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. 

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The Windmills of Kinderdijk in the Netherlands

The Windmills of Kinderdijk in the Netherlands

I love a good open-air museum, and the windmills of Kinderdijk, just south of Rotterdam, did not disappoint. Being able to climb up inside one of the windmills, all the way to the top, was incredible. So should you make time to visit this UNESCO World Heritage site? Definitely.

Museum windmill Blokweer

Museum windmill Blokweer

What is Kinderdijk?

This area of South Holland is a microcosm of the Dutch struggle to keep their fertile farmland from flooding. Nearly 17% of the Netherlands is land reclaimed from the sea, through their ingenious dyke and windmill systems. The Kinderdijk (literally translating as ‘Children’s Dyke’) is one such area of farmland where 19 of the 20 historic windmills have been maintained and preserved. These windmills are still doing the job they were built to do, and must be kept in working condition in case the diesel-powered pumping stations lose power for any reason. So while this is an open-air museum, these incredible wooden machines are still an important part of keeping this area dry.

Wooden clogs outside Museum Windmill Blokweer

Wooden clogs outside Museum Windmill Blokweer

What are the windmills at Kinderdijk for?

When the Dutch people built the dykes this enclosed land for farming, but it was still flooded with water. The windmills (molen, in Dutch) power large Archimedes screws that pull water out of the farmland, and drain it into canals. Rain and natural groundwater seepage keeps threatening to drown the fields, or polder, requiring the windmills to keep the balance. In the event of a drought, the windmills can provide water from the canals as well. 

For those of us not used to living near these magnificent buildings, we might be tempted to think of them as cute and small. Up close, they are huge, powerful, and very dangerous. A common hazard of living and working near the windmills was getting hit by one of the sails. I stood mesmerized by the whoomp-whoomp-whoomp of the passing sails, and shuddered at the thought. The power they can generate is tremendous. 

A view down the Kinderdijk

A view down the Kinderdijk

What is there to do at Kinderdijk? Is it for kids?

The name ‘Kinderdijk’ is the name of the area itself, and it definitely is not just for children. The story goes after a terrible flood in 1421 that killed thousands of residents, a baby’s cradle was spotted floating on the flood waters, with the baby crying inside. The child was saved, and the area renamed the Children’s Dyke. 

The museum is definitely family friendly, but on our visit we saw mostly adults visiting the area, so don’t be turned off if you’re not traveling with children. 

There are 19 windmills on site, but you can only go inside two of them. There are two boat tours along the canal: one will take you on a full circuit, and one is a hop-on, hop-off affair. You can definitely walk all over, but the boat makes it quicker. Unsurprisingly for a place with 19 windmills, it is very, er, windy, so you might want a break from walking along the dykes. 

Inside the Museum Windmill Nederwaard

Inside the Museum Windmill Nederwaard

Museum Windmill Nederwaard

This windmill was built in 1738, and one family lived and worked in it for many generations. At one point 13 children lived here! Inside, you can see how the living areas were set up, and climb the very steep staircases. You can climb into one of the beds built into the wall, and imagine if you could sleep with the sails spinning outside. It sounds like you’re on a ship, the way the creaking and groaning of the wooden gears and ropes carry on. And carry on constantly – all through the night and day. I can imagine you’d get quite used to it, even find it soothing. 

The bed built into the wall in the Museum Windmill Nederwaard

The bed built into the wall in the Museum Windmill Nederwaard

All around there are photos of the Hoek family who lived in this windmill, along with clothing, dishes, and stories. It was impossible not to get a sense of the lively group of people who spent their lives here over hundreds of years. Sadly, one of the Hoek mothers died after getting hit by the windmill’s sails while chasing after one of her children. In one of the photos, all the children had shaved heads, which I can imagine was to combat lice… I don’t know how they managed to keep that under control in such a tiny and crowded living space. 

I particularly loved this museum windmill, and how much the photos made me think of the people who lived there in their groaning and creaking home. My son loved getting into the bed, and poking his head up through the top floor to see the workings of wooden gears in the attic of the windmill.

Woolen underthings and clogs in front of the little stove in the Museum Windmill Blokweer

Wool underthings and clogs in front of the little stove in the Museum Windmill Blokweer

Museum windmill Blokweer

This smaller windmill looks quite different than the other Kinderdijk windmills, because it was built in 1631, and has a movable top that can turn to face the wind. Outside, there is a chicken coop, vegetable garden, and a goat pen. Millers still needed to feed their families of course. There’s also an outdoor kitchen, where someone in costume was preparing food. There’s also a small gift shop and cafe next to Blokweer. Inside the mill, the kitchen is beautifully preserved and set up as though the owner has just stepped out. In the shed just adjoining the door, you can see a selection of wooden clogs hung up on rails. What is it about shoes that conjures up an image of their owners so immediately? 

Embroidery hanging in one of the windmills. Rough translation: 'The wind that blows, the mill that turns, the blessing of the Lord that makes the small increase.'

Embroidery hanging in one of the windmills. Rough translation: ‘The wind that blows, the mill that turns, the blessing of the Lord that makes the small increase.’

Clog shelving in the Museum Windmills at Kinderdijk

Clog shelving in the Museum Windmills at Kinderdijk

The other windmills

They may not be museum windmills, but you will notice by the windowboxes and curtains that people do still live in them! That’s why you’re not allowed to walk up to all of the mills on site. 

Kinderdijk opening hours, ticket prices and how to get there

The Kinderdijk is open all year except December 25th. 

January & February, 10am – 4pm

March – October, 9am – 5:30pm

November & December, 10am – 4pm

Ticket prices

Adults €7

Kids (4-12 years old) €4.50

Kids under 3 are free

Boat tours are €5.50 for adults, and €3 for kids, again under 3 are free. 

Maps cost €1.

You can order all of these tickets ahead on their website, but you do have to choose which day you will be visiting. You save €1 per adult by booking online, so it’s definitely worth it, even if you just do it that morning. 

Getting to Kinderdijk

Kinderdijk is a very easy day tip from Rotterdam.

You can drive to the Kinderdijk, as we did, but be warned that you will have to take a very short car ferry. It was a bit of a surprise to us, we came over the hill and there was the boat! It didn’t show up as such in the satnav. 

From Rotterdam, it is a 30-minute journey on the WaterBus, and you can buy a combination ticket online here, which gives you a discount on entrance to Kinderdijk as well, though you will still need to buy a boat tour ticket when you arrive if you’d like to do that as well. The return ticket, is €11.70 for adults, and €8.55 for kids – this doesn’t include the entry fee, but upon showing your ticket you will get 20% off. 

PS – We stayed in a castle in the Netherlands too, it was amazing! And if you’re going to Amsterdam, here’s our one-day guide.

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Heidelberg Christmas Market: A Local’s Guide

Heidelberg Christmas Market: A Local’s Guide

Our Christmas market in Heidelberg may not be the largest or the showiest in Germany, but it’s full of locals enjoying the season every year beneath our glorious castle. We go to the market five or six times each year, as well as visiting other nearby markets too, at all times of day, and all days of the week. It’s one of my favourite places to buy gifts to send home to my family. If you’re the kind of person who collects special ornaments from your holidays, you will have so many to choose from it will make your head spin. 

Is the Christmas Market enjoyable if you’re not really a Christmas person? Definitely! This is much more of a wintery, festive thing than an overtly consumerist, flashy religion thing. The religious content is very minimal, and you’ll find everyone celebrating the cold weather and… well… Glühwein!

So pull on your warm socks and walking shoes, here’s your local’s guide to enjoying our lovely Christmas market here in Heidelberg.

Gift stalls in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Universitätplatz

Gift stalls in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Universitätplatz

When is the Heidelberg Christmas Market open?

This year, 2018, the market opens on 26 November, and runs until 22 December. Each day, the stalls and ice rink opens at 11am, and close up around 9pm, except on Saturdays when they stay open a bit later until 10pm. 

Where is the market?

There are little markets spread all along our pedestrianized main street, the Hauptstrasse. Starting at the Bismarckplatz, the main bus exchange, you can visit six along your walk. Some are just a small collection of stands serving food and drink, with a smattering of mugs and decorations, like the one at Bismarckplatz. But the last three, at the Universitätplatz, Marktplatz, and Kornmarkt are quite large. I’ve made a special map just for you, scroll down to see it.

Is there a Christmas market up at the Heidelberg Castle?

You will probably read about a market at the Castle, but this is no longer happening as of 2016. Endangered bats nest and hibernate in the tunnels below where the Christmas market used to be held. It was decided that the market was too disruptive for the bats, so the stalls that used to be there were moved down to another square in the city that year. It was off the usual route, however, and I don’t think they did that well, because the next year those stalls were included in the main market locations. However, you can enjoy ice skating in the Karlsplatz directly below the castle.

Carousel in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Universitätplatz

Carousel in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Universitätplatz

What is there to do at the Heidelberg Christmas Market and when to go

Just soaking up the festive atmosphere is one of the best activities, to be honest, but a gentle stroll through the markets is what we locals do. The most magical time is around dusk, when all the lights come on and it feels like you’re walking through a Christmas card. If you’ve got kids with you, head straight for the Universitätplatz market to save little feet. At the centre is a big old carousel, and even though my son knows it well, he always wants at least three rides! The Kornmarkt is set up as a little forest, with loads of pine trees on stands, all entwined with lights. Between the trees is a mini-train the kids can ride, and again, a good two or three times around seems to be required! The giant windmill-style Glühwein stand that is an iconic Christmas market staple is set up in the main Marktplatz, as well as a smaller carousel. The ice skating rink is one market square beyond the little wood, in the Karlsplatz. You can rent skates there, and take a few turns around the rink to music, with the castle lit up right above you. 

Each day, the stands and the ice rink opens at 11am, so if you’re looking to buy gifts, early afternoon is a great time to do so with minimal crowds. Because the market is so spread out, it doesn’t often get too crushed. The stalls close up around 9pm, 10pm on Saturday nights. Weekends are definitely busier than weekdays, as daytrippers come in from across Europe. 

Glühwein mug, and Flammkuchen

Glühwein mug, and Flammkuchen

What to eat at the Heidelberg Christmas Market

What not to eat?! Come hungry, because there’s lots to choose from. The ubiquitous Bratwurst is everywhere of course, served in a small bun (think of it as an edible handle). If you like it spicy, go for the Feuerwurst. There are steaks and venison sausages cooked on the big round grills. There are usually several vegan food stalls as well, if you’d rather skip the meat. Local to our region is the Flammkuchen, a very thin crust pizza topped with onions, bacon pieces, and a mild soft cheese more like cream cheese than mozzarella. There are infinite variations you can get though, including ones with mozzarella on them, veggies, pesto, and more. These are cooked to order, and are a good crowd-pleaser, as everyone just tears a piece off. Just keep ordering until everyone is full. 

One of my favourite treats is the Kartoffelpuffer, which is a bit like a hashbrown patty, but it’s deep-fried fresh to order, and you can have either Apfelmuss with it (apple sauce) or avail yourself of the ketchup and mayo there. Sweet and savoury crêpes are available all over, as well as sides of salmon grilled over an open fire. Hot waffles drizzled in Nutella, or sprinkled in sugar and cinnamon is another favourite. My son’s tip for the best sweet crêpe: order the Kinder Riegel one, where they put a thin chocolate bar (or two if you’re lucky!) made of milk and white chocolate in the middle, and it melts and gets all gooey inside the crêpe. There always seems to be a few stands that will dip a skewer of fruit in molten chocolate for you as well. 

If you’re looking for a more portable treat, cotton candy, or Zuckerwatte, is popular, as well as bags of candied nuts. There are always colourful stalls full to the brim with candy that seems to attract children like a magnet. The decorated heart-shaped cookies hanging outside are pretty, but pretty hard to eat. 

What to drink

Glühwein of course! Because Heidelberg is in the middle of several wine regions, if you do a little searching you can find the more delicately spiced Weißglühwein, which is my particular favourite. If you order it ‘mit Schuß’ you will get the choice of a shot of rum or Jägermeister in your hot sweet wine for an additional Euro. For some theatre, seek out a Feuerzangenbowle stall to watch them set a rum-soaked sugar cone on fire, above a cauldron of Glühwein. And then have a mugful, obviously. For kids and nondrinkers, you can find Kinderpunsch at every stand that serves Glühwein, which is a hot spiced fruit juice. The mug you’re served your Glühwein in is reusable, and when you buy your first mugful, you have paid a deposit, or Pfand. You can walk up to any other Glühwein stand in the market and pay for a refill. If you’d like your deposit back, when you’re finished the night you can return your mug to any stand selling drinks, and they will refund you – don’t forget, it’s 3€ a mug! I think everyone in Heidelberg has a few of these at the back of the cupboard!

Wooden toys at the Heidelberg Christmas Market.

Wooden toys at the Heidelberg Christmas Market

What to buy

On average, I find the prices at the gift stalls very reasonable for the quality of the work. A lot of these people spend all year making things to bring to the Christmas markets. Some of my favourite things to buy as gifts at the market include:

Sheepskin slippers

We are a farming region down here, and there are a few stalls that only sell sheepskin products, and the slippers are so incredibly warm. They have gorgeous proper sheepskin throws as well, but these are pricey. They are also the best quality ones I have ever seen.

Felted pouches

Who doesn’t need another pouch to keep train tickets, small change, or glasses in? These stands also feature some incredibly detailed children’s slippers with curled toes. If you have an elf-obsessed small person, this may be your perfect choice. There’s also a good selection of felted flowers to pin to a coat or hat.

Wooden puzzles

The wooden puzzle booth is always a favourite stop. From classic ball mazes to more complicated Escher-like twisting baubles, everything is made in good-quality wood, oiled and stained. Not just for kids, most of these games would look perfect on a bookshelf or desk.

Christmas decorations and lanterns

It’s a tradition in southern Germany to put a lit-up star lantern in your window. Accordingly, some of the most beautiful stalls are the ones hung with many lanterns, all glowing in the evening. There are metal punched-hole ones from Morocco, and paper ones of all shapes and sizes. The paper kind will flatten down, if you’re concerned about suitcase space. There are many options for more traditional wooden decorations as well. If you really want to invest, visit the Käthe Wohlfahrt store at the corner of the Unveristätplatz market –– they have full Christmas scenes that move with the heat from a candle, miniature (and not so miniature) Christmas pyramids, and pretty much everything Christmas you can think of. The prices are much higher in here, but if you’re looking for an heirloojm piece, this is the place. 

Chocolate tools

This sounds so strange, but there is a stand behind the carousel in the Universitätplatz market that sells chocolates in intricate shapes of tools, cameras, cars, keys, and kitchen implements. It’s worth a look even if you don’t buy anything, because they are incredible. 

The Christmas pyramid in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Marktplatz

The Christmas pyramid in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Marktplatz

Insider tips

We visit many times over the season, as well as many other Christmas markets in nearby towns. Here is what we’ve learned:

  • Wear comfortable shoes and warm socks because you will be walking and standing the whole time
  • Bring a reusable bag for any purchases
  • Wear a hat and a scarf, and bring gloves, it gets quite cold when you’re out for several hours
  • Don’t bother with an umbrella if it’s raining, there are too many people, just wear a hat
  • If you’re not into walking a long way, take the bus to the centre of the market and start there (see below)

How to get to the Heidelberg Christmas Market

The Christmas Markets are easy to reach in Heidelberg, as is Heidelberg itself. Regional trains reach the city with a change in Mannheim – for more details on how to get from Frankfurt to Heidelberg, I’ve written a whole post for you. From the Hauptbanhof (main train station), you can take any tram or bus marked for Bismarckplatz to walk the whole length of the markets. If you’re looking to save your energy, take the 32 Bus to Universitätplatz and that will bring to the heart of the bigger markets. If you’re driving, you will want to park around the edge of the Altstadt and walk in. I’ve marked two good parking garages on the map below, as well as where the markets are, the train station, and where the bus drops you. 

BONUS market to visit: Kloster Neuberg

Not part of the city markets, but well worth a visit is the little market at the Stift Neuberg. This is a still functioning monastery down the river a bit from the city. The market is on the grounds of the historic farm that is run separately from the monastery these days, and it features cows, goats, and an excellent brewery. If you’ve been craving beer but could find nothing but Glühwein, this is your stop. It is much smaller than the other markets, but it’s much more rustic. The craft stalls are inside the barns, and there is sometimes a small carousel. Fresh Flammkuchen is always available, along with hot waffles, Kartoffelpuffer, and Bratwurst. If you’re lucky, they will be roasting a pig on a spit above a woodfire. This market is much quieter, so if you want a little magical local experience, this is worth it. 

To get there, you can take the bus 34 to the bottom of the hill where the monastery is (marked on the map above), or you can take the Weisse Flotte boat along the Neckar (departure pier also marked on the map). The boat is more like a little ferry, you don’t need to book ahead. I wouldn’t recommend driving, as parking is a right pain. It is a big walk up a hill, but there are more sitting options than in the bigger markets, so you can take a rest once you get up there! Also, wrap up warm, it is at a higher elevation. If you’re really lucky, it will snow!

Enjoy your trip to the markets in Heidelberg, we really love this time of year in our adopted home.

 

PS – Here is my overall guide on how to do German Christmas Markets, and if you’re looking for other things to do in Heidelberg with kids, I’ve got you covered there too.

 

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Schloss Mespelbrunn

Schloss Mespelbrunn

The small but perfectly formed Schloss Mespelbrunn in western Bavaria has survived for hundreds of years unscathed, mainly due to its location, nestled in the Spessart forest. This is a famous German forest, with its fairy stories and myths immortalized by the Brothers Grimm. The Castle Mespelbrunn is one of those that takes your breath away as you come around the neatly clipped box hedges. I don’t think I will ever tire of that moment when a castle reveals itself. Sometimes referred to as a ‘wasserschloss’ (water castle), Mespelbrunn sits serenely in its own little lake, complete with resident swans. 

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

History

In 1412, the Archbishop of Mainz gifted some land next to a pond in the Spessart to a knight named Echter, for his part in defeating the Czechs. At this point, the Spessart was literally thick with thieves and bandits, which inspired the second generation of Echters to build fortifications around the stately home. From this period, only the round tower remains, with the rest of the castle being rebuilt in the Renaissance style from 1551-1569. The most famous resident of the castle was Julius Echter, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg (1545-1617), who founded a hospital and re-founded the University of Würzburg in 1583. 

Schloss Mespelbrunn was never in a high traffic location, and this saved it during the Thirty Years War when armies of all sides were rampaging through the area. 

The lake runs on all sides of the Castle Mespelbrunn, like a very large moat.

The lake runs on all sides of the Castle Mespelbrunn, like a very large moat.

The doors to the Castle Mespelbrunn. You can see the little crate that holds the fish food on the lefthand side there.

The doors to the Castle Mespelbrunn. You can see the little crate that holds the fish food on the lefthand side there.

By 1665, the last male Echter died without leaving a male heir. However, Maria Ottilia, Echterin of Mespelbrunn, married into the Ingelheim family which were later elevated to Counts. The current Count Ingelheim lives in the castle with his family today. 

Still from the title sequence of Das Wirtshaus im Spessart, shot at the castle in 1958.

Still from the title sequence of Das Wirtshaus im Spessart, shot at the castle in 1958.

Completely unrelated to the actual history of the castle, a famous German musical called Das Wirsthaus im Spessart was filmed in the castle and a nearby town in 1958, which seems to inspire many coach tours.  

Inner courtyard at Castle Mespelbrunn

Inner courtyard at Castle Mespelbrunn

Door to upper levels of the castle, dated 1569.

Door to upper levels of the castle, dated 1569.

Schloss Mespelbrunn entrance fees and opening hours

To do anything other than lean over the gate and take photos, you need to pay an entrance fee. 

Adults 5€

Children/students 2.50€

The castle is open from March to November 9am-5pm daily, but check their site for exact opening and closing dates as they change each year. 

It’s worth noting that it’s difficult to get to this castle other than driving. The parking lot is a short (level!) walk from the castle on a smooth gravel and then paved path. Unusually for a castle, this one is quite easy to access with a buggy or if you’re travelling with folks using mobility aids. However, there are stairs on the tour and you won’t be able to bring your buggy with you.

Your first view of Schloss Mespelbrunn from the gates.

Your first view of Schloss Mespelbrunn from the gates.

Is it worth doing the tour at Schloss Mespelbrunn?

Yes definitely. Like most German castles, you cannot see the inside except on a guided tour. All tours are in German, so you will need to ask the ticket seller at the gate to give you an English pamphlet, which provides the text of the tour in English. Often the guides can answer any questions you have in English, or someone on the tour can translate. On the tour, you will see the Knight’s Hall on the ground floor, with suits of armour and heraldic symbols in stained glass. Moving upstairs, you get to see the dining hall, which I found the most impressive. It’s a bit of a hunting lodge theme, with wild boars’ heads and antlers mounted all over the place, as well as an impressive table setting. The current Count of Ingelheim and his family have special dinners here, even now. There’s also a small but interesting display of weapons, including some wicked-looking early crossbows. 

View from the castle entrance across the small topiary garden.

View from the castle entrance across the small topiary garden.

Shady benches outside the Knight's Hall at Schloss Mespelbrunn

Shady benches outside the Knight’s Hall at Schloss Mespelbrunn

There’s a tower room dedicated to honouring Julius Echter, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg and all his works. The main interest here was the shrunken head he was gifted by someone who had visited Africa. Moving through to a bedroom, it’s hard not to imagine sleeping here with the window open to the breeze, listening to bandits call to each other in the woods. No doubt no one would have kept their windows open for fear of dying of unseen miasma, but that’s just my romantic fantasy. 

The tour lasts about 40 minutes, and moves along fairly quickly. 

Regal swan glides across the lake at Schloss Mespelbrunn

Regal swan glides across the lake at Schloss Mespelbrunn

What else is there to do at the castle?

The small lake is also home to schools of fat and happy looking fish, which you can feed with little packets of proper fish food for 0.50€, that are sitting on a stand just outside the main castle doors. The fish get gratifyingly excited to be fed, and the water is quite clear, so this can take up a good half hour if you’re travelling with kids. There are a few resident swans floating around looking regal as well. There’s a small cafe in the old stable building, across from the castle. We stopped and had an excellent Apfelstrudel, and Eiskaffee, in their little garden. An Eiskaffee, if you’re not familiar, is a gloriously cold concoction of vanilla ice cream scoops in a large glass, with coffee poured over it, with unseemly amounts of whipped cream and maybe even chocolate sauce dribbled over that. Like an obscene version of an affogato. But delicious. 

Getting to Schloss Mespelbrunn

Despite being only an hour from Frankfurt, this castle is still quite hard to get to without a car. There is a parking lot very close, and it costs 2€ per vehicle. 

If you’d like to get there by public transport, your best bet would be to take a train to the Aschaffenburg station and then a taxi to the castle, which would be a half hour journey. Do check the sections above for opening hours, as many reviews I’ve read online seem to involve people trying to visit in winter and disappointed the castle is closed. 

You should leave two hours for your visit, but know this small castle won’t take an entire day to explore. It’s a beautiful spot that isn’t overrun with visitors, so enjoy yourself and take your time. 

Quick bonus! If you’re looking to stay in the area, the beautiful Schlosshotel Mespelbrunn is short walk from the castle and is all kinds of beautiful.

Beautiful Schlosshotel Mespelbrunn

Beautiful Schlosshotel Mespelbrunn

PS – Looking for some day trips from Frankfurt? Or maybe another incredible castle to visit?

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Schloss Schwetzingen

Schloss Schwetzingen

The summer palace of the Prince Elector Palatinate in Schwetzingen is beautiful, standing at the end of a tree-lined avenue in the small town of the same name. The buildings are only a gateway, though, to the truly magical gardens that lie beyond the gates. Impressively, the palace has retained its extensive gardens, lawns, and various outbuildings including a mosque. 

Water features at Schlossgarten Schwetzingen

History

The Prince Electors in Germany were powerful men who, as a group, chose the Holy Roman Emperor, and ruled over parts of the Empire themselves. When the Prince Elector Charles III Philip moved the court from Heidelberg to Mannheim around 1700, he started building work on a summer residence in Schwetzingen, as well as the main palace in Mannheim. He was particularly fond of music, and assembled an unusually large and skilled court orchestra. Mozart visited several times to perform at the summer palace, and definitely walked in the gardens.

The gardens are particularly interesting as they span two distinct styles prevalent in the 18th century. The highly structured and manicured French style dominates the initial views from the palace, but as you move further away from the central allé, you are presented with winding paths, woods, and streams. The gentler, more natural English style was taking over around the middle of the century, but instead of making over the entire garden, the court architect Nicolas de Pigage just combined the two. 

Beautiful tree tunnel in Schlossgarten Schwetzingen

Beautiful tree tunnel in Schlossgarten Schwetzingen

When to visit Schloss Schwetzingen

The summer is obviously a beautiful time to stroll in the gardens – everything is in bloom, and on a Saturday you will see many brides and wedding parties of all types having their photos taken. On hot days, escape the central area into the trees and many curling paths. There are endless pieces of statuary among the hedges and fountains. However, there are a few other times of year that are worth a visit as well. 

In the autumn, the changing leaves are spectacular all over the garden, but particularly beyond the Turkish garden, where the paths and a little river curls around a large garden folly that resembles a very small castle ruin. 

In the winter, after a snow fall, the gardens turn into Narnia. Many of the larger plants are tied up artfully with burlap and after a dusting of snow everything is transformed into some kind of sculptural snow topiary. 

Pink cherry blossoms at Schlossgarten Schwetzingen

Pink cherry blossoms at Schlossgarten Schwetzingen

Finally, possibly my favourite time to visit is in spring when the cherry blossoms come out. Just before you reach the Turkish garden is a large walled garden filled with cherry trees, and planted with bulbs. In spring the watery sunlight is trapped in this space, and it’s almost like a taste of summer. The cherry blossoms are a joy to witness, and we try to bring a picnic to enjoy on the grass. You can check their website for details on the progress of the cherry blossoms, they usually have a Blossom Barometer! The last half of March or early April is a good bet, however. 

Can you imagine trimming these hedges?

What to do at Schloss Schwetzingen

It is possible to see a few of the rooms inside the palace building, however like most German castles, you can only visit with a guided tour. English tours happen at the weekends at 2:15pm, though you can join the German tours that happen most days and read from a translated sheet. The tour lasts about an hour, and it’s interesting, but I would say you could skip it without missing too much. The real draw of this site is the gardens. I have yet to do a garden tour, but they do offer them once a week, in German. 

Tour options at a glance:

English tour of the palace rooms (1 hour): Saturday and Sundays at 2:15pm

German tour of the palace rooms (1 hour): Spring (March 25th – May 2nd) Monday – Friday, hourly from 11am – 4pm, Saturday & Sunday & holidays, hourly from 10:30am – 5pm

Summer (May 3rd – September 27th) Monday – Friday, hourly from 11am – 4pm, except Thursdays when tours run hourly until 7pm, Saturday & Sunday & holidays, hourly from 10:30am – 5pm

Autumn (September 28th – October 27th) Monday – Friday, hourly from 11am – 4pm, Saturday & Sunday & holidays, hourly from 10:30am – 5pm

Winter (October 28th – March 23rd) Fridays at 2pm, Saturday & Sunday & holidays 11am, 1:30pm & 3pm

German tour of the palace and garden: Spring, Summer & Autumn, Monday – Friday, 2pm, Saturday & Sunday & holidays, 12 noon, 2pm & 4pm

German tour of the garden: Spring, Summer & Autumn, Saturday, 3pm

The entrance price varies accordingly to which tour you’d like to take. I know, it gets a bit confusing. Just entrance to the garden, with no tour, is 6€ for adults and 3€ for children, with a family price of 15€ (applies to two related adults and children). The standard English tour included with your entry price will make it 10€ for adults and 5€ for children, with a family price of 25€. If you are planning to visit Heidelberg as well, do think about getting the Baden-Württemberg Schlosscard, as you will save if you visit more than one site. 

It’s worth noting that if you have a particularly wiggly child, the tour might be a challenge. I saw plenty of children on the tours however, so they are not discouraged by any means. As usual, you know your child best. However, there really isn’t much in the way of interesting things – no armour or weapons, no clothing displays or toys. 

Of course, if you are a larger group, you can arrange a tour yourself, in whichever language you prefer. I have arranged one before, and the staff are very helpful and quick to respond. 

The best approach is to wander where your heart takes you really. The gardens are designed to give you the sense they go on forever, and I love just wandering and taking in all the little scenes as they appear. It is endlessly beautiful to photograph in any season, so make sure all your batteries are charged. Wear comfortable shoes, because you will be walking and walking. My favourite places are the main allé and the Turkish garden, but ask me after my next visit and I will have changed my mind!

Garden restaurant at Schloss Schwetzingen

Where to eat near Schloss Schwetzingen

The gardens have a small restaurant at the end of the wind to your right as you enter the gardens, but I have never visited. The tables outside look lovely, but I always seem to come upon it as I am leaving. There is also a very small cafe directly across from the ticket office before you enter the gardens properly. However, for a better deal, you will want to eat before you enter. All along the avenue approaching the palace are restaurants that put out their tables, there is always room and it’s a beautiful spot to sit. On a warm summer’s day, visitors often remark that it feels more like Italy than Germany. If you’re looking for a sweet treat and a coffee, try Bäckerei Utz just past the bank on Carl-Theodor-Straße (that main road running up to the palace). If you’re lucky, you can buy some chocolate shaped like asparagus. 

Schwetzingen is the centre of Spargel (white asparagus) growing in this region, and you’ll see many references to it around the town. If you happen to visit in late spring or early summer, you will see Spargel on every menu, or even catch the Spargelfest. We witnessed the historic annual foot race involving wheelbarrows, aprons, gloves, hay bales, and shots of Schnapps. 

Endless beautiful views, really.

How to get to Schloss Schwetzingen

It’s very easy to reach Schwetzingen from Frankfurt, it’s one train to Mannheim and then a half hour bus to Schwetzingen that drops you straight in front of the palace. You can book your ticket right here, in English. 




If you’re travelling within Baden-Württemberg, like from Heidelberg, or going on to Stuttgart, you can buy a Baden-Württemberg ticket at the train station that will also get you a 10% discount on your entrance ticket to the Schloss Schwetzingen. If you’re travelling in a group, these tickets are often much cheaper. You can buy one right here: 




 

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