Who hasn’t traveled along the Rhine and imagined living in one of the castles lining the river? Several of the medieval fortresses offer tourists the chance to fulfill their dreams and become lord of the keep for a day.
The Rhine River and an imposing medieval fortress - a typical German tourist site
Travelers to Germany have long treasured the region between the rivers Rhine and Moselle – both for its verdant landscapes as well as the enchanting castles that dot the countryside. And while traveling past the historic sites, many admirers have undoubtedly fantasized about being lord and master of one of the ancient fortresses.
On a bluff overlooking the Moselle, on a site where Romans once guarded their northern border, that tourist’s dream can come true in the thousand year old Arras Castle. For at least a day, history buffs can experience what it is like to live in a medieval castle.
Stahleck Castle on the Rhine River
Far removed from city noise and traffic, guests at the castle hotel enjoy a comfortable stay – something very unlike what earlier occupants of the castle experienced. A small museum shows that the lives of the medieval castle dwellers were anything but comfortable. Even today, the castle’s dungeon and torture chambers send a chill down one’s spine. And Burg Arras’ precarious location perched above the river made it virtually impossible for prisoners to escape.
Hotel manager Otto Keuthe says the name says it all. Arras means ‘fortified mountain’ in medieval Latin, and the isolated position meant no one could storm the castle keep. Today, though, visitors appreciate the quiet and isolation.
Burg Arras is not the only fortification along the winding Moselle River. The mighty Ehrenburg rises up out of a deep forest like in a fairytale postcard. The towers built on cliffs more than 800 years ago are the castle’s most recognizable feature, and allowed the medieval castle defenders to see an attacking enemy at a distance while lobbing missiles to slow their advance.
Today, of course, all is peaceful at the castle – with the exception of the hoards of tourists wandering around the old stone ruins.
Thomas Shulz Anschütz, a castle historian, says the Ehrenburg was built around 1100 as a fortified residence for a nobleman’s family. At the time of construction it was important to focus on defense, as castles were frequently attacked by marauding robbers and warring noble families. In the 1500s the castle underwent extensive renovation to adapt to changes in warfare, particularly the invention of the canon. But already by that time the importance of the castle had begun to wane.
Metternich Castle on the Moselle River
There followed a 300 year period of neglect, which didn’t end until an association was founded to protect and restore the Ehrenburg. In the 1900s wealthy romantic patrons sponsored the rebuilding and expansion of the old castle. They turned it into a hotel and adventure park designed to bring the past back to life in a playful way. Visitors, for instance, can try their skill with a bow and arrow, and watch medieval jousting tournaments.
Tourists looking for a vacation with a feudal flair should not miss Burg Rheinfels on the Rhine River. The castle is one of the most impressive medieval fortifications on the river and is a major sight-seeing highlight for river cruises. The castle also includes a hotel.
A walking tour allows visitors to get a close-up look at the four-meter thick walls and the extensive network of secret passages and underground tunnels. In the Middle Ages, many of the walls were covered with richly decorated painted plaster. The entire castle grounds spans some 9 hectares, or about 16 soccer fields.
Today, little remains of the citadel’s former glory. Because of its ideal location overlooking the important Rhine River trade routes, Burg Rheinfels was much coveted. It was besieged 13 times, but the attackers never once took the castle. The castle’s massive walls prevented enemies from storming the keep.
Katz Castle on the Rhine River
Today, tourists can take up residence next to the main castle in the Villa Rheinfels hotel and spend the day roaming the ruins.
Just a few kilometers downstream, the Schönburg castle offers visitors comfortable first-class accommodations behind imposing old walls. The medieval fortifications have been restored with great attention to detail, and the old castle has been turned into a modern hotel where anyone feels at home.
Visitors live like true nobility in the stylishly appointed suites. And before retiring for the evening into their regal chambers, guests can dine at a feast worthy of knights in shining armor. Complete with clay crockery and candlelight atmosphere, the meal is designed to give tourists an authentic medieval experience. But for those unwilling to go all the way, modern forks and knives are on hand.
Giving tourists a taste of history is just one of the reasons behind the development of castle tourism. Another is purely financial. Many of the old ruins are in dire straits, desperately in need of renovation work, and the noble families don’t have the extensive treasure troves they once did. Opening up their historic family residences to tourists brings in the necessary cash that allows families to keep their homes in their name.