In September 2017 (omg, this was way over a year ago!), when I was pregnant with Julie, we made a trip to Germany to celebrate two of our friends getting married. It was a perfect excuse to visit Germany during one of the best times of the year, and a perfect excuse to play tourist in our former country of residence. We tried to do some things that we hadn’t done while we were living there as expats and one of those things was visiting Burg Eltz. See, Burg Eltz is one of the most famous castle in not only Germany (after Nueschwanstein of course), but in all of Europe, and has the unique designation of being one of Rick Steve’s, the well-known host of the aptly titled Rick Steve’s Europe, favorite castles in Europe. Needless to say, I had high hopes for this castle!
Set deep in a ravine in a u-bend of the Elzbach river, almost directly west of Frankfurt, Burg Eltz looks like a German castle straight out of a fairytale. It’s half timbered top level gives way to sheer brick walls dotted with small windows. Turrets abound on this small-ish castle that has restricted access. Cars are not allowed near the castle - there is a parking lot about a kilometer away. In good weather with good shoes, it would be a nice hike from the parking place to the castle, but at 32 weeks pregnant with a toddler in tow, we opted instead for the shuttle. It’s remote setting has protected from the ravages of war for its 850+ year history and today, it is in fairly remarkable shape!
Approaching it, you’re must first cross a long, narrow bridge, just wide enough for, I would assume, a horse and buggy. Once across, there are some stairs that feel almost as if they were an afterthought, that wind up and through the castle walls to lead you into the center courtyard of the castle. It’s small and the tall, ancient, buildings with a history of being added on to over the years and turrets looking like they are precarioulsy perched on top seem as if they could topple in on you at any moment. They block out most of the direct sunlight keeping this area cool and slightly damp feeling. Here, you wait for your guided tour, the only way to venture inside. The castle is still owned by the same family that built it; construction started in the 12th century. Let that one sink in a bit. They have a confirmed lineage that they can traced back over 800 YEARS! Many American’s don’t know who their great great grandparents were, let alone their great x 16 grandparents.
Cameras are strictly prohibited inside the castles, but the Burg Eltz website has a good desciption and a picture for each room on the tour. Originally built as a single fortress, there was a disagreement between three brothers many many years ago. As a result, the castle was “split” into three units - one for each brother. Over the years, the brothers’ descendents occupied their own piece of the castle, adding on to it and decorating it in their own way. The result is little bit of a hodge podge of a castle, but one with a most unique story (as most hodge podged things do). The guided tour takes you through a selection of two of the three parts of the castle. Each room is restored and decorated in antique furniture and original frescoes, housing vasts collections of armour, weaponry, art, and more. It’s basically a museum you can experience! My favorite bit was the kitchen. I love seeing the old butcher blocks, the massive fireplaces, and the old utensils, pots, and pans. Sometimes my imagination gets carried away thinking of the feasts that would have been prepared there.
Once your tour is complete, there is a convenient cafe to relax at and grab some lunch or partake in the German pasttime of Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake). It’s set on a lower terrace overlooking the river. The day we were there, the weather was cool, but sunny. In other words, a perfect day! So if you’re in the area and have a penchant for European castles (and really, who doesn’t), then stop in to Burg Eltz for a short visit.
Visit Burg Eltz
The castle is generally open April through October, but check their website for the most reliable dates. Admission is higher than most other German attractions or museums since it is privately owned, but isn’t unreasonable at 10 euro for an adult. Tours are offered in English and German, possibly others, ever 45 minutes or so. There is not a set schedule for tours. As this is a popular castle, there can be quite a few visitors there. To avoid large crowds, it is recommended to arrive early in the morning or later in the afternoon. Or, you can always visit during shoulder season, the preferred way for us to visit Europe as rates for nearly everything are cheaper and there aren’t as many tourists!