There are still a number of towers standing guard over Bacharach. Probably the most notable are the City Gate and Marksturm. These are both easily seen and accessed from the Altstadt. Others can be seen at various spots along the town wall. All of the towers would appear to be in excellent condition so I would guess that they have been extremely well maintained over the centuries.
Most date back to the 1300's as do many of the buildings that are still in use today in Bacharach.
This is the oldest house in Bacharach and dates back to 1368 originally, although it was damaged by fire and underwent major repairs in the 16th century.
It is arguably the most recognised as well as the most photographed building in the town.
Today it is a guest house and restaurant and stands on a most prominent corner in the main part of the old town. Like so many of the buildings in Bacharach it is extremely well maintained.
On the left bank of the Rhine at km 540, just three kilometers upstream from Bacharach, are the ruins of Fürstenberg Castle above the town of Rheindiebach.
Fürstenberg Castle was built in 1220 and destroyed in 1689. Today the ruins are private property and are not open to the public.
The French author Victor Hugo was very impressed with the castles and ruins when he walked along this section of the Rhine in 1840, and he was especially impressed with three slender and graceful blond blue-eyed girls that he met in the vaulted cellar of another castle just one league (4 km we would say today) further upstream.
"The oldest of the sisters was already a woman, the youngest was still a child. And yet in age they were no more than two years apart. Only the middle sister was a young girl. Since they entered the cellar she had blushed a lot, smiled a little and hadn't said a word."
The girls were speaking English together, so he summoned up all of his English language skills, making a special effort to pronounce the th correctly, and asked the oldest of the three: "Miss, what is, if you please, the name of this castle?" She gave him a lovely smile and replied in absolutely fluent French that the castle was called Falkenburg.
The girls were not English at all but French. They were touring with their father and had been speaking English to amuse themselves (the youngest one said) and for the practice (the oldest one said). The middle sister said nothing but Hugo found her the most beautiful of the three, "a true princess from a fairy tale".
"She looked at me twice, but did not speak to me. She was the only one of the three whose voice I never heard, but she was also the only one whose name I learned. There was an instant when her younger sister said very quietly: Look, Stella! I had never realized until that instant how much there is that is limpid, luminous and charming in that name of a star."
On one of the walls the girls found a Latin inscription that they couldn't understand, so they went off to find their father so he could explain it to them.
Hugo himself could have explained it, but: "They didn't even think of asking me; I was a bit humiliated that my English had given them such a bad impression of my Latin."
(My translations from Letter XX of Le Rhin by Victor Hugo.)
Falkenburg, by the way, is now better known as Reichenstein Castle. It is located above the town of Trechtingshausen at km 536, which is seven kilometers upstream from Bacharach.
High above Bacharach is the Castle Stahleck which dates back to at least the 1100s. It was begun as a residence for the Count Palatinate and at one time actually had a water filled moat (on top of the hill!). Like so many castles in this land, Castle Stahleck was damaged in wars (specifically the Thirty Years War and then again in 1689 during the War of Palatinate Succession). In 1925 the castle was rebuilt to the old plans and is now an active youth hostel.
To reach Castle Stahleck, you need to be prepared for a 20 minute climb. Yes, there is a road that leads to the castle, but the parking area is very small. So if you are wandering around the town, climb up the stairs that lead to the castle rather than attempt to drive there. The steps begin at the main road in Bacharach (Oberstrasse) and next to St. Peter’s Church (there is a sign point up towards the steps). These steps lead you past the ruins of the Wernerkapelle, which is worth a stop to look at. The steps continue upwards until you reach a wooded pathway which winds up to the castle. Once you reach the castle continue straight through the archway and then left to get to the inner courtyard. Later you can head left at this point for a different walk back down to the town.
The castle is a youth hostel so the rooms are off limits to tourists (although you can stay the night at the castle); only the inner courtyard is open and free to wander around. On the day we were there, a group of schoolchildren were having some fun and learning about medieval tournaments with their guide. There is a wonderful view of the Rhein valley and Bacharach from this courtyard, which is open on one side. Climbing to the castle is worth it just for the views. You can wander around the outside of the castle and the inner courtyard at no charge.
When you are ready to head back down to town, walk back out to where you arrived at the castle from the pathway and turn right, walking along the front of the castle. The pathway leads you down a steep path through the vineyards and a partially wooded area, ending back out on Obergrasse in Bacharach.
One of my favorite places in Bacharach is the ruins of the Wernerkapelle (Werner Chapel). This ruin of a Gothic chapel sits on the hills above the town but below the Castle Stahleck. The outlines of the tall slender windows are still very visible and the ruins are a bit haunting; they remind me of Paris’ Saint Chapelle in design.
Historically, the chapel was built to commemorate the miracles that occurred at the grave of a young boy named Werner, who was allegedly murdered by Jewish people in 1287. These miracles started a pilgrimage to the site and led to the creation of a church at his grave. Today there is a plaque that reminds visitors of the Jewish persecutions that existed in the area throughout history and the church is one of the oldest sites recording these persecutions. The church was not completed until the 1400s due to financial issues. Two hundred years later the church would be severely damaged by the French as they blew up the castle that is on the hill above the church. In the 1800s the chapel was renovated and later in the 20th century restored to what we see today.
The Wernerkapelle is free to visit and can be accessed by walking the pathway up to the castle that begins on the main street of Bacharach. The steps begin on Oberstrasse and are next to St. Peter’s Church (there is a sign point up towards the steps). You can see the chapel on the hill from the street. There is no other way to get to the chapel than up these steps so, unfortunately, it is not easily accessible to those who have difficulty with stairs.
Bacharach has a wonderland of beautiful flowers and greenery which grow with abandon all over the old part of town. Every day I found another lovely patch of colour and the temptaion to take a photo was too great to resist.
The lush greenery around the stream that runs near the Pension Im Malerwinkel was also a delight to me. I found that even though there was nothing specific about some of these photos of mine, I just had to take them because I wanted to revisit the sight after I came home.
These beautiful lush vineyards hover over Bacharach like an emerald cape. I often wonder how the owners tend to the vines and pick the grapes when they are planted on such a steep incline, but obviously they manage very well. I would think that they would have to be extremely fit however to work in this environment.
Hikers are often seen trekking up the hillside amongst the vines making their way to Burg Stahleck and beyond.
In about 1287 a young man named Werner was found murdered on this site. It was widely believed that he had been killed by a group of Jewish people and so a riot, or pogrom, ensued to avenge his death. The year 1294 saw the commencemnt of building of a Gothic chapel which was named in memory of Werner and his bones were interred there. The chapel took 140 years to build. It was considered to be a pilgrimage chapel.
Even though only the ruins still stand, it is considered by many to be one of the most eye-catching structures on the Rhine. It stands on a small plateau just above St Peter's Church.
As I mentioned in my intro, the town wall is still intact and is open to the public to walk. There are seven town gates or towers spread all along the wall. These fortifications are the best kept in the entire Middle Rhine area and the sentry walk along the Rhine front can be walked in its entirety.
A Cappuchin Monastery was built in about 1700 out of the customs bastion which juts out into the Rhine. The church attached to the monastery at that time is still standing.
If you would like to take a boat along the Rhine, you will have plenty of opportunities to do so. Two companies, Köln-Düsseldorfer (KD) and Bingen-Rüdesheimer, offer scheduled service from Bacharach up and down the Rhine. KD is more focused on providing transportation, while Bingen-Rüdesheimer also offers many package tours and day-cruises.
Ingrid (trekki) joined us for a day-trip to Boppard. We took the boat there, enjoyed the views, had lunch in Boppard, and took the train back to Bacharach. Similar day-trips are equally possible to other Rhine villages such as St. Goar.
One tip to save you a bit of money if you came to Bacharach by train. Show your train ticket at the ticket booth and receive a 15% discount on your boat tickets.
Believe it or not, that interesting-looking castle on the hill is actually a youth hostel. It's also a fun place to walk to if you're in the mood for some good scenery. The best path is between the tourist office and the church, which will get you to the castle in 10-15 minutes of steep uphill walking. The hostel also runs the Burgterrasse, which offers drinks and light snacks, along with some outdoor tables to enjoy the views. The views on the way up aren't bad, either.
A great way to enjoy the scenery is to make your way around the town wall. When we visited, parts of the wall were closed for renovation, but there were still large portions of the wall that were walkable, especially on the north and east side. Your best bet is to check in at the tourist office before you set out to get the best idea on where you can go and where you can't.
Just outside of town, there is a lovely path right along the Rhine to enjoy. You can stroll back and forth, take a seat at one of the park benches for rest or various other relaxing activities (oh, say, nurse a baby, for example), or just take a step or two off the path and enjoy the spectacular view of the Rhine all around. If you're with friends, you can enjoy a stimulating conversation, too.
Built in the 13th century, destroyed in 1689, Ehrenfels Castle is now a picturesque ruin on a hill above the right bank of the Rhine at km 530, thirteen kilometers upstream from Bacharach.
Ehrenfels was originally built to protect the territory of the Archbishops of Mainz. Like most of the other castles on the Rhine, Ehrenfels was also used as a toll station, which made it an important source of income for the bishops and the church.
In times of war, Ehrenfels Castle was used as a hiding place for the cathedral treasury of Aachen.
On the right bank of the Rhine at km 532, eleven kilometers upstream from Bacharach, is the town of Assmannshausen, sometimes known as the "island of red wine" in the Rhine Valley, since most other towns specialize in white wines.
Actually Assmannshausen is no longer a separate town, since for administrative purposes it was incorporated into the nearby city of Rüdesheim in 1977.
From Assmannshausen there is a chairlift going up the hill to an incredibly ugly monument called the Niederwalddenkmal, which was built there from 1871 to 1883 to celebrate the founding of the German Empire after the end of Franco-Prussian War.
I must admit that I haven't been up there for nearly half a century, and I might be making it sound even more disgusting than it really is, but at the time my impression of this monument was that it glorified the worst sort of German militarism -- well, the second worst. We tend to forget how dreadful the "Second" German Empire was, because the "Third" was even more so.