With my cheek pressed against the portal glass of a orange and white Easy Jet plane, I absentmindedly began to flip through my Lonely Planet Germany. I was on my way to Freiburg and to get my holiday spirit on hopping from one Christmas market town to another in south-west Germany. Sipping on an overpriced cup of coffee, I was searching for ideas of places to visit after Freiburg. I had a tentative idea of where I wanted to go, but booked nothing, hoping to keep my options open and my plans flexible. Perusing on the section of the Romantic Rhine, I struck gold.
You guys owe me, I am about to give away one of my best kept travel secrets.
One time I got to stay in a castle in Germany.
And not just any old castle. A restored 12th century medieval castle, turrets and all overlooking the mountains, vineyards and forests lining the Rhine river. Did I mention it’s a hostel now? That’s right, I got to stay in a fairytale castle hostel, with my own room, bathroom, breakfast and dinner for 20 euros!
Tucked away in the Rhine section of Lonely Planet was a wee little paragraph entitled Bacharach and under suggested accommodations: Burg Stahleck, burg meaning castle in German. I was hooked! That night after setting into my 16 bed dorm room (never again! Snorers, you are the bane of my hostelling existence! You know who you are, book a private room!) I went online and sent an email in horribly bad German to the hostel in Bacharach asking (read: begging) them to let me stay there for 2 nights. Youth Hostel Bacharach is part of the German hostelling network Jugendherberge (DJH) which means that you can’t book it on other hostel and hotel booking websites, and I had to pay a minimal fee to be part of the network, at least I did back in the day.
This meant that this hostel was relatively unknown and mostly occupied with Germans and locals, also a lot of families, making it a unique experience.
I know you guys have heard me wax poetic about how I love castles, so I’ll save you the trouble of blabbering on about it again. Let’s just say that I was more than excited to get to stay here. After confirming my reservation, I spent the next few days buying trinkets at the Christmas markets and drinking far too much mulled wine. Finally that magical day arrived when I hopped on the train to Bacharach, well I used my Rail Pass to hop on and off to little cities on my way to Bacharach.
Jumping off the train in Bacharach was an experience I’ll never forget. The sun had set and frost had already begun to settle on the grassy platform. That’s right, Bacharach is so small it doesn’t even have a cement platform, just grass. Twirling around I looked up and saw the castle keep high above me covered in twinkling Christmas lights. Magical! But looking around, my heart sank when I realized I was the only person who got off the train. There was not another soul in sight and it looked liked the little village had already gone to bed meaning no one to ask for directions. How was I supposed to get up there?
Bacharach is the kind of town with only one main road, that I later learned was made up of switchbacks that run up to the back of the castle, but I couldn’t see it from the train platform. Crossing the street, I saw a staircase going up between houses and dense trees marked with a picture of a castle and someone walking with an arrow pointing up. Hiking my heavy backpack on my shoulders, I sighed when realized I was in for a little midnight hike in the woods. Lovely.
Staring at that dark staircase and trail with trepidation, I felt sure that I was going to be kidnapped and raped at some point that night. There is nothing creepier that being outside in a foreign place with no one around and complete silence. I took a deep breath, pulled my hood over my head to hide my shiny blonde hair, and started up the stairs. And by started I mean I ran as fast as my little legs could carry me.
Luckily, when I emerged from the staircase and forest, the thin trees gave way to a steep open hillside with a trail crossing back and forth up to the castle. Huffing and puffing in the frigid night air, I slowly waddled my way up to the castle bent over with my heavy backpack like a turtle. Bathed in moonlight (thank god there were no clouds otherwise I would have had to climb up in pitch black) I slipped and slid around on the pebbles and icy fallen leaves up the trail.
What seemed like hours later (probably only 30 minutes) I emerged in the medieval stone courtyard unmolested and satisfied with myself for not dying. I checked in and went straight to my room to shower and change. I still remember that my face was beet red from the exertion of my little jaunt in the woods and the biting winter air. Even my ears were red. I crawled into bed and promptly passed out.
The next morning I woke up to the sun trying to break through the mists clinging to the river and mountains. The view looked like a painting! The landscape was turned to silver glass from the overnight frost and the round sun turned the clouds yellow as it tried to peek through. The world seemed sparkly and new. It was one of the few moments I’ve had while traveling where I didn’t want to leave the hostel!
Without out a doubt, this was the neatest place I’ve ever stayed, making for an unforgettable and unique experience. I would definitely recommend trying to change up accommodation like this when traveling. It was by far my favorite part of a several month backpacking trip around Europe. For three days, my own personal dream became reality of getting to stay in a castle. My fairytale came true!
What’s the coolest hostel you’ve ever stayed in? Would you like to stay in a unique place like a castle when traveling? What is your fairytale?
How to: Bacharach is a stop on the Koblenz-Mainz train route and is easily accessible to other cities around Germany; trains run every half hour or so. Need I harp on the fact that Germany has one of the best train systems I’ve ever seen? Germany has lots of train passes and deals, and I remember I spent the day traveling up and down the Rhine river from town to town on a pass I bought that day. You can fly into Frankfurt Hahn airport nearby serviced by Ryanair or into bigger towns like Freiburg, Cologne or Frankfurt with other airlines. To book a room at the Hostel at Burg Stahleck in Bacharach, call +49 6743 1266 or email at [email protected].