Castle hunting in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley
Cruising through the German middle Rhine valley (in the state of the Rhineland-Palatinate) in late March can still be a chilly experience since old lady winter still hasn’t completely left this part of Europe at this time. You can take the Köln-Düsseldorfer river cruise (check cruise schedule and dates at www.k-d.com) where you can board and embark at almost any towns between Mainz and Koblenz in Germany.
I decided to board the cruise from Rüdesheim since I was staying near Mainz and cruise up north all the way to Boppard which would take about 4 hours on board. Along the way we would be passing through picturesque towns and medieval castles which would be the highlights of the tour through this UNESCO declared world heritage site.
Rüdesheim am Rhein
My cruise was scheduled to depart Rüdesheim or Rüdesheim am Rhein (to be exact – as there is another town called Rüdesheim an der Nahe) and I arrived earlier at a café called Backhaus Laquai beside the railway tracks and the Adlerturm to get my cup of coffee and a sandwich before the cruise starts.
Boarding MS Boppard in Rüdesheim
As we boarded the MS Boppard and started to depart from Rüdesheim you can immediately see the Niederwald Denkmal which is a monument located at the top of hill above the port of Rüdesheim. Built in 1871 to commemorate the founding of the German Empire by a sculptor named Johannes Schilling for Kaiser Wilhelm I, the monument is an imposing structure even when viewed from afar.
Niederwald Denkmal above Rüdesheim
Where to stay in Rüdesheim:
10 minutes away from berth our first castle appears to the right. The Ehrenfels Castle is now a ruin but its structure is still impressive nevertheless. Built circa 1211 for the archbishop of Mainz by Philipp von Bolanden it formed a key stronghold with the Klopp Castle at Bingen to guard the entrance to the Middle Rhine Highlands. Unfortunately the castle was destroyed by the French in 1689.
Next castle to come into view was the straddling Richenstein Castle or Burg Reichenstein which was probably built in the 11th century to protect the estate of Kornelimünster Abbey near Aachen. This castle now houses a private museum and has walls 8m thick in some places!
Soon as we passed Burg Reichenstein, Burg Sooneck or Sooneck Castle appears. Originally built in the 11th century by the bailiffs of Kornelimünster Abbey as the outer ward of Richenstein Castle. It was rebuilt in 1350 and most probably destroyed again in 1689 by the French. You might want to visit the castle pub inside if you have time!
As we cruised along the calm waters of the Rhein next up was Fürstenberg Castle near the village of Rheindiebach. Built in 1219 by the archbishop of Cologne it was besieged by the Spanish in 1620, by the Swedish in 1632 and finally destroyed by the French in 1688-90. It is a ruin now.
As we approached the town of Bacharach, a much “newer” castle appeared. It is Stahleck Castle overlooking Bacharach whose owner Goswin von Stahleck was first mentioned in 1134. Between 1925-67 Stahleck has been converted into probably one of Germany’s most beautiful youth hostel and you can indeed stay inside.
Traveling through the Rhine in medieval times was not all cruise and tours as medieval merchants used this thoroughfare to transport much needed crops, coal and livestock. They even had to pay toll to cross certain stretches of the Rhine which was controlled by the lords and Pfalzgrafenstein Castle was one of them. Built to resemble a ship, it was originally used as a toll tower and the strong river current surrounding it ensured that it was never taken. Above it Gutenfels Castle dominated the skyline and it was built in 1220. Together, both castles provide an impenetrable anti-toll zone for the Holy Roman Emperor until Prussia purchased the area (1866) and ended this toll in 1867.
Pfalzgrafenstein & Gutenfels Castle
As we approached Oberwesel next, the strikingly imminent Church of our Lady (Liebfrauenkirche) comes into view with its impressive structure and strong geometric shapes. Beside it, on a hill, lies Schönburg Castle, a massive complex once owned by Hermann von Stahleck in 1149. Destroyed by the French in 1689, it has been renovated again recently to house a hotel with a restaurant and a private gallery.
Schönburg Castle in the backdrop of the Church of our Lady
The expansive Rheinfels Castle is a castle ruin located above the left bank of the Rhine in Sankt Goar, our next town. It was built in 1245 by Count Dieter von Katzenelnbogen. After expansions, it was the largest fortress in the Middle Rhine Valley between Koblenz and Mainz. It was the largest castle overlooking the Rhine, and historically covered five times its current area. It now houses a museum, a restaurant and a hotel.
Next we come to the region of the famous Loreley or Lorelei at St Goarshausen. Katz Castle or Neukatzenelnbogen was built on the Loreley massif by the counts of Katzenelnbogen near 1371. It was blown up by the French in 1806 and is now serving as a holiday home. Right next to it is the Maus Castle overlooking the beautiful and serene town of Wellmich. It was built as a humorous jibe at Katz Castle and their powerful counts and now houses a falcon and eagle station.
Burg Maus at Wellmich
We alighted from the tour in Boppard knowing that more castles lay ahead, but we did get a good view of so many wonderful ancient structures in a span of only 4 hours. There are some 40 castles and fortresses along the 65km stretch of the Rhine from Mainz to Koblenz. However, Boppard beckons and we now look forward to explore this postcard perfect town next!
Where to stay in Boppard:
For port maps: https://www.kdrhine.com/KDRhine_Port_Maps.htm
For information on the castles: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhineland-Palatinate
Article and photos by Jack K © trifargo.com