Tours are held daily.
Mainz is only a 30-minute train ride from Frankfurt and well worth the time on any visit to Germany. With top quality culinary offerings and rich historical gems that rival any city in Europe, it is one that, like a fine wine, needs time to be fully appreciated.
Historic Highlights of Germany
Where to Stay:
Located on a hill overlooking the Rhine, the property is a short distance by foot, bike, or taxi to the city center. The rooms are clean and modern with all the amenities most people need. The on-site restaurant of the same name (Favorite Restaurant) is helmed by Germany’s youngest chef to work at a one-Michelin-star restaurant, Philipp Stein. He creates simple, classical dishes in a pleasant ambiance overlooking the river.
This was a sponsored visit, however, all opinions herein are the authors.