Living in a Castle. Check.
The week is over in the blink of an eye, and I can feel the end-of-holiday blues creep up on me, like an irritating song that gets stuck in your head. We’re driving on a small country road, with green fields on one side and the Rhein River on the other. The mild German sun has been shining in the clear blue sky, but it disppears behind some clouds and a light drizzle of rain starts, perfectly depicting my mood. It’s a bittersweet feeling.
I’ve spent the perfect week with my family in Berlin, staying at my aunt and uncle’s place in a picturesque suburb called Podbielskiallee. We explored the city on our own, travelling by the U-Bahn trains, ambling along alleys, eating at quaint cafes and popular restaurants, and trying to speak to the locals in German.
Now the holiday is almost over, with only the weekend left, and then back to Mumbai. Back to the same old routine, the heat, the early morning lectures, the studying and the exams.
“I still can’t believe we’re going to live in a castle. It reminds me of that Enid Blyton book we had, ‘The Secret of Moon Castle’,” I say, looking at my sister.
“Yes! If you’d told me last year that we’d come back to Germany in a year, and that we’d actually stay in one of the medieval castles we saw that time, I would never have believed you.”
My sister and I had visited South-West Germany with our grandparents a year back. We went on a Rhein River tour one day, where our tour guide George kept us entertained with interesting facts throughout the tour.
“Can you see those beautiful castles along the river? Some of them have been restored and turned into hotels. They aren’t too expensive to live in for a night or two,” George had said, pointing to one such picturesque castle as we cruised along the Rhein.
I didn’t give it much thought at the time, as our trip had already been planned and I never dreamt that I’d get a chance to come back to Germany in the near future.
But three months back, my parents decided to plan a trip to Berlin to visit my aunt and uncle. My sister and I immediately started looking at castle hotels where we could stay. We found a few, all situated in the Rhein valley. Since there are no direct flights from Berlin to Mumbai, we could go there after our stay in Berlin and fly back to Mumbai from there.
After a lot of research online, we chose the Hotel Burg Liebenstein, which is a tiny castle bought by an old German couple and converted into a hotel. It is situated in the Upper Middle Rhein Valley, around an hour and a half away from Frankfurt. I still don’t know how, but we managed to convince our parents about going there. The most unbelievable part though, was that we planned to hire a self-drive car from Frankfurt airport, to drive along the famous German autobahns and the countryside to the castle.
I refused to believe that all this was actually happening until our flight tickets had been booked. We took a flight to Berlin via Abu Dhabi and stayed at my uncle’s place for five days, exploring the cities of Berlin and Dresden. We then took a one hour flight from Berlin to Frankfurt.
Now we are driving along the Rhein River in our black Audi A4, passing lush vineyards, and quaint villages along the way. My mom is driving extra carefully as we aren’t used to the left-hand driving system. The Hotel Burg Liebenstein is situated on a hill overlooking the Rhein, in a small town called ‘Kamp Bornhofen’ which is located in between the towns of Rudesheim and Koblenz.
We stop for lunch at a small riverfront café at Kestert, a small village on the Rhein River. The lady serving us can’t understand English at all, and we somehow order the food speaking the little German we know and using gestures.
My dad and sister have a perfectly cooked meat dish, while my mom and I order a mashed potato dish with salad. We decide to share one dish amongst the two of us because the dishes in these regions serve massive portions, as we had learnt during our visit here the previous year. We finish it off with some delicious Bananensplit and ice cream. The atmosphere is wonderful, the sky a clear blue again and the sound of a few boats and barges cruising along the river. It is quiet and peaceful, with only the slight murmur of conversation by the German customers in the restaurant.
The roads get narrower as we drive further, and we are relying solely on the GPS installed in the car to get us to our destination. We reach Kamp Bornhofen in the afternoon, getting lost a couple of times along the way before I spot the signpost directing us to the Hotel Burg Liebenstein. We drive up a steep hill and I finally see the stone façade looming ahead looking majestic against the blue sky.
Built in the 13th century, the castle is quite small, but restored to perfection by the interesting old couple who own and run the hotel. There’s another castle in ruins nearby called Sterrenberg, and the two are together often called the ‘Hostile Brothers’, as they were said to be built by two feuding descendants of a medieval king, and are home to numerous sagas and myths.
Our rooms are perfectly decorated in the medieval style, priced in the range of 150 to 250 Euros for a night, complete with an ancient fireplace, canopy bed, old furniture and artefacts and a breath-taking view of the Rhein. The bathroom is modern by contrast, and even includes a shower. I spend the afternoon exploring every inch of the place, hoping that my childhood dream of finding a secret passage somewhere will come true.
In the evening, we drive down to the main village Kamp Bornhofen. There is a boat ride to Lorelei Rock that we were planning to go on, but the last boat for the day has already left, so we decide to just drive along the river and explore the countryside on our own after exploring Kamp Bornhofen.
We cross over the railway track and head to the town, passing an old church which is closed at present. We see a restaurant with a terrace and decide to have a snack since it’s only 6 pm. However, the locals here normally have dinner at this time.
“Guten Abend. What would you like to order?” the waitress asks us with a smile. Thinking that we’re ordering less food because we can’t understand the menu, she translates the whole list from German to English patiently for us. So we decide to have dinner here itself, and order a Flammkuchen. It is a German pizza, with an extremely thin crust and smoky flavour.
“Thank God we decided to have dinner here. This is the best pizza I’ve ever had,” I exclaim with a big smile.
After the early dinner, we go for a drive along the Rhein. There is a light drizzle, and the radio is playing a mix of German and English songs. The road is smooth, with hardly a car in sight. We spot several ruined castles along the way, and there’s a roadside shop where an old man is selling wine. Finding a nice spot to park the car, we get down to buy some Eiswein, which is a famous local wine produced from frozen grapes.
The castle has a small restaurant on the ground floor and a courtyard that offers a candle-lit dinner, but since it doesn’t get dark before 10 pm in the summer, the candle-light doesn’t make much sense. We sit and have some hot chocolate, enjoying the view of the valley from the majestic castle windows. The restaurant is decorated with old portraits, suits of armour and other medieval artefacts, giving the illusion of stepping back in time.
The next morning, we have to get up early and drive back to Frankfurt airport to catch our flight back to Mumbai. I wake up to the most wonderful view of the river and the valley shrouded in fog. My sister has to literally pull the blankets off me and drag me to the bathroom to get ready. I feel like just standing in the tiny balcony and staring at the view for eternity.
My parents have finished the check-out process the previous night itself, because they want to leave at the crack of dawn, as they are finicky about time, especially when it comes to catching flights. Climbing down the stairs to the reception, we find a bag filled with sandwiches and apple juice, with an adorable note that says, ‘Enjoy Your Meal J’. It has been specially prepared and left by the staff for us, since the breakfast here is served only after 8 am.
We sit in the car, my sister driving this time, and I claim shotgun, so that I can change the radio channels as I please. We have a peaceful drive back to the airport, watching the sun rise beyond the Rhein valley.