Castle Hostels Germany Places to Stay Road Trip

48 hours at Burg Bilstein: Activities, Adventure & Castle Magic

Arriving at Burg Bilstein Hostel
Written by Kirstie

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 seen from Bilstein town in evening light

Burg Bilstein seen from Bilstein town in evening light

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.

Inside Burg Bilstein there are many castle themed touches

Inside Burg Bilstein there are many castle themed touches

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.

Approaching Burg Bilstein in the evening sunshine

Approaching Burg Bilstein in the evening sunshine after an active day out

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.

Cycling is popular in Sauerland. Cyclists at the Biggedamm on the Biggesee.

Cycling is popular in Sauerland. Cyclists at the Biggedamm on the Biggesee.

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.

Breathing in nature in Sauerland at Biggesee near Biggedamm

Breathing in nature in Sauerland at Biggesee near Biggedamm

Day 1

Underground, overground

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.

Attendorn Dripstone Cave Atta-hohle. Image courtesy Att-hohle

Attendorn Dripstone Cave Atta-hohle. Image courtesy Att-hohle

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.

Westfalen passenger boat picking up passengers at Biggedamm on Biggesee

Westfalen passenger boat picking up passengers at Biggedamm on Biggesee

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.

Relaxing on a pedalo on the Biggesee at Sondern, Sauerland, Germany

Relaxing on a pedalo on the Biggesee at Sondern, Sauerland, Germany

Refuelling stop

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.

Fresh Flamkuchen; a thin pastry base with toppings and cream

Fresh Flamkuchen; a thin pastry base with toppings and cream

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.

Mini golf at Sondern on Biggesee with Kapelle Hanemicke in background

Mini golf at Sondern on Biggesee with Kapelle Hanemicke in background

Day 2

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.

Mountain biking

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.

Mountain biking trail skills practice area at Winterberg

Mountain biking trail skills practice area at Winterberg

Strudel break

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.

Apfelstrudel served in the Panorama Restaurant at Winterberg

Apfelstrudel served in the Panorama Restaurant at Winterberg

Barefoot walking

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.

Castle evenings

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!

Courtyard of DJH Hostel Burg Bilstein at night

Courtyard of DJH Hostel Burg Bilstein at night

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.     

DJH Jugendherberge Burg Bilstein

Which way to DJH Jugendherberge Burg Bilstein? Up the hill..

About the author

Kirstie

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

1 Comment

  • I’m intrigued. What’s blobbing? And blobs? Sounds fun though. I need to get myself to one of these mountain resorts in the summer – sounds as though there’s as much on offer as in winter. Great post – I loved following this adventure over the summer. x

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