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A French Life: Alsace Road Trip – The Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg

 

Chateau du Haut Koenisgbourg high on its hill
Chateau du Haut Koenisgbourg high on its hill

Having arrived in Riquewihr in Alsace we were on a tight schedule to see everything on my list – there was just too much to see and do in the few days we had in the area but I knew that the Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg was a must-see for me…

As we drove towards the Chateau I could see that it was really high up in the mountains and it started to dawn on me that it was much higher than I’d realised – not good for someone like me with a fear of heights.  We reached the lovely village of St Hippolyte at the base of the road to the Chateau and started our ascent.  It’s necessary to go fairly slowly as the approach to the Chateau is via twisting little roads and hair pin bends which wind round and round the mountain. I couldn’t stop myself from looking over the sides as we drove and started to hyper-ventilate.  The OH who was driving told me that if I didn’t calm down he was going to slap me!  I willed myself to breathe slowly and we eventually reached the car park.

St Hippolyte, Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg
St Hippolyte – you can just see the chateau on the hill behind the church dome

It’s a steep 15 minute walk from the lower car park to the Chateau and the views over the side are stunning – you can see for miles.

Apparently nobody knows how old the original castle is but it was first mentioned in 1147 and the name means “King’s Castle”.

Detail in the Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg

It is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Alsace but when we went, although it was busy it wasn’t too bad at all. Over the centuries the castle had been left to rot but when the Germany Emperor inherited it in 1899 he decided to restore it to its former glory. Kaiser Wilhelm II had a romantic idea of medieval Germanic civilisation and he was able to indulge his passion in the castle which was about two thirds destroyed when he took it on. It required much ingenuity and talent to be able to get materials up to the top of the mountain where it sits but work on the castle was brisk and in just eight years from 1900 – 1908 the restoration was complete.  I’m told that there is much debate over the quality of the project in terms of authenticity, I’ll leave that to the scholars who care more than me that the main dining hall roof is taller than the original and just tell you that I think it’s absolutely fabulous.

Ceiling of the Trophy Room, Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg

It’s not a huge castle but it is full of beautiful detail – stone carvings, frescos, wonderful tiled roofs, stained glass windows, ornate stair cases and beamed ceilings. There were the most amazing ceramic fires in most of the rooms – I’ve never seen anything quite like it and I could imagine that on a cold winter’s night as the snow lay on the ground, the inhabitants would pull up the drawbridge, crack open a bottle or two of good Alsace wine and a piping hot stew and have a pretty good party.

Carved stair post detail, Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg

The route back down the hill from the chateau afterwards was not so bad (I kept my eyes shut!) and we went for a wander round St Hippolyte which was almost empty of tourists – perhaps because everything seemed to be closed. We finally found somewhere to get lunch and had a glass of local wine at Le Hotel Le Parc (where I’d happily stay if I’m ever there again) – a pinot noir we were told. It was so good we decided to hunt down the wine producer Henri Bleger who we found out had premises in the town. Beautiful gardens, tasting room and the nicest couple you could hope to do a wine tasting with… Madame Bleger told us about the different wines and urged me to try more (I wasn’t driving!) – as it turns out a good marketing ploy as I walked out of there with 18 bottles of wine only to find the car had a flat tyre!

Next stop… Colmar.

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