Anyone who has taken even a passive interest in this blog will know that I am a Medievalist (from the European perspective) fiend and have been my entire life.
My first trip abroad was one I have mentioned in other blogs – an absolute monster of a trip right after I turned 16: ten European countries in a month with my father. Week three of this trip found us in Germany, following the Rhine and Mosel rivers up from Munich to Cologne and onto The Netherlands. Halfway through this trek was the beautiful Burg Eltz castle. This is not only a stunning example of architecture, but its surrounded by beautiful scenery and the original family still lives there as the Count and Countess Eltz. I mean, what more could I possibly ask for from a castle? In fact, Burg Eltz often finds itself on the top of lists that discuss not only Germany's best castles, but all of Europe's.
If there is an example of high praise for a site, it's that a teenager was so impressed with it that 14 years later they are writing a blog to convince you to see it as well. Or at least to paint a picture in your head if you're unable to go.
The town of Koblenz was our base for Burg Eltz. We stayed in our little tent at the Knaus Campground, right on the confluence of the Mosel and Rhine rivers. Knaus is one of the more aesthetically-pleasing campgrounds I've stayed at in Europe. Camping is much more of a "connect with nature" activity in North America. In Europe, it's more often than not just used as the cheap sleeping option. Thus, boring scenery and crowded lots are the norm. But Knaus, while still being in an urban setting, rested in the shadows of the hills of the two rivers' banks. There was a castle in sight, and the vineyards on the opposing hill added to the relaxing vibe. However, while the campground was nice, Koblenz itself is nothing too interesting so we spent the afternoon taking in the sunny shores of the rivers and reading.
The next morning we headed to the castle itself. We parked our rental car (for a €2 fee) and headed off down the path. Unlike most castles, which can be found perched high atop a cliff, Burg Eltz is located deep in a ravine. Don't ask me about the logistical decision behind this, I have no idea.
It’s the only manmade structure for seemingly miles, with nothing but deep forests surrounding it. This was especially nice to see because, for the most part, Germany is a rather boring country to look at. Sure it has the Alps and Black Forest, but I've always described it as "Iowa with castles." Germany's really just a lot of rolling hills and farmland.
As we approached on the path, we admired the fairy tale architecture of the castle. Most of our trip throughout Germany thus far had been spent exploring the various castles of the Rhineland, but most had been in near-ruins shape. By contrast, Burg Eltz is still inhabited by the same family that has always lived there (so cool!) and has been maintained to a beautiful degree. There are several centuries represented in the architecture, starting with the 9th century. Most of what you can see, however, is from the 12th century.
You can enter the courtyard of the castle for free, so even if you don't feel like going inside there is still something to see! Both due to its popularity and also the fact that its still inhabited, Burg Eltz is incredibly well-maintained and it feels like you've been transported back to the Middle Ages when you walk into that courtyard. We paid the entrance fee (€10 for adults) and then waited for our English-speaking tour (you can't just walk around on your own; you need to attach yourself to a guided tour. Most are in German, but they also offer English, French, and Dutch. If you don't want to wait for a tour in your language, you can join a German one and ask for an English pamphlet to follow along). The tour was like many others offered at the various castles around Europe - a little under an hour with interesting history, beautiful architecture, etc.
I loved the whole thing, but the two coolest moments for me were: 1) when I saw a pile of old cannonballs. I had never seen a real cannonball before and the history nerd in me tingled with happiness at that. And 2), when we saw the front door of the current inhabitants - there was even a mailbox! A mailbox at a castle! I was 16 then, I am 30 now, and that mailbox still remains one of my favorite travel memories. It's funny what stays with you.
I can't overemphasize how worthwhile of a stop Burg Eltz is. Not only is it an incredible example of Medieval (and present!) history, but the scenery around it is some of the best in Germany. I am not going to write many blogs about that first trip abroad because it was so long ago, but I made an exception here because, well, just look at this!