One of the main draws of a Rhine River cruise is the impressive number of castles that line the river banks. Built by kings, princes and counts, these dramatic structures once stood firm to protect the region from invading forces and now act as prominent relics that stir the imagination and have influenced the creative works of famous names such as Beethoven and Byron.
The beautiful stretch of river known as the Middle Rhine is not just a highlight for those passionate about history and will interest anyone who appreciates great architecture or tales of love, power and extravagance.
Here are a few castles to look out for during your Rhine River cruise.
We start with the first of three castles that are situated close to the city of Koblenz. Ehrenbreitstein stands proudly on the opposite bank of the river to the city centre and takes its name from the hill at the top of which it sits. Now a World Heritage Site, it was built by the Prussians to fend off the advances of French forces and, largely due to its imposing nature, was never attacked.
Visitors can reach the fortress via a cable car and there is plenty to do for all ages when you get to the top. Children may enjoy the regular chances to ‘Hunt for the Golden Cannon Ball’, whilst adults can look forward to wine tasting, some time in the casino or the chance to see the whole city from the top of the Flag Tower. Of course, there is plenty of history on offer too, with tours taking you to see the mine passage, prison cells and one of the largest cannons used in the 16th century.
Further outside Koblenz, you will find one of the most romantic castles along this part of the Rhine - Stolzenfels Castle. After a history of being used by troops from several different nations, it was given to Frederick William IV of Prussia as a gift from the city. The Prussian Crownprince then rebuilt it in Gothic style, giving it the appearance it has today.
As well as the main structure, the five castle gardens are definitely a highlight. Having been left to grow out of control, a restoration project completed in 2011 has returned them to their former glory.
Just before you arrive in Boppard, you will sail past the magnificent Marksburg Castle – the only hill castle along this part of the Rhine to never be destroyed. Initially built in 1100 to protect the nearby town of Braubach, it has constantly been expanded upon throughout the years. In 1900, it became the principal property of the German Castle Association and has been under their protection ever since.
Visits can only be made as part of a guided tour, but many cruise lines include this as an optional shore excursion, so the chances are you will be able to see it for yourself. Passionate guides bring the medieval history to life and show you interesting areas such as the armoury, living chambers, gardens and keep.
The honour of largest castle along the Rhine River goes to Rheinfels Castle, found between Boppard and Bingen. Having been destroyed by French Revolutionary troops in 1797, much of the site now stands in ruin and what’s left today is thought to be just one-fifth of its size when at its peak. Some buildings are still used and have been turned into luxury accommodation or museums.
Although the castle is currently undergoing essential maintenance, it is still open to guided tours. After 18th March 2018, it will reopen to those who want to look around on their own. As well as the opportunity to learn about the history and how Rheinfels was passed from family to family, there is also a nature trail that leads back to the train station in St Goar.
Located just outside of Königswinter, Drachenfels takes its name from the hill upon which it sits. The hill, in turn, earned its name from many legends which tell of a dragon living in the cave that lies inside it. Stories say that this is where Siegfried (from the epic poem The Song of the Nibelungs) killed the dragon and bathed in its blood to become invincible.
Despite having been plunged into ruin by the Swedish Empire during the Thirty Year’s War, it has grown into a popular tourist attraction. The ruins can be reached via the Drachenfels Railway, a cogwheel train that also takes you to Schloss Drachenburg further down the hill.
This last castle is a little different to the others you’ll see during your Rhine River cruise but is no less interesting. Instead of being located on the bank, Pfalzgrafenstein is in the middle of the river and was once used as a toll castle for vessels passing the town of Kaub. Over time, gun bastions and defensive structures were added so that passing traders were compelled to cooperate with the toll charge. Those who didn’t were thrown in the dungeon and held to ransom.
Dating back to 1327, the castle has so much history to tell. As well as learning about the people that lived there and collected the toll, the museum inside today recounts the story of when Prussian and Russian troops crossed the Rhine on New Year’s Eve 1813 via a pontoon bridge to the Pfalzgrafenstein.
There are many different itineraries that can take you along this part of the river, including the aptly named ‘Castles of the Rhine’ from Uniworld. Call us on 0800 028 4272 to talk about the various options.
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