The Hunsrück is rich farm country in rolling upland between the Mosel and Nahe rivers. Its many prosperous villages are interconnected by an almost bewildering network of narrow roads that wind smoothly through dark forests, well-tended fields and narrow valleys.
With the aid of a good map and a little perseverance, the auto traveler in search of quiet accommodations of superior quality will be rewarded about half a mile past the tiny town of Horbruch, some 10 miles east of Bernkastel Kues on the Mosel river. There, nestled in a hidden glen among streams, ponds and lush vegetation is the Historische Schlossmühle.
More mill than castle, the early 19th-century stone building looks like something from the French countryside rather than the heart of Germany. Maybe that's why it appealed to Napoleon. The building was first constructed several miles away on the Nahe and in 1804, along with several other noble properties, was confiscated by the French emperor. A few years later a local architect bought the mill, dismantled it and transported it stone-by-stone to the current location where it was rebuilt.
Somewhere along the way it became a hotel and restaurant; the present owners, Anne and Rüdiger Liller, took it over in 1973.
The hotel's 18 rooms, named for animals and birds, are all of different size and decor. With separate sitting areas, most could be put in the "junior" suite category and all are liberally endowed - one might even say cluttered - with antique furnishings, old books and objet d'art. Bathrooms, for the most part, are modern, well lit and spacious.
This is not a resort hotel, there is no pool, spa or exercise room, so about the only daytime activities are country walks, or reading in the garden or perhaps in the library by the fire.
Most guests will want to while away their days with drives along the Mosel and Rhine rivers or in exploring nearby such nearby attractions as Idar-Oberstein (about 20 miles), a city known for gems and precious stones, and the old Roman town of Trier (about 38 miles away).
Evenings, however, are best spent dining at one of the several tables that are charmingly scattered over three levels of the house's main room.
The dining area's stone floors are strewn with oriental carpets, while tables on the top two levels offer views of the mill wheel. There are heavy beams, whitewashed walls hung with cheery folk art, and mill gears for decoration. Covering the heavy wood tables are white cloths and country plaid napkins. On each is a small bucket of fresh flowers. The silverware is Christofle of France and at each table is an enchanting children's book written by Alex Liller, the owner's son, and illustrated by the woman whose art is displayed throughout the hotel.
As delightful as the decor is, the food is even better. On both nights of our stay we were first served three kinds of homemade bread with two spreads, one a light quenelle and the other made from pan drippings. All dishes were prepared with fresh, high-quality ingredients. Among the best of them were gravlax with an unusual honey-mustard-dill sauce; calves liver dumplings on a bed of asparagus with an asparagus cream sauce; Dinkelnudeln, (noodles made from wheat whose grains do not thresh free of the chaff; known in the US as spelt); and best of all, a marvelous breast of corn-fed chicken with potatoes in mustard sauce.
Breakfasts were in a pleasant, sunny room and served both mornings by chef-owner Rüdiger Liller. It was June and there were luscious strawberries and melon.
On arrival - no reservation, just dropped in - only the son, Alex, was around. He offered a choice of rooms from which we chose Bussard and paid 220 DM ($101).
This is the kind of place we love to find and tell you about: out of the way yet with easy, quick access to sights; beautiful, natural grounds; cozy, atmospheric public and guest rooms; great food; pleasant family ownership; and not too expensive. In fact our notes from that visit contain this enthusiastic challenge to readers: "Spend a night at the HSM, order the corn-fed breast of chicken, and if you don't think this single experience is worth the subscription price well give you your money back including the cost of the chicken dish."
The two-day stay, including both dinners and breakfasts, but excluding beverages, cost 650 DM ($298); in our view a bargain for accommodations and food of this quality.
The Michelin Red Guide lists this hotel under the town of Morbach, but if you're driving highway 50 southeast from Bernkastel Kues, you'll turn left (northeast) at E42. From there follow the signs to Horbruch, veering off to the right on to a smaller road just past Hochscheid. The hotel is just outside of town.
* Daily Rates: Singles from 150 DM ($69), doubles 190 to 285 DM ($88-$132), suite 320 DM ($148)
* Contact: Historische Schlossmühle, D-55483 Horbruch, tel. + 49/06543/40 41, fax 31 78.
* Rating: Quality 16/20, Value 16/20