Vianden Castle: In which a Faulconer meets a falconer

Our ultimate field trip to Europe included Nick’s one request — to visit a real castle. Since the organizing factor of the trip was to visit his grandfather’s World War II battlefield straddling Luxembourg and Wallendorf, Germany (which I wrote about in my last post), we visited nearby Vianden Castle. Like my father-in-law’s battlefield, the castle overlooks the Our River, and it dominates the quaint town of Vianden, whose medieval character charms visitors today.

Luxembourg's Vianden Castle

Nick accurately pronounced the visit to be like living within a medieval-inspired novel or video game. The castle looms over the town’s narrow cobblestone streets, which you get to know rather well on the long but pleasant uphill walk to the castle itself.

Sort of arresting to see the old castle fortifications extend into the town of Vianden. We were told that the round outpost here is now an apartment, which would have to rank right up there with most interesting living spaces. The walls around the village persist in places, giving life to the many medieval settings Nick and I have visited in historical novels.

We were fortunate to be visiting during a medieval festival at the castle, which meant there were costumed knights and archers and maidens traipsing around and taking target practice with their bows and demonstrating aspects of medieval life.

Small children were given the opportunity to mud some stick houses. This struck me as something that would keep young homeschooling kids busy for hours. In general, the medieval festival at Vianden was quite kid-friendly and hands-on. The toys offered for sale were what we homeschoolers might see as Waldorf-inspired--high quality wooden toys, including swords and shields and bows, similar to those we got from the mail order company Magic Cabin back in the day when we had small children who had specific visions for their playthings.

To our delight, one of these demonstrations was of falconry!

Faulconer meets falcon. . . and falconer

Nick was able to meet the falconer, handle the hawk, and overcome the language barrier enough to tell the falconer that his own name is Nick Faulconer. Later, this inspired a nice family conversation about medieval occupational surnames–the origin of Miller and Cooper and Smith and Baker, and, yes, Falconer and its relative, Faulconer! And yes, in my opinion, the name Faulconer does indeed fit the family I married into.

The story of the castle is fascinating.

Vianden Castle was constructed between the 11th and 14th centuries on the foundations of a Roman ‘castellum’ and a Carolingian refuge. It is one of the largest and most beautiful feudal residences of the romanesque and gothic periods in Europe. Until the beginning of the 15th century it was the seat of the influential counts of Vianden who could boast their close connections to the Royal Family of France and the German imperial court. Henry I of Vianden (1220-1250) is known as ‘the Sun Count’ for it is duringhis tenure that the holdings, lifestyle and influence of the House of Vianden reached its zenith. His ancestors were influential in the Ardennes, Eifel and Luxembourg regions for hundreds of years. (Read more at the website).

Before its restoration in the 1970′s, the castle had fallen into ruins. Rock and slate from the castle were carted off to construct other houses in the area. Our World War II guide, Roland Gaul, recalled sleeping “in” the castle–yet under the stars, since the roof was gone–as a young Boy Scout. He also recalled reports of how that part of Luxembourg and Germany fared during the World War II battles: “Wallendorf is in ruins, but the (castle) ruins are fine.”

Standing in the castle, looking out through its stone walls, I was easily impressed by its defensible location.

View of the Our River (pronounced "oor") from a castle window

On a high bluff above a steep valley (no moat needed) with more sharp hills beyond, the castle’s views are commanding. In case anyone can forget that such a location was all about battle strategy, there are armor and swords and catapult ammo on display to remind visitors.

The entire walk through the town of Vianden was a bit like entering a fairy tale, beginning with the moment we got off the bus at the flower-lined Our River in the center of town.

I hope to photo blog some of the doors we passed, and I’ll add a link if I do. That’s right. The doors were that remarkable.

I became a Door Watcher in Europe. Nothing could be further from U.S. cookie cutter neighborhoods than the interesting entry ways to Vianden homes.

I kept expecting hobbits to pop out, and maybe also some knights, a princess, a few serious talking animals carrying baskets of fresh bread. But that’s another post.

The Our River is picturesque in Vianden. We got off the bus here, near the bust of writer Victor Hugo, who brought Vianden to the attention of the world.

We got our own fresh bread for lunch at a small Vianden cafe, which seemed to closely follow most of the lunch menus of Luxembourg and France–“anything you want on a baguette,” especially if you want some version of ham and cheese. Or maybe it was just that jambon et fromage were some of the few food vocabulary words we recognized, resulting in our skewed perception. Nonetheless, eating in an odd little restaurant nestled among hobbit doors on a cobblestone street in the shadow of Le Château de Vianden with beloved husband, son, sister-in-law and niece, was a great way to let the fairy tale soak in.

This entry was posted in A Writer's Life, Buildings, Field Trips, Historical Fiction, History, Ultimate Field Trip and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Vianden Castle: In which a Faulconer meets a falconer

  1. Robin Martin says:

    Awesome! I am desperate to be in a position where we can travel to places like this. Until then, I’ll enjoy your posts. The pictures are amazing! I love the one with Nick and the falcon.

  2. Louise Faulconer says:

    Loved the picture of Nick. Nick needs to delve into the Faulconer genealogy. There is a falcon on the Faulconer crest. His uncle Brian has some of this info.
    So glad you all could have that trip to Vianden as well as the bus ride around the castle. The special treat was the “Medieval Festival” that was taking place there. Nick should know that his PawPaw rode tournament (Jousting Tournament) which was a modern version patterned on medieval customs.

  3. Stephanie G says:

    This looks like an amazing experience! What a beautiful castle – and how fortunate that you visited during a medieval festival. Love the pictures.

  4. Pingback: Musikia: Nick’s Paris Debut | At Each Turn

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