Castle Comforts

A tour operator takes clients back in time

By: Susan James

From the Middle Ages through World War II, the peaceful, pastoral borderland between Germany and the Netherlands was a hotly contested territory fought over by kings, dukes and dictators. But policies and politics have changed, and this beautiful countryside is now an emerging travel destination for in-the-know visitors. The long fight for control over what is now the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany and Cleves and Gelderland in the Netherlands produced a bounty of outstanding castles crammed with treasures, and a new organization, Culture and Castles, is taking advantage of history’s legacy.

Nicole Broegmann, general manager of the fledgling organization, realized in 2001 that cultural tourism was the fastest growing tourist market in Europe. As a border dweller, she also knew that the castle-rich North Rhine aristocracy was looking for ways to draw visitors to their moated towers, cross-vaulted crypts and paneled halls.

Broegmann came up with a great idea, turning noble homes into bed-and-breakfast inns.

With investment from the owners as well as grants from a number of organizations, 30 privately owned, historically listed castles have morphed into reasonably priced, dramatically different lodgings for guests. Each is unique. By far the greatest concentration of member castles is along the German-Dutch border with seven castles on each side.

Owners who apply to join must agree to maintain these guest lodgings for 10 years. For many, the restoration of their historical family seat is well worth such effort. According to Wilhem-Albert, 5th Duke von Urach, owner of Ossenberg Castle near Rheinberg, “We’re thinking not in decades but in generations.”

For visitors, Culture and Castles offers a novel experience. Most of the castles contain a small number of guestrooms, four to five on average, although a few Schloss Wissen near Weeze-Wissen and Burg Boetzelaer near Kalkar-Appeldorn each have 10. Visits are more like house parties than hotel stays.

It’s very “Gosford Park” to gather around the table in the historic dining room at Ossenberg Castle for a lavish breakfast served by His Serene Highness, the Duke of Urach, an affable host with a warm sense of humor. The single suite and three double rooms at Ossenberg all with their own adjoining bathrooms have been beautifully decorated by the duchess in blond woods and floral fabrics, and there is a downstairs sitting room for guests.

Some 20 minutes by car from Ossenberg lies Schloss Hertefeld, the ruined seat of the Count and Countess zu Eulenburg. With the help of government grant monies, the present count has restored both the main block of the castle and the separate guardhouse and will open three suites and two double rooms to visitors in September. A romantic aspect of Hertefeld are the still-ruined wings which flank the main block, home to the ghost of a lady in white. Future guests will be able to dine or bathe in the ruins, another unique and potentially supernatural experience.

Burg Boetzelaer is a good choice for art lovers. Over 500 paintings were used in decorating the castle’s guestrooms.

Using castle lodgings as a base, the borderland area offers regional and international cuisine and a variety of tour possibilities. Ossenberg Castle, for instance, is 24 miles from the Dutch border, 60 miles from the Belgian and 1½ hours from Antwerp. The land is flat and covered with extensive bicycle trails and, for the truly energetic, from Schloss Wissen clients can kayak or canoe to the Dutch border.

For culture mavens the German-Dutch CROSS-ART project, Route Moderne Kunst, offers an art route designed to take visitors to 10 galleries on either side of the border.

There are also numerous small towns in the area to visit, like Kalkar with its 10-story windmill dating from 1453, St. Nicolai’s Church with its priceless collection of carved wooden Renaissance altar pieces, or Xanten with its Roman ruins and Romanesque cathedral.

Reasonable prices, unique rooms and titled hosts make staying with Culture and Castles a memorable experience.


Culture and Castles
Commission: Up to 10 percent

Schloss Ossenberg
Rates: Single room, $114, double room, $144-$180, including breakfast

Verein Burg Boetzelaer
Rates: Single room, $60-$192, double room, $96-$228, an addition $12-$24 for breakfast

Schlossruine Hertefeld
Rates: Suites, $298, double room, $210, including breakfast, self-catering units available

Schloss Wissen
Rates: $138-$257, including breakfast