Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Castle Tour of Luxembourg

If your little ones are like mine, tales of princes and princesses, knights and battles fill their bedtime stories. We were lucky enough last Autumn to travel to Luxembourg to see the medieval castles that bring these stories to life.

I loved this trip because it allowed my children to do what they do best: run, play, explore, and imagine.

We based our trip out of the tiny charming hamlet of Vianden. Nestled in the forested hills that define Luxembourg, this little village oozes European charm. And, BTW, it has a fabulously restored medieval castle sitting on the hilltop smack in the middle. We spent a full day touring the castle Vianden, climbing into arched stone window frames, calling down into cisterns, and walking the ramparts.

On our second day, we drove up a winding mountain road to find the ruins of Bourschied Castle. This is where my children’s imagination ran wild. There is not much left of Bourscheid, but that is part of its charm. Crumbling walls give you only an outline of what was once there. Breathtaking views of the countryside meet you at every turn: the green rolling hills, the winding river. I can recommend the audio tour, which was scripted to bring the castle to life, telling the story of an ancient king who appears as a ghost and served as our guide.

The children tore up and down stairways to nowhere. They climbed the castle’s keep and imagined the siege that destroyed this place. They stood in fireplaces and looked out the remnants of bedroom windows. It was a fine day, and we spent hours wandering the stones and thinking about long ago.

Berg Eltz, Yuck!
Our third day was a huge mistake. Here we decided to see Burg Eltz, a ridiculously well preserved German castle which Rick Steves declared his “favorite castle in Europe”. Rick, I might add, does not travel with children. God bless Burg Eltz. Just as old as the other two castles above, it was never sieged or destroyed; the royal family was never sent packing by a mob of angry villagers armed with torches and pitchforks. One third of the castle is still the residence of the Countess Kempenich, of the same family that has owned it for 800 or so years.

Did I love this place? No. It was impossible to find down poorly marked roads. Entrance and parking were expensive. And the hour long tour? At the discretion of the tour guides, it was only given in German. We were trapped with no way out. The rooms were filled with antiques that my children were reminded again and again not to touch. Ugh. Even just thinking about it makes me cringe.

Courtyard, Berg Eltz
Was it beautiful? Good Lord, yes! Stunning! If I had it do over, I would have packed a picnic lunch, found a spot near the lovely Moselle river, and hiked around the grounds for an hour. But that is only if I was in Germany and had a day to kill.

There were many more castle ruins in the Vianden area that we did not have time to visit.

 On the ride back from Bourscheid, we happened upon one crumbling ruin that was completely unmarked and fenced off. Leaving the kids in the car, Walt and I hiked the dirt road to the castle gates and remembered a time before children, when under the cover of nightfall, we might slip through a hole in the fence and explore a place forbidden. But that time was long ago, and our children sleeping in the car below needed us. And so, we drove home, steeped in the history that clung to us like a fragrance and filled our thoughts with the past.

Vianden Tourist Information

Bourscheid Tourist Information

Burg Eltz Tourist Information


  1. I was just in Vianden a few days ago - judging from the weather shown in your photos, might have been the same day! What a fairytale little city :)


    Dave - Dave's Travel Corner

  2. Yeah, Rick Steves doesn't always give the best advice. A friend I made in Bath, England who worked at a hotel told me Rick Steves came in to "review" the place and walked in like, "Don't you know who I am?? I'm famous!" My friend was like, "I have no freaking idea who the hell you are." lol

  3. @ David, I agree, what a fairytale city!
    @ Kristin, Figures... Just when you think someone is really down to earth. I wonder if he was flirting?

  4. About 7 years ago in Germany my mom and I saw a sign for another 'Burg' and went up to visit Burg Eltz. The view was amazing and the castle caught me off guard in the middle of nowehere. It was one of the only castles we visited that actually had an English tour. Brings back memories!

  5. @ Traveler: The approach to Burg Eltz through the hills is absolutely breathtaking. I'm so jealous you had an English tour!