For part one in this German castles mini-series please click here. On day two of the great castle exploration adventure I decided to leave Munich and go to Schloss Hohenschwangau and Schloss Neuschwanstein (Schloss, by the way, is German for castle). This definitely took me out of my comfort zone as I don’t tend to leave cities when I am on holiday and I don’t speak any German. But I was told these castles were a must-see so I boarded a train for Füssen with my trusty companion for company (he also does not speak German).
The train journey took about two hours from Munich’s central train station (Hauptbanof). I spent most of the journey staring out of the window watching the scenery change from flat farmland to mountainous, snow topped vistas. Once in Füssen, we travelled to the village of Schwangau, which took about ten minutes. From here both castles can easily be visited in one day and this is precisely what we set out to do. I purchased a combination ticket and set off walking up the hill to the first castle. Please note that all photos of the building are taken from the outside as photography is not permitted inside the building.
The first castle I visited was Schloss Hohenschwangau. This castle is often overlooked in favour of its younger neighbour but I was eager to see them both. I was not disappointed! Hohenschwangau has a really interesting history that stretches back as far as the 12th century when it was first mentioned in written records. It was home to the Knights of Schwangau until the 16th century when the fortress changed hands numerous times, until falling into a state of disrepair.
Fast forward to the 18th Century and King Maximillian II of Bavaria discovered the area and was impressed by the natural beauty of the area and the mystique of the Knights of Schwangau. He decided to rebuild the castle in a neo-gothic style on the foundations of the original fortress as he had a great love and interest in medieval history. When the castle was finished he took holidays and went hunting here with his wife, Queen Marie, and his two sons Ludwig and Otto.
The modern conveniences such as the car parks and tourist shops do not take away from what is still an area of astounding beauty. The castle is surrounded by a clear lake and tree-covered mountains. It rained for most of the day that I visited but this added a wonderfully eerie quality to the misty mountains. When the rain stopped I took the chance to explore the gardens and the courtyard of the castle. I particularly liked the walls decorated with knights and the lion fountain. Another important thing to note, if you decide to visit this castle first, is the gardens are where the swan theme is first seen. The family adopted the swan as an emblem as it was the symbol for the Knights of Schwangau, and also for religious reasons (they were a very religious family). The swan is a constant decorative theme across both castles and it is great fun to try and spot all the swans! In the garden the swan is represented in murals and as a fountain.
Like Residenz there are so many things to note and admire in Hohenschwangau so I have decided just to highlight my favourites:
- The Billiard Room: Because let’s face it, a big fancy house is not a big fancy house without one. This one was particularly fancy and the table was huge. Decorating the room were cabinets of fine porcelain and a chest carved with all the crests of the Bavarian Lords. As for the value of those pieces, let’s just say it is a good thing no one is playing billiards in there anymore!
- The Family Dining Room: The ceiling in this room is beautiful. It was designed to signify the merging of the families of Prussia and Bavaria after the marriage of Maximiilian to Marie. Their family crests are interwoven with ornate lines representing the marriage which was not popular at the time due to rivalries between them.
- The Banqueting Hall: Another room for eating in, this is also known as the “Hall of Heroes”. This is the biggest room in the house and the walls are covered in some of the finest artwork in the house. One wall shows a great battle in the romantic style, i.e.: there is no blood or dirt shown. The tour guide remarked that it was the cleanest battle in history as “they all must have died of heart attacks.”
- The “Oriental” Room: This was the Queen’s bedroom and it was decorated in a different style to the rest of the castle. Inspired by Maximillian’s trips to Turkey and Greece the room was decorated in rich reds and golds more likely to be found in a lush bedroom from the Tales of the Arabian Nights rather than by a lake on a rainy day in Bavaria!
- The King’s Bedroom: The King’s Room was no less fun than the Queen’s, as it contained a secret door which led to the Queen’s bedroom. Our tour guide remarked that Maxmillian must have used the secret passage at least twice in his lifetime.
- The “Hohenstaufen” Room: This is one for music fans. This dressing room, later a music room contains a piano played by Wagner himself when he visited the castle. It was strictly no touch however so I could not get genius-through-osmosis.
- The “Berchta” Room: This room had a breathtaking view of the lake and the surrounding scenery. It was the writing room of the Queen and I could easily imagine how anyone could be inspired there.
- The “Tasso” Room: This was another wonderful ceiling. Over the bed Ludwig II had constellations installed, which could then be lit up at night. Being a control-freak, Ludwig had a cover attached to the moon so he could adjust it to match the night sky perfectly. It would make for a magical night’s sleep and was the most decadent nightlight that I have ever seen!
The telescope that Ludwig II used to spy on his builders, 100 year old bread and salt in a case, the clever heating system, all the swans and wedding gifts that were totally useless.
Next week I will conclude this three part mini-series with a description of Schloss Neuschwanstein and some tips for visiting the castles.