You can’t miss Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg. Perched high up on the Stophanberch mountain, on the edge of the Vosges mountain range, the enormous pink stone castle is an impressive and imposing sight, dominating the landscape and towering over the plateau below. For a good 10 miles, as we drove through the Alsatian countryside, we had the castle in our sights.
The magnificent castle has had a long and interesting history. Built in the 12th century in a crucial position overlooking two important trade routes (the wheat and wine route from the north to the south, and the salt and silver road from the west to the east), the castle was captured by the Hapsburgs and given to the Tierstein family in 1479. The family rebuilt the crumbling castle, which was later looted and burned by the Swedes during the Thirty Years War, then abandoned. In 1865, the ruin was given to the future kaiser, Wilhelm II, by the nearby town of Selestat. He took it upon himself to restore the castle, commissioning the architect Bobo Ebhart to oversee it between 1900 and 1908.
Walking around this magnificent stone fortress, I would never have guessed the castle had been something of a ruined shell before its 19th century restoration. It looks authentically old and medieval throughout, and it’s impossible to tell that large parts of it are only 100 years old.
The castle is huge and there are lots of pretty, intricate stone carvings and beautifully carved wooden doors to marvel at, as well as a few medieval-looking frescoes. Hunting symbols abound with lots of boar heads and antlers adorning the walls, and I counted a number of chandeliers made from antlers. The eagle, the symbol of the Kaiser’s Germanic empire, is also ubiquitous. I loved lots of the furniture on display – there were many heavy, dark wood pieces. I was also intrigued by the large ceramic tiled stoves in many of the rooms, usually in various shades of green and yellow.
There wasn’t much in the way of display panels around the castle to explain what the different rooms where and the objects within, so it would be worth getting an audio guide if you wanted to find out more about each room as I for the most part was having to guess.
Up at the top of the castle, the views across the Haut-Alsace, Vosges mountains and Black Forest are superb (above). Apparently, you can see the Alps on a clear day, but unfortunately the sun was shining so brightly, we couldn’t see quite that far in the hazy sunshine.
The castle has a small café and gift shop attached to it where we stopped off for a quick spot of lunch. The simple café sells salads, quiches (I had a creamy and comforting quiche lorraine with salad) and cakes, such as black forest gâteau, apple tart and cheesecake, although the service was a little slow. The gift shop, meanwhile, sells lots of medieval-themed gifts (think quill and ink sets) and books, including a Sherlock Holmes tale set in the castle (above), which naturally I had to buy. On the way out, we stopped by the small medieval-inspired garden where they grow plants, such as herbs and vegetables, that would have grown during the castle’s initial heyday.
We made the mistake of parking near the first sign of parked cars on the way up to the castle, fearing there wouldn’t be any parking spaces further up. Although there was a long line of parked cars ahead of us, when we walked up the hill we found there were loads of free spaces much closer to the castle as everyone seemed to have panic-parked near the bottom. So if you plan to visit the castle, keep driving further up the hill – unless you want a good cardiac workout!
Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg, 67600 Orschwiller, Alsace, France
€9 Adults, €7 Concessions, €5 Children (6-17 years old), Free Children under 6