Zell Germany is a small village on the border of the French wine county, built on the green hillsides along the winding Mosel River. Wine is never as delicious as when you drink it at an outdoor café in a village that sits in the shadows of the winery that gave it life. When traveling in Germany, Joe and I had a particularly strong interest in the Mosel river valley. Some of my relatives were from the Mosel River valley area of Germany and I have been told that many people in the town of Pierz, Minnesota, where I grew up, had relatives from that particular region. I am not surprised by this because as I understand it, many people when immigrating to the USA would settle in areas where they had relatives and people that they knew, or sometimes they came over together in groups.
The Mosel River valley was very beautiful with rolling hills surrounding the slow moving river that was lined on the hillsides with fields of grapes. We had decided to stay in the village of Zell overnight, because it was the home of the Selbach Zeller Schwarze Katz winery. We had always liked their wines.
We only knew a little about wines, so I have to admit we liked the name more than anything. Schwarze Katz means black cat in German and the legend is that the winery had a cask of Zeller wine that was cellared alongside many other barrels of wine, but this particular cask was being fiercely protected by a black cat. The locals and the winery presumed the wine was special and the name and the legend stuck. The black cat was made and has remained a part of their logo, legends, and history.
We drove into the town along the winding river road. The river was lined with a few of the river cruise boats that have become such a popular way to see the countryside; it is a vacation I would like to try sometime. The travelers book a river cruise that slowly makes its way along the river valley, stopping in each little village. They have sleeping accommodations on the boats and a fine restaurant. The boats are not large and have room for a modest amount of travelers, and we saw that the front decks of the boat were lined with bikes for the cruisers to get off in each small town and move around the town on bikes. The bikes had baskets and the thought of exploring the villages on bikes and stopping for wine and food tasting in each region, appeared very romantic. We will have to try that sometime. As I say, I will add it to my list.
We were there in early fall and the weather was perfect. We had made reservations ahead of time in a historic castle in Zell that had been transformed into a lovely hotel. The castle was called the Hotel Schloss Zell. The castle dated back to the 16th century and they had a restaurant in the cellar and an outdoor restaurant that specialized in romantic dinners for two, made with locally grown vegetables and meats from the hillside farms. We parked our car in the hotel courtyard surrounded by grape arbors and tables for the outdoor dining and relaxing. We went through the big double doors of the castle to check in and the lobby was filled with historic portraits from past royalty who had lived there, setting the mood nicely for the castle experience.
There were no elevators so we carried our suitcase up a winding staircase to the third floor room towards the top of the castle. The rooms were very large and the walls were made of stone. There were little alcoves and a large fluffy king size bed with European bedding set down low to the floor. Our room had a view out of the castle tower which added to the intrigue.
The hotel staff were friendly, fun and were more than willing to talk about the castle history and even share stories of how some believed it was haunted. The building itself had an air of having seen many years, and many people come through its large double doors. If only walls could talk. There were all kinds of winding stairs to nowhere and one in particular that descended into a cellar below the kitchen. It may have been our imagination, but there seemed to be mist or vapor in some of the small alcoves. Almost like smoke, but no one was smoking. The misty air helped one imagine the spirits that still lingered in the castle walls. It felt like a movie set, except it was real. There were tapestries that looked ancient and old pewter pitchers and swords and armor that looked like it was from the Knights of the Round Table. We explored every area that we were allowed into and some that we were probably not supposed to be in. When we saw everything inside, we went exploring in the village.
We walked along the river and hiked up into the hillside covered in rows of grapes. There were small shops and restaurants and the village was so small that we made it up and down every street. I looked everywhere for that black cat who helped name and bring the Schwarze Katz winery its fame. Despite seeing many cats just sitting round the old stone buildings, not one of them was black. You would think they would make sure the town only had black cats or maybe that is the point. There was only one special Schwarze Katz and that is the one the legend is made after, or maybe it lends an air to the visitors looking intently for the black cat. Maybe the black cat was there, but illusive. As evening fell, we meandered back to the castle and we ate at the castle’s outdoor restaurant. The weather was so lovely, we watched the sunset while having dessert and sipping wine. The food was excellent.
It was well after dark before we headed to our castle room. We could see few lights out of the castle windows, as the village is so small and the locals have worked hard to preserve the small country village charm by limiting street lights. As I fell asleep, I was hoping to have a ghost experience and yet hoping I would not. Luckily I guess for me, I fell into a deep sleep aided by a tummy full of good food and wine, after a busy day of travel and hiking. Well planned travel is worth every dime of your money and the best way to enjoy your precious short time on this earth. Don’t be afraid to sleep in history and enjoy the search for local legends.