Every young person you meet these days will tell you to ‘stay off the beaten track when travelling’; they’ll you that the only way is the Alt Way and that those major tourist buzz sites are probably a let down. Now, I had that in the back of my mind when I set off to visit one of the Most Visited castles in Europe. Don’t go where hundreds of tourist are waving their iPads and SLRs and a tonne of tour buses rock up every day, it’ll be crowded, over-priced and not worth the hype- right?
In the case of Neuschwanstein that was so wrong! And I must say I’m thankful because getting there was a hike. So it’s around four hours, sometimes a little more, from my part of Bavaria to the famed Alpine region right in the south. We set off nice and early on a Bayern Ticket* but had managed to forget that they are only valid after 9am- cue panic, fines and bundling off the train asap in the town of Augsburg. We patiently waited until after nine, which now wasn’t long at all, re-grouped and re-drew-out some cash and then set off again. From Augsburg southwards the train gets smaller and the journey gets more beautiful- lush green expanses, beautiful big lakes with classic towns nestled on the edges, Buzzards and Hawks swooping overhead and the alps just peaking up in the distance. We had a short delay at a tiny station and the train driver let us hop out into the sunshine. It was tiny, quiet and very idyllic, with fields rolling off in every direction and the Alps now looming behind us to make for great photos. I can’t describe how excited the sight of mountains made me, since there are not even many hills in my part of Bavaria it was refreshing to see something so beautiful and jagged breaking up the skyline.
Despite the tiny train station, the town of Füssen was bigger than I thought and the station had lockers for our luggage, which was a great result. Every type of tourist can be seen here, if you want to go tourist spotting: you’ve got the mountain bikers heading into the hills, the European families enjoying the scenery, the half-coach-loads of Asian tourists, the buzzing groups of school trips and exchange students, those with their rucksacks strapped to their backs and those with the heels still on their feet. As you exit the small town, made mostly of hotels and restaurants, you start to climb into the feet of the mountains, and wind towards an even smaller town; Hohen Schwangau. I’m not even sure if it’s really a town, a village or just rather a collection of tourist attractions. The town itself climbs the hill slowly, building by building, all of them beautiful and in traditional style, with enough photo opportunities to satisfy even the most snap happy. There are hotels, numerous souvenir shops, restaurants galore and even a ‘luxury shopping village’ (yea, don’t even ask). I didn’t even know where to look, the mountains are draping over with their snowy peaks in sight and there are two vast lakes visible from the town, two castles are immediately obvious, there are horses trotting past and a stunning view unfolding from behind. It’s scenery porn for the scenery deprived.
The two castles are Schloß Hohen Schwangau, an impressive egg-yolk colour building sitting in full sunny glory just above the town, and the snowy tips of Schloß Newschwanstein just visible through the trees, perched high above. We walked up the hill slowly, enjoying every little stream and mostly every ray of sunshine- it’s been a long winter- winding closer to the enchanted castle until we reached the viewing platform. I will agree, there are a lot of people up there, you could definitely go somewhere quieter, but I didn’t mind the buzz at all. There are a million photo opportunities for you to elbow your way towards, and not without good reason because the scenery is stunning and very refreshing but sometimes it’s just better to actually look around and take it in, peak round corners and over edges, rather than fighting for the selfie-moment.
The castle itself is fairytale-esque, serene and white with high reaching turrets and picturesque windows; it’s such a Disney moment, you can see why it inspired him. It’s €11 (student) to get inside the castle, rather than to just gaze on the outside, and we decided to make a day of it. I definitely considered the view worth it. The inside was never finished by King Ludwig and his workers, and you can definitely see why; everything is painfully intricate and individual. The colours even in the servants’ quarters are stunning, it is considered fairly modern for its time, and it certainly has a modern-ish feel to it, it doesn’t feel stuffy. Some of the rooms are dark and opulent, richly decked with heavy gold and velvet cloth and tall wall paintings. All of the walls hold scenes inspired by operas and are painted directly to the wall rather than hung as individual paintings. Other rooms are light and lavish in their sparkle, light is played by beautiful coloured glass and swans, porcelain, painted, carved, are to be found in their hundreds, as they were the kings favourite animal. In the concert hall at the highest point of the tour there is an unprecedented amount of gold adorn the light, airy room, concerts are sometimes still held here against the magical backdrop of a painted forest scene- designed to appear as if you’re walking into a real forest. There is even a man-made cave on the third or fourth floor; a grotto designed by the lavish King, with incredibly convincing stalagmites and stalactites climbing and protruding around the window frames, chairs and a table. There is an unreal amount of luxury to take in and you certainly get the sense of what incredible creativity (and wealth) he possessed.
The area all around the castle is dream-like too. You can trip up the soft wooded hill and onto a bridge breaching a gorge. You land up almost on a level with the castle, a few hundred metres up the mountain from it, with yet another incredible photo just floating before your eyes, the whole of southern Bavaria sprawling out behind the pebble-coloured vision. There are lots of trails and circular walks you could do if you have the time. But we settled for that one, a short horse and carriage ride down the hill and a brief spell by the lake. It’s a stunning, clear lake with a wonderful back drop of more snowy peaked mountains and dense forest below. I must suggest only dipping your toes in, in the height of summer though. I forgot this is probably fed by glacier water; I felt like it was ripping my feet off.
*these are great regional tickets in Germany that can get you pretty damn far for €22, and the more people you travel with the better value it becomes. If you want an article or tips on travelling in Germany, give me a message or comment and I’d love to!