48 hours at Burg Bilstein: Activities, Adventure & Castle Magic
We’ve slept in many different places in our time. But a castle? Never. We thought they were for kings, or knights, or fairytale princesses. It therefore came as something of a surprise when we discovered it was possible to do a road trip of them. Germany has cleverly captured its castles and preserved them as living, breathing spaces with the help of the German Youth Hostel Association. It’s possible to stay in castles, forts and palaces in many different parts of the country. So when DJH Jugendherberge invited us over to do a tour of some of their best #castlehostels, we jumped in the car straight away. Burg Bilstein, a 13th century medieval castle in Sauerland, was our first stop and in this advertising feature we explore the hostel, its surroundings and what you can do there on a short break…
Burg Bilstein – a medieval fantasy castle
You can’t miss Burg Bilstein. High on a hill in Lennestadt, its walls drop away as sharply as day turns to night. And night is when it really comes to life, the chandeliers casting shadows on the uneven floor, the people buzzing past the frog in the well towards the courtyard. And when you stop chatting, drinking and playing, and notice the pink of the walls through the blue of the arches, you start to look forward to bedtime.
Fairy tale touches
Did I say a frog in a well? Yes I did. Alongside many original features, the frog is just one of many quirky and humorous touches around this hostel; from crows tangled on the wall, to suits of armour standing to silent attention beneath the wooden staircase to strange instruments hanging on the walls. Outside the bedrooms, and in the children’s play areas, an artist has been hard at work creating scenes with damsels and knights. You can follow your own medieval art trail to the games room. Take a look at this video to get a sneak peek of what you’ll find in Burg Bilstein.
A great base for an active getaway
But you don’t want to lock yourself away in a high tower, or a games room in this region. There’s so much to do in Sauerland, from mountain sports to swimming in pools and lakes, to easy biking on old railway tracks or high cliffs. The huge Karl May Festival in Elspe can whip you off to the wild west, while a winter sports mecca offers toboggan thrills and mountain biking spills. There’s no time to relax. Unless you really, really want to.
Gateway to nature
This land was made for walking. If you are fit then try the northern loop of the Veischeder Sonnenpfad trail. This 17.7 km long round tour has steep cliff top rambling and fabulous outlooks. Alternatively you can hire a bike and do a 57 km ride to the Biggesee, the biggest dammed lake in Westphalia. Biking is massive here, you’ll find hire shops for electric and regular bikes in many of the towns. The SauerlandRadring offers somewhat easier biking on old railways tracks.
Watersports and wintersports
Near the hostel is Natuurbad Veischedetal, a beautifully sculpted outdoor swimming pool. Sadly by the time we get there the rain has come and everyone has packed up and gone home, but it’s a popular attraction in the summer. Meanwhile the adults enjoy orchid spotting and shopping at Orchideen Koch, and for something a little different you can visit the Pyramids. Yes really – there’s a curious Italian version at the Galileo Park.
We split our time here into two areas. The Bigge Lake, and the winter resort of Winterberg; 40 kms down the road from Lennestadt.
Our destination for the day is the Biggesee reservoir and dam. There are plenty of opportunities for gentle fun around here. First we stop at the Atta-Hoehle Caves in Attendorn, just 20 minutes from the hostel. This is one of the biggest flowstone cave attractions in Germany and it’s best to go early in the morning to avoid the crowds. The multicoloured experience takes you right into the cliff, where in 1907, workers at the former lime works discovered a wonderland of stalagmites and stalactites. It’s cool though so take a coat.
Getting onto the water
When you emerge, blinking in the sunlight, you can pick up the Biggolino – a green and yellow train that runs hourly between cave, dam and boat landing zone on the Biggesee. If you time it right you can maybe hop onto one of the luxurious White Fleet boats for lunch. We watch one sail in while having morning coffee at the delightfully cylindrical Lighthouse restaurant. We take our coffee outside, enjoying the sunlight glinting on the reservoir and the cyclists and birds busily buzzing by, stirring up the air.
Fun on the water
Then we hear there pedalos for hire at nearby Sondern (15 minutes by car or you can get there on the boats). We find it impossible not to pedalo! We head out to the middle of the reservoir where we swim off the back of the boat. If you like blobbing you can head over to the nearby Blobbing Station and have some fun on the blobs and slides for a small fee.
But we are ready for lunch. So we stop to snack at the simple kiosk Café am See. We try our first Flamkuchen; a thin pastry base with toppings. And then we try our second.
Treats and mini golf
And the treats don’t end there. We grab a coffee and an ice cream at the friendly, family run Gaststube Zum Minigolf and then enjoy a crazy game of sending a ball uphill, as we walk towards a perfectly formed mountain church, the beautiful Kapelle Hanemicke. So beautiful it puts me off my game. At least that’s what I told the kids.
A winter resort for a summer’s day
For our second day we decide to roam further afield. Winterberg (as the name suggests) is a winter resort town in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. It’s packed with ski slopes in the winter, and in the summer, walking and biking trails. Toboggans are a big thing here. You can clamber over a string of them in the trees at the Kletterwald (climbing forest) or fly down the hill on one on the Sommerrodelbahn toboggan run. The toboggan is a hit with our kids.
Our tip: On the Sommerrodelbahn, don’t pay for a pass for each family member. Buy a book of adult and a book of child tickets and share them. You’ll get 12 rides between you.
Many people head to Winterberg for the biking. There’s a network of trails in the bike park and you can even have some tuition on how to get better in the saddle. The newest trail – Flow Country – is all geared up for families – 1.6 kilometres of corners and little bumps, with no big jumps to worry about.
After all that activity, refreshment is in order. The Panorama restaurant by the toboggan run rustles us up a heavenly apple strudel that almost takes away the point of lunch. Almost, but not quite. There’s goulash soup on the menu but we don’t quite feel we’ve earnt it. Yet.
We slip off our shoes and socks to stretch our legs on a little walk at Langewiese Barfusspfad, about 7 kms southeast of Winterberg. Did you know barefoot walking is a thing? There are more than a hundred barefoot parks where you can practise walking au naturel and many of them are in Germany and Austria. At Langewiese we walk the 13 stations and feel the earth between our toes. And the chippings and grass and pebbles. Beware the little pebbles – they aren’t as innocent as they look! This video gives an idea of what your toes can expect.
Our evenings are spent enjoying the facilities of the youth hostel and then wandering into the village. Bilstein is a spur castle built in 1225 so you won’t find comfy sofas or curved lines; furniture is either olde worldly or hostel-simple. But it helps create the enchanting medieval atmosphere. On our visit the place was overrun by Harry Potters on a scouts convention. All part of the magic!
Disclosure Note: This post is part of a paid campaign for DJH, the German Youth Hostels Association (Jugendherberge), who provided our stay at DJH Burg Bilstein. All kissing of frogs, hurtling down toboggan runs and not pedalling on the pedalo as well as words, photography and videography are entirely of our own making.