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Visit Castle Lichtenstein (Schloss Lichtenstein), the fairy tale castle of Baden-Württemberg

Visit Castle Lichtenstein (Schloss Lichtenstein), the fairy tale castle of Baden-Württemberg

If you are as obsessed with castles as I am, chances are you’ve seen photos of Schloss (Castle) Lichtenstein perched on a clifftop in Baden-Württemberg (NOT in the small principality of Liechstenstein). This little jewel of a castle is definitely worth visiting on your trip to southern Germany.

Please note: Schloss Lichtenstein is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Please do save this post for your future planning!

When you come through the entrance gate, don’t forget to turn around.

This is an old castle, right?

Actually, no. This is a new build from 1840, but the old castle ruins are about 500m away. The old castle was built around 1100, the property of the local count, who had a long-running unfriendliness with the nearby free city of Reutlingen. Skirmishes and all-out battles destroyed the old castle twice, despite its impressive location on the cliffs. Changes in the political landscape meant it was abandoned in the 16th century. The old castle saw a little action in the Thirty Years War that ravaged most of Baden-Württemberg in the first half of the 1600s, but by that time the last member of the Lichtenstein family had already died. In typical unsentimental fashion, King Frederick of Württemberg took apart the ruins and built a hunting lodge on top of it in 1802.

Ivy-covered building in the courtyard of Schloss Lichtenstein

Who built the Lichtenstein Castle?

Romanticism was in full swing in the 1800s, and a full-scale nostalgia for a largely imaginary medieval past full of knights and ladies had gripped the upper classes of Europe. German poet Wilhelm Hauff wrote a historical novel set in medieval Swabia (this region of Germany), and called it Lichtenstein. King Frederick’s cousin Count Wilhelm von Urach was so taken with the novel, he purchased the land in 1837 and built a castle on it, as he imagined it would have been in the 1500s. The castle is still owned by the descendants of Wilhelm von Urach.

While this castle is very picturesque, you may be a bit surprised when visiting as it really is not very big. The interiors, however, make up for its small size by being covered, on every surface, with a riot of colour, pattern, and ornament. I don’t have photographs of the interiors, as with most privately owned castles (!) you can’t take photos on the tour. Take a quick look at the gallery part of their website, however, to get a sense of the maximalism.

One of the most fascinating elements of the castle, for me, was the dining hall. It is connected to a room above and to the side by a large vent, covered with a decorative screen. For parties, the Count (later he became a Duke, as one does) would have his house musicians play in this adjoining room, and the music would float in to the dining hall.

>> Five more castles to visit in this region

Do I need to take a tour of Schloss (Castle) Lichtenstein?

Like most castles in Germany, a guided tour is required to see the inside of the building, and it is well worth your time. The tour is only half an hour, you can buy a ticket for a tour when you buy your castle courtyard entry ticket, though you don’t need to book a specific time but do ask when the next English-language tour starts when you buy your tickets. The groups for the castle tour meet on the bridge to the castle, so if you’d like a good photo from this vantage point, it’s best to catch the lull between tours. It’s worth noting here that there are stairs involved in the tour, so wear comfortable, sturdy shoes.

There aren’t many formal gardens around the castle, but the fortification wall offers some spectacular views down into the valley. There are some lovely meadows and hiking paths too. If you’re interested in the local hiking, there are maps to several local routes on the castle’s site here. The ruins of the old castle are very underwhelming, you might come upon them when wandering in the grounds. The stones have been thoroughly plundered for building the new castle!

Adventure park and cafe

Outside of the castle courtyard there is the adventure park, with a rope climbing course up in the trees. This is a popular type of activity in Germany, called a ‘Kletterwald’ or climbing forest. You get kitted out in a helmet and harness, and climb along ropes or narrow boards high in the trees. Children from eight years old can climb with an adult, and you can have up to two children climbing with you. This is adventure park is completely separate from the castle, but it’s literally next door, so they share a parking lot. To climb for three hours, it costs €23 per adult, and €17 per child, though there are family rates as well. You need to have a scarf to wrap your hair with under the helmet, and if you don’t have one they will sell you one for €3 each. Do check the rates and restrictions beforehand.  There’s also a little fast food café there too with tables outside, if you’re looking for something less formal than a sit down meal.  

View through the Schlosspark

When is the best time to go?

The Schloss Lichtenstein is open from March to December, 9am-5:30pm (April-October) and 10am-4pm (March, November, and December), though they close for Christmas each year from 24-26 December. It’s best to arrive as close as you can manage to the opening time for a less busy visit. The summer is of course a nice time to visit, but the autumn foliage in October is absolutely gorgeous.

How to get to Schloss Lichtenstein

There is no question that getting to Schloss Lichtenstein is easiest by car. However, it’s not impossible by public transport. The town of Lichtenstein is not, confusingly, the closest town to the castle. Buses leave hourly from Reutlingen, the nearest city, to Honau, the village in the valley below the castle. The hike up to the castle itself is fairly uphill and can take about half an hour. I have not done this walk myself so I can’t speak to the difficulty, but I have driven up the windy road and I would expect this hike would be too much if you’re travelling with kids and expecting to then explore the castle and grounds. There are organized tours to the castle, but as the grounds are currently closed, I can’t point you to any. Once this changes I will update this post!

Top image: Jacqueline Brooker

You can reach Reutlingen easily by train, you can book a ticket here in English.

PS – Looking for more great day trip ideas from Stuttgart? I have more here!

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Stay in a German Castle: Schlosshotel Hugenpoet

Stay in a German Castle: Schlosshotel Hugenpoet

My obsession with castles is well documented, but until recently, I hadn’t stayed overnight in a castle in Germany. This spring, I found my happy place, my readers, and it’s called Schlosshotel Hugenpoet outside Düsseldorf and Essen. From gorgeous grounds to friendly staff, this is such a glorious place to stay. 

Front door of the Schlosshotel Hugenpoet
Front door of the Schlosshotel Hugenpoet

Is it really a castle?

Oh yes, in fact, the first recorded mention of the place is in 778, as Charlemagne’s royal manor. The family that took over the estate after this, in the middle ages, were sometimes referred to as Hugenpoet. This romantic name actually translates to ‘toad pond’ in old German. Like nearly every large building in the area, the castle was destroyed in the Thirty Years War, and then rebuilt in 1647. This rebuild forms the framework for the castle you see today, with updates in the late 19th century. It first becomes a hotel in the 1950s. 

The check in desk is under this impressible marble arch.
The check in desk is under this impressible marble arch.

What’s it like to stay there

The rooms vary, depending on where you are in the building. My room was in the old stables building. It was spacious, with a hallway complete with closets and suitcase storage. The bathroom was all beautiful lighting, gorgeous deep bathtub, and separate shower. I had a view over the stone bridge at the entrance of the Schlosspark, and when I pushed the windows open on arrival, the birdsong flowed in. I was ready to move in, I have to say. A word on the staff as well: everyone I interacted with were genuinely friendly and lovely. 

Arch over the gate as you enter the courtyard.
Arch over the gate as you enter the courtyard.
The castle from the Schlosspark
The castle from the Schlosspark

Walking back to your room after a spectacular meal, or stepping out for a breath of fresh air in the morning – it is hard to explain how beautiful and amazing this place is. 

In the morning, I took a walk through the gardens. Throughout the Schlosspark behind the castle there are benches, chairs, and loungers tucked into little corners. 

Entrance to the Schlosspark
I'd like to spend a long, sunny morning here reading. How about you?
I’d like to spend a long, sunny morning here reading. How about you?

Michelin Star dining on site

I had the pleasure of trying Chef Erika Bergheim’s menu while I was staying at the Hugenpoet (as part of a press tour by the local tourism board). Her Michelin-starred restaurant Laurushaus is in the former tithe barn (where the surrounding farmers would store the goods due their local baron or duke). It’s a cozy space, with a limited number of tables, and a small private terrace open in the summer. If you have your heart set on dining here, it’s worth noting that the restaurant is only open from Thursday through Saturday, and has several closure periods throughout the year (including the last two weeks of July). Book early!

The Laurushaus restaurant, Michelin star dining right at the castle.
The Laurushaus restaurant, Michelin star dining right at the castle.
Golden light on the magnolia.
Golden light on the magnolia.

Heavenly breakfast, cake, and more

If you’re looking for a less fancy option, there’s the more relaxed Hugenpöttchen restaurant overlooking the Schlosspark. That’s where you’ll have your excellent breakfast, with creative house-made jams and excellent coffee to order. Fresh tulips in bud vases graced every table. The restaurant is open for lunch from 12 noon, and continuously until dinner with cakes and treats created by the in-house patisserie available for mid-afternoon requirements. Of course, if you’re looking for a basket backed for a romantic picnic in the Schlosspark, with some notice, they can provide that for you too every Sunday from May until September (with 48 hours notice). 

Impressive sitting area in the foyer
Billiards room at the hotel
Billiards room at the hotel

Where is this amazing place?

About a half-hour by car outside Essen or Düsseldorf, or about 45 minutes by train plus a short taxi ride. There’s lots of explore nearby, like the Zeche Zollverien, a huge old industrial site now transformed into art spaces, restaurants, and several museums. 

Little playground on site
Little playground on site
Always a good sign when your kids need to run around. (Kinderspielplatz = children’s playground)

Can you do this hotel with kids?

Yes! I have it straight from the hotel staff themselves. There is a little fenced playground at the end of the courtyard, great for smaller kids, including somewhere for adults to sit. There’s the Schlosspark behind the castle of course, which you’re welcome to roam around in. Not only that, there are special events for kids including an afternoon meal and castle manners lesson, that ends with a little run around outside of course, and cooking and baking classes as well. Possibly my favourite idea though, is the in-house babysitting. Contact the hotel ahead of time, and you can arrange a babysitter for the evening while you enjoy a romantic meal downstairs in the castle restaurant. How glorious would that be? If you’re looking to stay at the Schlosshotel with kids, book one of the junior suites or the larger suites, and let the staff know you will need space for children to sleep. 

Entrance to the hotel
Entrance to the hotel

Some great times to visit 

Christmas time, from the end of November to just before Christmas Eve, is a magical time to be in Germany. The markets in Düsseldorf and Essen are both gorgeous, and the Schlosshotel itself has its own market, in 2019 it’s on 5-8 December. In the summer months you can take advantage of their picnic baskets, and explore the local area, including the Zeche Zollverein, which has events on all summer. 

Book your visit right here:

Booking.com

The moat at the castle is pretty awesome too.
The moat at the castle is pretty awesome too.

Getting to Schlosshotel Hugenpoet

As I mentioned above, you can get to the hotel from either Düsseldorf or Essen by train in about 45 minutes, getting off at the nearby station of Essen Kettwig Stausee, A short taxi ride from the station will have you arriving through the picturesque gates of the castle in no time. By car, it is about half an hour. 

Book your train journey in English here:

This stay was included as part of a press trip exploring the region, organized by Nordrhein-Westfalen Tourismus. All opinions expressed are my own.

Enjoy a five star stay at this gorgeous German castle hotel just outside Düsseldorf and Essen. Michelin star dining, lovely gardens, and more.
Enjoy a five star stay at this gorgeous German castle hotel just outside Düsseldorf and Essen. Michelin star dining, lovely gardens, and more.
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Day trips from Strasbourg

Day trips from Strasbourg

Strasbourg in eastern France is a great home base for exploring Alsace and southwestern Germany, and I’ve collected some of the best day trips from Strasbourg right here. This region, from Alsace all the way over to the Rhine river valley in Germany, has shifted between France and various kingdoms of German princes and dukes. This means a glorious combination of German and French influences in everything from architecture to food. This also means there are loads of different places to visit within easy striking distance: from huge theme parks to quaint winemakers’ villages, Dostoyevsky’s favourite casino to famous castle ruins. 

Baden-Baden

This 19th-century spa town on the edge of the Black Forest has been a getaway for French and German people for over 200 years. Take a relaxing day at one of the historic thermal spas, tour the art galleries and shops, and relax. I recommend a good four hours at the Caracalla Therme spa baths, which do allow children, and even offer a childminding service if you’d rather enjoy the waters and steam rooms on your own. You can skip the clothing-free German sauna experience and still enjoy the waters in outdoor and indoor pools, steam rooms, and even a brine inhalation room. It’s a very relaxing experience. Afterwards, make sure to try some of the local food, like Maultaschen (a sort of German ravioli, often served in broth) or Käsespätzle (cheesy egg noodles topped with fried onions) paired with a local wine. A Baden-Baden day trip from Strasbourg is easy, as it’s a quick half-hour trip by train (book your train here in English Strasbourg-Baden-Baden), or you can arrange a half-day tour with a guide from Strasbourg. 

Freiburg

On the edge of the Black Forest is Freiburg im Bresigau, a picturesque university town. There are plenty of canals, and little streams that appear out of nowhere, running down specially made channels in the streets and sidewalks (local legend says if you step in one accidentally, you are destined to marry a Freiburger). The medieval old town was completely destroyed during the Second World War, but meticulously rebuilt. It’s full of sidewalk cafes, playgrounds, little courtyards, and holds the title of the sunniest spot in Germany. The city also housed a large contingent of the French army after the Second World War, so there’s a distinct French flavour to the cafes and restaurants, though you will still find it easy to get a glass of Baden wine, as there are many vineyards in this region. It takes about two hours on the train one way to get to Freiburg (book your train here in English Strasbourg-Freiburg).

Colmar

South of Strasbourg is the popular day-trip destination of Colmar. Many towns were ransacked during the French Revolution, but Colmar managed to emerge nearly unscathed, so the old city centre has buildings ranging from the 13th century to the neo-baroque early 20th century. If you’re a fan of the Studio Ghibli film Howl’s Moving Castle, you will quickly notice the landscape of this animated film is heavily based on Colmar. It’s really worth booking a tour on one of the little boats in Little Venice, as well as one of the little train tours, as you see two completely different parts of the town. Remember to look up, as the houses are painted with complicated details all the way up to the eaves. Colmar is gorgeous any time of year, but it’s truly spectacular from May onwards, when all the flower boxes are out with their riots of colourful flowers tumbling down. You’re right in the middle of Riesling central here, so make time for a meal of local specialties like tarte flambée, a thin-crust sort of pizza with a creamy cheese, lardons, and onions, and pair it with a local wine. Coq au Riesling is of course a traditional dish here, which is chicken poached in the local white wine. It’s often served with potatoes or Spätzle. This is a very easy town to navigate with kids with its small scale and many courtyards. Colmar is a quick 30-minute train journey from Strasbourg (book your train here in English
Strasbourg-Colmar). 

Riquewihr

Just north of Colmar is Riquewihr. This is tiny walled medieval village right in the middle of the region’s vineyards, and it is properly picturesque – in fact it has been named one of les plus beaux villages de France, or one of the most beautiful French villages, and it’s on the Alsace Wine Route. It is almost entirely preserved from the 16th century, and every corner is an Instagram moment waiting to happen. 

We were there in February, when it’s probably at its least attractive and we still had a lovely time. You can climb the hills in the vineyards (if you’re with kids, keep them away from the vines, this is someone’s livelihood after all) above the town the gorgeous views over the vines, and wander the streets. The restaurants here don’t really cater to budget travellers, though lunch set menus are not too bad, so I’d suggest heading back before the dinner hour. You can also check out Kayersburg Castle ruins above the town. Riquewihr is not served by the train, but it’s a 25-minute drive from Colmar. You can take a guided tour of several of the surrounding villages from Colmar, which solves the transport problem. 

Europa-Park

Europe’s biggest theme park is probably one you’ve never heard of. Europa Park is in the Black Forest, and has been run by the same family since its opening in the 1975. There are 13 roller coasters, and regions all over the 950 thousand square meter park for Russia, Sweden, Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Iceland and many more. There are loads of water rides, themed hotels and restaurants for many of the regions, and endless shows and entertainment. Anyone who has grown up in the region will get misty eyed at the mentioned of Europa-Park, remembering fondly school trips and special summer holidays. The park still closes for the winter months, so check ahead for opening times. You can arrange for private transfers to and from the park from Strasbourg. 

Haut Koenigsbourg Castle

This castle south of Strasbourg was built in the 12th century, and both the Habsburgs and Wilhelm II have owned it at one point or another. Haut Koenigsbourg was restored extensively by Wilhelm II in 1900-1908 roughly to the era of the 1700s, with heavy emphasis on its Germanic roots. This was Wilhelm’s attempt to bring the newly acquired Alsace region into the German empire and make them feel included. While the reconstruction does lean a bit heavily to the Romantic idea of castles that fuelled the huge castle-rebuilding boom of the early 20th century, historians now admit it was not entirely badly done, and does reflect the lines of the original buildings and fortifications. You can tour the castle on your own with an audio guide, and unusually, this castle is open year round. There is a tavern on site, and in the summer months a snack bar with outdoor seating too. If you want to save a few Euros, pack in a lunch and eat in the picnic area, you can even book a picnic table under cover from the elements, just contact the castle ahead of time. From March to December there is a shuttle bus running from the Sélestat train station, which is a 20-minute train journey from Strasbourg (book your train right here in English Strasbourg-Sélestat). It’s worth noting you can’t take buggies into the castle, so be prepared to park it outside and carry or walk with any children. 

Heidelberg

Our gorgeous old town on the river Neckar, long pedestrianized main shopping street, and huge romantic castle ruins looking over everything make Heidelberg a very popular day trip for everyone visiting the area. Of course, as a resident I would tell you to stay for a weekend, but a day trip is lovely too. Take in the city museum first, then have a leisurely lunch before heading up to the castle – and do the guided tour! Sitting between the Pfalz, the Black Forest and Swabia, the food options here are extensive. You can enjoy Flammkuchen (the German term for a tarte flambée, it is the same dish), tender Schwarzwälderschinken (Black Forest ham), Maultaschen (Swabian ravioli type pockets served in broth) and Spätzle (tender egg noodles). It’s a little further afield than some of my other suggestions, but Heidelberg Castle is very impressive, and as we often make the journey from Strasbourg to Heidelberg with guests, I think it’s worth it if you’re keen on the history of the region. It’s a 2-hour trip by train (book your train right here in English
Strasbourg-Heidelberg
), or a 90-minute drive from Strasbourg to Heidelberg.

Black Forest Open-Air Museum

This is one of our favourite places to bring out-of-town guests in the region. While Freiburg and Baden-Baden are on the edges of the Black Forest, the Black Forest Open-Air Museum is right in the depths of it. You get a real sense of what it was like to live and farm in the forest 300-400 years ago. There is a misconception in English-speaking articles that the Brothers Grimm lived in the Black Forest, but they didn’t — they lived and worked further up north towards Kassel, but the illustrations in many picture books definitely look like they were inspired by the half-timbered houses in this region. There are quite a few huge old houses, filled with furniture and tools of the time. Volunteers in costume demonstrate local crafts and skills, and you can greet horses, pigs and chickens. There are several exhibitions just for kids to clamber through, and a great playground with a little cafe and tables right there. The larger restaurant is great for a coffee and a big slice of the eponymous cake. It’s very different from Strasbourg and the surrounding area, so you will definitely feel like you’re seeing something new. It’s a good two hours on the train from Strasbourg but there’s a stop right by the museum that is open in the summer, but it’s an hour’s drive by car.

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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 Burg Cochem, 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’). It should never be Berg Cochem though, that would mean a mountain and while the hill the castle is on is steep, it’s not quite a mountain! 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 River 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. 

The Reichsburg Cochem (Cochem Castle) address is Schlossstraße 36, 56812 Cochem, if you’re driving, and I’ve marked it on the following map.

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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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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