The stone ship on the rocky reef

Anyone passing along the Rhine between Bingen and Koblenz for the first time is bound to rub their eyes in disbelief, especially if the river is in flood, as there is a castle that looks like a boat in the fast-flowing river. The Upper Middle Rhine Valley World Heritage Site boasts around 40 castles over 67 kilometres. But no others are as low or as wet as Pfalzgrafenstein Castle on its rocky reef near the little town of Kaub. The castle was built in the 14th century purely as a money-spinner, not to live in. No ship loaded with delicacies such as wine, fish or salt could pass without paying a toll.

Its location in the narrow valley near Bacharach was cleverly chosen. In this wild and hazardous section, the Rhine flowed rapidly over a narrow stretch of treacherous rock and the island castle was well defended and armed. Approaching ships could be seen from a long way off and were given the signal to moor in Kaub if they wanted to pass safely. The toll was a very lucrative business for the feudal lords that only came to an end in 1867, when both sides of the Rhine came under Prussian ownership.

Pfalzgrafenstein Castle near Kaub, Romantic Rhine

Pfalzgrafenstein Castle near Kaub, Romantic Rhine

Pfalzgrafenstein was never destroyed, but it was modernised many times. The pointed front section was built in the 17th century to protect against flooding and ice. This gave it its boat-like appearance. Baroque decoration was added in the early 18th century and the tower was given a new canopied roof. Today, this unique cultural heritage site is one of the highlights of the prettiest stretch of the Rhine between the Alps and the North Sea, and easy to get to from Kaub on the castle ferry. If it is not high tide.

Pfalzgrafenstein Castle on its rocky reef near Kaub, Romantic Rhine

Pfalzgrafenstein Castle on its rocky reef near Kaub, Romantic Rhine

On bright sunny days, the inner courtyard of the castle looks cosy and warm with its reddish timber and bright white render. But it was a miserable existence for those working there, and the prisoners in the underground dungeon were by no means safe from drowning.

The guided tour reveals an isolated, sombre world of spiral staircases and defensive corridors, taking in cannons and dungeons. The multilingual audio guide brings this world to life with exciting stories based around the 13 stations. The exhibition on ‘The Birth of the County Palatine of the Rhine’ reveals the historic background to the significance of the toll castle and the medieval power struggles on the Rhine.

Coffee and cake on the terrace of the Günderodehaus in Oberwesel, Romantic Rhine

Coffee and cake on the terrace of the Günderodehaus in Oberwesel, Romantic Rhine

Panoramic view of the famous Loreley cliffs, Romantic Rhine

Panoramic view of the famous Loreley cliffs, Romantic Rhine

The wild and hazardous section has long been tamed and even big barges can now safely pass Pfalzgrafenstein. Ships can even pass the legendary Loreley just a few kilometres downriver without being smashed on the rocks. But this river landscape with its deep gorges and steep vine-covered slopes retains a fascination that has inspired many songwriters. For example, if you climb the section of the RheinBurgenWeg trail between Bacharach and Sankt Goar, you will be richly rewarded with spectacular views from romantic picnic areas including the legendary Günderodehaus.

Kaub and Pfalzgrafenstein Castle are a good starting point to pay tribute to the Rhine or simply get off the express train of everyday life. Even if it is just for one day.

More excursion tips for culture lovers in Rhineland-Palatinate:

More information about the cultural highlights in Rhineland-Palatinate

Find out more about the events, exhibitions, sights and destinations of the General Directorate for Cultural Heritage Rhineland Palatinate.

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