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The Eltz Castle Biathlon

semi-overcast

Instead of walking cross-country to Cochem as we did yesterday, we continued on our cycle path down the Mosel from Beilstein after a sad farewell to our uber-comfortable accommodation. We were the only ones breakfasting in grand splendour that morning; as it was Saturday, I guess everyone else was sleeping in.

Jim had seen a good bike store in Cochem the day before and decided to pay them a visit to see if he could get new tires, something he realized he should have done before we left on our trip. Imagine my delight when we cycled over the bridge into town, to see that there was a big brochant market (antiques, collectibles, stuff) that morning. So I spent a blissful hour or so wandering from booth to booth while Jim dealt successfully with his tires.

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Newly shoed, his pony was raring to go and we headed out for Moselkern, about a 30 km ride from Beilstein. This part of the river continues to offer castle after castle on the tops of the Hunsrück and Eifel Mountains, some ruins, some restored. Castles are a bit like cathedrals - you can see too many - and they usually require a significant climb on the bikes. But we had decided to stay in Moselkern in order to visit Burg Eltz or Eltz Castle, recommended by our book as possibly the most beautiful castle in the Mosel, and by Rick Steves as one of his favorite castles in Europe. This 850 year old castle has remained in the same family, the Lords and Counts of Eltz for more than thirty generations.

Surprisingly, Moselkern was tiny and there was not a lot of accommodation but we checked into a funny little Gästhaus on the main street, definitely a step down from our Beilstein digs but adequate. Not much else was happening in Moselkern, so we decided to head for the castle that afternoon.

It was an interesting hike, first through the seemingly deserted village and then into the forest on a narrow muddy trail along a briskly flowing stream, the Eltz River, a small tributary of the Mosel. There were few others on the trail, the odd hiker heading back to the village or the car park we passed. On we went, the trail meandering through the trees, gradually gaining altitude but no massive castle in sight, not even a hint of a tower or wall. It seemed like a very low-key approach to a major edifice.

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When we seriously began to wonder if this really was the right path about 5 km along, the sharp spires of Eltz castle suddenly appeared above the trees. It was an impressive sight. It has countless towers, battlements, windows and rooflines above its sheer walls. It looked very defendable. We seemed to be at the back door as it were, perhaps the service entrance and climbed up several long flights of worn stone stairs to reach the main castle gates where there was a small cafe.

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Not only has this castle remained in the same family since its construction but it has sustained no damage over centuries of various wars, so the original architecture and interiors from over 8 centuries are virtually untouched. Apparently, the Eltz family was very good at strategically aligning itself with whoever was in power and so protecting their assets. Sounds very modern.

To see most of the castle you must join a tour and fortunately there was an English one starting a short time after we arrived. In the meantime, we toured the Treasure Chamber with its various collections of ornate ancient guns, lethal-looking crossbows and miniature cannons; beautiful medieval goldsmiths' work and some gorgeous pieces of jewelry.

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At one time, the castle housed three different branches of the Eltz family in separate houses within the castle walls. Apparently this caused the castle to grow in height as various wings and courtyards and towers were added to create the complicated structure we see today.

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Led by a very articulate and knowledgable young guide, we were guided through the various room of one family's house - the sleeping areas, kitchen, armoury and knights' hall, the hunting room decorated with original wall paintings, huge tapestries, suits of armour and very old furniture. He even pointed out that the castle had toilets early on, a lot of them, 20 or more, flushed by rain water. It might have been more sanitary than some castles but I can't imagine it was any warmer in spite of enormous fireplaces and some tiled stoves. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take photographs on the tour but it really was worthwhile.

Having seen our Mosel castle, we walked the 5 km back to our hotel, hoping desperately there would be a restaurant open for dinner in this little burg. We didn't think our Gästhaus facilities looked too promising. We were dubious about the one other hotel being open but it was and while initially the only customers in a large dining room with a large menu, we had a surprisingly good dinner. Schnitzel and spätzle seemed just the thing to round out our 30 km cycle, 10 km hike Mosel biathlon. There could even have been a little crossbow competition thrown in.

Posted by Jenniferklm 14:38 Archived in Germany

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Comments

Herb and I visited Burg Eltz in 1974! It was one of the most interesting tours we had during our time in Germany - unfortunately (for me!) our tour was all in German! I remember walking up a long long path to get to the castle. We also bought a case of wine somewhere near there!
Linda

by Linda Dragert

that must have been hard to see all that wonderful red and white china and not be able to buy it

by Dianne Symonds

I see the Castle is worth visiting indeed... Jennifer, you have great stories I must say.

by Vic_IV

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