Packing List for Europe: Spring Edition

Packing List for Europe: Spring Edition

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

Spring is a tough season to pack for when you’re heading on a multi-city trip through Europe. I find it hard to dress for and I live here! Go for layering and be realistic about your planned activities. Above all, be ready to walk! 

Different cities have different styles, but there are a few elements that will let you blend in a little better.

Gym clothes are for the gym – you won’t find people wearing yoga trousers unless they have literally just finished a class, and even then, they will change before going out on the street. This goes trebly so for sweatpants. Try a relaxed pair of flowy trousers or more structured yet stretchy ponte if you’re looking for comfort. A dark pair of slim or skinny jeans, a nice top and a cardigan, with a scarf thrown over the top, will do well in any European city. 

 Parc des Buttes Chaumont in Paris

Parc des Buttes Chaumont in Paris

Outerwear

Spring is a changeable season everywhere, and if you’re planning on visiting Amsterdam or London, be ready for wind. A good trench coat, ideally with a water resistant or waterproof coating, will be your best friend, and it works well layered with a sweater or cardigan. It looks equally nice on top of jeans as a nice dress when you’re heading out for dinner. This is where I find more technical rain coats fall down – you want to go to a nice restaurant, but Gortex just doesn’t fit the bill. Unless you’re planning a serious hiking holiday (in which case you’ll need a lot of other clothes anyway), bring a trench or another nice wind and rain resistant jacket. 

Something Navy pink trench // Marks & Spencer Stormwear cotton trench // Sam Edelman Packable trench // London Fog trench with detachable hood

Scarves

A few good scarfs, from silk to lightweight knit, will fill in the gaps when the weathers takes you by surprise. They take up practically no space in your luggage (I like to shove mine into my shoes) and it makes any outfit that bit more sophisticated. Wear it in your hair, pull it around your shoulders when you’re on an open-top bus tour, tie it to your bag for a pop of colour, sleep under it on a long train journey – I love a good scarf or three when traveling. 

Marks & Spencer brushed scarf // Silk and cashmere wrap // Tartan Blanket Company Oversized scarf in two tone // Story of Shanghai silk scarf

Shoes

You will be walking everywhere, so bring sensible shoes, everyone says. Yes well, sensible doesn’t have to mean ginormous gym shoes. You’re in luck, because The Thing over here for several seasons has been crisp white trainers with anything. I personally love my Italian Supergra hightops, but any low-profile white trainer will do the trick. The second most ubiquitous shoe choice are sleek ankle boots, and these are also easy to find in seriously comfortable options. I love my Blundstones, and wear them everywhere… they are fully waterproof, slip on easily, and with a little polish look good as new no matter what I throw at them. 

White Supergra trainers // TOMS Carmel sneaker // Lacoste Carnaby trainer // ECCO Women’s Soft Sneaker

Blundstone 558 Women’s boots // ECCO Bella Women’s zip-up boot // Camper Bowie boot

Dresses

I am a dress and cardigan woman through and through, but I truly believe it’s one of the easiest travel outfits ever. Even in spring. Bring several pairs of leggings to wear underneath and you’ll be fine. I personally prefer leggings to tights for daytime wear, as I find them more breathable and forgiving over a long day. I just tuck a pair of black socks on under black leggings, and with ankle boots, honestly no one notices. A good midi dress with a cardigan, leggings, ankle boots, trench coat, and scarf can take you pretty much anywhere looking put together and feeling super comfortable. It turns hot in the afternoon? Whip off those leggings or the cardigan. The wind picks up? Do up your cardigan and coat, wrap the scarf around your shoulders for an extra layer. 

H & M striped shirtdress // Marks & Spencer grey midi dress // Madewell sweater dress // Universal Standard Geneva dress

Bags

I am not a fan of daypacks. I know they are practical, but they look huge, and when you’re going in and out of museums, squeezing onto busy public transport, and walking down small streets, they are a pain to you and to everyone else around you! Stick with a practical crossbody bag or messenger bag. It’s easier to keep it in eyesight in case of pick-pockets, and easier to access. Honestly, a small water bottle you can refill, your camera, your phone, your wallet, tissues, a snack bar, a lipstick, keys, plasters – there’s not much else you need for a day out. I love my GATTA Lola bag, which is a padded DSLR camera bag but looks like a purse. Take advantage of my search for stylish camera bags right here.

GATTA Lola camera bag

One-week Spring Europe packing list

Three dresses – one shirtdress, one super easy jersey dress, one sweater dress

One midi skirt – either plain or a bit flashy, ASOS is a great source for this length. I like midi skirts for travel as they give you more coverage in case you are visiting religious sites, or end up clambering into tour boats, or sitting on stone walls

One pair of stretchy skinny jeans

Two cardigans

One turtleneck sweater

Two t-shirts (I like H&M for these basics)

Two pairs of leggings

Trench coat

 

For accessories:

Three scarves

Two pairs of earrings

Two necklaces

Cotton underwear

Bras

Sunglasses

Camera bag/cross-body bag

One pair ankle boots

One pair trainers

Cosmetics and toiletries

I keep my cosmetics pretty streamlined in general, so when I travel there’s nothing really different than my usual routine. I do often opt for make-up remover wipes, and throw a bunch of cotton pads in a zip-top bag with my favourite exfoliator squirted all over them. But that’s it!

Make up (foundation, concealer, mascara, eyeliner, brow pencil)

Make-up remover wipes like these

Ziptop bag with cotton pads soaked in Pixi Glow Tonic

Medicines

Charging infrastructure

This is our family name for all the cables, chargers, and whatnot required to keep everything plugged in and charged while we’re away. Mine is a bit different as I have to bring my CPAP machine with me (a device with a mask I need to wear when I sleep, it’s to deal with sleep apnea), so I bring a surge-protected power bar with built-in USB ports for plugging in my devices. But my husband brings just a plug-in USB charging block, that has the brightest light on it ever, so it functions as a nightlight as well. We’re also adding a couple of universal plug adapters to our infrastructure as well.

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Spring is a tough season to pack for when you’re heading on a multi-city trip through Europe, I've got you covered with a practical packing list.

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Visit the Keukenhof Tulips

Visit the Keukenhof Tulips

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

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

Brilliant tulips at Keukenhof

Brilliant tulips at Keukenhof

A little history

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

I think these were possibly my favourite tulips at Keukenhof

I think these were possibly my favourite tulips at Keukenhof

When to visit Keukenhof

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

More little canals and colourful plantings

More little canals and colourful plantings

Finding your way around Keukenhof gardens

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

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

Look at that delicate purple on these ones.

Look at that delicate purple on these ones.

What to see at Keukenhof

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

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

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

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

 

Where the whisper boats start their tour from Keukenhof

Where the whisper boats start their tour from Keukenhof

The windmill at Keukenhof

The windmill at Keukenhof

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

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

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

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

Vibrant purples at Keukenhof

Vibrant purples at Keukenhof

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

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

 

Getting to Keukenhof

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

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

Buying tickets for Keukenhof

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

Keukenhof hotels

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

Booking.com

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

Booking.com

 

Keukenhof 

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

 

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Suitcases and Sandcastles

 

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Cochem Castle

Cochem Castle

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

Looking through the many arches at Cochem Castle

Looking through the many arches at Cochem Castle

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

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

Suits of armour are everywhere

Suits of armour are everywhere

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

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

A bit of history

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

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

The beautiful hunters hall at Castle Cochem

The beautiful hunters hall at Castle Cochem

The Great Hall at Castle Cochem

The Great Hall at Castle Cochem

Should you do the tour at Cochem Castle?

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

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

Peering down into the yard at Castle Cochem

Peering down into the yard at Castle Cochem

Always look up when you go on these castle tours

Always look up when you go on these castle tours

Join a Medieval banquet

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

Cochem Castle is stunning in the autumn

Cochem Castle is stunning in the autumn

What time of year to visit Cochem Castle

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

The view from the cafe in the Cochem Castle

The view from the cafe in the Cochem Castle

Classic Schnitzel in the castle cafe

Classic Schnitzel in the castle cafe

Even the placements were cute

Even the placements were cute

What to eat

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

View from outside the Cochem Castle

View from outside the Cochem Castle

Where to stay

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

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

The Cochem Castle lit up at night

How to get there

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

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

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Unique travel gifts for kids and parents

Unique travel gifts for kids and parents

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

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

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

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

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

A really beautiful oversized scarf

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

 

Collapsible coffee cup

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

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

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

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

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

On-the-go games for kids

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

Shadowbox frames for all those bits

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

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

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

Doing something with all those photos

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

Gift them a professional photography session on their next holiday

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

 

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

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Visiting the haunted castle of Burg Berwartstein

Visiting the haunted castle of Burg Berwartstein

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

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

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

Looking up at the castle on the cliffs.

Looking up at the castle on the cliffs.

The beginning

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

The Robber Knights

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

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

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

Catching a fellow visitor walking out to the famous terrace.

Catching a fellow visitor walking out to the famous terrace.

Hans von Trotha

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

The gardens around the Burg Berwartstein

The gardens around the Burg Berwartstein

Paintings inside the little chapel in Burg Berwartstein

Paintings inside the little chapel in Burg Berwartstein

My son exploring the chapel at Burg Berwartstein

My son exploring the chapel at Burg Berwartstein

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

Beautiful wall paintings inside the top floor of the Burg Berwartstein

Beautiful wall paintings inside the top floor of the Burg Berwartstein

The Castle Ghost

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

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

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

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

Visiting Burg Berwartstein

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

Beautiful gardens outside the Burg Berwartstein

Beautiful gardens outside the Burg Berwartstein

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

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

Burg Berwartstein in the forest

Burg Berwartstein in the forest

Opening hours of Burg Berwartstein

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

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

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

Getting to Burg Berwartstein

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

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