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