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The front lawn of the Oriental House in Sanspareil, Germany. On the far end of the lawn sits Castle Zwernitz's former kitchen, which is now a beer garden and restaurant for visitors of the historic Rock Garden. One of the castle towers looms in background.

The front lawn of the Oriental House in Sanspareil, Germany. On the far end of the lawn sits Castle Zwernitz's former kitchen, which is now a beer garden and restaurant for visitors of the historic Rock Garden. One of the castle towers looms in background. (Dan Blottenberger/Stars and Stripes)

The front lawn of the Oriental House in Sanspareil, Germany. On the far end of the lawn sits Castle Zwernitz's former kitchen, which is now a beer garden and restaurant for visitors of the historic Rock Garden. One of the castle towers looms in background.

The front lawn of the Oriental House in Sanspareil, Germany. On the far end of the lawn sits Castle Zwernitz's former kitchen, which is now a beer garden and restaurant for visitors of the historic Rock Garden. One of the castle towers looms in background. (Dan Blottenberger/Stars and Stripes)

A statue on the outside of the Oriental House in Sanspareil, Germany. The house is the start and end point for the magnificent rock garden that is in the forest behind the house.

A statue on the outside of the Oriental House in Sanspareil, Germany. The house is the start and end point for the magnificent rock garden that is in the forest behind the house. (Dan Blottenberger/Stars and Stripes)

The inspiration for the Oriental House, built in 1744, came from the Homeric island of Ogygia, featured in the French novel "The Adventures of Telemachus." Guided tours of the interior of the house are available.

The inspiration for the Oriental House, built in 1744, came from the Homeric island of Ogygia, featured in the French novel "The Adventures of Telemachus." Guided tours of the interior of the house are available. (Dan Blottenberger/Stars and Stripes)

A visitor makes her way through the rock garden in Sanspareil, Germany. Built during the 16th and 18th centuries, the garden is across the street from Zwernitz Castle outside the Kulmbach suburb of Wonsees.

A visitor makes her way through the rock garden in Sanspareil, Germany. Built during the 16th and 18th centuries, the garden is across the street from Zwernitz Castle outside the Kulmbach suburb of Wonsees. (Dan Blottenberger/Stars and Stripes)

The Nature Theater lies deep inside the rock garden, an idyllic setting for live performances still given here.

The Nature Theater lies deep inside the rock garden, an idyllic setting for live performances still given here. (Dan Blottenberger/Stars and Stripes)

A simple trip to small towns and villages hidden in the mountains and forests of Bavaria can reveal an abundance of treasures.

A sign for Felsengarten, or rock garden, in the Kulmbach suburb of Sanspareil, leads to an adventure into the past.

As you enter Sanspareil, a mile outside the town of Wonsees, you are greeted by Zwernitz Castle. Dating to the 12th century, the castle was owned by the Hohenzollern family from 1338 to 1810. During the 16th and 18th centuries, the Hohenzollerns built the rock garden as a complement to the castle, according to the Bavarian Palace Department.

While the castle is currently closed for renovations — it is scheduled to reopen this summer — visitors will find other adventures only steps away.

Across the street from the castle is the Hohenzollern family’s Oriental House, an entry point into the rock garden. The Baroque garden on the front lawn of the house was designed by Margravine Wilhelmine of Bayreuth, who based her design on Homeric stories.

The Oriental House, erected in 1744, the Zwernitz Castle and the ruins in the rock garden are all that remain from this time in the area.

The Homeric theme is continued in the rock garden. As you meander the garden’s path, note the signs featuring sketches of buildings that once stood in the garden and the Homeric tales associated with them. The down side is that the signs are in German only.

The rock garden sits in the shade of surrounding forest behind the Oriental House.

The garden’s path, about a mile long, is man-made and covered in light gravel, making it easy to travel with a stroller. In several places, centuries-old steps worn down by time and countless visitors add to the garden’s magical aura.

At several points along the path, steep stairs lead to viewing platforms where some of Wilhelmine’s buildings once stood. As you survey the fields and nearby hills from one of these platforms it is no wonder that, according to legend, one of the castle’s court ladies declared “C’est sans pareil” (“It has no equal”).

Deep inside the garden, through a naturally formed stone archway, there is a theater where plays are still presented.

The path through the garden makes a loop, and as you make your way back you will pass by the old castle smithy and a cave dubbed the bear cave — I decided not to stick my head into the darkness.

Back at the starting point, there is a restaurant and beer garden across from the Oriental House where visitors can re-energize and reflect on the history they have just experienced.

ON THE QTDIRECTIONSWonsees is about 25 miles from Warner Barracks in Bamberg, Germany. Take A70 toward Bayreuth, then take exit 21 toward Schirradorf. Take a right after exiting and follow the road to Wonsees. Once in the town, follow signs for about 1.5 miles until you reach Zwernitz Castle in the town of Sanspareil. You can see the castle as soon as you enter the town on the left. Parking is located on a narrow path to the right of the Oriental House, which is across the street from the castle.

TIMESThe Oriental House is open April 1 thru Sept. 30 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, and from Oct. 1-15, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The house is closed Mondays. There are guided tours of the house every half hour, in German only. The rock garden is open year round. Zwernitz Castle is currently under renovation and closed to visitors, but is scheduled to reopen this summer.

COSTSEntry to the Oriental House is 2 euros per person 18 years and older. Guests under 18 are free. There is no charge for entry to the rock garden. Parking is free.

FOODThere is a restaurant and beer garden across from the Oriental House. The small town of Wonsees has a few restaurants and cafes.

INFORMATIONZwernitz Castle; House #29, 96197 Wonsees. Telephone: 09274-9098906. For more details, visit www.bayreuth-wilhelmine.de, click on English, then Sanspareil.


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