Castle Road: Germany's Burg Rabenstein could fuel a medieval fantasy
By DAN BLOTTENBERGER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 24, 2011
Creeping along the winding road that runs along the River Wiesent between Bamberg and Bayreuth in Germany’s Fränkische Schweiz region, it is not hard to imagine oneself having fallen into a J.R.R. Tolkien novel.
The area looks so much like something out of a medieval fantasy that it had me wishing I was traveling by horseback with a band of hobbits instead of by car with the family. I felt I was on my own epic journey to discover another castle on the famous Castle Road, which passes more than 90 castles and palaces as it zigzags some 750 miles from Mannheim, Germany, to Prague in the Czech Republic.
As you reach what the locals call the heart of the area, it feels as though the mountains just might close in on the road around the next bend. You find yourself constantly looking up at the cliffs to study the ageless natural scenery that brings travelers of all sorts to vacation here.
The castle I was searching for on this winter day was Burg Rabenstein. It is deep in this region, where so much of the past has been reserved that you have to go slowly to take it all in.
There were signs for the castle for miles, which made my anticipation grow as I approached, but because of the winding roads it’s not possible to see the castle until you are right under it. Then you must travel for another few miles until you are actually on top of the plateau where the castle rests.
You can get to Burg Rabenstein by foot, bike, boat or car or a combination. For example, you can take a canoe on one of the tributaries of the Wiesent, stop near the castle and follow one of the many hiking trails in the area up to the castle. If going by car, you can park below the plateau where the castle sits and walk up, or you can drive to a parking area near the castle. Don’t shy away from the walk — it’s a good way to get a feel for the area as you approach the castle.
Today, Burg Rabenstein, whose history dates to the 12th century, is mainly used as a hotel for business conferences and weddings, but much of the original structure still exists and can be viewed from the inside. You can take a tour (available in English by request) of most of the interior, led by guides who also look as if they might have spent some time in Middle Earth.
The castle consists of seven historical halls on three levels, plus several private and public rooms, a weaponry collection, chapel, country restaurant, beer garden and falconry. The falconry, restaurant and beer garden are open only from late March to the end of October.
Although hotel rooms were recently added, you can see what the castle used to look like in artwork showing the castle during its early years. A painting of the last member of the Rabenstein family to live in the castle can be found outside of the basement chapel.
I recommend visiting during the warmer months when all the shows and exhibits, including medieval markets, are open. But if you are traveling through the area during the winter by car or foot — or even horseback — make sure to stop at Burg Rabenstein.
From Autobahn 73, take the exit for Buttenheim and head toward Ebermannstadt; once in Ebermannstadt, turn left at a T-junction onto B470 toward Bayreuth. Stay on B470 as it follows the river for about 10 miles until reaching Behringersmühle, then turn left toward Bayreuth (watch for the signs for Burg Rabenstein). Go through Oberailsfeld and you’ll see the castle on the left; follow the road and make a sharp left after Neumühle, where there is a big sign for Burg Rabenstein. Follow the signs and make a left into the parking lots at the top of the hill. For GPS: Rabenstein 33, 95491 Ahorntal, Germany.
Open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily except Monday. Tours begin at the top of each hour. Information on times and dates for special events can be found on the castle’s website.
The castle tour costs 3.50 euros, free for those younger than 6. Admission to the falconry is 3 euros for adults, 2 euros for children.
There is a restaurant and beer garden on the castle grounds from the end of March through October. There also are plenty of restaurants throughout the area.
The castle’s website is www.burg-rabenstein.de (in German). An English-language brochure with information about the castle is available at the information office. To contact the office, call 09202-9700440 or e-mail email@example.com.
The nearby Sophie caves are worth exploring and are open 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. April to October; admission is 6.50 euros for adults and 5 euros for children at night, 3.50 euros for adults and 2.50 euros for children during the day.
Burg Rabenstein, which began as a fortress in the 12th century, has been renovated into a 22-room hotel. While there is a parking area near its front, during warmer weather a walk up one of the winding hiking trails is also a good way to get a feel for the area while approaching the building.
DAN BLOTTENBERGER/STARS AND STRIPES