Back in May 2013, I found myself stepping out of the train station in the small village of Moselkern along the Mosel River in Germany. My first reaction after my eyes scanned the tranquil setting was Now what? Moselkern feels like the kind of place that you only end up in if you get off at the wrong station or misunderstand directions. If you have ever arrived in a place as a tourist and your first thought was Where are all the people? Then you know how I felt.
I was there to visit what to me was known at the time as Rick Steve’s favorite castle in all of Europe. Today, I just call it by it’s better known name. Burg Eltz. I had no idea beforehand how to get there, and relying on another living soul was out of the question. With all due respect to the Kleines Kaffeehaus, there is only one reason to visit Moselkern, and that is to hike to the castle. Fortunately, the way is marked.
Since then I have had the privilege of visiting three more times, including most recently in December 2021. But back in May 2013, I was still a couple years away from discovering my passion for hiking. As I looked at the sign pointing towards Burg Eltz, I did not have a lot of experience conceptualizing a 5km hike, let alone the 11km hike it would turn out to be. At the time, I was still pretty much a city tripper. This was about as rugged of an adventure that I would have until I discovered Lauterbrunnen and Switzerland.
According to Wikipedia, Burg Eltz is shared among three branches of the Eltz family, two of which are open to the public and one which is still privately lived in. Besides its medieval beauty, one of the best features of the castle is that it is hidden away in the forest. There are multiple approaches by hiking, and over the years, I have used three different hiking routes. There is a hike here for every skill level. And from any direction, you have access to several fantastic viewpoints around the castle, each one seemingly more stunning than the next.
Tour Around Burg Eltz
Burg Eltz is open from April to November. In December 2021, it was with satisfying glee that I snapped a shot of the iconic entrance without a single tourist blemishing the view.
Burg Eltz entrance from all four visits in chronological order:
The castle has a great courtyard to savor a bowl of goulash and a glass of hefeweißen. The souvenir glass is yours to keep if you don’t wish to return it for your deposit. Mine is proudly still part of my beer glass collection.
Interior photography is not allowed, but there are plenty of great exterior shot opportunities.
Easy Route from Moselkern Station
This is the most direct route from the train station. I followed this route in May 2013 and again in April 2019. About half of this route follows the road towards the Ringelsteiner Mühle, a hotel with an outdoor cafe. This is a relatively easy hike but round-trip, it still tops out over 11km. At point #1 on this map is arguably the best viewpoint. When I visited in 2013, the way to the viewpoint was blocked by a fence to discourage hikers, and I enjoyed the view all by myself, although looking over my shoulder for German police dogs to come drag me kicking and screaming down the hill. But during my most recent visits, this viewpoint now has signs pointing to it so it is likely you will be sharing it on a nice day. It is a rocky ledge overlooking the castle and a great place to sit and soak in the beautiful location.
The Rocky Ledge View
This is the view of the rocky ledge.
And the view.
Short Route from Müdener Berg Wanderparkplatz
The shortest route that I have done is from this parking lot. The round-trip distance is about 3.1km. I did this hike with my daughter in August 2014. It is also easy to do the same viewpoint that I mentioned above.
Hike from Treis-Karden
Another way to create interesting hikes is to take advantage of the trains which connect many of the towns. In December 2021, I parked my car at the Treis-Karden station, hiked to Burg Eltz and then to Moselkern, and from there came back to my car by train. The hike was 11.2km. Treis-Karden is a little more picturesque than Moselkern and worth the stroll around the village. There is a fine looking wine shop and restaurant near the church.
The hike ascends thru a vineyard giving better views of the city and the Mosel River.
At the top, it is a pleasant hike across some open fields.
Eventually I reached a viewpoint that I hadn’t seen before.
After Burg Eltz, I took the high path back to Moselkern instead of heading along the road.
Back in sleepy Moselkern, oblivious to hikers.
As I savoured the rare pleasure of practically having Burg Eltz all to myself last December, I couldn’t help but try to listen for the ghosts of May 2013. Imagining my footsteps up the stone stairs, the weight of the DLSR that would have been hanging around my neck, that befuddled mixture of awe and cliche pinch-me giddiness. I was still in the midst of my grand tour of Europe, checking off place after place from my list of travel dreams. Back in those days, I used to buy entrance tickets to sites like Burg Eltz. Had Burg Eltz been open this time, I wouldn’t have bothered. Somewhere along the way, the fun became more about the journey than sidling thru room after room of Renaissance furniture listening to names and dates I won’t remember 5 minutes after leaving. But a part of me misses the innocence of joining the crowds and waiting my turn. With the visit in December, I felt it was finally the right time for Burg Eltz to join the rest of my blogging adventures. As I type, the sun is shining on a beautiful mid-February day. Spring suddenly feels right around the corner. Somewhere a butterfly chrysalis is stirring. It will soon be time. Burg Eltz will also soon be swarming with people again. Copious hikers will come from all directions, many of whom will see it for the first time. I miss those moments. But I also enjoy looking out over a place I have been and realizing your paths have been interwoven. There will never again be a first time, but the last always joins back around… an endless circle in a beautiful universe.