Doors, doors and more doors to the top of the hill.
Hochosterwitz castle was the first stop on our Austrian roadtrip for the 1st of May holiday in 2019, as it is my boyfriend’s favourite castle. Coming from an archaeologist who specialises in the Middle Ages, that is a high praise indeed, and the castle more than lived up to my expectations.
It was first built sometime in the 11th century by the von Osterwitz family as a defense against the Turks. After their line died out its ownership reverted back to the king and the castle was granted to the Khevenhüller family in the 16th century. Georg Khevenhüller renovated the entire castle using his own private money and named it his home, leaving behind a marble plaque, instructing and warning his descendants that the castle should always be kept in good condition and stay in the family no matter what. It appears they heeded his warnings, as the castle has remained in the Khevenhüller family until today and they even still maintain a traditional honor guard.
Considered one of Austria’s most beautiful medieval castles and among the biggest and best preserved in Europe, it sits upon a limestone hill rising about 150 m above the valley, which offers some very nice views. What truly makes it stand out from countless other amazing castles though, are the 14 defense gates leading up to the main courtyard.
In order to reach the castle, you need to follow the winding path around the hill, which passes through 14 fortified gates, each with their own name and distinct details. Back in the day, the gates kept the castle safe and impregnable, whereas today they make the walk up to the main buildings an adventure in itself, as you get to discover the names of each gate, the little carved stone murals on the inside of the gates and see the increasingly farther views. Naturally, I had to take photos of all 14 gates, so here they are, in order of appearance:
The 14 gates
One of the first gate towers is transformed into a small museum about the Khevenhüller-Metsch honor guard, where you can read a bit about it and their history. Afterwards, sometime after the 10th gate, you’ll come across a wider yard, where we found some stalls selling medieval-like handcrafts, a small, cute and messy workshop, as well as a witch lair and a stone labyrinth. Apparently a group intent on restoration and preservation of medieval crafts and skills operates within the castle, performing the necessary maintenance of doors and windows in the traditional way and offering demonstrations of carpentry, forging and bricklaying, but we only got to see their stall of wooden trinkets when we visited.
The lower yard
After ascending through the final few gates we were greeted by a beautiful view of the surrounding area and the main castle buildings. There is a beautiful small church with the family crypt in the lower level, as well as a garden area and a large courtyard with the armoury museum on the higher level.
When we arrived to the courtyard, we stumbled straight into a traditional ceremony: the entire honor guard was assembled and there was a priest performing a blessing, with lots of fancy dressed people looking on. We did not realise it at the time, but apparently we got to see the Khevenhüller family in all their regalia, as it was some kind of an anniversary, celebrated with great pomp, they even had a marching band.
I guess we’d caught the tail end of the ceremony, as the people dispersed shortly after our arrival and sat down to have lunch in the castle tavern. Yes, there is a tavern, serving proper lunches and no, we did not try it, because it looked terribly expensive and the food did not seem very special. We did go into the armoury museum, where we weren’t allowed to take photos, but let me tell you, it is a very well stocked armoury with plenty of shiny suits of armour from different periods and I had trouble getting the boyfriend out of there.
Impressions of Hochosterwitz castle
After we’ve had our fill of the castle, we picked up our expertly parked car (we were literally parked 2 cm away from a tree on the restaurant lawn) without paying the parking fee. Why you might ask? Well, there was a sign stating that parking at the restaurant lawn for non-patrons costs 2 euros and I tried to pay it when I went inside to use the toilet. Since it was the first stop of our trip, my German was still very much dormant and more than rusty, so I tried to give the 2 euros to a very confused waitress, who did not understand me and I did not understand her thick Austrian accent. The entire situation just got too awkward to bother and I ended up not paying it. No one came to collect it when we drove out either, so that was that. We had a picnic at one of the roadside stops with a nice view of the castle and then headed towards our second stop – Grüner See.
Getting there and the costs
For some reason Hochosterwitz is one of the lesser known castles and doesn’t often appear on the “10 things to do in Austria” lists (although it should!), so I thought I’d include directions. The castle is located quite close to Klagenfurt, the capital of Carinthia state, and you can find it on Google maps here. There is a relatively large, free parking space below the castle, which was filled due to the ceremony when we visited, but should be less occupied on normal days. In a pinch, you can also park on the restaurant lawn next to the parking lot. When we visited in 2019, the entrance fee was 15 € (10 € for students), which included everything there is to do in the castle, except a meal at the tavern, obviously. There is a souvenir shop opposite the ticket office as well, and if needed, you can ride the funicular up to the castle, although it really would be a shame to miss the 14 gate walking adventure, as the walk is easy and takes about 20 minutes.
Besides being unique and interesting, the castle is also very beautiful and full of aesthetic details, so here are some of our more artsy photos:
The details of Hochosterwitz castle and some artsy photos
Some photos by M. Zupan.
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