Germany's Castle Hotels: Fairy Tales Do Come True
In Germany, a number of genuine castles--turrets, hidden passages, the whole deal--are more than just romantic backdrops. They're hotels, too. This is a knight that you'll never forget.
The Colmberg ranks as one of the Franconia region's best full-on medieval castle experiences; it sits prominently atop a 1,676-foot peak and has tall, impregnable walls and a courtyard flanked by a round stone tower. Ivy crawls up the faded peach plaster on one of the complex's giant, half-timbered buildings, and here and there the masonry is flecked with wildflowers. The interior is a maze, with short stairwells, tiny chapels, book-lined sitting nooks, and twisting hallways crammed with antiques. Around every turn you'll find thick dark beams, low arches, imposing staircases, iron candelabras, fires crackling in stone fireplaces that face giant leather chairs, and stuffed stags, brown bears, ermine, boars, and hawks.
The Colmberg sees its share of daytime tourists, busloads of whom detour off the nearby Romantic Road, the popular, 200-mile byway that snakes through medieval villages and scenic countryside between Würzburg and the Bavarian Alps. Things quiet down substantially at night. Each room is different--one has a Japanese canopy bed, another has modern furniture with a vaguely art nouveau influence. The Honeymoon Suite has over-the-top rococo decor, with gauzy curtains, wrought-iron filigree, and other ornate details. One of the nicest rooms, with a sleigh bed, stone walls, and deep-set windows, is named Schöne Else after the wife of a local burgrave, a relative of Friedrich VI--who ruled the Brandenburg Mark, which later became the core of the Prussian Empire. Colmberg (near Rothenburg ob der Tauber), 011-49/9803-91-920, burg-colmberg.de, from $95.
"Along the Rhine, there are castles in every corner," says Wilma Bartsch-Reichelt, owner of the 13th-century Gutenfels. "But I do not run a public restaurant. I do not give tours. My castle is a home, and only guests are allowed in." The ban on tour buses gives Gutenfels an exclusive, peaceful feel.
The castle was largely rebuilt from ruins between 1888 and 1954, and the wood-paneled walls sometimes recall a 1960s basement den. Still, the rooms, which are named for different Rhineland noblemen and women, come with faded Oriental runners, creaky wood floors, leaded-glass windows, and curtains hanging over the heads of the beds--details that add a bit of medieval-style class. Many rooms have trundle beds or odd bunk beds set into the walls--like extra-wide berths on an old train's sleeping car--making the castle a great option for families. The dining room fits the bill of a bona fide baronial hall, with a pair of enormous stone fireplaces dating back to 1200, a beamed ceiling, chandeliers, and a contemporary, cartoonish mural of medieval scenes.
In the gorgeous main courtyard, a flagstone terrace is adorned with little statues. Above the terrace, two levels of wooden balconies are dripping with potted red geraniums. The grounds are full of fabulous gardens, including a sunken area that is flanked by turrets just inside the outer wall. There's a small table in one turret that's perfect for an afternoon picnic. The view looks over one of the Rhine's most photogenic spots: an island in the middle of the river sprouting the little baroque tower of Pfalzgrafenstein Castle. Kaub (near Wiesbaden), 011-49/6774-220, rhinecastles.com/hotel-burg-gutenfels, from $145.
Owner Christa Probst is likely to greet Americans with an amazed, "How ever did you find us?" The Eifel region, west of the Rhine and southwest of Bonn, with its rolling farmland and strings of tiny, round lakes filling ancient volcanic craters, is a popular escape among German weekend motorcyclists and countryside trekkers. The closest that foreigners explore is generally the castle-lined Mosel River valley.
There's been a burg, or fortress, in the center of the village of Daun since the Celtic era. It's been destroyed and rebuilt several times over the past 2,700 years. The current, A.D. 1712 incarnation--creamy yellow walls with wooden doorways, a gabled roof of mossy slate tiles peppered with tiny dormer windows--has been welcoming guests for 22 years. The interiors have for the most part been modernized, and the rooms are spacious and classy, with easy chairs and headboards upholstered in richly colored tapestries, and Oriental rugs scattered over parquet floors. Bathrooms are sleek and large. Some rooms, like No. 124, are marvelously crisscrossed by wood beams, which cut down on the usable space but create a highly atmospheric effect. Rooms on the second floor (which Americans would call the third floor) tend to be smaller, many with modular, white-lacquer furnishings and cream-colored duvets. If the tasty but rather pricey restaurant is too rich for your pocketbook, walk down the drive and turn right onto the town's main drag. At the end of the block is the Rengener Stübchen, a cozy bierstube and restaurant serving simple dishes and grilled meats. Daun ( just north of the Mosel Valley), 011-49/6592-9250, daunerburg.de, from $160.