Riegersburg Castle in AustriaThis castle sits on top of a former volcano. It’s 1,581 feet above sea level. The basalt of the hill was used to build the castle, so they didn’t have to go far for building material.

The history of the castle began in 1122, when the first knight lived there. It had several owners, but the most important one was a very bold woman for her time, the Baroness Katharina von Wechsler. She was married 3 times and responsible for making it one of the biggest and strongest castles all over Austria.

Riegersburg Castle is surrounded by a two-mile wall, five gates, two trenches, and has 108 rooms. In all the years of battles, Turks or Hungarians have never taken the castle since the year 1415!  It was such a safe place that during the time of war, a few thousand refugees stayed inside its wall for protection.

The Liechtenstein family has owned it since 1822.  They live in a house in the village and allow the castle to serve as a museum. My visit there was the most adventurous part of my whirlwind tour of Austria.

Touring Riegersburg Castle

Ceiling at Riegersburg Castle in AustriaA large part of the tour explains the witch trials that went on between 1673 and 1675. Ninety-five women and men were charged to have caused bad weather, hail and thunderstorms. (Twenty were executed by sword or hung because of that charge. Can you imagine if we killed all the weather people today for an inaccurate weathercast! They’d all be dead!)

Anyway, during that time there was a book called Hexenhammer, the book of witch hunting, which explained what witches looked like (they had red hair), what they do (talk to the devil, control weather and bewitch animals) and how to catch, try, torture and execute one. Delightful bedside reading.

Besides all the witch stuff, there are gorgeous painted ceilings, chapels, and suits of armor and knights’ weapons on display.

Finding Adventure at Riegersburg Castle

So there I am in the castle trying on a knight’s helmet and my friend, Dalal, gets a phone call.

“Hello? Ja, Fran is with me. Yes, ah ha, she has sneakers on…yes. OK, great.  We’ll be there in about ten minutes.”

“What was that about?” I asked through my helmet.

Dalal smiles then lets out a mock evil laugh. ‘My friend, Anni, you remember her from my birthday party? Well, she has set up a little adventure for you.”

Climbing Riegersburg Castle Walls

Ten minutes later we are at the foot of the castle wall. Mind you we were NOT at the bottom of the hill, just at the foot of the wall on top of the volcanic mountain.  We meet Anni Reisenhofer and her friend, Karin Faerber. Both are smiling and carrying rope and gear.
“How would you like to scale the castle wall?” Anni smiled sheepishly. “You said you wanted an adventure, ja?”

“Ya, but…. Is this legal?”

“Yes, we are allowed to do this, I asked.” Grinned Anni.

“Really? Who did you ask?”

“The people at the bottom of the hill.”

“Mmmmm. Sounds a bit vague. OK, and have you climbed this wall before?”

“No, but I have climbed other walls.”

This was sounding more precarious. “That wall looks pretty straight up there, what if that rope breaks? And I did tell you I just got over a groin injury and that was just from climbing the counter in my kitchen? Not to mention, the most climbing I ever did with rope was those indoor climbing walls.”

“Are you scared?” Anni challenged.

“Scared, no. Concerned, a bit. Yeah.” I lied. “How hard is this on a scale of 1 to 5. One being the easiest?”

“We do letters here in Austria. A to F on rock climbing.  This would be a C possibly D climb.”

“Wow, that’s not too far from E & F.” Anni nodded in agreement.

Gearing Up for the Climb

“How long is this climb, just in case I get tired?”

“I guess, about an hour.”

“Straight up that wall huh. And what’s around that bend over there on the wall, the part that goes around and up that we can’t see? How steep is that?”

“I have no idea, we find out together.”

Climbing Riegersburg Castle Walls“Mmmmm. And you tested your ropes? They can hold my weight? I mean I gained a few pounds from all that chocolate.”

“You’re not too fat, don’t worry.” Anni laughed.

Dalal and Karin were getting a kick out of this. Maria and Hermine were at the top of the castle wall, looking like tiny ants, waving down and smiling.

“OK let’s try it for a few minutes and see how I do.”

They geared me up in the harness.

I looked up and hooked myself on the anchor line that ran all the way to the top of the castle wall. The hardest part was that I was going to have to hook and unhook myself as we got to the actual anchors points because the carabiners (the metal snap links) didn’t fit over them.

Anni was in front of me, Karin in back. Dalal was at the bottom with my flip camera catching this moment for posterity.

I got on the rope. Anni said, “Now I have to see if you trust. Lean back full force without your hands and trust the rope.” 

I looked down, we were about 80 stories high from the bottom. I leaned back holding on with one hand.

She said, “Let go of the other hand.”

Climbing Riegersburg Castle wallsI looked down, directly below me was a cemetery with an open grave.

“Hey, What’s that? Just in case I fall, they already have my plot picked out?”

She laughed. “Ya. Now, Let go, Fran.”

Something about Anni’s endearing ways made me trust her. So I let go with both hands.

“OK, you pass. Let’s climb.” And with that I began my ascent up the strongest castle wall in Austria.

There wasn’t much foot room to maneuver, so I hugged the mountain and inched my way up. Stopping to unhook myself and rehook myself every few feet where I encountered the anchors. I couldn’t help thinking, “How the hell did knights climb these walls wearing all that armor and weapons?” I was having trouble with just my sneakers.

Proving I was there

About halfway up the wall they have a mailbox imbedded into the wall with a notebook. There you can sign in that you made it this far up the mountain. The mailbox had a rose on it, so I took it as a sign from my mom, Rose, that she knew I was doing this and smiling down from heaven watching.

Now we were at the point where we had to go around the unknown corner. Anni turned to me and said; “Now I have to see how brave you really are. You are going to have to totally trust the rope and follow my steps and swing over that area where there is no place to step.”

“You mean swing and hopefully not crash into the wall.”

“Yes, something like that.”

Almost to the Top of the Castle Wall

I looked at the distance I’d have to leap. Then I looked down at the cemetery plot. Yup, I could do it, because the alternate choice of falling was not a good one. With total concentration I followed Anni’s lead and made it safely around.

We were now 30 feet (3 stories) from the finish. Dalal, her mom and Hermine were taking photos and yelling…”Almost there…good job…come on.”

The last few feet required climbing an iron ladder. Finally, after an hour and ten minutes of non-stop climbing, we popped our heads over the castle wall. The look on the faces of the people casually dining at the outdoor restaurant was priceless. They just stared at us in amazement as if to say, “Where the heck did you people come from?”

We all cheered and toasted. “To castle walls and adventure!”

Read more about my adventures on a whirlwind tour of Austria.