The Austrian castle where falconry is still well and alive.
Hohenwerfen castle is an Austrian 11th century medieval castle set against the stunning backdrop of the Berchtesgaden Alps and the sister castle to the Hohensalzburg fortress in Salzburg, as they were both built by the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg during their struggles for power. Like the name in German suggests, the castle sits on a hill above the market town of Werfen, south of Salzburg and features a long-lived and proud tradition of falconry.
Falconry is the ancient art of hunting wildlife with trained birds of prey, that originated in the East and became popular in Europe during the Middle Ages. Hunting with falcons, hawks and other birds was a popular sport for the nobles, although the birds themselves were trained by the falconers, who were the true masters of the craft. Falconry mainly fell out of fashion in the 15th century due to the invention of gunpowder, but the recent centuries brought an increased interest in reviving the craft among enthusiasts.
Today, you can see falconry shows and demonstrations at certain castles and Hohenwerfen is one of them. I had visited the castle as a child with my family and I somewhat remember the scary, but super cool birds flying over my head, so I visited the castle again in May 2019 with my boyfriend during our Austrian roadtrip. We caught the afternoon falconry show and it was pretty great, as you can see from some of the photos.
The falconry show
They had hawks, falcons, eagles and vultures performing all sorts of tricks at the sign of their professional handlers, who were dressed in the traditional falconer’s outfits. The birds were truly majestic, swooping in fast or soaring high in the sky, depending on their hunting style. Some of them can cover great distances in just a few moments and they can be pretty cheeky too, as they liked playing games with their less experienced falconers when they tried to call them back. The whole show was in German, but there was a short introduction in English in the beginning, which pretty much covered everything you need to know – unless you are extremely interested in birds, in which case, I’m sure the falconers would be more than happy to talk to you.
Besides the falconry show, the castle itself is also quite intriguing. There are 3 museums and a guided tour included in the ticket, which was 15 € at the time of our visit. In the first museum, you can learn all about the castle’s history, both in medieval and modern times. The castle had a turbulent history, with two fires and two subsequent renovations, and was also the setting for a movie. Where Eagles Dare was shot at Hohenwerfen castle in 1968 and the second museum is wholly dedicated to it, as apparently they love Clint Eastwood as much as I do. The third museum is in a large round tower and deals with the history of falconry and sometimes they also have temporary exhibitions – they had one on Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions when we were there.
The only way to see the interior of the castle is to go on the guided tour and we did, but if it was not included in the ticket, I’d be pretty disappointed by it. The two guides led the tour in German and gave us audio guides in English to follow the tour, even though both of them spoke English. Now, you should probably know that I hate audio guides with a passion, so it would have to be incredibly good for me to like it. Well, this one wasn’t and it was pretty boring, but the condensed German tour was a bit better, as much as I could understand it. They showed us an intricate old clock mechanism in the bell tower and we got to walk right up next to the bell, which made for some very beautiful views. Then we went down to the dungeon, which also had a torture chamber with a hole in the ground, where the local blacksmith was reportedly kept for 13 years during the peasant uprisings. He went blind and was more than completely crazy by the time they let him out (which was to be expected, I suppose).
Impressions of the Hohenwerfern castle
Since we visited off-season, the castle restaurant was not open yet, but there is a small eatery in the courtyard. We were a bit hungry and decided to buy something since the prices were surprisingly normal, but the food was quite bad, so I guess we got what we paid for in terms of tourist places. Despite the bad food and the unimpressive guided tour, the majestic rock castle itself is more than worth a visit and the falconry show was amazing, so try to time your visit to catch that and I am sure you will not be disappointed.