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Peaceful Cycling & Motorsport Madness: 48 Hours at Burg Blankenheim

Burg Blankenheim at night seen from the town below
Written by Kirstie

Peaceful Cycling & Motorsport Madness
48 Hours at Burg Blankenheim

One day we were gently biking in the forest. The next we were shouting above the roar of one of the most famous motor racing circuits in the world. Our 48 hours at Burg Blankenheim took us all over Germany’s beautiful Eifel Park and beyond. But although our heads were in the clouds, our feet were kept on the ground with a stay in one of western Germany’s most peaceful castles. In this advertising post we bring you the highlights of our 48 hours in The Eifel with Jugendherberge Youth Hostels…

Cattle grazing in the Eifel National Park

Cattle grazing peacefully in the Eifel National Park

The Ultimate Eifel Tour

You have to be careful when booking your Eifel Tour – if you haven’t got your glasses on you may end up with a ticket for the Eiffel Tower. But while The Eifel is only a consonant away from Paris that’s where the similarities end. Because you couldn’t really get two more different places.

“The best thing about the Eifel is that there is nothing here,” says Markus Paschek, the head of Burg Blankenheim hostel, as he shows us to our apartment.

Technically he’s right, but when I tell you the first national park of North Rhine-Westphalia encompasses 10,700 hectares then you’ll get an idea of the scale of this nothingness. There is in fact plenty to explore.

Signpost of walking trails in Eifel National Park near Blankenheim

There are dozens of walking trails to help you explore parts of Eifel National Park near Blankenheim

The attraction is there are no distractions

In this nothing you can play hide and seek behind gnarly trees in beech and oak woods, you can sail on bicycles down empty tracks, envelope yourself in a land of forest and water, smell the earth after the rain or examine a rare flower in the sunshine. We’ve come to walk and to bike and chill out as a family. We’ve come for relaxation. What we don’t expect is acceleration. But more of that later.

If you don’t already know it, The Eifel is a national park near the Belgian/Luxembourg border around 80km from Bonn and just over 90km from Koblenz. It’s a rural, mountainous landscape with numerous hiking trails and views. And the youth hostel we are staying in, Burg Blankenheim, is a beacon of grey and white, high on the hill above a medieval village packed with cultural monuments. Check out this video to get a feel for the hostel and its setting.

A peaceful Baroque castle

Built as a hill schloss in the early 12th century Burg Blankenheim was the seat of the Blankenheim family who were elevated from Lords to Counts as their power and wealth grew. Over the years the castle developed with their influence, from a medieval fortress to a baroque residence. But you won’t find finery or ceremony in the rooms and corridors; the atmosphere, furnishings and meals are simple and casual.

“Last year we celebrated our 900th anniversary and we’ve been a hostel since 1924,” Markus explains.

Burg Blankenheim at night

Arriving back at Burg Blankenheim at dusk, you can feel the history

Hostel accommodation and apartments for families

We are staying in the bastion house, a large building below the castle which has five holiday apartments that are popular with families. They come equipped with shower, kitchen facilities, TV and sofa beds for extra kids or guests. Ours is spacious and comfortable but we don’t spend a lot of time in it. Because there’s so much to see and do in this rich, wild region. Read on to find out what we get up to in our two days exploring the area around Burg Blankenheim…

In the Bastionhaus at Burg Blankenheim Hostel

Relaxing in one of the family apartments in the Bastionhaus at Burg Blankenheim

Day 1 – Peace and Nature in Blankenheim and the Eifel

Exploring the Eifel by bicycle

This region has microclimates so take advice on the weather before embarking on a day’s activities.

“It’s very local,” Markus explains. “In Blankenheim they say we will have stormy weather but we might only get a drop whereas our neighbour five kilometres down the road might be under a shower.”

Coincidentally as soon as we drive off from the hostel it starts to drizzle. But we have booked bikes from Elektro Fahrradverleih Eifel and are keen to try them out. Located in a residential part of Blankenheim, the family run firm has a surprising amount of shiny bikes for hire including a fleet of e-bikes.

Keen to blend in with the nature, (if that could ever be possible with three lively teens) we pick up five pushbikes and head off into the woods.

Cycling in the Eifel National Park Germany on forest trails

Exploring the forest trails in Naturpark der Mürel in Eifel National Park near Blankenheim

Cycling in circles

We select a local circuit of around 12km that takes us a couple of hours. The kids lead the way, following a rudimentary map given to us by the cycle hire company. It takes us through wooded glades, past tufted fields and along flat gravel tracks. We happily take wrong turnings as we are no rush to complete the journey. We stop to watch a train go by. Hannah pedals at one point across a flower meadow.

Cycling in the Eifel National Park, Naturpark der Murel, Germany

Cycling in the Eifel National Park, Naturpark der Murel, Germany near Blankenheim

Fuelled by ice cream and strudel

At the halfway point, a village called Nettersheim, we discover Cesars Eiscafe Serafin, one of a family run chain of cafes. The family has been producing gelato from Italian family recipes since 1951. They may have been making them for more than fifty years but we manage to consume five in about fifty seconds. The apple pie and coffee lasts a few minutes longer. Just a few.

Coffee and cake at Eiscafe Serafin in Nettersheim

Coffee and cake at Eiscafe Serafin in Nettersheim

Make your own Tour d’Eifel

If you are a keen biker, and have more time than we did, there are numerous biking trails to make your own Tour d’Eifel, many with interesting themes. For example you can bike the Eifel-Höhen-Route, a 230km route that takes in three dams and endless rock formations around the Eifel Park.

Or you could follow sections of a 300km ‘three rivers’ trail, the Drei-Flusse Tour (Erft, Ahr, Rhine in case you were wondering). There’s a gentle section of trail on the old Ahrtalbahn railway lines connecting the Ahr source in Blankenheim to the river mouth near Sinzig on the Rhine, calling at wine-making villages and spa towns. The Valley Route is a 265 km long trail network along the river beds of the Erft, Urft, Olef, Ahr and Neffelbach, allowing you to move from valley to valley on a gentle downhill.

If you still have energy after a long route, there are plenty of shorter mountain bike trails to try . Check out the mountain bike routes of the Eifel Free Rides or Bad Münstereifel. For families who just want a taster with gentle gradients, there’s an easy non circular route called the Eifel Radweg, following old railway lines.

Cycling in the Eifel National Park Germany as showers threaten

Cycling in the Eifel National Park Germany as showers threaten

Nature is the attraction

If you prefer hiking, south of Blankenheim you will find the Lampart Valley, where you can take a walk through the juniper heath of The Eifel.  According to Markus the nature reserve offers “small hills filled with Lampertstal plants. They bloom yellow and it’s very special. This is real nature.”

Nature in the Eifel National Park

Nature is the main attraction in and around the Eifel National Park

Stepping back into Roman Blankenheim

If any of your kids are studying history you should pay a visit to an unexpectedly vast attraction in this modest village. You’ll find the Roman Villa, Romervilla, on the outskirts of Blankenheim, in much the same position as a Tesco Metro might be in any English town or village. But don’t imagine a doing a five minute supermarket sweep – when I say villa, it’s more like a whole estate.

Romervilla Blankenheim

Welcome to the Romervilla in Blankenheim

Imagine the Roman village

The reconstructed pillared Villa Rustica makes you feel small, and that’s before you start wandering the rest of the grassy site. Ten years ago archaeologists covered part of the foundations with a glass floor and you can peer down into the remains as well as looking up. Although it’s not exactly the Colosseum, it’s a good place for wandering and imagining. If you can get sunset without the drizzle, the shadows on the 60 metre rust coloured pillars could lead you back into the first century AD.

Romervilla Blankenheim

Romervilla Blankenheim

Finding the source of the Ahr

There may be Roman remains but Blankenheim’s look is very firmly set in medieval times. The quiet village is awash with buildings that look like they’ve fallen out of a picture book – all pillars and beams and struts, with whitewashed walls and an ancient catholic church to top it all off. In the evening we wander past little museums and quiet bars hunting for the spring of the Ahr.

Views up to the church and Burg Blankenheim from amongst the traditional village architecture in Blankenheim town near the source of the Ahr

Views up to the church and Burg Blankenheim from amongst the traditional village architecture in Blankenheim town near the source of the Ahr

From source to sauce

The Ahr is an 85km long river that runs eastwards from Blankenheim and is famously studded with vineyards on south-facing slopes, carved out by a 300m deep gorge. One of Blankenheim’s claims to fame is as the source of the Ahr and you’ll spot the embryonic river as feature running throughout the town.  We find the source beneath an old and well marked building up a dead end. Bars on the doorway make it look like a prison gate and after a quick look Hannah decides it’s creepy and takes us all off to the popular and cheerful Beros Grillhouse and Pizzeria in town where we douse our pizzas in another kind of sauce.

Later we drift off to sleep in our bastion house apartment, completely unaware of what’s about to hit us in the morning.

Source of the Ahr in Blankenheim

Source of the Ahr in Blankenheim

Day 2 – Motorsport Madness at Nürburgring

A noisy welcome at the Nürburgring

Out on the BMW Grandstand it’s impossible to hear each other. And that’s not because of the earplugs. We experience the air being cut, we feel the rev of engines in our gut, we smell the oil in the air, and we are one with the crowd. But the biggest sensation is the roar of the cars as they fly past, down a straight, round a bend and into nowhere. It’s exciting and relentless and most of all noisy. We can’t take it for long and retire into the Ring Boulevard for respite. This is almost as crazy-busy, with people being tattooed while looking down onto the tracks, having an edge of their seat lunch or driving like maniacs on linked up simulators.

In the Race Room simulator area at Nurburgring

In the Race Room simulator area at Nürburgring

A track of legends

One of Europe’s most notorious Formula One racing tracks is in the town of Nürburg, just under 40km from Burg Blankenheim hostel. It’s something of a contrast as we go from gentle biking to F1 racing in a single weekend. Today there’s a huge classic car rally event on, The Nürburg Old Timer, but this is no racetrack full of old bangers or cars that have seen brighter days. The car park may be awash with colourful and quirky motors but in the pits and on the track there’s some serious fuel being burnt. And some serious petrol heads have turned up to watch. Because this is no ordinary F1 track. The Nürburgring circuit is legendary amongst F1 drivers.

The 20.832km North Loop (Nordschleife), winds around the village and medieval castle and has more than 300 metres of elevation change – it was so lethal to drivers that Jackie Stewart nicknamed  it “The Green Hell.” These days, races happen on a newer track, the infamous 5.148km Grand Prix track.

Spectators enjoying the Classic Old Timer Grand Prix action at Nurburgring, Germany

Spectators enjoying the Classic Old Timer Grand Prix action at Nürburgring, Germany

Go behind the scenes or on the track

On this race day we can go into the pits and workshops and watch the wheels being changed and the cars buffed up. You don’t just have to watch though. On days when there’s no racing you may be able to drive around the legendary Nordschleife track yourself. You can do this in your own car, or hire a smart one as part of the Nürburgring tourist offer. You can also hire an instructor or navigate the 20.832 kilometers, 73 curves, 17 percent gradient, and 300 meters difference in altitude on your own. Easy peasy eh?

In the pit stop garages at Nurburgring Classic Old TImers Event

In the pit stop garages at Nurburgring Classic Old Timers Event

A classic end to the day

At the end of the Old Timers Classic, sixty classic cars do a parade around the Grand Prix track. We return to our hostel wishing we weren’t driving a Citroen Picasso, and when we sleep, we dream of fast cars on beautiful roads, in the slow lane of this lovely region.

Parade at Nurburgring Old Timers Classic

Parade at Nurburgring Old Timers Classic

Practical Information

Burg Blankenheim Hostel

The Burg Blankenheim Hostel is in the Grafenberg castle, above the village of Blankenheim. There is a path up from the village and parking available up at the castle if arriving by car. Accommodation is simple, modern and comfortable. Families can book into the main hostel or book one of the beautifully refurbished family apartments in the bastion house, situated in the castle grounds, below the castle. These offer a bit more privacy and meals can still be taken in the hostel. Bookings can be made online. The hostel is open 7am-10pm with reception staffed 8am-8pm.

Burg Blankenheim Hostel

Burg Blankenheim Hostel

Electric biking

You can hire bikes or e bikes from Elektro Fahrradverleih Eifel on Förberichstraße 10 in Blankenheim. An e-bike costs €25.00 for one day, up to €280.00 for a fortnight. A weekend will set you back €50.00. A trekking bike costs €16.00 per day, €102.00 for a week or €196.00 for a fortnight. You’ll need to take a wad of Euros with you as credit cards are not accepted.  There’s a small discount for children’s bikes and mountain bikes are also available.

There’s a shuttle service available if you want a pick up, or your bikes dropping off at your hotel. The shop is open mid April to mid October everyday from 9.30am – 3pm, but you can arrange to drop your bikes back anytime before 6pm. Book your bikes in advance on Tel: 0049 2449 9199937

Cyclists are catered for in Nettesheim too, there’s a good bike shop and if it’s closed but you have a puncture there’s an inner tube vending machine on the wall outside the shop.

Electric bikes for rent in Eifel Park Germany, Elektro-Fahrradverleih-Eifel

Electric bikes for rent in Eifel Park Germany, Elektro-Fahrradverleih-Eifel

Nürburgring

Different parts of the Nürburgring are open at different times of the day and month, depending on events. For opening hours check the website. Prices start at €25 and you can book via the online shop or by phone. The information people at the track speak good English and were really helpful with my enquiries. Or you can ring the ticket hotline: 0800 20 83 200

Nurburgring Dunlop Hairpin Bend

Nurburgring Dunlop Hairpin Bend

Eifel National Park

The National Park Gates have various information offices with digital models, films and tourist information kiosks to help you plan your time in this vast area. You can also download leaflets on everything from wilderness trails to events.

Cycling in the Eifel National Park

Cycling in the Eifel National Park

Want to read more #CastleHostel posts

For more Castle Hostel inspiration check out these other posts from our German #CastleHostels road trip series.

German Youth Hostel flags at Colditz Castle, Jugendherberge Schloss Colditz

German Youth Hostel flags at Colditz Castle, Jugendherberge Schloss Colditz

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 Blankenheim. All After Eight ice cream consumption, getting lost on forest tracks and watching cars blast around the racing tracks, as well as words, photography and videography are entirely of our own making.     

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.

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