Now, we all know that Europe is pretty much a castle-lovers dream. From stunning German palaces to imposing Polish castles, there is bound to be a castle to transport you to your own personal fairytale. But how about staying in a castle? If that’s something on your bucket list then keep reading – because that’s exactly what we did on our weekend in Walbrzych!
Getting to Ksiaz Castle
Taking the train from Wrocław Głowny (main station) to Wałbrzych Szczawienko takes around 1 hour, and then getting to the castle from the station is about 6 minutes by taxi. We were collected by someone from the castle so if you will be staying at the castle, simply ask if they can collect you from the station!
Staying at Ksiaz Castle
There are a few different hotels and guesthouses in the Ksiaz Castle (“Zamek Książ“) complex, but only one is actually owned by the castle – this was where we stayed, the lovely Hotel Ksiaz. The hotel is not in the main castle itself, but just in front of it across the beautiful landscaped garden that is located in front of the impressive castle facade. It’s perfectly located to walk a few yards to the castle in the mornings and is straight across from the restaurant Książęca, where you’ll enjoy breakfast in the morning.
While most ‘staying in a castle’ experiences are pretty pricey, you’ll be glad to hear that staying at Hotel Ksiaz is anything but! The rooms start at only $50 for a single room which includes breakfast – the rooms are fairly simple but very comfortable and spacious, perfect for a few days of exploration in the castle and nearby Walbrzych.
Visiting the Castle
In recent years, the castle has started becoming much more of a tourist attraction thanks to major restoration efforts and the claim of a discovery of secret tunnels and the Nazi Gold Train in 2015, which concerns a local legend of a Nazi Germany era train.
Nazi Gold Train
Who doesn’t love a good urban legend? According to local legend, the train left Breslau (now Wrocław) laden with gold and other treasures and was driven to secret tunnels in the mountains surrounding Waldenburg (now Wałbrzych) to hide the valuables from the advancing Red Army in 1945. In 2015, two explorers claimed to have found the Nazi Gold Train after a death-bed confession from a man who had claimed to have helped load the train in 1945.
However, their claims have never been confirmed (even after major search efforts by both government and private organisations) and the Nazi Gold Train legend remains just that… a legend.
The history of Ksiaz Castle
You can explore the castle either as we did – with a guide – or on an audio tour with their specially created app! The WOWPoland app is a great way of exploring the castle with a virtual guide – visitors can take any of the walking routes at their own pace and listen to as many (or as few) of the audio guides as they wish. My favourite part of the app is the augmented reality function where you can see the Scheffler paintings that used to be in the Maximilian Hall at the castle but are sadly missing. The app is currently available in Polish and English and is being developed in many other languages, including German, French, Spanish and Mandarin!
The history of Ksiaz Castle is a lengthy and intriguing one – from its first mentions in the late 13th century as a defensive castle belonging to Bolko I “The Strict” to its changing of hands from Czech kings to Hungarian monarchs and finally to the Hochbergs in 1509. It was during the Hochberg ownership that the ‘great castle reconstructions’ took place, which your guide (or the app) will detail as you explore the castle.
The People of Ksiaz Castle
I loved to learn about the people who once lived there – for example, Hans Heinrich XI was master of the castle in the late 19th century and was a huge influence on the surrounding areas of the region, particularly due to his charitable work. He was involved in the creation of free cooking schools for daughters of miners in Wałbrzych, he provided for burials, for medical care and for the widowed, disabled and elderly.
Hans Heinrich’s son, also (confusingly) called Hans Heinrich, married a woman named Mary Theresa Cornwallis-West – more simply called Princess Daisy. Princess Daisy is particularly important as she chronicled in her diary the goings on at the castle and wrote down a lot of information about the era she lived in. Her memoir was published as ‘Better Left Unsaid’ and can be bought from the castle shop.
The Nazi Era and the Red Army
In 1941 the Nazi regime confiscated the castle and, in 1943, the ‘Todt’ (Nazi paramilitary organisation) occupied the castle and historians believe that they were ‘preparing’ the castle for it to be Hitler’s future abode. Many underground tunnels were constructed (including the ones that are thought to possibly house the Nazi Gold Train) but in 1945 the Russian Army took the castle and destroyed and plundered a lot of the valuables there, including the 64,000 volume plus collection in the library.
After over 20 years of destruction, the 1970s marked a turning point for the castle with extensive restoration works occurring in order to bring the castle back to its former glory. The first few floors of the castle are fully renovated, but work is still being done on the top floors to restore the castle to its pre-war state.
You could seriously spend hours wandering all the rooms in the castle, especially if you’re a history buff or an interior design fan. It’s amazing. Additionally, there is a photography exhibition of images taken by the head chef of the Hochberg court from 1909 – 1926, Louis Hardouin. The photographs (over 1,500 of them!) were found by his granddaughter in storage, and in 2017 around 200 of them were put on exhibition at Ksiaz Castle. As a photographer, this was easily my favourite part of the castle tour. It was such an insight into the lives of people over 100 years ago!
Also included in a ticket to Ksiaz Castle is the beautiful Palm House or Palmiarnia. Built at the start of the 20th century by Hans Heinrich for his wife, Princess Daisy, this 1,900 square metre area is home to over 250 species of plants, including bamboo from Asia, eucalyptus from Australia, perennials from Africa, cacti from Central America and citrus plants from the Mediterranean.
The rose garden was a favourite of Princess Daisy, and a cultivated variety of rose with snow white petals was named ‘Daisy’ in her honour.
Getting to Walbrzych
Getting to Walbrzych (which I’m not even going to try to tell you how to pronounce – it’s something like ‘vow-bruz-itch’… or something) is a pleasantly easy journey from Wroclaw, making it a perfect combination with a few days in the beautiful city of Wroclaw.
You can travel by train from Wrocław from the main station to Wałbrzych in around 1 hour 10 minutes by InterCity train and costing between 20 – 32 złoty.
Alternatively, if you’re already at Ksiaz Castle, you can get bus number 8 or number 12 (more frequent but about a 15-20 minute walk from the castle) or the journey is around 12 minutes by taxi.
The city of Walbrzych actually feels like a town when you’re in the city centre, but with 120,000 inhabitants it’s actually a decent sized city. When we arrived, they were setting up for a concert in the main square (also surrounded with colourful facades like in Wroclaw) and it looked like a lot of fun.
Our destination for the evening was the lovely Zielona Sofa (“Green Sofa”), a homely café just off the main square with lots of delicious homemade goodies. All the food and drink here is homemade, including things like lemonade. Yum!
I highly recommend the pasta bakes – I enjoyed one with salmon, pesto, courgette and cheese (sounds like an odd combination but it was amazing!) and the chorizo and tomato bake was also wonderful. Also, don’t miss out on a dessert – they are pretty impressive!
I highly recommend a weekend in Walbrzych and Ksiaz Castle if you are visiting the area – it’s a perfect weekend getaway from Wroclaw!
Have you been to Walbrzych? Or stayed in a castle? Let me know in the comments!