France is a country known for its castles. In the greater Parisien region, there are Versailles and Fontainebleau. A little southwest the Vallée de la Loire has some of the supposedly most beautiful drives in the world with farmhouses, castles, and vineyards. But not all French castles are as grand or massive. A lesser known château is one that rises 700 m above the region of Alsace, called Le Château du Haut Kœnigsbourg (photo below from the official website, all other photos on this blog post are mine).
This castle, mentioned for the first time in historical texts 1147, was built by the Hohenstaufen at 757 m on a hill overlooking much of the landscape. The hill location was strategic. It allowed the occupants to watch all the major routes; they could see Northern and Southern Alsace as well as Lorraine, to the West. The name of Königsburg means castle of the king.
If we fast forward a couple hundred years of history to the Thirty Years War around the 1630s, we learn that Alsace was pretty much devastated by the Swedes. In July 1663, the Swedes besieged the Haut Kœnigsbourg and took the castle after a fifty-two day siege. Shortly after, the fortress was destroyed by fire. The castle was abandoned.
Fast forward to the reign of the German Emporer William II (are you still with me?). In 1899, this castle was given to the William II by the city of Sélestat (which had taken possesion of the castle but hadn’t done anything to it since it was destroyed). William II then handed the reins to the Berlin architect Bodo Ebhardt, who proceeded to restore the castle to its medieval fortification days. The renovations took place from 1900 to 1908. The castle was actually in ruins, so the construction was based on many architectural analyses of the ruins and archived documents. Luckily, the team was able to find the base of the castle.
At times, I felt like I was walking through an isolated medieval village – the castle was beautifully reconstructed and even had a courtyard on the upper levels.
Today, visitors to Haut Kœningsbourg can see the fruits of the restoration and have beautiful views of the Alsace plain, the Vosges Mountains, the Black Forest and even -on a clear day- the Alps. A bonus: you can drive in and out on the Alsacian route de vin.
This is the France of my dreams – wine, vineyards, mountains, little villages as far as the eye can see.