Eltz Castle is a majestic little castle. It sits on a rock in a small wooded valley in Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz) in Germany. Although definitely among the lesser-known castles (unlike Hohenzollern or Neuschwanstein), it is extremely appropriate for its location and has a few unique features, both physically and as well as features of its history.
No one knows exactly when the castle was built, although records of the Eltz family go back to 1157. The reigning Holy Roman Emperor, Fredrick I Barbarossa, gave the family the land deed at this time, so probably it came about not long afterwards (approximately 1162 or so). This is most likely due to not only military reasons (i.e. defending the area and establishing a presence) but also an economic one. The valley in which the castle sits is on the old Roman trading route. It was active well into the early modern era. The castle sat perfectly to both protect and tax trade.
The next major event in the history of the castle a split in the Eltz family into three castles. Next to the original castle, two more sprang up to house the individual branches in 1268. While the castles were individual, they all sit atop the same (comparatively) small rock in the valley, so it is difficult to tell they are separate just from looking. However, the building style and material for the different castles are distinct from one another. Until 1815 the castles stood together, sharing the same common spaces (courtyard, well, chapel, etc.). In 1815 the family was reunited and passages were added to connect all three together.
So what makes this castle unique? People had partitioned and joined castles like this in the past.
A one-family home
Firstly, this castle has never changed hands. Most castles have belonged to at least two families over their long years. Eltz Castle has always belonged to the Eltz Family (now specifically the Kempenich branch).
Secondly, the family still lives there. This is not unique (for example the Hohenzollern family still lives in Hohenzollern castle) but it is somewhat rare in modern Germany.
Thirdly, the castle has never been destroyed in its nearly 900-year history. In fact it has not faced many conflicts, which is surprising given its location. It suffered an attack once in 1331. Knights from Eltz as well as from other areas of the Palatinate formed an alliance against the Elector of Palatinate who was trying to take away their right to war against each other privately. The Elector laid siege to the castle and also cut off all supply lines, meaning that the castle had to surrender. Apart from that, the event that destroyed most of the castles in the region was the Thirty Years War, thanks to the French. Due to some skilled diplomacy, Eltz remained neutral throughout the war and so did not suffer damage as a result.
Fourthly, the architecture of Eltz includes a red lacquered truss with red lacquered bays, which is unique for a castle both in Germany and worldwide.
Getting to the Castle, Tours and Visiting
Because of where it is, the Castle itself is a little bit difficult to access. Parking for the castle is 750 metres (approximately half a mile) away from the castle outside of the valley. Parking costs €2 per vehicle. There is also an outside bus system that stops at the parking lot infrequently and goes to some of the surrounding villages and towns.
There are two ways to access the castle itself: walking or bus. The castle operates a bus service consisting of one bus that goes constantly between the parking lot and the castle. This service costs €2 per person one way (round trip: €4 per person).
If you do not want to pay for the bus, you can always walk and you even have a few options. All of them include a downhill slope from the parking lot to the castle, which is steep in some parts. The most direct way is the road that the bus takes, which also has some lookout points. The other option is to hike on one of the numerous trails in the valley area, some of which reach the castle.
The Eltz family still owns the castle and it is private property (and the family still reside there). However the family opens the castle to visitors daily from 9:30 to 17:30. You can only visit the via guided tour (no free wandering yourself). This also gains you entrance into the treasury, located in a cellar space below the castle. This is the one place you can wander freely. An adult ticket (with guided tour and treasury entrance) is €11 per adult. Tickets are bought at the gate in person; there is no way to buy tickets online or make reservations.
Most of the guided tours are done in German. However tours are offered at regular intervals in English, especially if you ask for an English-language tour. Depending on the composition of the visitors, the tour group is usually smaller for the English version than the German version.
I really enjoyed my visit to Eltz Castle, especially the tour itself. Our small tour group had a family with young kids and the tour guide definitely took this into account for them. Maybe because of that, I found the information to be a bit basic, having visited many castles in my time. However I enjoyed visiting the two currently unoccupied castles (not lived in by the surviving branch) and it never felt as though we were rushing through the castle. The tour gave information both about the family and Eltz castle specifically and medieval culture in general. It was only about 45 minutes in total, so it was a nice length to learn things without becoming potentially bored.
After the tour you can go into the Schatzkammer (treasury) where many small and large, including very valuable, objects are on display. Unfortunately, as we arrived around 4PM or so and had to wait for the English tour (and still had to drive several hours home the same day), we were a bit rushed for the treasury; we saw everything and were able to read about the history of some of the items.
I would highly recommend visiting Eltz Castle. While the official website recommends visiting before 11AM and after 3PM due to the “lunch rush”, we found that there were a lot of people even close to closing time who were still trying to get in.
Warning: because this is private property, you cannot take photos inside the buildings. This is there aren’t any photos of the inside (I didn’t take any).