I just checked into a hotel installed in the medieval gatehouse of mighty Burg Reichenstein, overlooking the valley of the Rhine River from on high. I was handed a room key, lugged my luggage upstairs, and opened the door to my third parking-lot view in a row.

Chalk it up to the old “single rooms suck” law, which is aimed at punishing those who dare to travel without companionship. I may be here to write an article on sleeping in German castles, but what I’m really becoming an expert on is what medieval castle parking lots look like. To whit: gravely, littered with rental cars parked at odd angles, and amazingly, precisely, just a tad too small to turn around in properly. Most of the guest rooms in these German castles come with a panorama of the local river valley, vistas over unspoilt forestland, or at the very least a peek at the red roofs of the timeless village that grew up around the castle’s feet. All of these fall under the category of views that my room invariably lacks.

The trend started with my very first castle of the trip. I had crossed the lower Rhine at Bonn, where the valley widens and pancakes into vast flatlands peppered by Germany’s twin pinnacles of tradition and progress—church steeples and factory smokestacks—above which white gliders wheel on the thermals. Once across the plains, I turned south to join the parade of weekend motorcyclists slaloming down the turns of the Ahr River Valley, whizzing through evergreen forests that stand on tall stilt trunks.

The forestland soon gave way to the Eifel, Germany’s largest volcanic region. Save for the giant, lazily spinning Mercedes symbols harvesting wind on ridges and hillsides, the bucolic scenery was straight out of a 19th century painting. A fertile land of green-gold fields unrolled in between the little Christmas tree farms planted in neat Teutonic rows, and the strings of eyelet lakes filling ancient volcanic craters. Hay was harvested into seven-foot-tall rolls placed just so around stubbly fields. The fields were being mown closer still by sleek muscular horses, round piebald cows, and roly-poly sheep freshly shorn for summer. Congregations of fat, contented-looking silky-maned blond ponies standing placidly in the dapple light of woods’ edge alternated with flocks of fat, contented-looking children with corn-silk hair romping in the pineshade of riverside campsites.

This fairy tale of forest and farmland was occasionally interrupted by half-timbered villages built around rocky promontories topped by craggy castles. Some of the ancient fortresses were roofless and shattered beyond repair, their stone walls yawning apart. Others looked comfortably lived-in, with steep slate roofs and tan stucco-cemented walls picked out with brightly painted shutters in heraldic red or blue stripes against white.

Luckily, my castle on that first night, the Kurfürstlishes Amtshaus, turned out to be of the latter type, a bastion of creamy yellow walls trimmed in dark red and topped by ranks of dormer windows clad in dark, mossy slate tiles, and its stood next to a white-steepled church above the bustling market town of Daun. Christa Probst, the owner, was genuinely surprised when, while I was completing the check-in form, I told her I was an American. “How did you find this place?” She marveled. “No Americans come to the Eifel!” She gave a nervous, disturbing little laugh. “This is an empty region. A poor region.”

Frau Probst elaborated. “In 1850s, many people went away—to America, mostly. Sometimes their descendants come back to look for family, but it has been so long. Too long. Everyone is gone. This area is only good now for walking and for bike riding.” And motorcycles, I pointed out. She gave her disturbing little laugh again. “Yes. We Germans, we love the motorbikes!”

I finished signing in and tried to express the idea that Americans might like to come precisely because the Eifel is not full of factories and other signs of modern commerce. It’s simply farmland and forests—and very pretty ones at that—along with the odd reminder of the region’s volcanic heritage, like mini Old Faithful-type geysers, giant smooth boulders plopped in strange spots, and those lovely little eyelet lakes. She stared at me bemused, as if there might be something a bit wrong with me, and handed me a set of keys.

My room had a lovely view of my rental sedan.

I got the same panorama from my lodgings at Castle Liebenstein the following night, another Romantically crumbling Rhineside fort, so I abandoned my digs and watched the sunset from the ramparts and chatted with a couple from Montana while their 13-year-old daughter and her cousin clambered around the castle ruins in little black chiffon capes and baseball caps, popping in and out of view as they discovered hidden passageways on their determined ghost-hunt.

And now, the vista from my new digs in Burg Reichenstein: gravel lot, lots of cars. Well, at least it’s a proper room. A corollary of the “single rooms suck” law states that any space in the hotel that was once a broom closet, storage room on the airshaft, or substantially sized bathroom may, in a pinch, be converted into a single room. I’ve stayed in all of those, plus a few worse. Once I was put up in the little manager’s office off the hotel lobby, sleeping on the night watchman’s cot wedged between the wall and the comically oversized hotel safe (that was in Enna, Sicily, where despite my copy of a months-old faxed reservation they insisted the hotel was fully booked).

Another memorable time in Marostica, a town famous for its biennial chess match on the main piazza using costumed people as pieces, another lost reservation meant I had to set up housekeeping in a little windowless room of the basement parking garage, most of which was taken up by the building’s central heating/cooling unit, which would periodically roar to life, popping and squeaking and clanging, at irregular intervals throughout the night. In Germany, at least, I was getting actual hotel rooms. Just tiny, crappy ones.

However, as a consolation, my crappy castle singles do always come with the entertainment of watching folks try to execute 42-point turns in a tiny parking lot at the wheel rental car they’re not really that used to. Since many castle rooms don’t come with TVs, this is about as exciting as my evening gets. But since everyone now seems to be in for the evening here, the fun’s over and I figure it’s time I stopped putting it off. It’s time to go rustle up some dinner.