Eltz Castle (German: Burg Eltz) – an awe-inspiring medieval fortress nestled in the hills above the Moselle River between Koblenz and Trier – is a “local” family favorite, a destination we’ve been drawn to again and again since moving to Germany a year ago this week (how time flies!).
This 100-room, eight-story Romanesque masterpiece is unlike any other castle we’ve visited in Europe. Eltz is a so-called ganerbenburg, or castle belonging to a community of joint heirs. It is divided into multiple parts, each belonging to different families. This arrangement stems from the economic conditions of the Middle Ages. Only a very rich medieval lord could afford to build a castle on his land; indeed, many owned only one village, or a portion thereof – an insufficient income on which to build and maintain a castle alone. Yet lords could band together and construct joint accommodation, where housing was separate but defensive fortification shared. In Eltz Castle, three families – the Rübenach, the Rodendorf and the Kempenich – constructed separate housing complexes within the castle’s exterior walls. Remarkably, 33 generations (!) of the same family (the Kempenich branch of the Eltz family) has lived in the castle since the 12th century. This spectacular burg has remained virtually unchanged – both inside and out – since completion of construction in 1530; it is one of only three castles on the left bank of the Rhine never destroyed in battle or by fire.
We’ve visited the castle twice since moving to Germany, and plan on making another journey in the next month. On our first visit, we took the walking path from the parking lot to the castle. Although we enjoyed the walk, the trail was exceedingly crowded and felt longer than the 15 minutes posted in the lot. After exploring the castle, we decided to return to our car via the paved road used by the shuttle bus. While much shorter than the trail route (approximately 7 minutes), it was an incredibly steep uphill climb. On our second visit, we got our act together, walking down the shuttle road (taking advantage of the incredible view from the overlook) and taking the shuttle bus back up (two euro very well spent). We’d highly recommend the same strategy to future visitors!
No other castle – with the possible exception of Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria – has quite the same Disney fairy-tale feeling of Burg Eltz. It is incredibly popular with tourists, and indeed was swarming with visitors during our first visit on a late morning in April. We deliberately scheduled our next visit in the late afternoon, arriving around 4pm on a cloudy Tuesday, the second full day of the German academic year. We had the castle virtually to ourselves by the time we left around 5:30pm – hence the lack of crowds in our photographs! Enjoy the castle through our lens 🙂
The mysterious woodland surrounding Burg Eltz – also known as Eltz Forest – offers just as much eye-candy as the castle itself. During our visit in late August, the forest was beginning its slow transition from summer to autumn – the colors were absolutely breathtaking!
The Rübenach and Rodendorf families’ homes are open to the public seasonably (from late March to October), while the Kempenich branch resides in the remaining third of the castle. The latter homes may be viewed on a 35-40 minute guided tour (translation services provided to non-German speaking tourists) for 10euro per person. The treasury and armory – containing precious glass and porcelain, extravagant jewelry, and battle armor, as well as ceremonial and real weapons – can be viewed without a guide. No photographs are permitted outside the treasury, and dogs are not allowed inside the castle. [Griffey enjoyed frolicking all over the grounds, however!]
For additional information, we encourage a visit to the castle’s official website.
*Huge props to T. for his willingness to hobble around the castle on crutches and several still-healing broken bones. He NEVER complained (minus posing for this photo – he looks thrilled, doesn’t he? lol). I love you babe!* -B.
Thank you for viewing! – T. & B. June
Next week’s journey: Petra – Jordan