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
Broegmann came up with a great idea, turning noble homes into
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
Reasonable prices, unique rooms and titled hosts make staying
with Culture and Castles a memorable experience.
Culture and Castles
Commission: Up to 10 percent
Rates: Single room, $114, double room, $144-$180, including
Verein Burg Boetzelaer
Rates: Single room, $60-$192, double room, $96-$228, an addition
$12-$24 for breakfast
Rates: Suites, $298, double room, $210, including breakfast,
self-catering units available
Rates: $138-$257, including breakfast