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Visit the Keukenhof Tulips

Visit the Keukenhof Tulips

This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on one, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

I have always loved tulips, so visiting the largest flower garden in the world, planted with millions of bulbs and only open a few weeks a year, was a dream of mine. This past spring we spent a glorious day exploring Keukenhof, and were pleasantly surprised to find out its an easy way to see spectacular tulips with kids along for the ride, and even when the weather is against you. 

Brilliant tulips at Keukenhof

Brilliant tulips at Keukenhof

A little history

The Keukenhof name actually refers to the kitchen garden of Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut, as the original gardens incorporated this area and the hunting grounds from her 15th-century estate. A succession of merchants held the lands after the Countess’ death, but it wasn’t until 1949 that the Mayor of Lisse created the gardens in their current form. It was originally created to showcase the wide array of Dutch flowers available for export. It has grown to be the one of the largest flower gardens in the entire world, with 7 million tulips newly planted every year. Truly, I have never, ever seen flowers like these. 

I think these were possibly my favourite tulips at Keukenhof

I think these were possibly my favourite tulips at Keukenhof

When to visit Keukenhof

This is the most important piece of information: the gardens are only open for a few weeks a year, mid-April to mid-May. There are different flowers blooming at different times of that visiting window, so there will always be something to see. However, if you’re also aiming to visit the surrounding fields of tulips, aim for mid-April. You can check this flower radar site for community uploaded photos of the flower fields to see what’s happening, too. Obviously the weather plays a part in this too, and when we visited in mid-April in 2018, the long cold winter had delayed the tulips out in the fields. Keukenhof was still gorgeous, however, and well worth the trip.

More little canals and colourful plantings

More little canals and colourful plantings

Finding your way around Keukenhof gardens

Pick up a Keukenhof map just past the entrance gates. The gardens are arranged into smaller areas and special vistas, but there’s no real need to plan it out. You can wander the paved paths and take in the incredible plantings as you go. The gardens are large, but you can easily see it all in a day, with time for a leisurely lunch and some playground time. There aren’t guided tours unless you’re booking with a large group, but regardless with a little reading beforehand and a map, you will be fine. 

The gardens open early, at 8am, so if you’re really keen to get photos with no one else in them, I’d say arrive as early as you can manage. At the end of the day, the visitors tail off as well and the garden closes at 7:30pm, so you can catch golden hour on the tulips. Ideally, staying close by makes this more feasible, of course. All that being said, we had a bit of a disaster of a morning, and didn’t get to the gardens until 10am, and left around 3pm, but it was completely manageable, and not that busy. I think this was partially due to the surrounding tulip fields not being out yet, but still, the gardens are large, if you walk into the park a bit straight off, you’ll find a quiet spot quite quickly. 

Look at that delicate purple on these ones.

Look at that delicate purple on these ones.

What to see at Keukenhof

There isn’t a bad vista at Keukenhof, really. The gardeners plant over seven million bulbs every year, so scale is impressive. It’s large, but not huge, so it’s easy to wander a bit and then check the map to see what you’ve missed. It’s not like Kew Gardens in London, say, where if you don’t concentrate you can miss half of it. However, I would say make sure you make time for the central pavilion, that’s where I saw some of the most incredible tulips I have ever seen in my life. Reds so red they would not show up properly on my camera, dozens of frilly tulips all with perfect perfect edges, variegated (mixed colour) tulips that would blow your mind, and the biggest flower heads ever. I also particularly enjoyed the Tulipmania exhibit, and the cross-section tulip pot that showed how the flowers grew up from the bulbs. 

How cool is this cross-section of tulips growing in a pot?

How cool is this cross-section of tulips growing in a pot?

I would suggest heading over to the big windmill and booking your spot on a whisper boat tour as soon as you arrive if the surrounding fields are in bloom. There is no point in doing it if they are not, speaking as someone who sat there frozen on the boat staring at dirt fields for 40 minutes. But even though there was nothing doing, we still had to wait for an hour for the next available tour, so I can imagine it books up quickly when everything is out and blooming. 

 

Where the whisper boats start their tour from Keukenhof

Where the whisper boats start their tour from Keukenhof

The windmill at Keukenhof

The windmill at Keukenhof

The plantings change every year, so even if you’ve been before they gardeners will have thought of some other incredible way to display their flowers. It blows my mind that they dig up, and then plant again anew, over seven million bulbs. 

Playground plus coffee hut at Keukenhof. Other botanical gardens, take note!

Playground plus coffee hut at Keukenhof. Other botanical gardens, take note!

There is quite a good playground, thoughtfully combined with a little hut selling snacks and coffee. There’s also a fun hedge maze right next to the playground, and all of this neatly appears about halfway through your visit if you’re just wandering through the paths. Be prepared to pay a bit more for your lunch, if you eat on site, and we found the food to be a bit sub-par. I’d suggest packing snacks with you, and do your best with the lunch situation. We’ve been spoiled with reasonably priced German cafes at every castle and garden, so I was not prepared for the not-great expensive food, particularly as everything had been quite good on our Netherlands road trip so far. 

Vibrant purples at Keukenhof

Vibrant purples at Keukenhof

Why go to Keukenhof when you can visit the Dutch bulb fields for free?

Good question. If you’re coming from overseas and don’t have the luxury of timing your travel exactly for the flowers, it means you can see gorgeous tulips regardless of what the weather is like. We had to work with my son’s Easter break, so delaying another two weeks wasn’t possible for us. The plantings in the Keukenhof are impressive and creative, and while the sheer number of flowers in the tulip fields are incredible, they are in rows and that’s it. The flower farms are growing these flowers for the bulbs, you see. Keukenhof is also meant as a showcase for the most incredible flowers Dutch flower growers can produce, so you will see some incredible one-off beauties that never make it to the mass market fields. Sure, if you’re not keen on paying the entrance fee, the bulb fields are definitely impressive – but to me, Keukenhof and the bulb fields are two different things… like comparing tulips to daffodils, if you will. Oh, you know I had to. 

 

Getting to Keukenhof

It’s quite easy to organize travel to Keukenhof from Amsterdam. We stayed at the Ibis Styles just outside Haarlem and they had bus services listed in the lift. It’s an easy drive, if you rent a car, and there is plenty of well-organized parking. Here is the route from Amsterdam. 

You can also take the train to Leiden, and then the special bus to Keukenhof. Buy a combi-ticket, which gets you your bus transfer and entry ticket in one transaction, and allows you to skip the ticket-buying line when you get to the gardens. 

Buying tickets for Keukenhof

If you drive and don’t arrange for a specific tour, do buy your tickets in advance. It allows you to walk up to the gate, get your ticket scanned, with a minimum of fussing. You don’t need to print them out, they can scan the tickets directly from your phone. If you’re coming by transit, either arrange for a full transfer from Amsterdam which is easiest and not much more expensive, or buy a combi-ticket for bus transfer from Leiden station, which includes your entry ticket. 

Keukenhof hotels

You can choose to stay in Lisse, the town where the gardens are located, to make it easy to arrive early or stay late. 

Booking.com

We stayed in the Ibis Styles in Haarlem, a nice town within easy distance of both Amsterdam and Keukenhof, yet cheaper and less frantic than Amsterdam itself. 

Booking.com

 

Keukenhof 

Stationsweg 166A, 2161 AM Lisse, Netherlands | www.keukenhof.nl

 

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Suitcases and Sandcastles

 

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Cochem Castle

Cochem Castle

I love castles, and I have visited a lot of them in our region of Germany. So when I tell you this is one of the best ones, you know I had quite a few to compare it to! It has a great combination of location, ease of access, and history. The town of Cochem itself is gorgeous, and well worth a weekend stay.

Looking through the many arches at Cochem Castle

Looking through the many arches at Cochem Castle

Is it Cochem Castle, or the Reichsburg, or what?

Cochem is the town the castle is located in, and you can definitely call it Cochem Castle in English. ‘Reichsburg’ means the Imperial Castle, so Reichsburg Cochem just translates to Imperial Castle Cochem. You have probably seen other castles called ‘Schloss’ and this refers to their status as more of a palace as opposed to a defensive fortress (a ‘Burg’). In a land full of castles, you’ve got to start dividing them up somehow, right?

Suits of armour are everywhere

Suits of armour are everywhere

Can you imagine leaning by this window, reading a letter?

Can you imagine leaning by this window, reading a letter?

A bit of history

On the hill 100 metres above the town of Cochem, the castle was initially a fortification built around 1056. The first mention in print was in 1051, and in 1157, King Konrad III officially dubbed it an Imperial residence. The town of Cochem was important in wine growing and fishing through this period, and was well connected to the city of Trier. In the late 1690s, the castle and the town were taken by the French during the Nine Years War. Unfortunately, the French Sun King wanted to make sure the region was fully subdued, so he instructed his troops to wreak havoc. 

The castle lay in ruins for nearly 200 years, until the Berlin merchant Louis Ravené had it rebuilt as his family’s summer residence in a Neo-gothic style popular with the rich-people-rebuilding-castles movement of the 19th century. The castle has been owned by the city of Cochem since 1978. 

The beautiful hunters hall at Castle Cochem

The beautiful hunters hall at Castle Cochem

The Great Hall at Castle Cochem

The Great Hall at Castle Cochem

Should you do the tour at Cochem Castle?

Definitely. Like most German castles, you need to join a guided tour to see the interior rooms. There are many tours in English during high season, but you will want to check the times for English tours in the autumn and winter. The English tour was only available once a day when we visited in October – check their website in advance for the exact time of the English-language tour so you don’t miss it. The tour itself is one of the best I’ve been on. The guide knew a lot about the castle and the city of Cochem, but wasn’t overloading us with lists of every single noble who lived in the building. They have definitely designed the tour with children in mind as well, because there were some chocolate rewards and little surprises along the way. Even if you’re not travelling with children, you will be grateful they are entertained. 

It’s extremely unusual for a German castle tour, but you are allowed to take photos throughout the interiors, though turn off your flash. 

Peering down into the yard at Castle Cochem

Peering down into the yard at Castle Cochem

Always look up when you go on these castle tours

Always look up when you go on these castle tours

Join a Medieval banquet

If you plan ahead, you can join in a full experience of a medieval meal with costumed musicians and a castle tour. Most Friday and Saturday evenings starting at 6pm, you can join a group at the castle for a full meal, glass of wine, a special castle tour, and a take home stone mug. The tour is in German, but you can get a sheet with the English information on it. The whole package is €49 per adult and €24.50 per child (6-17 years old). If you’re thinking of booking one, do it soon, as they sell out months in advance. 

Cochem Castle is stunning in the autumn

Cochem Castle is stunning in the autumn

What time of year to visit Cochem Castle

In the summer, you have the benefit of the full leafy trees, sidewalk terraces, green vines clambering over everything, and the breeze off the Mosel. You also will have more crowds of visitors to contend with. Even though there were fewer tours available, the castle wasn’t that busy. The benefit of visiting in the autumn has to be the gorgeous colours of the grape vines. All over the castle, and the surrounding hills, the multicoloured vines transform everything into a riot of deep reds, yellows, oranges, and browns. 

The view from the cafe in the Cochem Castle

The view from the cafe in the Cochem Castle

Classic Schnitzel in the castle cafe

Classic Schnitzel in the castle cafe

Even the placements were cute

Even the placements were cute

What to eat

The cafe up at the castle itself is lovely, and we had a great meal of schnitzel at a reasonable price. I would say at least a little bit cheaper than the restaurants down in the town right on the river, so it’s definitely worth staying up here to have lunch. There’s an impressive selection of cakes, including a proper Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake) and the underrated Frankfurter Kranz, so if it’s afternoon and you just need a coffee and a sweet thing, have it up here with a view down over the town. 

View from outside the Cochem Castle

View from outside the Cochem Castle

Where to stay

I’ve got your weekend in Cochem covered in this post, but if you’re just looking for some quick hotel recommendations, I would check out these ones:

  • Hotel Germania, right next to the main bridge and in the Altstadt
  • Hotel am Hafen, across the river but next to the bridge, with good onsite restaurant
  • Zum fröhlichen Weinburg, a little ways back from the river, quiet and good value
  • Altes Fährhaus Cochem, is on the other side of the river with gorgeous views of the castle and town, and offers bike rentals on site
  • If you’re happy to be just outside of town, the little village of Ernst is our favourite spot, and the Altes Pfarrhaus our Mosel home away-from-home. A lovely Dutch family runs this small hotel, and the food is lovely, with a quiet terrace overlooking the river. 
The Cochem Castle lit up at night

The Cochem Castle lit up at night

How to get there

From Frankfurt or Düsseldorf, Cochem is about a two and a half hour journey by train, with one or two changes, depending on the time of day. From Cologne, it is about two hours with one change. It’s a beautiful journey no matter which way you arrive, however, as most routes will take you along the Rhine and the Mosel. You can book your ticket right here in English:

To get up to the castle from the town, you can walk up, which is a little intense with quite a few stairs. Or, you can take the shuttlebus. There’s a detailed schedule on their website here. If you’re travelling with small people, it would be best to take the shuttle and save their legs for the tour. 

PS – Need help with packing for Germany? I’ve got you covered for packing for your Germany trip in spring or summer.

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Things to do in Cochem, Germany

Things to do in Cochem, Germany

Cochem is a beautiful riverside town along the river Mosel in western Germany. It’s a popular stop on the short haul river cruise route, and for good reason. Surrounded by vineyards climbing up the steep sides of the river valley, and topped off with the magnificent Castle Cochem, this town is a perfect weekend trip. 

Is it Mosel or Moselle?

You have probably seen both Mosel and Moselle when referring to this area, and both are correct. The Mosel spelling is used in German, and Moselle in French. This river runs through France as well as Germany, and this area has historically been quite fluid between the two empires for hundreds of years.

The Cochem Castle from the town

The Cochem Castle from the town 

A  bit of history

Cochem has been a settlement as far back as Celtic and Roman times. It’s first mentioned in print in 893. Like many towns cities in this region, it passed from Germanic rule to French and back again over the years. The Thirty Years War took its toll, and like many castles in western Germany it was burnt and destroyed. The rebuilding of Cochem took many many years, interrupted by several changes in leadership from the Archbishop of Trier to the French crown and then to Prussia. The bridge over the Mosel in Cochem was only built in 1927 however, so the houses on the far side from the castle were originally the separate fishing villages of Cond and Sehl. Much of the Cochem old town was destroyed during the Second World War, and there was a subcamp of the Natzweiler concentration camp was near the city, provided forced labour for Bosch. 

Incredible colours of the grape vines in autumn.

Incredible colours of the grape vines in autumn.

Best times to visit Cochem

We have visited the Mosel valley many times, and it’s a great favourite with our visitors. I swear there isn’t a bad time to come. In summer it’s beautifully leafy, with grapevines in leaf all over the buildings and stretching across arbours. Many restaurants have terraces overlooking the river, and we’ve had several long dinners with very local (literally grown 500 meters away from where you’re sitting) wines to match outside in the fading sunshine. This autumn we visited for a weekend when the leaves were changing, and it was truly breathtaking with all the vineyards changing colours at different rates. 

The Cochem Castle above the town

The Cochem Castle above the town

Cochem Castle

This impressive castle towers over the town of Cochem. It is one of my favourite castle tours to date (and you know I’ve done loads of them), and will satisfy your castle desires for sure. It’s worth noting this is a good kid-friendly tour as it isn’t too long, and you can take photos inside, which is very unusual. You can read my full post about visiting Cochem Castle too. 

Exploring the town of Cochem on foot

Exploring the town of Cochem on foot

Hiking, biking and exploring

There are many hiking options around Cochem, from easy walks to multi-day hikes from town to town. It’s a very rewarding area for exploring, as the vineyards wind among the hills and there are incredible views at every turn, both into the valley and the river and the fields beyond. Because Cochem is in the steep Mosel valley, however, most hikes will involve a lot of climbing. The main flat walking options are the trails along the river. If you want to rent a bike to take advantage of the beautiful flat path alongside the river, Radsport Schrauth rents out bikes with kid trailers or rear child seats if you contact them to reserve ahead of time. 

Boat rides 

You can take a quick roundtrip tour from right under the main bridge in Cochem, that will take you a little way down the river and back. You can also catch one of the popular hop-on hop-off cruises that run down the Mosel and Rhine, but do check the timings, because as the boats go against the flow of the river, they can be quite slow. Sometimes it takes twice as long to get back as it does to go out, and it’s hard if you’ve got an impatient child with you. However, most of these boats also offer at least snacks and drinks on board. You can also catch a train from most of the stopping points if you get stuck. That being said, it’s a beautiful, relaxing way to see the incredible castles and cute towns along the river. The best time to do this is, is in the summer, as from mid-October to March, most of the companies only run a very limited service. You don’t need to buy tickets ahead, but if you’d like to plan it out in advance, the main companies are KD and Kolb.

Cochem is full of half-timbered buildings, so you'll definitely get your fairy tale German town fix.

Cochem is full of half timbered buildings, so you’ll definitely get your fairy tale German town fix.

Bundesbank bunker

This underground bunker was where the German government stored their emergency supply of 15 billion Deutschmarks in case of a sudden currency crisis during the Cold War. It’s no longer in use, and you can go deep underground to see the place with a guided tour. Tours leave every hour (double check the website), but there’s not much to see above ground until you go down, so I wouldn’t plan on arriving too early. It’s quite a way up from the town of Cochem itself, so take advantage of their shuttle bus that leaves from the old town. 

We didn’t visit the Bundesbank bunker, despite staying right next to the thing, because I am not big on extended trips below ground! I take a pass on all cave trips, mining museums, and bunkers. 

The river Mosel makes an impressive hairpin turn near the town of Bremm.

The river Mosel makes an impressive hairpin turn near the town of Bremm.

Places to visit within easy reach of Cochem

We drove a little way to see the Bremm Bend, a famous spot where the river Mosel makes a hairpin bend. The vineyards climb up the impossibly steep valley, and I couldn’t help but admire the viticulturists who built the narrow terraces and climbed up to plant those first vines. The little tiny rail cars the vineyard works use now to bring tools and materials up to the top of the hills are often parked at the bottom of the hill, so you can imagine ratcheting up those hillsides like the beginning of a roller coaster ride. 

Our favourite German castle, Burg Eltz, is quite close to Cochem

Our favourite German castle, Burg Eltz, is quite close to Cochem

One of our favourite castles ever, Burg Eltz, is not so far away (though it’s worth noting you can only see inside during spring, summer, and early autumn). There is a short train ride to Treis-Karden, and then the Burgenbus that goes straight to the castle. Outside spring and summer, take a train to Moselkern, and then you can do the 5km hike or take a taxi up to the castle. You can book your train right here, in English:

The stunning view from the top floor of the Cafe Flair

The stunning view from the top floor of the Cafe Flair

Where to eat in Cochem

Like many smaller German towns popular with tourists, the restaurants fill up quickly, so if you see something interesting in your daytime wanderings, go in and book a table for that evening right away. We didn’t get organized, but ended up in the restaurant of Hotel am Hafen and it was lovely straightforward German cuisine: schnitzel, bratwurst, local wine. We tried to make our way into Ristorante Da Vinci, a pizza place with good reviews, but the small restaurant was full to the brim. The smell coming from the kitchen was pretty amazing though. 

For Kaffe und Kuchen (cake and coffee break), the local favourite was obviously the Cafe Flair with loads of cake, fancy coffees, and light lunch options. There is a huge terrace area, but if you’re visiting when it’s colder out, there is a busy ground floor as well as a more spacious upstairs, with nice views over the Mosel.

Wherever you end up, make sure you try some of the local wine, it is affordable and lovely. Keep in mind the German wine names may hide some familiar favourites – Grauburgunder is Pinot Gris and Spätburgunder is Pinot Noir. The Mosel valley is most famous for its Reisling wines, but you choose your sweetness by asking for ‘Trocken’ (dry), or ‘Halb Trocken’ (half dry). 

View over the Mosel from the castle.

View over the Mosel from the castle.

Hotels in Cochem

We stayed up the hill by the Bundesbank Bunker at the Hotel Vintage, which was quite awkward for daily exploring because it was so far up the far hillside. It was very clean, and the rooms were large, with an easy triple room option however. 

In town, some good options are: 

  • Hotel Germania, right next to the main bridge and in the Altstadt
  • Hotel am Hafen, across the river but next to the bridge, with good onsite restaurant
  • Zum fröhlichen Weinburg, a little ways back from the river, quiet and good value
  • Altes Fährhaus Cochem, is on the other side of the river with gorgeous views of the castle and town, and offers bike rentals on site
  • If you’re happy to be just outside of town, the little village of Ernst is our favourite spot, and the Altes Pfarrhaus our Mosel home away-from-home. A lovely Dutch family runs this small hotel, and the food is lovely, with a quiet terrace overlooking the river. 

Getting to Cochem

From Frankfurt or Düsseldorf, Cochem is about a two and a half hour journey by train, with one or two changes, depending on the time of day. From Cologne, it is about two hours with one change. It’s a beautiful journey no matter which way you arrive, however, as most routes will take you along the Rhine and the Mosel. You can book your ticket right here in English:

 

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Cochem is a beautiful riverside town along the river Mosel in western Germany. It’s a popular stop on the short haul river cruise route, and for good reason. Surrounded by vineyards climbing up the steep sides of the river valley, and topped off with the magnificent Castle Cochem, this town is a perfect weekend trip. 

Cochem is a beautiful riverside town along the river Mosel in western Germany. It’s a popular stop on the short haul river cruise route, and for good reason. Surrounded by vineyards climbing up the steep sides of the river valley, and topped off with the magnificent Castle Cochem, this town is a perfect weekend trip.

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Unique travel gifts for kids and parents

Unique travel gifts for kids and parents

This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on one, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

When your friends and family love to travel, it can be difficult to think of good, unique, and useful gifts. More ‘stuff’ is definitely not what they want, and the practical elements of travelling they usually have covered… which is why I’m not going to mention packing cubes here. 

However! There are a few things I’ve found that have made our travelling life easier, or have encouraged us to make more of our memories when we returned home. 

A Tartan Blanket Co. oversized lambswool scarf in Bannockbane Silver Tartan, photo courtesy Tartan Blanket Co.

A Tartan Blanket Co. oversized lambswool scarf in Bannockbane Silver Tartan, photo courtesy Tartan Blanket Co.

A really beautiful oversized scarf

When we’ve travelled in the autumn, winter, and early spring, there are always times when one of us is colder than the others, or when our son would rather sleep on the bus or boat tour but it’s too windy. Or the bench we’ve found to take a break is freezing cold. Or the restaurant terrace seemed warm enough in the sun, but then the clouds come. The ever-useful blanket scarf has saved us more than once as an extra layer for my son on a windy boat, a blanket across our laps when it was too cold at a cafe, or an impromptu seat cushion. Because it’s actually your scarf, it doesn’t take up any more room in the bag you’re already carrying around all day. I love this wool one that The Tartan Blanket Co. sent us, made in Scotland!

 

Collapsible coffee cup

This seems like an odd one, but it’s really helpful. Europe is in the middle of discouraging the use of single-use plastics, and coffee cups and lids are on the list. This Stojo coffee cup collapses to an easy-to-stow disc, and the bigger ones come with a reusable straw too. It’s low-key and is easy to use for drinking water from a drinking fountain, or a cup of hot tea on a cold day. 

A nice camera bag that doesn’t look like a camera bag

I am really into practical things that don’t look like the sporty versions of themselves (have you seen my beloved bike helmet with swappable hat covers?) because I really am not a sporty person by nature. Anything that can be described as ‘gear’ usually turns me off. I documented my long search for a decent camera bag that’s not all mesh and straps, and my GATTA bag has done well. No one knows it’s a camera bag, and it keeps my DSLR safe and sound. 

My Gatta camera bag, and my collapsible Stojo coffee cup. Ready to go adventuring!

My Gatta camera bag, and my collapsible Stojo coffee cup. Ready to go adventuring!

On-the-go games for kids

I’ve seen a few suggestions for mini versions of regular board games, but to be honest, we don’t usually have patience for these when we’re travelling. We like games that can be played quickly with minimal rules, so it’s still fun when we’re all tired and hangry. Spot It! comes in a little tin, and it’s a challenging shape-matching game. It’s quick and easy to scoop up when the food comes.Plusplus is a satisfyingly tactile pile of ‘plus’ shapes that fit together. They are very small and can be stowed away easily in a bag – losing a few bits doesn’t make any difference either. Look for the jumbo sized ones for smaller kids. Finally, Story Cubes are great for keeping little minds moving, or for changing up your own storytelling routine. Just roll for story prompts and take it from there.

Shadowbox frames for all those bits

Kids are great at picking small pieces of things everywhere. Receipts, business cards, transit stubs, souvenir coins… we have piles of stuff. Give your traveller friends and family a few shadow box frames and some decorative pins so they can make something with all the travel ephemera. Maybe include some ideas from Pinterest to get them started. IKEA makes a cool display box you can easily open and change out the items inside, and your local craft store is a good place to get little things to help make the inside easy to arrange. 

One of my many travel photo books... my son loves looking at them. And yes, that's my cozy Tartan Blanket Co. scarf there too

One of my many travel photo books… my son loves looking at them. And yes, that’s my cozy Tartan Blanket Co. scarf there too

Doing something with all those photos

If you’re anything like me, it takes years to get the time to do anything with all those photos I take when we’re away. Giving your friends and family a gift voucher to a service like Mixbooks (EU & US), Blurb (US & CA), Shutterfly (US only), or Cewe (DACH countries) might be the motivation they need to produce a couple of memory books of their own. 

Gift them a professional photography session on their next holiday

There’s a great service called Flytographer, that allows you to book a session with a local professional photographer while you’re on holiday. You can buy a gift card for the service without even knowing where your recipient is going, which makes it a really flexible gift. Flytographer covers 200 locations worldwide too. 

 

PS – Know a cyclist? I spend too much time researching beautiful bike panniers, so take advantage of my weird obsession.

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Visiting the haunted castle of Burg Berwartstein

Visiting the haunted castle of Burg Berwartstein

Deep in the forests of the Rhineland-Palatinate (the Pfalz, in German), near the French border, is the intriguing Burg Berwartstein. The castle rises from the natural sandstone formations into the sky, and looks every bit the robber baron fortress it once was. The most complete of the Rhineland cliff castles, the buildings you can explore today are heavily restored. From robber knights to feuds to ghosts, there are so many stories about this castle, it could spawn a long-running Netflix series of its very own, I swear. 

Local equestrians were going through a ride for the forest, and their horses tied up here looked so picturesque.

Local equestrians were going through a ride for the forest, and their horses tied up here looked so picturesque.

Looking up at the castle on the cliffs.

Looking up at the castle on the cliffs.

The beginning

The French-German border has shifted many times over the past thousand years, and this region has always been on the frontlines. The first references to the castle appear in 1152 when the last Hohenstaufen Emperor, Barbarossa, gifted the castle and its lands to the Bishop of Speyer. Historians think the fortress was in use as early as 750, however. 

The Robber Knights

From around 1200, a group of knights took over the castle, and they proceeded to rampage around the countryside. Robbing travellers and generally harassing the local population. It got so bad that the nearby Imperial Free Cities of Strasbourg and Hagenau sent troops to deal with the knights that called themselves ‘von Bewartstein’ [from Berwartstein]. One of the main benefits of this cliffside castle, however, is its natural defences. The only entrance at this point was via a precarious rope ladder through a small opening at the side of the cliff. When under attack, the residents just brought up the ladder and poured various dangerous things down on the besiegers. Together with an incredibly deep well that provided fresh water inside the castle, these defences made the fortress a daunting prospect for any attacker. Finally, in 1315, Strasbourg and Hagenau gained entry by paying off one of the robber knights. The rest were taken prisoner and held for ransom. The ransom just happened to require the selling off of Burg Bewartstein, ending the local reign of the Knights von Bewartstein.

A dog peering into the cliffside entrance to the Burg Berwartstein high above.

A dog peering into the cliffside entrance to the Burg Berwartstein high above.

Catching a fellow visitor walking out to the famous terrace.

Catching a fellow visitor walking out to the famous terrace.

Hans von Trotha

A great friend of the Prince Elector Philip in Heidelberg, Hans von Trotha was gifted the fief of Berwartstein to look after. Von Trotha’s claim to fame is his long-running feud with the Weissenburg Abbey. The Abbey were the owners of Burg Bewartstein after the robber knights had been ousted, but had entrusted the castle to the Prince Elector for upkeep and military use. When Hans von Trotha started extending it and treating it as his own, the Abbey protested. The Prince Elector responded by elevating von Trotha to Marshal and selling him the fief, which really ticked off the Abbot. Von Trotha and the Abbey continued to trade insults and petty disputes until finally von Trotha dammed the river that provided fresh water to the Abbey and its supporting town. When the Abbot, understandably, complained, von Trotha obliged by destroying the dam… and flooding the area.

The gardens around the Burg Berwartstein

The gardens around the Burg Berwartstein

Paintings inside the little chapel in Burg Berwartstein

Paintings inside the little chapel in Burg Berwartstein

My son exploring the chapel at Burg Berwartstein

My son exploring the chapel at Burg Berwartstein

The town never recovered. Von Trotha pressed his advantage and started an all-out war with the Abbey. Not even a summons from the Pope could convince him to stop, and he was eventually excommunicated. This was too much for the Prince Elector, who disowned von Trotha, though clearly still thought enough of him to send him to France as a diplomatic envoy during the Italian Wars. Incredibly, von Trotha died of natural causes back at Burg Bewartstein in 1503. His name, in the form Hans Trapp, is still famous in the Alsace Lorraine region and used to frighten misbehaving children… if you haven’t been good and Saint Nicolas has not brought you presents, Hans Trapp will come take you away!

Beautiful wall paintings inside the top floor of the Burg Berwartstein

Beautiful wall paintings inside the top floor of the Burg Berwartstein

The Castle Ghost

After Hans von Trotha died, his son Christoph von Trotha took over the castle, and slowly it faded from importance. By the time Christoph’s son-in-law took over and it passed down three generations without much incident. But in 1591, a great fire enveloped the castle. No battles were recorded here around this time, so it was probably started by a lightning strike. The tale told about the fire goes like this: the Lady Barbara woke to the smell of smoke, and went out on her terrace at the top of the castle, to see the entire lower castle was on fire, blocking her escape. Rather than die horribly in the flames, she took her child in her arms and leapt to her death on the rocks below. On quiet nights, she still appears on her upper terrace in her white nightgown, and repeats her grisly death. During the ‘ghost hour’, she haunts the lower passageways of the castle. 

Though much of the castle was still standing after this fire, it was left uninhabited for hundreds of years. This saved it, however, as it wasn’t destroyed during the wars of the Palatinate Succession that razed so many other castles in this region to the ground. 

The tour guide let my son carry his gauntlet for most of the tour, he thought it was pretty cool.

The tour guide let my son carry his gauntlet for most of the tour, he thought it was pretty cool.

Visiting Burg Berwartstein

Like most castles in Germany, you will need to join a guided tour to see the interior of the castle. Even though tours are only in German, this is well worth it. They will give you a booklet with all the details of the tour printed in English. Our tour guide was a sweet young man dressed in costume and he was happy to answer questions in English, and great with the kids. It’s quite a relaxed tour, with some of the rooms dressed to look how they would have when people lived in the castle, but most of the props are reconstructions. It doesn’t deter from the magic of the site though, with the raw red sandstone cliff all around even inside, as the castle was literally built around a jutting turret of rock.  

Beautiful gardens outside the Burg Berwartstein

Beautiful gardens outside the Burg Berwartstein

The tour starts in the Knights’ Hall, where the hand-dug well is still open. The tour guide takes a bucket of water and dumps it over the side, and it takes an unfeasibly long time to make a sound down where the water is. I’m not sure just telling us the depth of 97 meters would have made as dramatic an impression! Not only do the tours take you up to the top terrace (where the Lady Barbara supposedly through herself off!) but the guide will also unlock the passageways under the castle for you, and walk you through all lit by candles. It’s incredible to see all the little chisel marks, and it really brings home how long it must have taken to carve out these rooms out of the rock of the cliffside. 

There’s also a lovely restaurant on site, where you can have a drink on the terrace, or inside the castle itself. You can even stay overnight in one of two suites built right inside the castle. I so want to do this one day.

Burg Berwartstein in the forest

Burg Berwartstein in the forest

Opening hours of Burg Berwartstein

You can visit Burg Berwartstein all year round! Unlike many smaller castles in Germany, it’s not closed in the winter months.

The castle and restaurant is open daily March to October (check website for specific dates each year), and November through February on the weekends, except for the days around Christmas. 

They have many theme nights and costume nights that include tours, it’s worth checking their site for details. All of these events required tickets to be purchased ahead of time. 

Getting to Burg Berwartstein

Unfortunately, this castle is not easy to get to without a car. Your best bet would be to take the train to nearby town of Dahn, and a 20-minute taxi ride to the castle parking lot. The good news about this route is the parking lot is right next to the castle, you don’t have a further hike to get there. By car, you can visit some of the nearby towns, and see more of the famous red rock formations around this part of the Rhineland-Palatinate.

PS – Need help with packing for Germany? I’ve got you covered for packing for your Germany trip in spring or summer.

 

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