For centuries, Germany, as we know it today, was a shifting tapestry of independent states and kingdoms. With kingdoms came Kings, and Kings meant castles—lots of them. Today, an estimated 5,000 castles are still dotted across the country, standing tall over hills above the Rhine or nestled in little-explored countryside. To preserve the grand edifices and give them a second life, many castles have been transformed into hotels to suit every travel budget. Read on for 9 of our favorites, including Rapunzel’s tower-turned-sauna and the German Versailles with a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
Castle Hotel Auf Schoenburg, Oberwesel
Dating from the 12th-century, this medieval fortress above the town of Oberwesel was the backdrop to countless battles, feuds and sieges over the centuries, but its knockout views of the vineyard-laced Upper Middle Rhine Valley remain unchanged. The 25 rooms and suites show off a traditional, regal style that's all four-poster beds and heavy drapes; there are private balconies and views of the River Rhine in most. Don't miss a meal in the romantic Squires' Room, with its mostly local wine list and Engehöller Valley views, and plan on a morning walk through the manicured gardens that are for guest use only.
Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg, Cologne
Commissioned as a "Rhenish Versaille" by Prince-Elector Johann Wilhelm II of Duesseldorf, this grand castle overlooking the Bay of Cologne was incomplete at the time of his death in 1716 and stood unfinished for almost 300 years until opening as a luxury hotel in 2000. Today, the 120-room hotel is a showpiece of Baroque architecture and the home of Germany's best restaurant — three-Michelin-star Vendôme from chef Joachim Wissler. Plan on an itinerary of drives through the surrounding Bergisches Land countryside, pampering treatments in the 10,000-square-foot spa, dinner at Vendôme or the more casual Enoteca, and early nights in the spacious rooms and suites overlooking Cologne Cathedral.
Hotel Burg Trendelburg, Hesse
Embrace the fairytale kitsch of Hotel Burg Trendelburg in the Weser Highlands, home to the tower where the real-life Rapunzel was said to have let down her golden hair. The reimagined castle hotel offers a comfortable stay and all the modern comforts, including HDTVs and tubs or showers, but the real attraction is a trip up the 165-foot tower to see a reenactment of the Rapunzel fairytale, and experiencing a traditional sauna within the walls of a 700-year-old castle.
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Schlosshotel Hugenpoet, Dusseldorf
In the Ruhr Valley, between Dusseldorf and Essen, the moated Schlosshotel Hugenpoet has been welcoming guests since shortly after WWII. Owned by the von Fürstenberg family, the 36 rooms and suites retain many original features, including an impressive black marble staircase, Renaissance-era fireplaces, and, in one guest room, a 400-year-old four-poster bed. On the dining front, Laurushaus is the hotel’s upscale eatery, serving an elaborate 10-course tasting menu focused on classic German fare three days a week. The more casual HUGENpöttchen is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and serves a popular afternoon tea on its outdoor terrace in the Winter Garden.
Schlosshotel Munchhausen, Hameln
In a magical setting in the Weser Highlands, this is the resort version of a castle-hotel experience: three restaurants (one awarded a Michelin-star), an 18-hole golf course, a spa, English gardens and 68 lovingly restored rooms and suites within 16th-century walls. For golf lovers, the two 18-hole courses are just steps from the hotel, while spa seekers will find pampering treatments, a pool and sauna in the 9,000-square-foot wellness center. Save time for a quiet morning beside the moat and lake, and don't miss a walk through the gorgeous parklands, said to have been a favorite place of Russian Tsar, Peter the Great.
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Hotel Castle Liebenstein, Middle Rhine Valley
A stay at this 13th-century castle, with its exceptional views across the Rhine River and Neckar Valley, brings Medieval Germany to life. In the guest rooms, the look is Middle-Ages-meets-modern-comforts, with plenty of red and blue velvet, heavy wood furnishings and canopy beds. Many have exceptional views of the Rhine and surrounding vineyards and forest. The restaurant, too, is all medieval grandeur and knockout scenery and serves traditional German dishes and wine from local vintners. Beyond the castle, explore this UNESCO World Heritage-listed region by boat, bike or along the Rheinsteig hiking trail.
Schlosshotel Kronberg, Taunus
Once the home of Empress Victoria, daughter of Queen Victoria, Schlosshotel Kronberg in the mountainous Taunus region is unique among its castle-hotel contemporaries for the wealth of original antiques, tapestries and porcelains that adorn the public spaces and some suites. Guest rooms overlook the parkland or Frankfurt skyline in the distance, and all have a classic, romantic style by British interior designer Nina Campbell. There's a combination golf club and beauty salon within the castle grounds and a choice of three restaurants and bars. The gourmet Castle Restaurant dishes up haute-cuisine in a grand, high-ceilinged setting, while the lounge-like Jimmy's Bar is the spot for post-dinner cocktails until the early hours.
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Burg Colmberg, Colmberg
A favorite with families looking for the classic castle experience (that won't break the bank), Burg Colmberg is a looming presence on the so-called Romantic Road from the Bavarian Alps to the River Main. Records of the castle go back to the first millennium, but the impressive stone structure that stands today dates from the 13th century. Much of the medieval architecture — including the gated courtyard and ancient chapel — remains intact. Guest rooms are largely modernized, but the carved wood ceilings hint at the history that's on full display in the public spaces. Splurge on a high-floor room for views across the countryside and designated wildlife park.
Dornroeschenschloss Sababurg, Hesse
The inspiration behind the Grimm Brother's tale of Sleeping Beauty, the real-life Aurora was said to have been imprisoned within these castle walls more than 400 years ago. Today, the grand, turreted castle is the most popular stop on the Fairytale Trail, open to hotel guests as well as visitors with day passes. Bedrooms are done up in a flamboyant mix of velvet and dark wood, and there are playful design touches across the hotel, from suits of armor in the hallways to costumed staff in the restaurant. Don't miss dinner on the quiet terrace overlooking the world's oldest wildlife park and, for Sleeping Beauty devotees, there are daily performances of the famous fairytale.