Catherine and the red grapes

Surrounded by vineyards, the ruins of Saffenburg Castle, which is the largest mountain castle in the Ahr valley, tower high above the wine-making village of Mayschoss. Further below in the village’s parish church is a sarcophagus made from black marble. On its lid is a life-size figure of a young woman. This is the tombstone of Countess Catherine of La Marck from the 17th century.  Her grave is the only one of the noble house of Saffenburg still preserved today, which is just as remarkable as her actual time as a countess.

Catherine was the illegitimate daughter of a maid and grew up as one of the servants at Schleiden Castle in the Eifel. She had a poor childhood with a future as a maid and servant ahead of her. But when she was 19 years old, she visited 51 year-old Count Earnest of La Marck, owner of Saffenburg Castle in the Ahr valley in the Eifel, who fell in love with the young lady. This in itself is not unusual, but because of their different statuses, it was impossible for the two to marry.

But the Count of La Marck was not prepared to give up on his young lover, and married her despite all the resistance. What a scandal! As the Countess of La Marck, she took her place next to him at the Saffenburg amid very steep vineyards and tree-covered hills. But their happiness did not last, and Catherine died just four years after they were married. The count and their children were inconsolable at the loss of his ‘beloved, true companion’, as it says on her gravestone. It is an unusual love story that fits in with this unusual region and landscape.

Saffenburg near Mayschoss, Ahr valley

Saffenburg near Mayschoss, Ahr valley

The massive Saffenburg castle was destroyed less than 50 years later, when it was not only taken by the French, but also razed to the ground, leaving nothing but the foundation walls.  What is left is an impression of how powerful this castle must once have been and the idyllic views from the castle down across the vineyards, the forest and the valley. And, of course, the excellent wines that still shape life in the Ahr valley and Mayschoss today. The first and oldest wine-making cooperative in Germany was founded in Mayschoss back in the 19th century. It now has 444 members in Mayschoss, Altenahr and Walporzheim, cultivating a total of around 330 acres of vineyards.

Wine cellar of the wine-making cooperative Mayschoß, Ahr valley

Wine cellar of the wine-making cooperative Mayschoß, Ahr valley

Enjoying wine and local food in the Marienthal Abbey in Dernau, Ahr valley

Enjoying wine and local food in the Marienthal Abbey in Dernau, Ahr valley

It is red grape varieties that are mostly grown in the Ahr valley. This is unusual in geological terms, as the Ahr valley is essentially too far north to make wine at all. But because of the steep slopes, the position on the southern edge of the Cologne Lowland where the Gulf Stream makes the climate milder and the location in the rain shadow of the Eifel and the High Fens, wonderful red grapes can grow here and be transformed into excellent red wines by the vintners. The Ahr valley is proud of its nickname of ‘Red Wine Paradise’, and rightly so. There are many opportunities to taste these magnificent wines, for example, at the wine bar run by the Mayschoss wine cooperative itself, at any one of the many excellent wine-makers in the Ahr valley or at Marienthal Abbey around 5 km from Mayschoss.

Based on their origins, neither Catherine of La Marck nor the red grapes seems to belong in the northern Ahr valley, but they have made it their home and still captivate the region today with their special charm, beauty and sweetness.

More leisure tips for culture lovers in the Ahr valley:

More information about holidays in the Ahr valley

Find out everything you need to know about events, attractions and other destinations in the Ahr valley at Ahrtal-Tourismus Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler e.V.

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