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Castles in the air Back to News
Monday 14th February | Posted by On Foot Staff
The Upper Middle Rhine Gorge is a place seemingly out of a fantasy film, where medieval Counts built their fortresses high on the crags above the river, picking the best spots to command a view of those passing below or to take the occasional shot at the enemy. Mythical creatures lurk round each bend, and vineyards cling to the precipitous slopes.
This stunning landscape, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site celebrating its 20th anniversary, makes for a fabulous walking holiday. Climb the valley sides through woodland to the rural peace above, where you can look down on the barges plying their trade on the river that has long been a vital connection between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean.
Drop back down to the historic villages and towns for your overnight stops, each with ample opportunities to sample the local Riesling wine or a refreshing Bier. Better still, stay in one of the castles that were the source of endless inspiration for the Romantic poets and painters.
Here’s a brief selection of those you’ll see along the way, from the grandest to one of the smallest – Burg Pfalzgrafenstein (above), built as a tollhouse on a tiny island.
Schloss Rheinfels at St Goar is one of the largest on the Rhine, built by Count Diether V von Katzenelnbogen in 1245 for the collecting of tolls on the river, later enlarged, and subject to a French siege in the 17th century. Explore the ruins and museum, and stay in the hotel that has been created in part of the complex.
On the next bend of the river is Burg Maus, built in the 14th century for the Archbishop of Trier. Legend has it that the owners of Neukatzenelnbogen Castle to the south (abbreviated to ‘Katz’, meaning ‘cat’), gave the smaller castle of the bishop the name ‘Maus’ (mouse). Maus Castle was very up-to-date in its time, and stands squarely above the river, protected by a round tower. It was given a contemporary restoration in the early 20th century, and many of the castle’s interiors are still furnished in this ‘Gründerzeit’ style. It is not open to the public.
The twin castles of Sterrenberg and Liebenstein near Bornhofen are surrounded by myth, known as the ‘hostile brothers’ after the two siblings who supposedly fought over their inheritance from their neighbouring castles. Sterrenberg, to the north, was first mentioned in 1034 and is the oldest Rhine castle still preserved today. You can stay at Burg Liebenstein – perfect for dinner on the terrace overlooking the river.
On your final day’s walk, visit Schloss Stolzenfels – a massive ‘wedding cake’ of a castle to the south of Koblenz. Dating from the 13th century, it was ruined during the Palatinate War of Succession, and substantially rebuilt in the Gothic Revival style in the mid-19th century by King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia as his summer residence. Most remarkable is the vaulted knights’ hall, with its important collection of historic armour and weapons as well as one of the earliest collections of old German ceramics. The small knights’ hall contains wall paintings depicting knightly virtues.