Saturday, 26 April 2014

The fairy-tale Bavarian castles: Neuschwanstein and Linderhof

In Germany being punctual is the norm, and it is always expected of you. I had heard this before, so I left my friend's apartment near Munich's Ostbahnhof early. I hadn't taken into consideration, though, that on weekends there are fewer trains than on weekdays, so I had to wait 8 minutes for my S-bahn train to Munich Hauptbahnhof, where my bus tour of the Bavarian castles was waiting for me.

When I arrived at the station, I looked at the watch: I would meet my bus right on time, at 8.30 sharp, not bad for an Italian. After all, we are not very famous for being on time, are we? Little did I know that I would be the last to join my tour, the lady in charge crossing out my name and then telling the driver to leave! Ah, these German people, are they even human?

Jokes aside, I usually dislike bus tours: you are told when to stop for lunch and how long to spend in one place or the other, and if your are a minute late, you might find the bus leaving without you. When I was given a complimentary ticket for a tour of the Bavarian castles, however, I couldn't complain: I was saving the 23€ of the train ticket, and what's more I would be visiting not one but two castles, while learning something about them on the way.
After a very scenic drive through the Bavarian Alps, the bus finally parked in what seemed to be a quiet spot in the middle of nowhere. "Our first stop is Schloss Linderhof", the tour guide announced, "the only castle that King Ludwig II saw completed in his short life".

Schloss Linderhof, from the top
Schloss Linderhof

King Ludwig II of Bavaria was going to be the recurrent "preoccupation" of our tour guide: was he mad or just eccentric? The history of this man, utterly disinterested in state affairs but obsessed with architecture and Richard Wagner, fascinates me.  He was declared mentally ill, probably because  his passion for building fairy-tale castles had indebted the country. He was found dead, mysteriously drowned in a lake in Munich the day after having been declared mentally ill and unfit to reign. He lived in the 19th century, thus he was a contemporary, and a dear friend, of princess Sissi.

Linderhof  is perhaps lesser known than Neuschwanstein, but it is equally interesting. When I arrived, though, I was a little disappointed, and thought that the building in front of me had to be just a small annexe to a bigger palace that I couldn't see. Linderhof Castle is in fact really small compared to other royal castles in Europe, like Versailles or Windsor castle. Do take the time to watch it from the top of the fountain and the formal gardens, though. The impression you get from up there is completely different. I had never seen a royal palace so isolated in the mountains: I think it must have been really peaceful and pleasant to live here.

Schloss Linderhof 2 (Germany)
Schloss Linderhof seen from the top of the gardens

Schloss Linderhof (Germany)
Formal gardens in Linderhof

Inside, the palace is decorated with gold throughout. My eyes were seriously hurting from so much sparkle. No wonder that Ludwig indebted himself in order to build these castles! Since Ludwig had an admiration for Louis XIV he tried to replicate the style of Versailles, in particular the gold of the decorations. The king also expressly wanted his servants to wear 18th-century liveries, and he was transported on the artificial Venus grotto with a boat in the shape of a shell. Ludwig was very shy and didn't like to have guests, but those who were so lucky as to dine with him were for sure impressed by his dining table, which lowered into the floor to be laden with food by the servants downstairs. How extravagant! Pictures inside the palace were not allowed, but I'll steal an image from flickr because I'm sure you'll be in awe at all that gold.
Inside Schloss Linderhof
Inside Linderhof (Picture by Rod, retrieved on flickr)

After visiting the castle I took my time climbing the formal gardens until the top, observing the fountain's impressive water jet, activated every thirty minutes. Afterwards, I had a look at a small church with a wooden roof that had little to do with the rococo decorations of Linderhof. I wonder why they didn't take us to the grotto or to the Moorish kiosk, or at least pointed us to it after the short tour. Maybe they were closed or under restoration, who knows! Moreover, some parts at the back of the castle had flowerbeds with no flowers planted, and the statues were still covered to protect them from the harsh winter. I suggest that if you decide to visit Linderhof, you do it in summer, and not in spring like I did!

The second stop on our tour was Oberamerggau, a village very close  to the castle. The village itself is cute, but honestly I got bored during my time there. Sure, there are some houses and hotels with some nice traditional frescoes on the walls (they are called Lüftlmalerei in German), but aside from that, only souvenir shops. I guess this was the shopping stop. There is also a big theatre in Oberamerggau, because every ten years a big passion play is performed, and all the people in the village are involved.

Painted houses in Oberammergau

After the shopping stop, we arrived at a small village that seems to live entirely off the tourists that come to visit Schloss Neuschwanstein. As a matter of fact, I could see the famous castle in  the distance, eerily nestled on a mountain top. This is where we had lunch, and I indulged in a currywurst with French fries. Strangely enough, this is also where you buy your tickets to the castle, and you'll have to give them the precise time of the day when you want to start your tour.

neuschwanstein seen from the village
Neuschwanstein seen from the village

I didn't realize at first, but at the back of the village there is another castle, Hohenschwangau. Somehow less impressive than Neuschwanstein, it was completely ignored by my bus tour. Poor Hohenschwangau, I feel bad for it and I wish I had time to visit it or learn more about it! There is also a peaceful lake that I would have liked to explore if I had more time. I have heard there are hiking trails and wild swans!

Alpsee, the lake in the village of Hohenschwangau near the castle

Our guide, a jovial German lady who slowed down her English to the point of sounding ridiculous, explained the several possibilities we had to reach Neuschwanstein: either hike to the castle, take a horse carriage, or take a bus and stop at the famous footbridge that allows you to take the breath-taking pictures of the castle you see in every postcard. There was not enough time to hike to the bridge, I guess. I chose to see the bridge, excited as I was by the photo opportunities. The bus driver drove like crazy up the mountain, and sooner than I expected there I was, at the famous footbridge. The view is spectacular, but the bridge was very crowded, because everybody wants a picture in front of the famous fairy-tale castle.

In front of Neuschwanstein Castle, on the footbridge

When I arrived at the castle itself, after a short pleasant hike, I actually saw the footbridge from the other side and I thought: "was I really over there? Why wasn't I scared?". As a matter of fact, the bridge is situated on a high point over a waterfall. I was really early for my tour of the castle, so I sat down and looked at the people who entered to visit. So many Japanese people! Neuschwanstein is the number-one tourist attraction in Germany, and it receives more visitors than Berlin! I find it very ironic that King Ludwig II was harshly criticised and even declared mad for spending money to build this palace, and now the state makes so much money out of it!

Tower in Neuschwanstein (Germany)
A tower of Schloss Neuschwanstein

In the courtyard of Neuschwanstein
In the courtyard of Neuschwanstein Castle
During the compulsory 25-minute guided tour (12€) you'll have the opportunity to see for yourself how Ludwig designed the entire castle to his taste, personally approving every detail of the architecture and of the decorations. He loved reading, so he designed some reading spots for himself: secluded, private, and charming. The walls are decorated with paintings representing various German sagas, like Tristan und Isolde, because the king was a fan of them. Again, pictures were not allowed, but I'll steal one.
Inside of Neuschwanstein.
Inside Neuschwansteing (picture by Jen K, retrieved on flickr)
The throne room eerily looks like a Byzantine church, complete with golden mosaics representing some of Ludwig's favourite kings. I think it looks creepy that Ludwig compared himself to the Byzantine emperors. While the castle is in a Romanesque style, Ludwig's bedroom is in Gothic style, and entirely chiselled in wood. The guide kept a count of how many days Ludwig II spent in this bedroom, to give an idea of how much the king liked to move from one castle to the other. Everything inside the castle is very extravagant, even the wallpapers. Even though Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for Disneyland's Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty castles, while you're visiting it seems it's the other way around, because this castle is linked to fairy-tales in our minds. You can fantasise about the life at the castle, sitting on the throne that was never built - Ludwig died way too soon for the palace to be completed - and looking out at the mysterious mountains. There is a fake cave, a romantic terrace with a sensational view of the surrounding mountains often engulfed with mist, and much more.

I walked out of the castle feeling empowered by this medieval magic fairy-tale land that Ludwig had created. I think he was a genius, with vision. A bit of an egomaniac perhaps, but still impressive.

Another picture of Neuschwanstein


  1. Wow both castles are breathtaking - and interesting! I didn't know Linderhof was so ostentatious inside!!!

  2. These are majestic pieces of architecture. Your pictures make them look very worthy of a visit.

    I can understand your apprehension to coach tours, waiting on other people and having your timetable dictated to you. At least you get a professional tour guide and can learn a lot more than doing it yourself.

    As for Germans being prompt and on time, I'm all for it. I wish more people had this tendency.

  3. woow what a great post , nice pictures too

    amazing , and fantastic area

  4. Great post and this castle is so beautiful! I found a post, 50 beautiful castles these castles are so amazing. When do you plan write your next post about castles. thank you :)


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