Meanderings through France ~ A Fairytale castle in Alsace
Set on a rocky spur in Alsace the Haut Koenigsbourg Castle, meaning the King’s High Castle, is a colossal fortified castle first built during the 12th century. Easily reached by car from Strasbourg or Colmar in less than one hour, it’s a lovely drive on the Alsatian Wine Road. On your way you may stop in one of these beautiful and famous villages full of flowers of the region: Ribeauvillé, Kaysersberg, Riquewihr… They are also synonymous with half-timbered houses and wines, and many wine makers will be glad to welcome you in their cellars.
Through the centuries the Haut Koenigsbourg Castle has been destroyed by fire or wars and rebuilt several times. After the 1870 French-German war Alsace was annexed to Germany and the castle was once again a German possession. In those days the castle lay in ruins and was a too heavy burden for the city of Selestat that owned it. It was then given to the German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm, who was delighted with the gift. He saw it as a symbol of his power on the western border of his Empire.
Huge works were undertaken to give back its greatness to the castle. Wilhelm and his architect, Bodo Ebhardt, aimed to make it look as it did during the 15th century: an impressive fortress ready to withstand a siege! The works lasted from1900 till 1908 and the most modern devices of the time were used to help the 200 workers to achieve this tremendous task: a railway line was built from Sélestat to the castle to bring the building materials to the site, a pumping station was built in 1901 (and was in use till 2013), a power line was installed.
Luckily the castle lived through WW II without any damage and the castle looks today as it did in 1918 when it became French again. It inspires many artists, especially film-makers: one of the set designers who worked for Peter Jackson’s trilogy “The Lord of the Ring” drew his inspiration from Haut Koenigsboug to design the terrifying Minas Tirith Citadel!
To get to the main gate you will have to walk along the 270 meters long ramparts making you feel small and powerless in front of these impressive walls. The gate is adorned with the coat of arms of Wilhelm and of Charles the Fifth. Once inside you actually feel like being 5 centuries ago: to get to the residential area you’ll have to go through narrow passageways, a drawbridge. Then you’ll get to a courtyard topped with a wooden gallery where a beautiful hexagonal spiral staircase will take you to Wilhelm’s apartments: the Kaiser Hall, the arms room, the hunting trophy room. All the rooms have an austere decoration with little comfort except for the beautiful earthenware stoves, the typical Kokelhof of Alsace.
Don’t miss to go to the bastion from where you’ll have an amazing view over the castle itself, the plain below, the Vosges Mountains and the other castles around.
The castle is an ideal starting point to visit the region. The 170 km long Alsace Wine Road goes through the plain giving you the opportunity to discover or rediscover the amazing range of the Alsatian wines. This year the grape harvests period should begin on the 20 September depending on the weather when the vineyards turn golden red creating wonderful landscapes. Until late October the grape harvests are times to party in many villages. A great time to have fun!
The Middle Ages Garden Tour gathered eleven gardens on the Wine Road from Dieffenthal to Bergheim, a nice way to learn more about rare and forgotten fruits, flowers and healing plants grown by the medieval monks.
Not far from the Haut Koenigsbourg the ‘Volerie des Aigles” set in a medieval castle set on top of a hill covered with black pines shelters birds of prey from all over the world since 1968. A rare opportunity to get close to these impressive birds!
For more information’s:
About Haut Koenigsbourg: www.haut-koenigsbourg.fr
About the Wine Road and the grape harvests festivities: www.route-des-vins-alsace.com
About the Middle Ages Gardens: www.alsace.jardins.eu
About the birds of prey: www.volieredesaigles.com
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny