Driving is an outrageously wrong way to arrive at a castle. I wind through oak trees, my tyres thump across a drawbridge and I stop to unload my suitcase beneath battlements from which Rapunzel could easily have let down her hair. My rental car is like some hideous mistake of time travel. I really should be lolloping under the portcullis and into the cobbled courtyard on a horse.
Burg Wernberg sits on a hilltop like something from a pop-up book of chivalry, all turrets and towers, encircled by a moat where cherry trees blossom in springtime and the perfume of roses wafts up towards the breakfast room in summer. It has arcaded walkways, crepuscular corridors and beams in its banqueting hall hewn by giants. You have to stoop under archways and navigate time-worn stairs. The walls are so thick I sleep like an effigy in undisturbed, tomb-like silence.
Fortunately, though, this is also a very 21st century castle, now turned hotel. It has a lift and delightful bathrooms and anachronistic furnishings such as Turkish carpets, gilt-framed landscape paintings and fabulous, contemporary winged armchairs where I sit like a James Bond villain in front of the fire. Burg Wernberg also has the Relais & Chateaux seal of approval, which means not just historic appeal but a terrific restaurant whose regional cuisine is updated with Asian influences, and whose wine list has the weight of a family Bible.
Burg Wernberg doesn't take itself too seriously, though. A little stuffed frog with a crown has been placed on my bedspread, clutching a welcome note. On the chapel wall, St George's dragon pokes out its tongue and seems to be giving me a wink. A painted peacock sits above the mirror in the bathroom as if to remind me that all is vanity. In a corner under the staircase, I come across a fresco that depicts Rapunzel herself, in a pink dress, golden tresses trailing.
This castle has some serious history. It was first mentioned in historical records in 1280 and is happily encrusted with centuries of pepper-pot chimneys and crenellations added by a succession of noblemen called Hans or Heinrich or Frederik. It was later owned by the dukes and kings of Bavaria. It sits amid a region of north-west Bavaria with some serious history, too, astride north-south pilgrim routes and the east-west Golden Road trade route created by Emperor Charles IV to link Paris to Nuremburg and Prague.
The castle is halfway between Prague and Munich and an hour from Regensburg, Czech beer town Plzen (Pilsen) and glorious spa resort Marianske Lazne (Marienbad). Somehow, though, this in-between region is still dotted with sleepy German villages scarcely disturbed by international tourism.
In between forays to big-name destinations, I feel like a pioneer. Amberg and Weiden have walled old towns of half-timber houses and baroque monasteries, and not a tour coach in sight. I discover 500-year-old wine cellars and the Zoigl co-operative brewery, an open-air museum and a historical park that replicates medieval settlements.
At the end of each day my car rattles over the cobbles and under the battlements and back to the snug embrace of Burg Wernberg's old walls. In Kastell Restaurant I can feel a bit medieval, since the menu runs to treats such as pigeon, venison and suckling pig – but with plenty of pleasant modern twists. The Beijing duck pancakes are my entree favourite, cleverly made local with the addition of red cabbage and apple.
The castle's blue-and-white striped shutters are folded like eyelids over the windows. Moonlight glimmers faintly through arrow slits in the corridors. My guest room is a stone cocoon and soon, like Sleeping Beauty, it will be hard to rouse me from my slumbers.
Brian Johnston travelled courtesy Relais & Chateaux.
Etihad flies to Abu Dhabi (14.5 hours) and Munich (6 hours 30 minutes), from where it is a two-hour drive to Hotel Burg Wernberg. See etihad.com
Hotel Burg Wernberg is in Wernberg-Koblitz in north-east Bavaria. Rooms from $330 a night. See relaischateaux.com/burgwernberg