Cruising among Castles along the Rhine River

Cruising among Castles along the Rhine River

Step aboard the S.S. Antoinette or River Empress for our Castles along the Rhine River Cruise and step back in time as the spires of medieval churches and castles appear around each bend in the river and vineyards climb the hillsides.

Rheinstein Castle perches mightily on cliffs over the Rhine.

From the start of your trip, you’ll be enraptured by the countryside and the local traditions that steep this area of the Rhine in history and heritage.

Europe’s iconic Rhine River, the second longest river in Central and Western Europe, stretches from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea in the Netherlands. The beauty of the the Rhine Valleys is almost unmatched; with Germany spanning one side of your ship and France the other. Picturesque villages colorfully meld with the edge of the land. Small towns offer local delicacies created in traditional ways that hold true to methods centuries old. As delightful and enchanting as the region is, what astounds even the most worldly among us, is the sheer number of castles that remain along this stretch of river.

In the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, where you’ll be cruising, a castle can be found every mile and a half, on average.

On any given day you’ll see bastions sporting their crenellation peeking out of trees, fortresses with damp foundations halfway into the river, the square of a barbican defending a gate with its battlements and parapet walk. The river is simply lined with keeps and strongholds alike. Akin to the villages, the history, and heritage of each castle is captivating.

Let’s take a step back and explore some of the impressive finds along your trip.

With its original construction starting around 1185, Prince Elector’s Castle in Boppard was later extended by the Archbishop of Trier after he conquered the town in 1327. The tower with pouring holes is the only thing left of the original structure. Over time, it’s served temporarily as the residence of the archbishops and, now, accommodates parts of the municipal library as well as the town archive.

Unlike the smaller Prince Elector’s Castle, Elector’s Palace (or Kurfürstliches Schloss in German) extends its impressive grandeur along its stretch of the Rhine. Perhaps the first most important early classical building you’ll come across in the Rhineland, the palace was built by French architects in the late 18th century for the last Archbishop and Elector of Trier, Clemens Wenzeslaus. It is one of the most important examples of the early French neoclassical great house in Southwestern Germany, and one of the last palaces built in Germany before the French Revolution. From the river, you’ll be able to see the central bay with six columns, surmounted by a relief by the sculptor Sebastian Pfaff. Today the building houses public authorities.

Castles along the river. Pictured here: Burg Stahleck sits atop the hill, the single tower of Marktturm is on the left, and the spires of Peterskirche delight on the right.

Going further back in time and along the river, Lahneck Castle is impressive as it rises above the Rhine. With its many towers and turrets, the castle is an intriguing example of the combination of medieval defense-building and historical restoration. Built in 1244 for the archbishop of Mainz, the castle stood in ruins for over fifty years until, in 1852, historic restoration brought back to life some of the marvelous architecture.

Sitting high above the river and virtually unchanged since the medieval period, Marksburg Castle is the only castle on a hilltop along the Rhine to never be destroyed. The castle land and standing buildings were bought by Eberhard II, Count of Katzenelnbogen in 1283. The count and his family then built the Gothic part of the castle, giving it its captivating form. In 1479, it was updated to a more ‘modern’ fortress with added artillery batteries and ramparts. Marksburg now consists of wall rings containing the keep, residential buildings, baileys, and bastions. Today the castle houses an extensive museum and the headquarters and offices of the German Castles Association.

Gutenfels castle, owned since 1257 by the Falkenstein family, is one of the most important examples of the Hohenstaufen military and house construction style along the Rhine. After an attempted siege was unsuccessful in 1504, the castle was renamed Gutenfels (solid rock). Rebuilt between 1889 and 1892 it is now used as a hotel.

Romantics who love the picturesque and historic will enjoy the medieval castles, splendid cathedrals, and scenes that have inspired great poets, painters, and composers alike.

By the late 18th century, some of the best examples of medieval castles had become ruins or had fallen into disrepair. Luckily, during the age of Romanticism in the 19th century, many castles were purchased, rebuilt, and remodeled. You’ll be able to glimpse the past looking at the renovations done at Castles Rheinstein, Reichenstein, Stahleck, Sooneck, and many more. We invite you to travel back in time with us as you enjoy the absolute luxury of cruising the Rhine River.

Learn a few terms for castle architecture to enhance your experience along the Rhine:

  • Baileys: A protective wall surrounding a castle, or the outdoor space created by the castle’s protective walls.
  • Bastions: A projecting part of a fortification built at an angle to the line of a wall, so as to allow defensive fire in several directions.
  • Barbican: A fortified outpost or gateway, such as an outer defense to a city or castle, or any tower situated over a gate or bridge which was used for defensive purposes.
  • Crenellation: A gap-toothed pattern of stones atop the parapet.
  • Hohenstaufen: Of or relating to a princely German family that reigned over the Holy Roman Empire from 1138–1254 and over Sicily from 1194–1266.
  • Keep: Large towers with the castle walls that were fortified residences, used as a refuge of last resort should the rest of the castle fall to an adversary.
  • Neoclassical: Relating to, or designating a developed principally from the mid-18th through the mid-19th centuries, characterized chiefly by an iconography derived from classical antiquity, a hierarchical conception of subject matter, and severity of composition.
  • Turrets: A small lookout tower projecting up from the top of the wall.
  • Rampart: A defensive wall of a castle or walled city, having a broad top with a walkway and typically a stone parapet.

Visit Grand European Tours to find yourself aboard a river cruise along the Rhine.

Have a story to tell about your trip? Share it with us anytime in the comments! 

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