Perhaps the most famous of German castles, Burg Eltz Castle is a towering medieval structure located in a lush forest in the Lower Moselle Valley near Koblenz. The first mention of a Burg Eltz was in 1157. Burg Eltz Castle has remained in the same family ever since—for more than 30 generations.
Like some other castles of Germany, Burg Eltz is a Glanerbenburg, meaning that it belonged to several branch families of joint heirs. Prior to the unification of Germany, inheritance laws in many German states dictated that possessions be split between all successors. By uniting their inheritance, the heirs could afford to build and retain a castle. By 1530, Burg Eltz Castle was shared by three separate branches of the Eltz family. (It has since been unified under a single branch.)
Burg Eltz Castle has over 80 rooms that rise in eight towers up to ten stories high. The well-fortified structure was only attacked once—and never taken. While many west German castles were destroyed by French troops in the late seventeenth century, Burg Eltz survived thanks to a Eltz family member in the invading army.
For most of its existence, Burg Eltz Castle was more of a luxury family home—along the lines of Chenonceau, Chambord, and other chateax in France’s Loire Valley—than a defensive fortress, like the Krak de Chevaliers in Syria or Stirling Castle in Scotland. Thanks to its peaceful history, Burg Eltz is one of the best preserved castles of Germany.
Burg Eltz Castle is surrounded on three sides by the Eltz River (its name means literally, “castle on the Eltz”) and nestled in a 200-foot rock spur in the middle of a dense forest. Its picturesque location has made it one of the most popular attractions in Germany and a favorite subject of numerous painters, including R.J.W. Turner and Edward Lear. Its fame among German castles is rivaled only by Frankenstein Castle, the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s famous novel.
Two of the three sections of Burg Eltz Castle are now open to the public; the third is still the ancestral residence of the Eltz family. The only way to see Burg Eltz is on one of the 45-minute castle tours. The castle tours include a visit to the superb Gothic chapel. Because the castle has been in the same family for 800 years, the rooms are filled with centuries-old furniture, art, and weaponry, much of it decorated by the Eltz family crest. Castle tours in German leave regularly; visitors can wait for enough English-speaking people to comprise an English tour group or follow the German tour with a helpful English fact sheet.
Burg Eltz Castle is open to the public daily between April and October, with tours leaving between 9:30 am and 5:30 pm. Admission is about $10 each. The lovingly preserved fortress, one of the finest castles of Germany, is well worth the price.