Upon leaving Schloss Hohenswangau, my trusty companion and I decided to take the scenic route to visit Schloss Neuschwanstein. This involved leaving under the gate in the courtyard of Schloss Hohenswangau rather than going back the way we came. The walk was fantastic as the roads winded through the forest and around by the lake. I would highly recommend this route as you get a fantastic view of the surrounding countryside and of the lake, which was worth a stop even though it was raining.
We decided to walk the full way up to Neuschwanstein and again I would highly recommend it if you are not too tired. It is an uphill walk where you will have to dodge cars and horses (and their poo) but you get some great views of the countryside. You can of course take a bus, or make some horses drag you up, but neither option is as much fun as walking (if you are mobile). Please note that like Hohenswangau photography is prohibited inside the castle so all pictures in this post will be of the exterior.
So why was this castle build in the first place? King Ludwig II ceased to be a sovereign ruler in 1866 after a war involving Austria, Prussia and Bavaria. This loss inspired him to create his own castles and to form a private kingdom, making up for this loss. He became quite reclusive and this was all part of his retreat into his imagination. One of his ideas was to build a new Hohenswangau which was to be, in his eyes, a more accurate version of a medieval castle. So drawing inspiration from Wartburg (another castle), the operas of Wagner and set designs by Christian Jank, the idea for Neuschwanstein was formed and building begain in 1868.
It was anticipated that the castle would be finished three years after construction began, but as is the case with all building projects it ran over schedule. Ludwig did move into the unfinished building but this was short only for a short period. He died soon afterwards and the castle was never finished. After his death the castle was named Neuschwanstein and was opened to the paying public. Since then it has drawn millions of visitors from all over the world who come to see where the Swan King lived.
If you arrive early for your tour there is plenty to do to pass the time. There is a small hotel and bar at the foot of the castle where you can get some deep fried dough balls covered in sugar. These were delicious and well-deserved after all the walking! Again the scenery is beautiful, only this time in addition to the countryside there is a great view into the mountains and the exterior of the castle itself. If is cold, like it was on this visit, you can get mug of Glühwein to warm up with.
For the brave there is also a viewing platform which you can walk out on to take photos of the front of the castle. Beware though, the floor is see-through and you can see down into the ravine below. I am terrified of heights but managed to make my way to the edge much to the delight of some fellow tourists laughing at the scared Irish girl who was muttering “no no no no” over and over again while her trusty companion tried to drag her out to take a look.
The castle itself was magnificent from the outside. It really did look like a fairytale castle. The turrets were beautiful and the whole place looked really magical against the backdrop of the snow-covered mountains. There are renovations taking place at the moment so part of the castle was covered in scaffolding, but it didn’t take away from the experience. From the courtyard you can see the Marienbrücke which is a bridge you can use to cross the Pöllat Gorge. It is said to have one of the best views of the castle but we ran out of time and did not get to visit it. If it gets too cold there is a room hidden at the side where you can sit and wait (read: nap) for your tour in relative warmth.
Like the other two castles I will just list some highlights as the interior really needs to be seen in person for the full sense of grandeur to be realised. Ludwig II was a notorious perfectionist (remember the spying telescope in Hohenswangau?) and this is evidenced throughout the castle.
- The Wall Murals: From the beginning of the tour to the Singer’s Hall at the end, there is barely a wall space untouched by beautiful, colourful wall murals. I found the castle quite dark and this, according to our guide, has helped preserve the paintings on the walls most of which are based on works by Wagner. There are also lots of swans included for those who enjoy the game of “count the swans”.
- The Throne Room: Although this castle does not have a billiard room, this is more than made up for by the magnificent throne room. It is a room unlike any I have even seen before. Inspired by Byzantine Churches it is what can only be described as a giant, gold, glittery status symbol. Everything in this room is larger than life, from the four meter high crown chandelier, to the murals of saints, kings and Jesus and the intricately tiled floor. One thing that is missing however, is the throne itself.
- Ludwig’s bedroom: I want this room. Simple. It is a beautifully designed room decorated with scenes from Tristan and Isolde. The bed looks like a Gothic cathedral and the dark oak panelling gives a warm, cosy feeling. The surprising thing about this room is the modern conveniences,it is an en-suite with an indoor flush toilet. There is also a washbasin with a silver covered swan tap. Now that is dedication to a theme!
- The Oratory: Ludwig was also very religious so to facilitate his prayers he built this sweet little oratory in a nook. The glass windows are beautiful and feature Louis IX of France.
- The Salon: Part of this room was said to be Ludwig’s favourite spot in the castle. I am not surprised as it was warm, comfortable and full of pictures and statues of swans. Ludwig was particularly drawn to the swan and it was his heraldic animal. You can read more about this in the post about Hohenswangau.
- The Grotto: This room is, in a word, random. After wandering though rooms of oak panelling and delicate murals there is a room designed to look like a stone cave. This artificial cave was designed by August Dirigl and it came with a waterfall and multi-coloured lighting. Utterly ridiculous, this room perfectly demonstrates the idea of magic and escapism that the castle is known for.
- The study and assistants office: Here you can see the original desk where Ludwig worked and his writing set. Also here can be found the first working telephone in Germany. This shows that despite his flair for the nostalgic, Ludwig was also a forward-thinking monarch who embraced new ideas and technology.
- Singers Hall: After the throne room this is the second most jaw-dropping room of the castle. Again is decorated beautifully with murals covering every inch of wall and ceiling. There is a stage set up with a delightful backdrop of a painted forest. According to our guide this was painted by a lessor known artist as the major painters avoided working with Ludwig due to his perfectionism. The room was build so that Ludwig could enjoy concerts in peace and solitude. Now members of the public can attend concerts here, for the right price!
The servants quarters, the dressing room and the staff kitchens.
Tips for Visiting:
- Get the bus in Füssen as soon after arriving by train as possible: The bus to the castles only goes from the train station every hour or so. Your only options apart from this are taxi hire (€10), bike rental or waiting an hour for the bus. Make sure you look up the return time and give yourself plenty of time to get to the bus stop.
- Pay attention to your tour time: It takes a lot of time to get between the two castles. This is the same whether you are walking, getting the bus or using a horse. If you miss your tour time, like we did, you have to go and queue up again to buy a new one and tickets are not cheap. This was the major drama of the day for us and was quite an expensive mistake.
- Food: There is food everywhere so do not panic. We ended up rushing a delicious lunch in the museum as we thought there would be no food near Neuschawanstein. We were wrong and you can get snacks outside and inside the castle’s cafe.
- Wrap up well: As you are up in the mountains it is very cold. You can purchase rain jackets and jumpers in shops at the castles but as your time is precious it is better to come prepared.
- Beware of snow globes: We purchased a snow globe and duly forgot about it until security at Munich airport found it. They still let us through but it is probably best if it goes in the hold or you declare it upfront.
So ends the three part mini series on Germany’s castles. I hope you enjoyed and and maybe are now planning a visit yourself!