Tuesday September 26th – Day 4, Burg Eltz, Burg Pyrmont and Burg Thurant
Tuesday turned out to be all about the castles, one of the things people tend to think of first when they think of German tourism. Lynne had demanded castles and so I was keen she should get them! The plan was to go and find Burg Eltz as an initial trophy. All the guidebooks suggested we really needed to make sure we got to that one, and so we set off along the river, which is not the fastest way from Zeltingen-Rachtig, though it is the prettiest way. The fog was starting to lift after yet another grey start, and the tractors were parked all along the bottom of the vineyard slopes, while the workers clambered up and down, picking bunch after bunch of grapes. Meanwhile the cyclists were now out and about along the riverside path, where I had earlier enjoyed a lovely quiet run to the ghastly new Zeltingen bridge (otherwise known as the Hochmoselbrücke) and back.
It looked like it would be another lovely afternoon once the fog burned off so we headed off for the day eventually reaching the castle car park around 2 hours after we’d set off. It took longer than we’d expected but we really didn’t mind that much. We couldn’t see the castle from the car park and further investigation suggested that we could walk for 20 minutes or so to get there or we could take a shuttle bus. We decided to walk.
And so we set off into the woods, which were fascinating in their own right. Lynne did at one point say she half expected to see hobbits hiding from ringwraiths in there, but actually all we encountered were friendly walkers, and the occasional overly excited dog. Of the castle no trace could be seen however.
Burg Eltz really only shows itself over the last few hundred metres, but when it does it really goes for it. In some ways it’s the quintessential castle of your imagination, with tall towers, pointed turrets and some rather spectacular gargoyles, perched atop a hill and surrounded by an empty moat and a river.
A series of factors have contributed to its survival in its present form, probably starting with the fact that although it sits on what was a trade route it was never of strategic importance, and thus while many other castles in the region were destroyed, often by the French, it was overlooked. Additionally the three branches of the family, despite an early falling out which saw them build three separate towers, seem to have been quite happy staying close together;a common practice apparently for the not-so-rich. Building a castle each would have bankrupted them, so a tower each it would be.
It clearly worked for them; a branch of the same family still owns the place 33 generations down the line! Another factor seems to have been their ability to manage be politically astute and to arrange smart marriages for their children, which helped them rise from relative obscurity to high office, something reflected later in our visit. Their high point came with Philipp Karl zu Eltz, Prince Elector of Mainz and arch chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations.
As you can see, he had quite the family tree!
Of course this was the point where we found, as is often the case in Germany, that if we wanted to see the interior of the castle, we would have to do so on one of the guided tours. Oh and there was to be no photography at all in the seven rooms they showed us. So you’ll have to take my word for the impressive nature of the rooms and visit for yourself some time (or you could refer to the website)! You’ll also have to take my word for the fine collection of things in there, including Lucas Cranach the Elder’s masterpiece “Madonna with Child and Grapes”.
We were allowed to take photos in the treasury, which is visited separately (and without a guide). First, however, we took a break for a light lunch (goulaschsuppe) in the cafe outside.
The treasury is rather fun – although it’s nowhere near as “ooh shiny” as the Grünes Gewölbe in Dresden, for example. Then again the Eltz family didn’t have the resources of Augustus the Strong (known to us as Augustus the “Ooh Shiny Must Have”).
The collection contains numerous artworks by German gold- and silversmiths, particularly those from Augsburg and Nuremberg, which tended to be where the best work was done. There is also glass and porcelain, weaponry and some massively over-the-top jewellery.
We completed the visit, walked back through the woods and still didn’t see any hobbits, and decided we had time to try and visit another castle. I’d discovered that Burg Pyrmont was nearby, so we duly headed off in that direction only to find it wasn’t open. It would be open on Sunday and on the 3rd October, a public holiday. Otherwise, forget it…
Plan B then… Burg Thurant was also close. We hit the road again, back down to the river side and towards the town of Alken. This time we were in luck. The castle was open. As with many of the castles along the Moselle it is part ruin, part living quarters for the family that now own it. It’s a little different because it’s divided into two castles, from the mid-13th century when it was jointly owned by the archbishops of Cologne and Trier. The managers they put in place had separate entrances to their separate living spaces and domestic buildings.
The castle was ruined in the 16th century and destroyed in the War of the Palatine Succession, but was bough by Robert Allmers, who had it partly rebuilt. Since 1973 it has been the joint private residence of the Allmers and Wulf families, and there’s a holiday home in the main body of the castle that you can rent. It has a tower, the old stables, a small cafe to take a breather in, and some lovely gardens.
It also has some stunning views back down to the river.
And so we reached the end of the afternoon. We headed back to the house for dinner at home where necessity being the mother of invention, I ended up making the best mashed potato ever when I had to use a sieve and a wooden spoon to get the desired effect. Served with plenty of butter, some fried onions, and a batch of Nuremburg bratwursts, it was a good way to end the day.