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What’s better than visiting a fairytale castle? How about visiting THE fairytale castle that inspired the Disney castles? Or visiting TWO castles! And a nursery rhyme village. In winter. Maybe it’s because I’ve never had to shovel the stuff (coming from a place that doesn’t snow), but in my opinion, everything looks more magical when covered by a blanket of soft white snow (OK, even I agree that the half melted, gray, icy stuff isn’t quite so appealing).
King Ludwig II, the so called “mad king” of Bavaria, was so impressed by the palace at Versailles that he strove to achieve the same architectural excellence in Bavaria. During his reign, he oversaw the construction of 3 palaces – the Romanesque fortress Neuschwanstein, the neo-French Rococo style Linderhof, and the partial replica of Versailles Herrenchiemsee.
King Ludwig II ordered Neuschwanstein Castle to be built on a mountaintop not far from his childhood home, Hohenschwangau Castle. It is said that he had seen the peak and envisioned building a castle on it since he was just a young boy. Linderhof Castle is situated just over an hour east of Neuschwanstein. And between the 2 (closer to Linderhof) is the charming little town of Oberammergau, famous for the hand painted frescoes on many of the village buildings depicting religious stories or nursery rhymes. The other thing that Oberammergau is famous for is the Passion Play, first staged in 1634 after the villagers made a vow to God to produce a Passion Play every 10 years if they were spared from the effects of the bubonic plague which was then sweeping across Europe. Today, the Passion play is a famous tourist attraction with performances running roughly between mid May and early October in years ending with a “0”. This means that the next Passion Play will be in 2020, and yup – you bet it’s on my bucket list!
But I digress – what all this means is, you have within about 50km distance from each other and 130km from Munich, 3 castles and a charming little village, making for a fun and unforgettable day trip from Munich! Unfortunately, Herrenchiemsee is much further, about 180km east of Neuschwanstein, so you won’t be able to visit it on the same day. But there’s plenty to see and do anyway without adding yet another castle to the list. Besides, why visit a partial replica of Versailles? Pop over to Paris and make a day trip to the real thing instead! You can read all about it here.
I can’t remember which company I went with, but there are several offering day tours from Munich to Neuschwanstein. As it was winter, I decided not to bother with trying to work out bus or train timetables. Hotel pick up and drop off so I can stay warm while it’s snowing and still dark outside? Yes please! Indeed, I remember it being still dark when my coach left Munich, though I’m not sure if this is because it was early or just that it was winter, ie shorter days.
The good thing about winter is that it’s low tourist season and therefore fairly easy to hook yourself up with day tours. I booked my tour with the tourist information centre when I got into Munich just a day or 2 prior. If you’re there in summer though, you may need to look into this earlier. Or consider hiring a car or working out train/bus schedules if you like more flexibility.
Anyway, the first stop was Linderhof Castle, where we got a guided tour. It was elegant and all, but I remember feeling only impatience at this point. I just couldn’t wait to get to Neuschwanstein! Did I mention Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for the Disney castles?
Our next stop, however, did catch my fancy. This is where the flexibility of independent travel surely trumps the convenience of a coach tour. While I would have loved to stop and walk around taking photos of the many lovely frescoes, the coach simply whisked us merrily along while the tour guide cheerfully announced the inspiration behind each mural in rapid succession. If you join a similar tour, I suggest keeping your finger on your shutter button. Or maybe bring a video camera.
The bus finally stopped at this cafe, where we were advised to try the hot chocolate.
Truth be told, I would have much rather walked around the village photographing a few of the frescoes we had just whizzed past. But my travel companion wanted hot chocolate. So hot chocolate it was.
Finally we were trundling off to the main event itself. Ever noticed how these day tours build up the anticipation by taking you to several lesser known sights before finally taking you to the thing you most want to see? Probably just as well, I suppose.
Now, if you’re there on your own, you might have time to visit both Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein Castles. But on this particular tour, there was only time for 1 of them. The good thing is that the entry ticket to the castle was organised by the tour operator. So all I had to do was make sure I got to the castle entrance on time as they have timed entries. Since I had a bit of time to spare and because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to visit Hohenschwangau, I contented myself with just taking a few photos of it.
Yes, I used to have a thing for taking crooked photos and no, I’m not proud of it. I used to pass it off as artistic license, but now I think I was simply too lazy to put in the effort of taking well aligned shots. No matter because I’ll be returning to Neuschwanstein again this winter, yay!
So there are only 2 ways to get up to Neuschwanstein castle – on foot or horse and carriage. I chose to walk so that I could take photos like this one.
You also pass a few cafés and restaurants along the way.
Nearly there! Part of a spire is missing but you get the idea.
At last we are standing in the inner courtyard waiting for our turn to be taken on a guided tour.
I don’t remember if we weren’t allowed to take any photos during the tour, but for some reason, the only photos I have from inside the castle are of views outside the castle.
Can’t complain. The views were rather spectacular.
Needless to say, I went home that day with the princess in me feeling immensely satisfied.
Have you been to Hohenschwangau or Herrenchiemsee? If so, do let me know how they compare to Linderhof and Neuschwanstein?
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