In this second of our three-part series on the Romantic Rhine, we begin to wind our way up river from Koblenz to Rudesheim. This month we get as far as Boppard.
By Jim Johnson
The route from Koblenz to Boppard—whether by ship, car, train or bike—quickly leaves signs of city life behind. In less than five miles, Stolzenfels Castle appears and the Romantic Rhine begins.
Painted yellow ochre, with turrets and towers, the castle stands out boldly halfway up the wooded hillside. Built in the 13th century as a toll station, it was destroyed by the French in 1689. When Prussian royalty ultimately rebuilt it in the mid-19th century, Rhine romanticism was at its peak, and Stolzenfels is considered the best example of Romantic construction along the Rhine.
A 20-minute walk along a dirt road leads from the river to the castle. A series of switchbacks past stone walls thick with ivy runs deep into the forest. A stone viaduct passes overhead. Soon, what's left of the ruined foundation and outer battlements come into view, then the moat and ramparts, then the walls of the "new" castle.
Drivers will find ample parking, but viewing the castle from below during a hike up the hill gives the fortress a different perspective. With a little imagination, those rustling leaves can become French soldiers climbing through the underbrush to lay siege.
A drawbridge leads into the castle through a towered gateway, its doors studded with metal and held by giant, rusting hinges. The stone sides still show the scrape marks of carriages.
While access to the former ornate residential areas is by guided tour (in Germana - adults €3.50, children €1.50, there's plenty to see in the courtyard, like the castle keep, the towers and the formal gardens. Platforms yield stunning views across the river to medieval Lahneck with its twin castles.
Most rail and car travelers follow the left side of the Rhine, and most ship passengers have either just boarded or are at the end of a day's journey. As a result, two right-bank treasures—Lahnstein and Braubach—are sometimes overlooked.
From Stolzenfels, take the ferry to Lahnstein (trips run continuously), where the Lahn River joins the Rhine. There you get two castles with one stop. The Martinsburg, directly on the Rhine, was built as a toll house in the 14th century and expanded through the centuries. The more imposing Burg Lahneck was built in 1244. Badly damaged by the French in 1689, it lay in ruins until 1852, when a private owner rebuilt it, partly restoring its medieval fortifications and partly in English Neo-gothic, making for an interesting blend of architectures. The view from the castle keep is worth the climb. Tours are available between 10am and 5pm from May through September.
On the waterfront is a unique statue. In bronze glory, a man squats over a trough, his pants pulled down as he prepares - well, you get the idea. Called the Baareschesser the statue honors those citizens who kept the groundwater clean by not using pit toilets, although no one seems to know where the troughs were emptied. Not an important monument, but a unique photo op.
Each hour, you can choose a 15-minute bus ride or a six-minute train trip upstream to Braubach where you'll find half-timber houses, twisting alleys, a medieval town wall, and mighty Marksburg Castle. Built in stages since the 12th century, it's the only Middle Rhine castle that wasn't destroyed. A look at its foreboding position on a craggy peak reveals why it survived while others fell. Access to the fortress presented other obstacles, including four gates, two drawbridges and a tunnel.
To get there, it's a 30-minute walk or five-minute drive from the Old Town. There's also a shuttle-bus for €5 roundtrip (Taxi-Schneider Braubach, tel. 02627 508).
Tours in English include visits to the massive inner rooms and to displays of armor, weapons and torture equipment. Entry €4.50, children €3.50; tel. +49 02627 206.
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