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There’s a castle just outside Vienna that’s on track to become very, very famous. The authenticity of the castle itself is a work of fiction, but a fantasy tv show is about to catapult the place into fantasy TV fans ‘must-sees’ in Europe. Burg Kreuzenstein is a fiction, a fantasy and a fun weekend trip rolled into one!
I’d like to say S and I were ahead of the curve for visiting last Autumn, but in reality we’re just really into weekend adventures. We’re incredibly lucky in Vienna to be surrounded by historical tourist spots just outside the city. S is pretty good at finding out where these gems are hiding, then luring me there by promising coffee and cake – but only if we ride our bikes to get there. Burg Kreuzstein is just north of Vienna, a leisurely 2 hour bike ride from the city centre.
I have to admit, I’m a total castle fiend. Australians don’t see many castles in their day-to-day lives (unlike Europeans!) so every time I get to see a Castle, the fairytale-romantic in me gets a little over-excited . The first time I travelled through Europe in 2005, I was so enthralled that I walked at a snail’s pace through each and every castle. So much so that my family were (rightfully) ready to ditch me among the freezing ruins. I marvelled at stone walls, read all the detailed plaque on the museum displays and oh-so-slowly meandered the halls trying to picture nobility living there.
I’ve become a bit more discerning with Castles since that first trip, which is why I couldn’t put my finger on Burg Kreuzenstein. It is stunning, clearly. It seemed to have the strategic placement atop a hill necessary for Castle survival in Medieval times, but there was something very ‘Disney’ about the place. It felt a little too ‘perfectly’ Castle. The neo-Gothic architecture was a little too fresh, there were no crumbling edifices, no moss on the walls, no scars in the building from long ago battles. Strangely, it felt a little too ‘clean’ to be an authentic Castle that had survived hundreds of years passing from generation to generation.
I soon found out why. Burg Kreuzstein is actually a wealthy 19th Century coal miners ‘idea’ of a Castle. The land was home to a Castle in the medieval ages, but the building now is a literal mash-up of architectural bits and pieces imported from different castles of Europe. Which makes it officially a Frankenstein* Castle in my books. That’s not to say its bad, or ugly, just…. kind of pre-meditated and extremely well designed and marketed.
Does that make it a less authentic castle experience? Well that really depends on you and your ideas of what a castle ‘should’ be. As I’m a total sucker for realistic castles, it felt kind of empty and soulless. No chance to imagine people living here and walking the halls, because they never really did, until the refurbishment was completed in 1906. By then the fairytale-Medieval era was well and truly over.
Whether you think it’s a ‘real’ ruin or not, Burg Kreuzstein is doing a roaring tourist trade. They run guided tours on the hour, which walk you through the kitchen, the Armoury, Chapel, Prince’s Chamber and the Knights Hall. The only way you can get inside the Castle is on a tour (now €10 per person) so we were lucky to get in at 3:30pm for the last walk-around of the day. The tour guide was lovely, handling the mixed crowd of kids, curious adults and crying babies while storytelling. The collections they have are incredible, including the best preserved weaponry I’ve ever seen, fit for Game of Thrones-style battles.
Funnily enough, the fake, fictional look of the place and quality of the weaponry stash is also one of the Burg’s moneymakers. It has recently been used as a set for a reality show, called ‘The Quest’ which seems like a crazy-bananas combination of reality TV crossed with The Hunger Games and Survivor:
They will also hire the grounds for weddings (yes, I am most definitely tempted) but what we enjoyed the most was the kitschy restaurant and views over Vienna.
Still pretty pumped for the ‘outside a Castle’ photo – there’s a MOAT beneath me guys!
I’ve definitely been in more ‘realistic’ feeling castles, but for an easy weekend trip it’s a bit of fun. The Eagle Display at 4pm is definitely worth catching for the experience of Austrian Eagles looping around your head. I’d recommend getting here before peak summer as it seems there’s a growing army of Quest fans awaiting Season 2 – if you go now you can claim to be on the cutting edge of fantasy TV show tourism. Who knows – maybe Burg Kreuzenstein will become the next Dubrovnik!
And lets face it, who can resist a castle? Even if it is a bit of a Frankenstein….
*Fellow Literary nerds note: I know that Frankenstein was the name of the scientist who created the Monster in the novel, but for the sake of expedience, lets just say Frankenstein in this case represents the stitched together monster he created, mmmk?