Europe is overflowing with castles to be seen and explored. Some have been reconstructed, restored, or preserved, gilded and glorious from the art to the furniture and everything in between. Others, however, were left in their ruined state. Though most people don’t hesitate to call them “ruins”, they are actually beautiful and grand in their own unique way.
We learned this during our stay along the Rhine in Germany when a bike ride landed us in the town of Sankt Goar. Our map told us we would stumble upon Rheinfels Castle during a short hike up a small hill, and let me tell you, Rheinfels was nothing to stumble over! It was large, with open walls and missing roofs, grassy patches that were once indoors and precarious stairways that led to the sky. Back in its glory days, the castle was a mighty fortress, strong and wide. It was built in 1245 by Count Diether V von Katzenelnbogen and was strengthened about two centuries later, when the Katzenelnbogen lineage died out and ownership was passed to a new family. A little over 300 years after that, Rheinfels was turned over to the French revolutionary army, who didn’t waste much time before blowing it up, leaving the ruins we see today.
The entrance fee is a respectable 5,00 € per adult, so we paid up and went exploring. The woman at the ticket window gave us a map with two recommended touring routes, one that remained above ground and the other that took you through the lower tunnels. For the latter route, you must have a flashlight. Looking for a little adventure, we pulled our flashlights out and followed the second route.
They certainly weren’t exaggerating! There were points along these underground tunnels where you could not stand up straight and wouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face without a flashlight. In addition to these tunnels, we were able to explore all over the castle, from the dungeon to the trenches, up the tower to see the view of the river and back down into a few more tunnels. It was truly fascinating and, honestly, a breath of fresh air after so many “stay behind the ropes” castle tours.
For more of a history lesson, we visited the little museum inside the castle’s chapel. We learned about the building of the castle, saw a few artifacts uncovered from its ruins, and marveled at what the castle looked like before its destruction. We probably could have spent even more time at Rheinfels, reaching every nook and cranny. The time we did have was used wisely and I’m confident that we saw the most interesting parts of this truly unique castle. If you plan to be in region, plan to stop in at Rheinfels Castle. And don’t forget your flashlights!