Comfort Zons

Elly Tobin recently took a winter trip down memory lane, and found that time had stood still in a medieval German town she last visited as a young teacher, at the start of her career in international education.

Somewhere in time

Some medieval towns look better in the dark and dismal days of winter. That’s how I felt recently on my visit to Zons a small walled village nestling on the banks of the river Rhine not far from Dusseldorf.  I had last wandered around the village 41 years ago when I lived in nearby Hitdorf so it was a trip down memory lane for me.  Nothing had changed except perhaps for the fact that there were a few more places to eat nowadays to accommodate the growing number of tourists.

It was a typical dreary day. The temperature refused to rise above 5 degrees, the grey sky pushing down to keep the mist low over the river and the cold damp air penetrating even the winter jackets we were wearing. Walking all around the outer walls takes only 30 minutes and since there are very few shops in the town there is very little to see inside the walls.  The church has some interesting medieval glass windows and the museum is warm and inviting for those seeking more explanation of the history of the town.

The old pub of 41 years ago where I had enjoyed hot mulled wine was nowhere to be found but the rest of the town was as it had always been.  It is still lived in and it seemed curious to bump into a young mother with her baby and kindergarten child emerging from one of the ancient dwellings. Except for the modern Nike shoes and down jacket that the little girl was wearing it was not difficult to imagine this cheeky little girl, skipping along and sticking out her tongue at us, dressed in sack cloth and clogs.

Local fare

To escape the cold we went into a local eatery.  The fire was warm, the air was perfumed with cinnamon and ginger, drawing us into the idea of Christmas to come.  Old wooden furniture upstairs and downstairs, small private rooms had been carved out of the earth years ago and were now available for private dining.  The River Rhine chugged by just beyond the wall and the terrace, closed in winter, would make a lovely place to enjoy a cold beer in summer.

Curiously French

Inside it was warm and cosy and curiously French, with French songs playing and the young waitress dressed in her French medieval garb.

This small town nestling on the banks of the mighty river Rhine was occupied by the French during the Napoleonic wars and it seemed this small eatery had clung to its French past here in the heart of Rhineland. The dishes on offer were original Zons dishes of that time too, buttermilk soup with bacon, goose and a chocolate bomb of a cake for afters!

As the early nightfall wrapped the town in darkness we sipped our warm wine and watched the local watchman coming in to see that all was well just he might have done hundreds of years ago. With his lantern and his traditional outfit he added an enchanting addition to the already nostalgic feeling of the place.

The doors of the inhabited houses had already been decorated with eye catching and interesting Christmas decorations as in days of old.

I loved the pair of old boots used as a window box and the angel abseiling down the wall from one window to the next.

I particularly liked the post box formed from a metal satchel.




Cultural mini-break

Getting to Zons can be a challenge but the most interesting way is to cross the Rhine on the ferry from Dusseldorf or Hitdorf or of course by road from Dusseldorf or Cologne.  Both cities have an abundance of fine museums and art galleries, good restaurants and shopping. Winter markets are in full swing with hot mulled wine, German sausages and all the baubles and decorations you could ever want for your tree back home.

As a mini break it’s a good place to go and while I personally loved the dreary winter cold and the wonderful feeling of coming in from the cold in the old style restaurant, I am sure it is equally fascinating and enjoyable in the warmer months of spring and summer.


Elly Tobin is the Principal of Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College in Birmingham. She has worked in Malaysia, Japan and Europe before returning to the UK.




Feature Image: Pixabay – River Rhine 

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