Thursday, 29 August 2013

Alsace Castles

For our last day on our recent holiday in Alsace we decided to go castle exploring.  There were a good many to choose from as the border between this part of France and Germany has always been heavily defended.  Our main focus of the day was to explore the castles near to Fleckenstein, where we had been earlier in the week but on the way was the castle at Windstein and so we thought we would add that in as an appetiser.  The castle is in the small community of Windstein, effectively just a scattering of houses in this small wooded corner of Alsace.  We parked up some distance from the castle and had to walk up the last quarter of a mile of road and then up along a track through the trees to get to the castle.  When we got there it wasn’t at all obvious how much structure was left for all we were greeted with at our side of the rock were sandstone outcrops.
Windstein View
We climbed some steps that had been cut into the rock to get in and found ourselves in semi-troglodyte caves at the top, with much of the remaining structure of the castle on the other side.  We spent about half an hour exploring the old place and admiring the view out across the forests.  Of particular interest to the girls was the enormous well cut into the rock in the centre of the castle. I have to say it was pretty impressive, being cut in a perfect circle and being at least 80 feet deep.  That must have been quite an engineering feat in its day for the castle was built in the early 1200s and lasted until being destroyed some 500 years later.  Once we had admired the view at the front of the castle, we decided to move on to the main course of the day…
After our short visit to Windstein we headed back to Fleckenstein a short car ride away and parked up at the start of the charcoal burner’s trail where we had started a few days earlier.  The weather this time could not have been more different – the grey cloudy conditions replaced by blue skies and burning sun.
Fleckenstein from Above
We were here to check out a walk between four chateaus that we had clocked on our earlier visit.  The first was of course Fleckenstein, but we had already visited that one so we plotted our route to Loewenstein, the next one on the route.  This involved a long and slow climb through the heavily wooded hills to the east of Fleckenstein, which was mercifully cool on account of the shade afforded by the trees.  Towards the top we started to get glimpses of the view through peepholes in the trees suggesting that the view would be something special.
Loewenstein Viewpoint
At the top we were not disappointed.  Although the sun was relentless now that we had left the cover of the trees, the view was spectacular.  Far below us was the castle of Fleckenstein, while much of the rest of the vista was an endless forest.  It must have been quite the place to be holed up during mediaeval times when the castle was built.  As with many of the others, this one was partly built into the rock on which it sat and little of the structure remained.  Lizards and butterflies were constant companions, attracted no doubt by the reflected heat of the sandstone rock.
After a refreshment break we headed on to the next castle, Hohenbourg, just five minutes walk away along the ridge.  It seemed a bit of a mystery why there should be two castles so close to each other?  I assume they were both garrisoned, but maybe the view was sufficiently different that they afforded more of an all round view of the enemy?  Anyhow, this had more of a structure about it and we climbed the narrow steps to the top of the tower.
View From Hohenbourg
This was clearly higher than the last castle and seemed to have more of a view towards the fourth and final castle across the border in Germany.  Perhaps they were signalling stations?  It certainly felt like an eagle’s nest high up here on the top of our perch.
German Border Post
We gathered our strength for the assault on the last castle.  This required us to cross the border into Germany, although we were in fact only 10 minutes away.  On the way we passed by a spring, with lovely cool water bubbling out of it.  That enabled us to have a bit of a face wash and cool down a little before heading on.
Surprisingly, given the loneliness of the place there was an old hut at the border. We weren’t sure but I wouldn’t mind betting that there would once have been a border guard here.  The border itself was marked for a distance by some tree trunks laid on the ground.  I should imagine these were pretty effective at keeping out unwanted visitors J.
Gateway to Wegelnburg
It was a short climb up through the trees to Wegelnburg, the last of the three castles.  This looked fairly and squarely out over GermanyFrance was behind us and although we could see Hohenbourg we could not see the other two castles.  Our view was northward towards the Eifel region of Germany and the small town of Pirmasens, some 15 miles or so away.  This was the highest castle along the border, although strangely it did not feel as high as Hohenbourg, perhaps because the layout of the castle was a lot flatter and more elongated along the sandstone rock.  After exploring thoroughly and getting plenty more drink on board we headed back down the slope to our starting point.

Wegelnburg View Into Germany
At the bottom we had remembered how nice the cafĂ© looked and so we availed ourselves of it for lunch, having some well deserved sausage and chips for our efforts.  Despite the moans and groans from the children all the way to the top of the hill, they later agreed that this was her favourite trip of the whole holiday.  Contrary?  Not our two J