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…
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.
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.
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…
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Want to read more #CastleHostel posts
For more Castle Hostel inspiration check out these other posts from our German #CastleHostels road trip series.
- 48 hours at Burg Bilstein – Sauerland: Activities, Adventures and Castle Magic
- 48 hours in Schloss Colditz & Leipzig – A Great Escape in Saxony
- 48 hours at Burg Blankenheim – Cycling in the Eifel and Motorsport Madness at Nurburgring
- 48 Hours In Nuremberg: A Classic, Beautiful, Dark and Playful City
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.