Alsace is known for a lot of things, but one of its most famous landmarks is undoubtedly Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg.
Located on a hill in the Vosges mountains, this medieval castle stands as a testament to the region’s rich cultural heritage. From aristocratic inhabitants and powerful emperors to violent wars, there’s a lot of history here.
Since moving to the capital of Alsace, Strasbourg, I’ve been to a lot of castles, and I have to say, none compared to Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg.
In this post, I’ll take you on a virtual tour of this magnificent castle and share with you its fascinating history.
A Brief History of Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg
The castle was initially built in the 12th century by the Hohenstaufens, a powerful German royal house. They chose a rocky outlook high in the mountains so they could watch the surrounding area.
This strategic location would later be the source of several conflicts.
In 1462, it was captured and dismantled by an army who wanted control of the region, particularly the two most important villages in Alsace – Colmar and Strasbourg.
A few years later, the House of Homberg was tasked with renovating the castle and installing a new defense system. They built new walls and towers to protect the castle from future attacks. The name was also changed to Hohkoenigsburg or Haut-Koenigsbourg in French.
Their new fortifications worked until the Thirty Years War when Swedish forces seized the castle and burned it to the ground in 1633.
For the next two centuries, Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg was left in ruins.
Then, in 1862, the ruins were labeled as a monument historique or historical monument. And it was at this point the nearby town of Sélestat took an interest in restoring it.
Unfortunately, Alsace was annexed to Germany in 1871 and the castle was given to Emperor Wilhelm II.
Under his orders, the castle was rebuilt in a romanticized medieval style, and it reopened in 1908.
In the years following, Alsace played an integral part in both World Wars, so much so that it saw several territorial changes.
Even though the region was annexed back and forth between Germany and France, the Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg remained intact.
After World War 2, France regained control of Alsace and took over ownership of the castle.
Today, Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg stands as one of the most famous landmarks in Alsace. And, in 1993, it was re-classified as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture, cementing its significance in history.
The castle you’ll visit is the restored version that was completed in the 20th century.
The visit starts in the lower courtyard, and you’ll walk through the main entrance. This is where you’ll see the coat of arms of Emperor Wilhelm II just above the first doorway.
From there you’ll pass the ticket office and follow a walkway that leads to a draw bridge. You’ll pass through the Lion’s Door and follow a set of stairs to the inner courtyard.
Here there is the main stairwell that you’ll take to explore the rest of the castle. But before you do, make sure to look around the inner courtyard. I loved all the details on the walls, and I thought the terraces were absolutely beautiful. (You’ll get a better view of these on the second floor.)
Then, head up the staircase to the first floor.
Here you’ll have a series of rooms that are decorated with various artifacts, including a guard room with weapons from the Middle Ages.
Next, head to the second floor. This was one of my favorite parts of the castle. There’s the Lorraine Room and the Kaiser Room. Based on the decorations, it’s very clear that the castle was designed when Alsace was under German rule.
After you’ve toured the main rooms, you’ll head out to the medieval garden. It wasn’t the most impressive I’ve seen, but I went towards the end of fall when most of the trees and plants were already starting to die.
Head towards the staircase. You’ll climb the stairs to another draw bridge, and this is where you’ll have a beautiful view of the valley below. If you want a photo of the valley and the castle, you’ll have to walk around the terrace.
From there you’ll head back down to the medieval garden and follow the exit signs.
If you’re planning a trip to Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg, here are some tips to help make the most of your visit:
- Getting There: The castle is in the town of Orschwiller, about 50 minutes from Strasbourg and 30 minutes from Colmar by car. There is also a train station in Sélestat that offers a shuttle service to the castle if you don’t want to rent a car.
- Opening Hours: The castle is open all year round except for January 1st, October 16th, and December 25th and 26th. The opening hours vary depending on the time of year and day of the week, so be sure to check the times before you visit.
- Tickets: Admission tickets can be purchased at the castle or online in advance. Prices vary depending on age and type of visit (self-guided is usually cheaper than the guided tour). You don’t need to buy your tickets in advance, but I bought mine two days before my visit. Keep in mind that there can be long lines during the high season.
- Guided Tours: Guided tours are available and provide a more in-depth look into the history and architecture of the castle.
About the author: Jen
Jen Ciesielski is the creator of Dabbling in Jet Lag, a blog focused on traveling and living in France. Her goal is to inspire others to get off the beaten path and explore some of the lesser-known places. On Dabbling in Jet Lag, she shares her experience as an expat in France as well as the best things to do around the country. You can connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.
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