Lurking deep in a forest and set atop a rocky crag is one of the most impeccably preserved medieval castles in all of Europe.
By James Ullrich
A winding footpath curls through a dense forest. Cutting through the uneven landscape, it guides me down the slope into a valley. It’s October and the air is damp and heavy. The path slopes up and then along a hillside, above the river, still deeper into the wood. A moment of anxiety begins to set in as I begin to wonder if I’ve taken the wrong way. And then, rounding a corner, a surreal sight: a picture book castle emerges from the mist, its spires rising out of the forest’s gloom. This is no Disneyland recreation or fanciful 19th century reconstruction. I have arrived at Burg Eltz.
Tucked away in Germany’s lush Mosel Valley and set atop a rocky crag, Burg Eltz is justifiably renowned for its historical authenticity. This owes to the aristocratic Eltz family’s combination of luck, guile and dedication. From its first foundations in about 1157, the castle’s location deep in an ancient forest made it difficult to attack, and a series of clever diplomatic moves by the family kept it free from military entanglement. So successful were they in their political maneuvers that they still reside here thirty generations later. A dedication to maintaining the historical accuracy of the one hundred rooms is as much a part of the family’s heritage as is the building itself. The result is a well preserved exterior and an immaculately preserved interior that gives tourists and history buffs an authentic view of medieval castle life.
The castle experience begins as soon as I round the corner and glimpse the massive old fortress above the river. From there it’s a long, photogenic approach to the outer gates as I take in the turrets and spires. A cobbled path leads to the ticket office. I pay and give my little red paper ticket to a nearby guard. I’m given a map and am shown through the massive main gate. A moment later I enter the keep and the medieval ambience envelops me. Craning my neck, I look at the spires and the white and red half-timbered additions with bay windows jutting out from the turrets and over the valley.