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Exploring Châteaux in Burgundy, France

Exploring Châteaux in Burgundy, France

The French countryside in the Bourgogne, or Burgundy, is as beautiful as you’ve heard. Rolling hills, vineyards surrounded by old stone walls, picturesque farm buildings, and the occasional châteaux perched on a hill. Burgundy is full of options when it comes to exploring châteaux (French castles), and I’ve detailed our trips to two local sites below within a short drive of Beaune.

Chateau de la Rochepot

A short drive outside of Beaune, France, is the Château de la Rochepot. Perched on a hill above a small village, it is a beautifully restored example of the local Burgundian style with its distinctive glazed roof tiles. My husband took this incredible drone footage of the area.

Like many castles, it has been through several phases of destruction and rebuilding. The first castle structure was built on the larger site in 1180, and burnt down within 100 years. These ruins are still in the nearby forest. The basis of the buildings standing today were built in the 15th century, with the minor castle being bought and sold, inherited and passed on, for the next several hundred years. During the French revolution, like many other grand structures, it was declared a national property. Unfortunately, it was heavily damaged by vandals not long after.

Gorgeous glazed roof tiles at Château de la Rochepot.
Gorgeous glazed roof tiles at Château de la Rochepot.

Finally, in 1893, it was purchased by the wife of the then President of the Republic and she gifted it to her son, Sadi Carnot. He began an extensive rebuilding and restoration programme for the next 26 years, throwing himself into the historical research. When you visit the Château, there is a room full of beautiful photos from this restoration period. The Carnot family still own this castle to this day.

When you walk in from the car park, there are some outbuildings where you buy your ticket, but they also serve coffee and cake, as well as offer some small souvenirs. There is a little courtyard with tables, and it’s quite lovely. Local craftspeople were setting up stalls as well, offering more cakes, sweet treats, wooden toys and boxes, and more.

Fairytale courtyard at Château de la Rochepot
Fairytale courtyard at Château de la Rochepot

Once you’re inside the Château, you will be given a brochure with the details about each area. This is a small site, so there is no audio tour or anything, but to be honest, that’s fine. It’s very quiet, and there were maybe five other people there with us, so unless you happen to arrive at the same time as a bus tour, it’s a very relaxed visit. It is ridiculously photogenic, and just wandering the rooms I couldn’t help but imagine what intrigues happened here over the years. The courtyard is beautifully landscaped, and it made the romantic part of my heart sing.

With the driving to and from the Château, we spent about three hours in total, so it makes a good half-day trip from Beaune.

Château de Savigny-les-Beaune

Planes outside Château de Savigny-les-Beaune
Planes outside Château de Savigny-les-Beaune

Very close to the town of Beaune is the Château de Savigny-les-Beaune. This is such an amazing experience, that if you can only make time for one château visit, I’d pick this one, particularly if you have kids with you.

Gorgeous courtyard at the main building of Château de Savigny-les-Beaune
Gorgeous courtyard at the main building of Château de Savigny-les-Beaune

Originally constructed in the 14th century, then destroyed less than 100 years later by a vengeful King Louis XI, the current structure was built in the 17th century. However, in 1979 the château was purchased by Michel Pont, a winemaker, collector, and former race car driver. Which sort of explains the extraordinary place today.

There are several themed museum areas in the grounds. The first thing you will notice are the three old fighter jets parked in front of the main building. Yes, you read that right. But if you follow the directions of the front desk staff, you visit some outbuildings first for a display of 35 vintage Italian race cars, plus an uncountable number of vintage bicycles. Everything is beautifully displayed, but there is just so much of everything. There are cases containing over 600 model cars interspersed between the actual, full-sized cars. It doesn’t stop there, however.

And the cars go on and on...
And the cars go on and on…

Walk past the main building, past a few vineyards (this is Burgundy!) and in the field beyond is a marquee with 30 or 40 fire trucks, ranging from horse-drawn versions to fancy chrome-covered models from the 50s and 60s. You may be distracted, though, by the field full of 80 fighter jets. We passed another English-speaking visitor as we were leaving this field who voiced my own first thoughts on seeing this: ‘But how do you start collecting these things?!’

A field of planes at Château de Savigny-les-Beaune
A field of planes at Château de Savigny-les-Beaune

After you’ve taken in the airplanes, the beautiful main building beckons. Indeed, the ground floor is furnished in a vaguely historical style, and the views out to the vineyards is incredible. But venture upstairs, and you will be greeted with a display of motorcycles. My son gleefully counted them and came up with 150, but it seems there are about 300 (we must have missed a wing), dating from 1903 to 1960. Again, interspersed with a dazzling number of models in cases. We spent a few hours here, but if you were an enthusiast of Italian race cars or motorcycles or fire engines or planes or tractors (we skipped this particular collection), I think you could happily spend a full day here. Or three.

Motorcycles inside Château de Savigny-les-Beaune
Motorcycles inside Château de Savigny-les-Beaune
Motorcycles inside Château de Savigny-les-Beaune
Motorcycles inside Château de Savigny-les-Beaune

I love that you can pick up a few bottles of the Château’s wine on the way out, but that’s literally all there is to the ‘gift shop’. This is a gloriously personal collection of things, with not much in the way of interpretative texts, but you can feel the personality of the owner throughout. It’s such a terrific place to visit, if you’re in the area it’s well worth a side trip.

PS – Looking for what to do, where to stay, and what to eat in Beaune, France? I have you covered there too.

Want to know what kind of drone we fly?

I’ve pulled together our drone gear below, please note these are affiliate links.We love our little DJI Mavic Pro

Our drone is the DJI Mavic Pro and we went for the Fly More package and have never regretted it – more batteries are never a bad thing! We recently invested in the quieter blades – they really do make a difference. These Polar Pro filters adjust for different light conditions, and we’ve found they cut down on post-processing time for sure.

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Five castles to visit in Germany that aren’t Neuschwanstein

Five castles to visit in Germany that aren’t Neuschwanstein


If you follow me on Instagram (and if you like castles, you really should because I am obsessed) you know my family and I visit a lot of them. The thing is, southern Germany is wall to wall with castles. I didn’t know that until I moved here, and if you look at Pinterest, you’d think the only one is Neuschwanstein. Oh no, my friends, there are more. So. Many. More. It’s also worth noting that the entrance fees of the castles on this list are half of what you’d pay for Ludwig’s folly, and they will all be much less busy.

A bit of history

Germany has only been a country for a short period of time really, and before the 19th century, it was a land of hundreds of little principalities, duchies, Free Cities, and more types of city states than you can rattle a sword at. Even more confusingly, due to the mind-bendingly complicated inter-marrying of all these ruling families, lots of these kingdoms would include little islands of land scattered across the countryside. Each of these places would have a castle or two, to show they were the boss, to serve as a reminder you had better pay your river tax, and defensible places for the Duke or Prince Elector or whomever to hole up when the going got rough, or to lavishly entertain other Dukes and Prince Electors. That explains the truly incredible number of castles.

Not all castles in Germany are all that old

There was a bit of a trend in the 19th century, everything medieval was cool. People wrote cheesy approximations of medieval music, and other people with too much money and rotting castles no longer needed for defence, built incredible monuments to castley-ness. That doesn’t make them any less interesting to visit, in fact they are often stuffed full of CASTLE things – crenellations on all available surfaces, over-elaborate knights halls – the whole bit. Neuschwanstein falls into this category, as do a couple of the ones on my list. These castles are often built right on top of an older castle site. The stone was there, right?

Guided tours – don’t miss them!

As with most German castles, you won’t be able to see interior rooms without going on a guided tour, and sometimes these are only available in German. There will always be an info sheet with the translation available, so don’t skip this! You will miss some amazing views, interiors, and furniture. Often the guide will speak some English anyway, and can answer questions.

On to the list! Five castles to visit that aren’t the super busy Neuschwanstein:

Heidelberg Schloss
Heidelberg Schloss is an extensive Romantic ruin.

Heidelberg Castle

This is a favourite of the river cruises, and our local castle. It is in ruins, but what ruins! They have inspired generations of writers and artists – Turner, Mark Twain, and Goethe. A portion of the castle has been restored with period furniture, and you can visit it on a guided tour. My favourite stories of Heidelberg Castle come from Princess Elizabeth Charlotte’s time there as a child, though she’s more famous as Liselotte, sister-in-law of Louis XIV. She loved the castle at Heidelberg, and urged her family to restore it when she was living in France. In her letters, she reminisces about climbing the cherry trees in the gardens early in the morning, and eating fruit until she was too full.

You can easily visit on a day trip from Frankfurt or Stuttgart, and if you do, I have a list of kid-friendly things to do in Heidelberg here besides visit the castle.

Cochem Castle on the Mosel river
Cochem Castle on the Mosel river

Cochem Castle

Cochem Castle is a gorgeous 19th-century renovation right on the Mosel (Moselle) river and sits above a cute little town. This is a great weekend trip, and if you love wine, this is the best castle-plus-wine spot ever. Yes, those are vineyards lining the hill up to the castle, and you can try plenty of the excellent local Riesling in the local restaurants. The tour is particularly good at this castle, and kid friendly if you’re traveling with little ones. Combine a visit to this castle with a trip to Trier.

High above the forests of the Palatinate, Burg Berwartstein is a proper haunted castle.
High above the forests of the Palatinate, Burg Berwartstein is a proper haunted castle.

Burg Berwartstein

Were you hoping for creepy tales and ghosts in your castle visit? Then Burg Berwarstein is the one for you. One of the most intact of the old Rhineland cliff castles, this one has loads of excellent stories of robber barons, tragic ladies, and ghosts. You can just see another tower poking out of the trees on the other hilltop in the photo above, and there’s actually a tunnel leading to it from this castle. You can’t visit that tunnel, but they do take you underground into candlelight caverns chiseled out of the sandstone hundreds of years ago. This castle is easy to combine with a trip to the Black Forest.

Castle Lichtenstein is also perched on the top of a cliff

Lichtenstein Castle

This castle is all over Pinterest and Instagram, and understandably so, as it’s very cute. A short drive from Stuttgart, Lichtenstein Castle is not actually in the country of Liechtenstein, but was named after a famous Romantic German novel that was inspired by the original medieval castle on the same site (got that?). In any case, ‘Lichtenstein’ in German is roughly translated as ‘shining stone’ – and you will noticed immediately that the castle is built on an outcropping of white rock. The current castle was built in the 1840s and is full of Gothic Revival castleness. Again, you will need a tour to see the inside. If you can only catch a German tour, there is a useful brochure with the details in English – and our tour guide spoke English and did some on-the-spot translating for us. My favourite spot? Inside the dining hall, there’s a large gilt grate that allowed the music from a small orchestra to filter down so Duke Wilhelm von Urach could dance with his guests. This castle makes a great day trip from Stuttgart.

Burg Eltz
Our favourite German castle, Burg Eltz is gorgeous and just what you imagine a castle to look like.

Burg Eltz

This is my favourite German castle, and I’ve dedicated a whole post to it over here. The tl;dr version is this: it is one of only three Rhine valley castles to have survived unscathed the many wars that ravaged the countryside, and is one of the most beautiful. The interiors are breathtaking. My favourite is the bed chamber with wall paintings preserved from the 15th century. Incredibly, the same family has owned the castle for the past 33 generations, and they still have quarters there. In fact, the Countess puts huge vases of fresh flowers in the public rooms every day. Burg Eltz is a short trip from Trier, Koblenz and Cologne.

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Burg Eltz: My Favourite Castle in Germany

Burg Eltz: My Favourite Castle in Germany

Burg Eltz: I will say right up front, this has been my favourite castle I’ve visited so far. If you follow me on Instagram (and if you like castles you really should), you know we visit a lot of them. Ruins, restored, popular and empty – I love a castle. If you love this one, check out my list of four other castles less busy than the ultra tourist mobbed Neuschwanstein.

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But Burg, or Castle Eltz, in the beautiful Moselle valley, is my favourite. And it’s nowhere near as crowded as some of the more famous castles. If you’re curious, a Burg is a castle built for defence, as opposed to a Schloss, which is generally more of a home for nobility, or a palace. The lines can become blurred, however, as many of these structures were destroyed and rebuilt many times, changing their functions through the years. However, it’s never Berg Eltz, as that would be referring to a mountain called Eltz!

The gorgeous Burg Eltz nestled in its green valley.
The gorgeous Burg Eltz nestled in its green valley.

Burg Eltz History

This castle has been in the Eltz family for 33 generations, and through clever alliances it has remained in good condition all that time. It’s one of three Rhine castles never to be destroyed at some point. Coming through the Thirty Years War unscathed is a Herculean achievement, really. It’s a familiar refrain in the histories of all the other castles in southern Germany: ‘but in the Thirty Years War it was completely destroyed…’

The castle itself is built on a rocky point jutting out of a valley over a ridge from the Moselle River. There is actually a very small tributary of the Moselle that runs around the castle, and this funny little valley was once a major Roman trade route, making this a perfect place for a castle.

Inner courtyard at Burg Eltz.
Inner courtyard at Burg Eltz.

A castle of many parts

Like many castles of this age, the complex grew organically over the years as each successful generation wanted larger apartments, or just something a bit… different. The oldest part is from the 9th century, with another large portion built in the 12th century. My favourite area of the castle is from 1472, with a gorgeous bedchamber and original wall paintings of thick ivy climbing all up the walls and onto the ceiling. Each little section of the castle would house a different branch of the Eltz family, with some shared kitchens below stairs, one of which you get to visit.

Should you do the Burg Eltz guided tour?

It’s worth noting you cannot see the inside of the castle without a guided tour. Just ask when you buy your tickets when the next English guided tour will be, and you can plan your snacks or meals around it. You can visit the Treasury (described below) on your own, so you can always spend a good half hour there. It is absolutely worth going on the tour. I’ve been on several, and the guides are very patient with young children. You get to see one of the children’s bedrooms, miniature (functioning!) canons, and child-sized suits of armour. You won’t be able to bring a buggy with you, so ask your tour guide if you can leave it in their office while you’re on the tour. Be prepared: like most German castles, you can’t take photos of the castle interior, but the Rick Steves clip from this area had permission to film inside if you’re curious.

A suit of armour in the treasury at Burg Eltz.
A suit of armour in the treasury at Burg Eltz.

An extremely detailed stein in the treasury at Burg Eltz.
An extremely detailed evesin in the treasury at Burg Eltz.

Treasury

The treasury is a little section of the castle you can visit on your own, and houses the usual collection of Roman bits, a few Ottoman swords (all the castles have them as they sent men to fight the Ottomans in France in the 16th century), a couple suits of armour, some truly wacky looking little sculptures, and an adorable set of drinking steins all painted with children’s names. This little gallery has been nicely curated, and we spent a pleasant half hour peering at everything.

External courtyard at Burg Eltz.
My son loves climbing on the rocks in the courtyard at Burg Eltz.

Is Burg Eltz good for kids?

Oh, it’s great for kids. It is so castle-y, and refreshingly under-visited, so you’re not battling your way through crowds to see things. The tour was 45 minutes – and like all German castles, this is the only way you can see the interior – but the guide was patient and kept it as relevant as he could for the small people. As usual, you won’t be able to bring buggies or big hiking carriers (the backpack ones with a frame) on the tour, but babes-in-arms are fine, as are toddlers. There was a baby, plus two or three toddlers on our tour, all of which started complaining and wandering throughout the tour, but no one minded. There’s lot of space to run around outside near the castle, lots of places to clamber over rocks and burn off steam.

 

Courtyard cafe at Burg Eltz.
The courtyard cafe at Burg Eltz is a lovely place to have lunch.

Courtyard cafe at Burg Eltz.
Lovely spot outside the castle for lunch.

Visiting Burg Eltz

When visiting these castles throughout Germany, you have to remember that no central organization runs them – each noble family chooses to open them to the public or not, and arranges staff and restaurants and all that. Consequently, the quality of staff, displays, food, and toilets varies dramatically from one to another. Burg Eltz is obviously well loved, because all the staff were friendly, and everything is clean and well organized.

It’s worth noting that this castle is only open from April to October, so no, you can’t visit Burg Eltz in the winter. Which is too bad, I think it would be beautiful in the snow.

There are two cafes on site, both with tables outside on the terrace in front of the castle. It’s the usual selection of very German food, so expect schnitzel and wurst with fries, as well as some surprisingly good pasta dishes. They have some nice beer on tap as well. Don’t forget to return your beer glass directly to the cafe and ask for your ‘pfand’, that’s a deposit you paid when you bought your beer – it’s €4 so well worth it. I watched two tourists leave them on their trays! You can, of course, take them home with you as well.

Fairy tale inner courtyard at Burg Eltz.
Fairy tale inner courtyard at Burg Eltz.

Getting there

Burg Eltz is not the easiest one to get to, this is true. It’s about an hour’s drive from Trier, and not right on the Moselle, so the tour boats don’t stop there. You can get a tour from Frankfurt that will drive you there and back. If you’ve rented a car, it’s an easy day trip from Frankfurt, Koblenz, Trier, or Cologne. See below for our favourite place to stay in the Moselle Valley.

When you arrive, there is a short hilly hike to the castle from the parking lots, or you can take the little shuttle bus for a small charge. I recommend the shuttle bus, there is a lot of walking on the castle tour and around the outside, no need to tire out little legs before you even start. Get ready for the view of the castle about two minutes into the shuttle bus ride, it is magical.

By train: on weekends and public holidays from May to October you can take a train to Hatzenport or Treis-Karden, and then the Burgenbus that goes straight to the castle. Outside these times, take a train to Moselkern, and then you can take the 5km hike or take a taxi up to the castle. You can book your train right here, in English:




Alter Pfarrhaus, our favourite hotel near Burg Eltz
Alter Pfarrhaus, our favourite hotel near Burg Eltz

Our favourite hotel near Burg Eltz

We stayed in a small village along the Moselle river, right in the middle of vineyards, about halfway between Trier and Burg Eltz. The Altes Pfarrhaus is a lovely old house run by a Dutch couple {affiliate link}. Very affordable, and the food is great. If you’re driving, it’s a very easy place to stay en route. We had a lovely dinner on their huge outdoor patio, with wine from the hills across the river, and it was heavenly.

 

Part of a #CulturedKids linkup.

CulturedKids
Last updated: 16 March 2018
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Visiting Burg Hohenzollern

The gorgeous Burg Hohenzollern

A sentinel watches out over the countryside from Burg Hohenzollern.
A sentinel watches out over the countryside from Burg Hohenzollern.

The Hohenzollern family has a long and illustrious past in Prussia, so it might cause some confusion to find their ancestral seat down south in Baden-Württemberg. Prussia was one of their more famous holdings, but the family originated in Swabia (which is partially contained in the current state of Baden-Württemberg) near the site of this castle.

The current castle is the third to be built on the Berg Hohenzollern, and it’s more of a memorial to the might of the Hohenzollern family than a home or even a fortress. When it was built in the mid-19th century, there were upheavals all through Baden, Bavaria, and the Palatinate as the many smaller states made their shuddering way into Bismarck’s German Empire. Burg Hohenzollern version three came to be right in the middle of this, and I’m sure the giant idealized castle on a hill was a bit of a heavy-handed exercise in Making A Point.

They don’t get into it on the tour, however, probably because the castle is privately owned by the Hohenzollern family.

Burg Hohenzollern

Interestingly, neither of the previous versions of the castle were destroyed during the Thirty Years War, which ravaged so much of this end of Germany. The medieval castle built in the 11th century withstood a year of siege by the collected armies of the Swabian Free Imperial Cities, and a junior Hohenzollern brother, before it was completely destroyed in 1423. The second one was constructed about 100 years later, and it flipped around between the Habsburgs and the French before everyone seemed to lose interest in it, and it was abandoned from 1798 onwards. This is all detailed in a mural in one of the hallways inside the current castle.

Burg Hohenzollern Burg Hohenzollern Burg Hohenzollern

What to see and do

When you come to visit Burg Hohenzollern, you can see it from kilometres away, standing proud and exceptionally castle shaped on top of its little mountain. It does look like a very large child has dropped it from the sky.

You can approach the castle on foot from the parking lots, or by taking a minibus up for about 3 Euros. If you’re going as a family, definitely take the minibus as the walk up is an energetic hill climb, and there will be walking once you’re up there. You buy your tickets at the bottom, and they are checked as you enter the castle. You will want to arrange your places on an English-language tour when you check in at the top castle gate – it is the only way to see the interior rooms. This is a common feature of castles in the region, by the way. The tours are fairly quick, about 45 minutes or so, but buggies are not allowed inside. On the tour, the kids get to wear ‘royal robes’ which feature heavily in the family portraits on the walls, so my son was pretty chuffed about that. If you have a squirmy one under 5 years old, the tour may not be worth it. It’s worth noting you can’t take photos of any kind inside during the tour.

Burg Hohenzollern

There’s an outdoor cafe kiosk serving pommes frites, snacks, coffee, hot chocolate, ice cream, and that sort of thing in the courtyard. There are lots of tables, and it’s quite beautiful really, so if you need to kill time while someone else does the tour, it’s not much of a hardship. There’s a white tablecloth restaurant inside, but if you’re wrestling small people, this is probably not your deal either.

The winding walk up to the castle courtyard, and the exterior walks, are beautiful and afford pretty astounding views out over the countryside. The walls along the edge are not very high in places, however, and there are not the railings you may be used to, so it’s best to keep firm hold of little hands.

Taking photos of Burg Hohenzollern
Taking photos of Burg Hohenzollern

Burg Hohenzollern

The best photo spot

The dramatic photos of the castle from a distance are taken from a specific view point about a half an hour drive away. This sounds like an extra thing that is too much of a pain with kids in tow, but to be honest, there’s a good 20-minute walk up a trail before you get there, and it was a really good break from all the driving in the car. The viewpoint itself is amazing, even if you don’t take many photos, but it is very unofficial, and it’s literally a rocky outcropping with a steep drop-off. There is no railing, and it’s a bit intense. If you have a under-five that likes to dash away from you, this is best viewed back from the edge with firm hand-holding. My active seven year old was fine, and there are a few benches. We were there firmly in the off-season, and it was FREEZING, and there were three guys having beers sitting on the rocks, two other photographers fussing over their shots, and us. I can imagine this spot gets very very busy in the summer. To get there, park in the lot next to the Zollenstieghof, and take the white gravel path that goes around the back of the hotel. I found this place thanks to Be My Travel Muse. I think it’s really worth finding this spot, the drive there is through several picturesque little German towns and the walk is lovely. The view is truly breathtaking, coming out of the trees and seeing this spread out before you.

Where to eat: Ochsen

While driving home, we decided to find somewhere other than a fast food place, and a rapid translation of German Yelp netted us this local gem in Balingen. Ochsen is a very local place. Like ten tables, and at least three of them seem to know each other in that neighbours running into each other at the grocery store kind of way. The single waiter was very friendly, and we had a selection of Swabian dishes that were wonderful. Pork and beef in paprika sauce, käsespätzle (noodles with cheese sauce), and excellent pommes frites. There’s a small kids menu too. You’re going to need your Google Translate ready to go if you can’t read German – there are no English menus and we had all our conversations with the waiter in (simple) German. It’s also cash only, but there’s a ATM just up the road. Walk off your meal in the beautiful village of Balingen, with half-timbered houses all over the place. This is not on any tourist trail, so enjoy this little corner of the proper Swabian countryside.

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