When I planned my first trip to Germany, I regretted that one place at the top of my list had to be cut from the itinerary: Burg Eltz Castle. It was such a dramatic of a detour from the the rest of our plan that common sense had to win out. I did get to see Neuschwanstein Castle on that trip, which is amazing, but there’s just something to be said for the authenticity of Burg Eltz. So, when saving a substantial amount of money on a flight to Europe on another trip meant laying over in Dusseldorf for two days, I knew just how I was going to spend one of those days.
Photos: Left: Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany; Right: Model of Neuschwanstein from the Side
Neuschwanstein Castle was built by “Mad” King Ludwig II in the late nineteenth century. He was in love with the idea of medieval castles with fairytale, modern twists. He used modern materials to create the faux appearance of authenticity. While medieval castles were built for fortification, Ludwig’s was built purely to be decorative. Nevertheless, Neushwanstein is breathtaking. The over-the-top interior and detailed decoration is possibly even better than the fanciful exterior.
Burg Eltz, on the other hand though, is the real deal. The castle is over 800 years old and has been in the same family that entire time (33 generations and going); you can’t get more authentic than that. As a result of this continuity, it has never been abandoned to fall into ruin, nor has it sold out to the commercialism of becoming more like a theme park than an authentic medieval castle. The family takes pride in their home and still occupies parts of it (tours are only run from April-November).
The castle is a little under two hours south of Dusseldorf by car—faster if you drive like a German does on the autobahn. I left Dusseldorf early in the morning; my goal was to arrive 10-15 mins before the castle’s official opening time so I would be ahead of any crowds. I arrived to no parking lot entrance lines, the 10 min walk down to the castle to myself, and even the castle’s courtyard empty of other tourists.
The vacant atmosphere was so peaceful and just added to the magical feeling of the place. As I walked toward the valley floor, I felt as if I had taken a step back in time and was off to visit some of the castle's 13th century inhabitants. I kept waiting for a sentry to come dashing out from around a bush and demand to know my business.
As I came down the hill from the parking lot, I kept trying to peer through the trees I assumed were blocking my view of the castle. I rounded a bend about half way down, and suddenly I had a perfect, unobstructed view. Nestled down in the valley below me was a castle fit for a fairytale book. Everything from the red and white turrets to its perfect little gated bridge to the greenery blanketing the valley surrounding it was picture perfect. There wasn't a sign of modern-day technology in sight.
After taking pictures from every angle possible during the rest of the descent down to the castle, I arrived at the gate. Walking across the bridge to enter the castle, I bought my ticket for the tour (the only way to see the interior), enquired when the next English one would be offered, and set off to explore. The cozy, main central courtyard was also very fairytale like. I kept waiting for Cinderella to come around the corner looking for her glass slipper or Snow White to wander by surrounded by the seven dwarves.
Next, I explored the castle's little treasury, and finally, it was time for the main event. The interior, while not fanciful like Neuschwanstein, was authentic and a real peek at how life in a castle was truly lived over the last 800 years. There were original furnishings and tapestries to see, and the tour guide did a great job of bringing the place to life.
My visit to the castle did not disappoint; it was worth the wait. As I left Burg Eltz Castle and looked back over my shoulder for one more glance of this magical place, I couldn’t help but feel like I was now a small part of its vast history. Just as the need for protection kept the castle operating and in repair for so many hundreds of years, now admission fees and the desire of tourists to see a little part of that history do the same thing.
For more information on this historic castle or planning visit of your own, you can check out the Burg Eltz website here.