For our last full day in Germany before returning to the USA, we decided to go on an excursion to see Schloss Neuschwanstein (translated literally: “Castle New Swan Stone”), the fairy tale castle of “Mad King Ludwig” (King Ludwig II) of Bavaria.
To get to Neuschwanstein we used the last of our 10-day Eurail Pass, taking the train from München Hauptbahnhof to Füssen, a Bavarian town at the foot of the Alps, just a stone’s throw from the Swiss border. From Füssen, we caught the bus to Hohenschwangau, a tinier Bavarian village, nestled between the two castles associated with King Ludwig II, Schloss Neuschwanstein and Schloss Hohenschwangau.
In this photo taken from Hohenschwangau you can see Schloss Neuschwanstein in the distance:
And just behind me as I took the photo above is the older castle and childhood residence of King Ludwig II, Schloss Hohenschwangau:
Over 2,000,000 people visit Hohenschwangau annually to tour the castles and most of them take the shuttle bus up for the guided tour package of the interiors of the two castles. Being contrarians by nature – and prefering to get a little exercise – we opted to hike up to Neuschwanstein and skip the tour. Up we go!
[Note: see those steps in the rock on the right? I’ll come back to them later.]
It was a leisurely and relatively uncrowded walk on the road up to the castle. The vegetation was so lush that there was little to see from the road until we reached the foot of the castle where we were pleasantly surprised by this view through the trees:
Although it looks medieval, Newschwanstein castle is relatively modern. Construction of the castle began in 1869, just three years after the Bavarians and Austrians had been defeated by the Prussians in the German Unification War. By 1884 the castle was complete enough to enable its creator and owner, King Ludwig II, to move in. And when I say, “creator,” that is exactly what he was. Rather than initially consulting an architect or builder, King Ludwig hired a theatrical stage designer to assist him in creating the plan for his castle, the purpose of which was to portray the themes of the operas of the composer, Richard Wagner.
After posing for the obligatory portrait at the shaded plaza at the base of the castle wall…
…we made our way up into the castle where the line formed for the tour of the interior by those who had arrived early enough to buy tickets. You can see the people queing up, below – they still had at least an hour or two wait from here. Like I said, we opted not to go inside.
From our vantage point above the crowd, we could see the upper courtyard (photo, below) and the palace building which was intended to ultimately be the King’s main living quarters. The castle was not built for any defensive or administrative purpose, nor as the royal court; it was to serve solely as King Ludwig’s residence and as a “temple of friendship” between the King and Richard Wagner, to whom it was dedicated. Unfortunately, Wagner died in 1883 without having ever visited Neuschwanstein and King Ludwig died just three years later under mysterious circumstances, having lived in his castle for a mere 172 days.
We continued our hike by retracing our steps out of the castle and then winding around the exterior to the path up to the Marienbrücke, the pedestrian bridge over the Pöllat Gorge. Here’s a view looking back at the castle as we leave it. From here, the path was more crowded since most visitors took the bus up to the Marienbrücke and then walked downhill to the castle.
Unlike the walk up to the castle, the views of the Bavarian Alps above the castle were stunning.
Here’s the Marienbrücke where King Ludwig was reputed to have gone daily to admire his creation.
And this was his view from the bridge, as it was ours. From this vantage point you can see why it is rumored that Neuschwanstein castle was the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disney’s Fantasyland theme parks.
As I said, the walk up to the castle and the pedestrian bridge had been a rather easy one, but by now we were tiring of the crowds and hungering for some exercise, so I convinced Dale to follow me down a footpath, rather than returning on the road. It started off well.
But, as we continued, the path became narrower and narrower and then petered out completely, leaving us to bushwack our way back to where we again broke through the underbrush to find the road – right at the spot I pointed out earlier in this post! We continued across the road and found another trail down. This time, Dale took the lead.