Who doesn’t like to live in a château ? Well, honestly, I don’t. They are too big, cold, generally lacking even the most crucial necessities – running water, anyone ? – and probably haunted. And the upkeep should hurt even the richest A-listers.
But while visiting the magical Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg at Alsace, I couldn’t help but think myself as the Lady of the Château, knitting a carpet with unicorn figures, enjoying the courtyard with my ladies-in-waiting, hosting dinners to fellow kings and feeding my dragons.
Built on a massive cliff, history of the château is full of wars and sieges. It has been burned twice – the latest by the Swedish forces during the 30-years war in 16th cc. Then, in 19th cc, when the region once again changed hands and belonged to the German Empire, Wilhelm II decided to restore the castle as an ode to his power in the region.
The restoration of the château was entrusted to the architect Bodo Ebhardt, a proven expert on the reconstruction of medieval castles. A historian as well as an architect, he rebuilt the castle from ruins in eight years. He relied heavily on historical accounts from the 16th cc but, occasionally lacking information, he had to improvise. For example, the Keep tower is now reckoned to be about 14 metres too tall.
In my humble opinion, Bodo did a great job. The moment we parked the car and started to walk the slope to the château, our eyes were drawn to the yellow-pink stone walls, slate turrets and the ramparts. When we passed the draw bridge and started to tour around the château itself, we were struck by the attention to detail. The inner courts, rooms, chapel and the furniture were all carefully crafted. Of course, the château , after its restoration, was never subject to another siege. It was mainly used for royal visits and later during the Great War, as an observation post . As a result, the wall paintings and stained glasses are mainly left intact.
After the WW1, the region was returned to the French republic once again. For many years onward, the French did what they did best, and sneered at this German fairy tale castle. However, especially in the 21st cc, many historians begin to appreciate its value as an almost realistic replica of a 16th cc stronghold.
They were not alone; the unique atmosphere of the château du Haut-Koenigsbourg has been an inspiration for many artists, especially for those in the glamorous world of film-making.
At the end of the 1930s, Jean Renoir chose this Alsatian fortress to be a backdrop for his film “La Grande Illusion“, now recognized as being a masterpiece of French, and indeed world cinema.
Several decades later, John Howe, the Conceptual Designer for Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy fell in love with the château’s mysterious atmosphere, and he used it as the inspiration for the design of the ‘Citadel of Minas Tirith‘.
The fortress also inspired the famous Japanese film director Hayao Myasaki, a master in the art of animated filmmaking. He visited the château du Haut-Koenigsbourg during a film location-spotting trip to the region and its influence can be seen in his animated film ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’.
Some practical info :
Wear comfortable shoes, because you’ll do a lot of climbing. There’re lots of stairs and rooms to conquer.
If you are travelling by car, the château is on A35 motorway, 55 km from Strasbourg and 26 km from Colmar, two of the most beautiful cities in Alsace. Take exit 17 or 18 and follow the signs.
All through the route, the views are breath taking. There’re parking places available when you get closer to the château.
There’s also a shuttle from the Sélestat train station or alternatively, you can cycle.That is, if you are planning to participate at the Tour de France for the climb is very steep.
There’s a nice cafe, Le 757 within the château with a lovely bookshop and a small pavillion just outside the main gate for a quick coffee or a sandwich.
And, please do the clever thing and book your tickets online to avoid waiting in line.
If you love Alsace as much as I do, or curious about this region , please check my earlier post. More will follow 🙂