In the footsteps of Ludwig II
When one thinks about Bayern there is no way Schloss Neuschwanstein doesn’t come in mind, after all it’s the best known landmark from Bayern, and perhaps even from Germany. These castles are some of the heritages from King Ludwig II of Bavaria, also known as the fairy tail king.
On many occasions Vladi had told stories from his visits to Schloss Neuschwanstein, Schloss Lindenhof and Chiemsee. He told me many stories about King Ludwig II and every time he talked about the castles I saw a twinkle in his eyes.
Located in southern Germany, close to the Austrian border, it is in the center of the Allgäuer und Tiroler Mountains, full of opportunities for an active holiday combined with sightseeing of those famous places.
We decided to visit Schloss Neuschwanstein and Schloss Lindenhof and do some hiking in the area. I found a nice place to stay in Pfronten, not far from both castles and very near to excellent walking trails.
A new adventure was in the making.
Sunday morning, the last one in August, after breakfast we packed the Jag and started our 606 kilometre long journey to the Alpenlandhaus in Pfronten, our home for the next 6 nights. It was the first time we used the Jag for a holiday trip and I was extremely anxious for the ride. Things went fine and as expected we got our fair share of traffic jams and “Baustellen” but then, to be honest, is was a rather smooth ride.
We arrived around four in the afternoon and after our bags were unpacked went straight to a beergarten not far away. We enjoyed a couple of weizenbeers after which we ordered kasespatzle, a local speciality which was truly filling and tasty. We finished of with a local schnapps after we returned to our pension for an early night. The only thing left was a bit of reading and a bit of music, Pfronten had to wait till tomorrow as it was enough for today. It had been a while since I drove over 600 kilometres and both of us felt a bit tired.
The next day started with a truly sumptuous breakfast. When in Bayern “ein frisches brottschen mit leberworst” should be part of the first meal of the day so both of us opted for that delicacy.When we woke up the valley was covered in mist but after breakfast the sun was shining from a bright blue sky. We were ready for our first hike, so we thought…
It was only a short walk from our home stay to the valley station of the cable car that brought us up to 1500 meters at the start of our hike. The views during the ride were absolutely breathtaking, a great appetiser of what was to come.
The start of our hike was quite easy as although the mountains were straight in front of us our path lead us downhill again into the forest.Things were quite smooth but soon Vladi questioned whether we were going the right way as it was getting more difficult to walk after each step. However, our Komodo’s map confirmed we were going the tight direction. 500 meter further we arrived at a proper path which once again lead us uphill, the beginning of a long and steep climb.
We passed some small waterfalls and not much later we arrived at the bottom of a steep ski slope, although right now it was covered by a stunning looking green carpet. Green was the local colour anyway as I was amazed how fresh everything was over here compared with the dry and brown fields at home.
At the top of the slope things got really interesting and by now Vladi was constantly complaining and wasn’t sure whether he could manage the steep climb. But he did and at the top of our climb both of us were rewarded with a stunning view. All that was left was a descent that at times was even worse than the ascend.
By now we had just hiked over 5 kilometres, something which normally would have been a piece of cake but today was different. Fortunately we arrived at some easier going paths but the steep ascends and climbs were still part of our journey, and so were the breathtaking views.
Finally we arrived at the top of the stairlift which would have brought us back to to cable car but instead we decided to continue our walk to the Osterley Hutte at 1830 meters where we enjoyed a well deserved beer. Then we started our 30 minute descend to the stairlift and instead of hiking down we enjoyed the scenic ride.
The next step was the descend into the valley where once again we opted for the easy way of the cable car. Back in the valley we returned to our home stay, exhausted but very happy with the experience.
After a refreshing shower we returned to Gasthof Lowen for a glass of local wine and an excellent meal. Tired but satisfied we returned to or home, Alpenhaus, and it did not take long before both of us fell asleep.
Schloss Linderhof and beyond
After breakfast we loaded the car and set the destination to Schloss Linderhof, the favourite place to stay of Koning Ludwig II. Shortly after we left we crossed the border with Austria where we followed the shores of the Plansee. It was a stunning lake, completely clear and the perfect mirror to reflect the surrounding mountains. The scenery was truly breathtaking and could have been the target of our journey, but we had other plans for the day.
We continued our drive, surrounded by pine forest and not much later arrived at Schloss Linderhof. We parked the Jag and headed towards the palace which was located in a breathtaking landscaped park. First we saw the small Moroccan house. The pavilion was acquired at the World exhibition in Paris in 1878 and remodelled on King Ludwigs request. After his death it was moved to different locations but reconstructed in the palace park in 1998. For us it was to first of many wonders to unravel this morning.
A bit further we got the first glimpse of Schloss Linderhof. It is the smallest of the three palaces built on order from King Ludwig, and also the only one to be completed before his death. In front of it was a wonderful garden full of sculptures and a pond with a 15-20 meter high fountain that runs every 30 minutes and needs no pump to function, a Marvell of technology.
The decorations at the palace were rich and exquisite, but only a small hint of what was to be expected inside the baroque castle.
Our tour started at noon and after we witnessed a homage to the Sun King in France in the entrance hall we went upstairs to the music room. To be honest I was blown away by the richness of the decoration, One did not know where to look and there were so many details screaming for attention it would be a restless place for me to live.
We were led through several other rooms, including the famous mirror room towards King Ludwigs beds room, a massive room where the emerald blue bed functioned as a centrepiece. How much richness could there be in one room, it was completely overwhelming.
The dining room of the king contained a table that could sink in the room below where the 7-12 course dinners for Ludwig were nicely laid out on the table before it was brought back up. This way he did not have to face his servants.
After half an hour the tour was over and completely stunned we left the building, only to see a giant well coming down from the stairs, leading towards the pond at the other side of the palace. It was exactly the waterfall faving Ludwig’s bedroom.
We continued our walk through the park towards the Moorish Pavillion. We could get a glimpse of the beauty inside, with fantastic coloured glass windows and richly decorated moorish furniture.
Our visit to Schloss Linderhof certainly was worthwhile, we had enjoyed every single minute of it.
Spontaneously we decided to visit the Wieskirche in Steingaden which was not far away. We were now driving with the roof down so we could absorb the surrounding landscape even more.
The Wieskirche was surrounded by green fields and it’s simple looks blended in completely with it’s surroundings. Inside this Unesco monument things were slightly different.
There was an excess of pompous religious art and a ceiling painting which seemed to come down on the walls. Lots of golden details of course which had to show off the richness of the Rococo church, which was built in 1740 by two brothers and now is a pilgrimage place as well as a tourist attraction.
Beautiful perhaps but for the both of us it was a bit too much of everything, the contrast between the outside and inside could not have been bigger but we could not stop thinking the money could have been spent much better.
We had a typical Bavarian lunch accompanied by a Weissen beer (alcohol free for me) before we returned to our hotel. On the way there we passed Schloss Neuschwanstein which majestic location in the mountains could not be missed.
As the weather was perfect we decided to go there and make some pictures of the exterior as the weather for the rest of the week was not that promising.
We took a bus which brought us closer to the castle and then walked to the Marienbrucke which was the ideal spot to view the castle. At this time of the day the light was perfect and I was extremely glad with our decision.
We walked down to the castle to enjoy it’s entrance. The interior still remained a mystery to us as we had booked a tour on Thursday so we had to be a bit more patient.
Back in Hohenschwangau we enjoyed a refreshing lemon sorbet with Prosecco before heading home. Having been able to see Schloss Neuschwanstein in such perfect conditions truely was the icing on the cake of a more than perfect day.
In the evening we went to a local pizzeria where we were served the most disappointing pizza we could remember, one can’t be lucky all the time! A good excuse to wash away the pizza with a Beer in the biergarten we had visited before.
The forecast for the next day was not good and when we watched out of our window after we woke up we unfortunately found out the forecast had been right for a change.
We enjoyed our breakfast after which we returned to our room. It was raining more heavy now so we opted for a lazy morning, not a bad idea after two days filled with exercise. I completed my diary and both of us listened to some music.
It kept on raining for most of the day so we did not leave our room until 16:00 for a short stroll in the village.
A bit later we returned to Gasthof Lowen for a great dinner of Bavarian specialities.
Forced by the weather it had been an extremely relaxing day so we could recover from the activities the first two days. We could only hope things would be better the next day.
The castles of the King
Not sure what the weather would do we had booked some additional indoor activities for the day. After breakfast we returned to Hohenschwangau. Our first stop was, a 19th-century palace in southern Germany. It was the childhood residence of King Ludwig II of Bavaria and was built by his father, King Maximilian II of Bavaria.
It looked rather modest compared to Schloss Neuschwanstein which we could see higher up in the mountains and although we had originally not planned to visit the castle we had decided differently.
We climbed the stairs leading up the mountain where the castle was located and enjoyed the breathtaking views over the Alpsee. THe weather was completely green and added a different shade of green to the lush landscape.
The tour through the castle was rather interesting and it was nice to see the environment where Germany’s most famous king spent much of his childhood. The different quarters all had their unique atmosphere and while the quarters of the king were richly decorated with heroic scenes the quarters of the queen were more romantic and feminine in atmosphere.
Our guide could have been a bit more proactive, his stories and explanations sounded like a pre-recorded tape, all in a very thick Southern German, almost Austrian accent.
I was glad to have visited the castle though as it gave a better understanding of where Ludwig II came from when he was crowned at the age of 18 as his father suddenly died. Not being prepared for his royal duties he focussed more on music and art and started to build the palaces that gave him his nickname, the fairytale king.
Once the tour was completed we enjoyed a special “kaffee und kuchen”, as it was my 61st birthday after all. How special to celebrate with the man I love in an extremely romantic environment.
Then we took the bus up the hill to the highlight of the day, Schloss Neuschwanstein. As we were early for our tour we went to the Schloss restaurant for a bite to eat and something to drink. Time passed by quickly so we headed back to the entrance to start our tour. Fortunately our guide was more passionate than the last one and we were amused by her stories but even more so by the things we saw. Completely overwhelmed by what we saw, the throne hall, the bed room, the music room and a few others.
Neuschwanstein was never completed as King Ludwig II died at the age of 40 (or should I say was killed at the age of 40) and was never able to finish both Schloss Neuschwanstein and Herren Chiemsee. Neither could he start his 4th project which was supposed to be built at the ruins of Falkenstein.
His life was a tragedy indeed and although he had a vision to create extraordinary places he never seemed happy. The truth will never be known although his death is surrounded by many speculations.
The tour through Schloss Neuschwanstein was absolutely magic, the only downside was that the group was too large and the pace too high. I would have loved to hear more stories from our guide and more time to absorb the details of all the rooms we visited. A slight inside of the fairy tail created by King Ludwig II, one can only imagine what the place would have looked like once completed.
Once outside the castle we slowly walked downhill to the center of Hohenschwangau where we enjoyed a drink before we continued to the museum of the king. The museum was well laced out and we saw a lot of artefacts from the life of Ludwig II and his family. Interesting newspaper stories about him being declared insane and unfit to rule, three days before his suspicious death.
We could not skip a small celebration for my birthday and enjoyed a prosecco with lemon sorbet before we headed to our hotel.
In the evening we had a typical Bavarian dinner, made a short stroll through the village and had a final drink in a luxury hotel. It had been a stunning day.
About ruins and a broken dream
Time was flying back quickly and when we woke up we realised it already was our last dat in Pfronten. The weather was splendid so we decided to combine sightseeing with a hike in the valley.
Our first stop was the ruin of Falkenstein Castle, in the Bavarian Alps, not far from where we stayed. At 1,277 metres (4,190 ft) above sea level, it is Germany’s highest castle. King Ludwig II of Bavaria purchased the ruin in 1883 and planned to construct his fourth castle, but the plans were abandoned upon his death in 1886, a dream was broken.
The drive towards the parking lot below the castle was so narrow it had to be regulated. During 45 minutes traffic could only go up, and during 10 minutes traffic was allowed to come down. The street was extremely narrow, extremely steep and to make things worse there were no barriers keeping us safe from the abyss beside us. I navigated the jag slowly up in a much slower pace than usual and did not dare to look down at the depth beside us, one steering failure….
Once up the view was breathtaking, both of us fantasised about how things could have been if only King Ludwig II would have been able to fulfil his dream, we honestly think Neuschwanstein would have meant nothing if this place would have been completed.
The way down was as adventurous as going up but we made it safely down and were now ready for our next adventure. We drove to a parking lot between Zell and Eisenberg, left the Jag behind and started our hike.
Once again we were blown away by how green the whole place was, such a beautiful environment. Although our walk was in the valley it did not mean we had to follow steep paths, we did not care as the environment was simply breathtaking.
It was a varied hike between alp fields with majestic views, dense forests and steep hills. We had to backtrack once near a small lake as the path simply was to overgrown to continue, fortunately the map showed an alternative and not much later we were back on track.
The second ruin we encountered today was the remains of Hohenfreyberg Castle which, together with Eisenberg Castle directly opposite, forms a castle group in the southern Allgäu that is visible from a long way off. The late mediaeval hilltop castle was abandoned during the Thirty years’ war and set on fire. Because of the there was not much left but it was a nice break on our hike.
About 10 minutes further on we arrived at the Ruin of Castle Eisenberg but once again there was not much left so we continued our hike. Not much later we arrived at a “stube” where we sat at the terrace outside in the sun and enjoyed a drink and a bacon pancake.
From here it was another two kilometres back to the jag and an additional couple of kilometres back to the hotel where we enjoyed a well deserved break.
In the evening we returned to Gastenhof Lowe, our favourite place in Pfronten for our farewell dinner. Time was up, one more night and the long drive home awaited us.
What a wonderful tip it had been, both of us felt extremely happy and satisfied, Bayern had definitely taken a place in our hearts.
The journey home
The times it was a joy to drive the German Autobahn must be as ancient as Ludwig II. It rapidly changed from myth to nightmare.
It took us 7 1/2 hours for 606 kilometres and there was nothing the Jag could do to that!
We seemed to drive from construction work to construction work (24/7 is unheard of in Germany, no wonder it takes that long) and obviously we had our share of traffic jams which magically seemed to dissolve as fast as they appeared without any obvious reason for their miserable excistance…
Signs for changing speeds were more frequent then the Ausfahrt”signed and it times there were several speedliits within a couple of hundred meters, it really drove me craze as at times I did really have no clue of what the current speed limit was.
The surface at times was a patchwork of detoriated concrete which seemed to become worse the further we drove north, what happened to the good old times of last century where everything still was fine. Who has been sleeping?
Ow well, we finally made it back to Remscheid 7 1/2hours after departure, time for a well deserved drink and think of our fabulous week in Bayern!