CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FORTE
According to some estimates there are as many as 20,000 castles in Germany! That sounds a little high to me, but then you start looking around and there seems to be a castle, or at least the ruins of one, looking down from every hillside. They are in various states with various histories: Ruins which let you guess at what was there like Burg Nanstein; Castles with scary names like Burg Frankenstein; Castles that have been destroyed by war, fire and lightening like Heidelberg; and relatively new castles like Neuschwanstein.
Are you on a castle quest in Germany? One castle you should be sure not to miss is Burg Eltz. It’s a beautiful castle near the Mosel River area, but what makes it unique is in its thousand year history, the castle has never been destroyed. It’s not a reconstruction or replica – it’s the real deal!
We visited on a pleasant June Saturday and enjoyed our visit. We drove there and parked in the Burg Eltz parking lot (see note below) and chose to walk to the castle. The other choice was to wait for the shuttle bus, which costs €2.00 per person each way. The 1.3 kilometer walk on the way to the castle is downhill and through the woods. After a bit, the woods open up and there is a great view of the castle. Then it’s over a bridge and through the gates!
Just before the bridge is the drop-off point for the shuttle bus. If you want to walk to the castle (downhill) and then take the shuttle bus back, that’s an option as well. You pay the driver.
Before you cross the bridge and get to the gates of the castle, take a look around on the hillside. You’ll see some old fortification ruins. These are what remain of the siege tower from the 14th century. The archbishop of Luxembourg was trying to take over the entire region, from Trier to the Rhine, and the Eltz family held out in their castle for five years. Eventually they needed to surrender and they were required to take down the fortifications around the castle, but the castle was never destroyed.
After you cross the bridge and enter through the first gate, there is the castle shop where you buy your tour tickets and other souvenirs on your right. The tickets are for guided tours of the castle, but not for any particular time. After you have bought your ticket, go to the main courtyard of the castle. It looks like this:
This is the starting area for the tour. There is an office called the castellan’s office with a doorbell and there you can let them know that you are interested in an English tour. They will let you know when the next English tour will begin. They promise that your wait will not be more than a half-hour. The German tours begin about every 10 minutes or so. There are also paper translations for the tour in Chinese, English, French, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Portuguese, Russian or Spanish. All tours will be announced and leave from this area.
While you are waiting for the next tour to begin, you can visit the treasury, which is included with your ticket. The treasury has many of the treasures that have belonged to the Eltz family through the years displayed in a series of rooms under the castle. There are the prerequisite knight’s armor, some weapons, a beautiful family tree with the crests for each family (look for the gold lion, silver lion and buffalo horns – they will be explained later), dishes, and much more. My favorite was a small sculpture that could fit in a shoebox. The 16th century sculptor named his creation “Gluttony Being Conveyed by Drunkenness.” Gluttony is an egg-shaped man riding in a wheelbarrow. He’s being pushed by his friend Drunkenness who is, of course, shaped like a wine barrel. The fact that this little sculpture is made out of gold-plated silver seems to be an ironic statement of gluttony itself!
When the time comes for the next tour, it will be announced in the courtyard. They take a limited amount of people (25 or so) per tour and if they need to make a determination, they will take those who are closest to the tour guide (in other words, be ready). Once the tour has started, the guide will make the announcement that there are no pictures allowed inside the castle. That is always a bummer to me, but it does help keep the tours moving since no one is jostling or lingering for better pictures.
Burg Eltz has been in the same family throughout its history. The river and forest around the castle are also named for the Eltz family. There are three branches of the family that lived in this castle and had three houses, all interconnected, which formed the larger castle complex. Through the tour you will visit parts of the Rübenach and Rodendorf Houses. The current owners of the castle are the Count and Countess Eltz and they still use this castle as one of their residence!
The tour will take you to some great rooms, still elaborately furnished. You will get to see a bedroom with it’s own chapel and flushable toilet. Be on the lookout for a painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder, one of Germany’s most famous artist of the 16th century. You’ll find out why the spiral staircases spiral in clockwise as you go up. In the great hall you’ll see a jester’s mask that means anyone is free to speak without worry of repercussions, but on the door when you leave the rose of silence reminds you to keep your trap shut about what you heard in this room. Look for a room with a small door and small window seat that leads visitors to believe that it was built to be a children’s room.
The tour ends in one of the four kitchens in the complex. It still is equipped with an oven, a way to keep the food chilled, a stump for a butcher block and other tools needed to feed a castle full of people that included an estimated 100 nobles and 150 servants. The tour lasted about 40 minutes.
If ending in the kitchen makes you hungry, don’t fear! There are two restaurant areas on the castle grounds for today’s noble visitors. We ate at the upper restaurant. It featured a simple menu of drinks, small treats, and simple fare like soups and sausages. It is self-service with ordering, paying and food pick up at the counter. The lower restaurant has a more complete menu with larger offerings. We didn’t eat there, but my guess is that it is not self-service, but has ordering and service at the tables.
Do you need any more convincing? Here’s a little more trivia:
- Burg Eltz was on the 500 Deutsch Mark bill, giving it the nickname “Die “500-DM-Burg”
- In 1269 three Eltz brothers divided the castle and the estate. They gave their heirs crests “with the Golden Lion”, “with the Silver Lion” and “with the Buffalo Horns”. The three families shared and lived together in the castle, forming a so-called “Ganerbengemeinschaft,” a peaceful community of joint hiers.
- Famous visitors include: Emperors Frederick III & William II, the Romantic poet Victor Hugo, the English painter William turner, German presidents Karl Carstens, Horst Köhler & Christian Wulff, and American First Women Lady Bird Jonson and Rosalynn Carter. You could be next!
Tips for your Trip:
Arriving by Car & Parking:
The parking lot for the castle is located at these GPS coordinates: N50°12.732’ E007 °20.336’. The address for the castle on their website won’t quite get you there, but from the towns along the Mosel, there are signs marked “Burg Eltz.”
Parking costs €2.00 per car. You are charged on your way in and then get a paper parking pass to put in your front window.
The castle is just over a kilometer from the parking area. You can either walk or take the shuttle bus. The shuttle bus is €2.00 per person per trip to or from the castle. It’s a downhill walk to the castle and uphill on the way back. It’s a shaded walk and not nearly as strenuous as the hike up to Neuschwanstein http://germanyja.com/neuschwanstein/.
The castle is open for visitors daily from 30 March until 2 November.
The Castle Shop: 0930 – 1800
Tour start times: 0930 – 1730
The last shuttle bus trip departs at 1820.
Family (2 adults & 2 children): €26.00
You cannot enter the castle without a tour.