Report

Exploring Bavaria’s castles

Ludwig II of Bavaria was a solitary dreamer, little interested in affairs of state who devoted his brief reign to edifying extravagant projects in the shape of ever grander and more luxurious castles. Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee, three palaces he built during his lifetime, bear witness to both the ambition and the eccentricity that characterised this “fairy tale king”.

Neuschwanstein castle

Neuschwanstein is the epitome of a fairy-tale castle with its bristling turrets and keep, to such an extent that Walt Disney himself modelled Sleeping Beauty’s castle on its distinctive skyline, even borrowing it for the legendary logo of his studios. Inspired by medieval fortresses, Neuschwanstein castle is the centrepiece of the series of palaces designed by the fertile imagination of the king of Bavaria. High perched amid countryside, it faces the Neogothic castle of Hohenschwangau where Ludwig II spent his childhood.

The construction of Neuschwanstein began in 1869, five years after the coronation of young Ludwig II at the age of 18. The melancholic, introverted young man had no taste for politics and spent his reign designing castles and neglecting affairs of state, whilst dilapidating his fortune on this costly pastime.

In addition to the medieval era, Ludwig II of Bavaria was also a fan of Richard Wagner, of whom he was the greatest patron. Neuschwanstein is riddled with tributes to the German composer’s operas, among which the artificial grotto on the third floor which depicts the Lohengrin legend and the throne hall devoted to that of Tannhäuser. Ludwig spent little more than a hundred days in the castle, which was only completely finished in 1892, four years after his death.

Le château de Neuschwanstein, Bavière
©imageBROKER/hemis.fr

 

Linderhof castle

The romantic king was also a fervent admirer of Louis XIV of France. The Petit Trianon in the Versailles gardens was the inspiration for the plans of the cosy Baroque palace of Linderhof, built from 1874 to 1878. The royal villa, set in immense grounds, was the only edifice to be completed during the king’s lifetime. The young king used to come here to seek refuge, spending most of his time entirely alone, living at night and sleeping during the day. To avoid contact with the servants, he even equipped his dining room with a mechanism that made it possible to raise the table from the kitchen on the ground-floor to his dining room upstairs.

One of the highlights of the park is the Grotto of Venus, an artificial cave (scheduled to reopen after renovation in 2018) studded with stalactites and equipped with a colour lighting system that was revolutionary at the time. This folly was intended to serve as a set for Wagner’s operas…

Le château de Linderhof, Bavière
©Hoffmann Photography/age fotostock

 

Herrenchiemsee castle

Ludwig II’s last great project was Herrenchiemsee Castle on the Herreninsel island of Chiem Lake. The first stone of this lavish palace, a replica of the castle of Versailles in France with an interior depicted by a lavish profusion of gilt work and mirrors, was laid in 1878. The Bavarian king even went so far to install a state bedroom, aping the French Sun King, who invited a certain number of faithful courtesans to see him arising and going to bed, and a Hall of Mirrors that was lit by 2,000 candles at nightfall. The Bavarian monarch however only spent a few nights in his unfinished castle.

Le château de d'Herrenchiemsee, Bavière
©fotofritz16/iStock

 

The king’s architectural follies having led to his bankruptcy, he was declared mad and imprisoned in the castle of Berg. He was discovered dead the day after his arrival when his body and that of his personal physician were found mysteriously drowned in the waters of the nearby Starnberg Lake.

Ludwig II however had no lack of other ambitious building projects in the pipeline. Among these was an even more majestic palace than Neuschwanstein, on the ruins of Falkenstein Castle, a medieval fort in the mountains in the vicinity of the village of Pfronten, on the Tyrolian border.

 

Practical information

Neuschwanstein castle

Neuschwansteinstraße 20 - 87645 Schwangau

Ticket sales and departure point of buses and horse-drawn carriages: Alpseestraße 12 - 87645 Hohenschwangau.
Open daily from 8am-5pm from 1 April to 15 October and from 9am-3pm 16 October to 31 December. Tickets can be booked on line.

You can also walk to the foot of the castle along a tarmacked path (30min-walk).
The castle is only open for visits with guided tours (English and German).
Price: €13 full rate, €12 reduced rate, under 18-year-olds, free.

Official site: www.neuschwanstein.de

 

Hohenschwangau castle

Alpseestraße 30 - 87645 Schwangau

Ticket office : same address as Neuschwanstein. 
The castle is only open for visits with guided tours (English and German).

The combined “Königsticket” provides entrance to Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles on the same day.
Price: €25 full rate, €23 reduced rate.

 

Linderhof castle

Linderhof 12 - 82488 Ettal

The castle is only open for visits with guided tours (English and German).
Visits last around 25 minutes. 
Open daily from 9am-6pm from 1 April to 15 October and from 10am-4pm 16 October to 31 
Tickets can be booked on line.
Price: €8.50 full rate, €7.50€ reduced rate

Official site : www.schlosslinderhof.de

 

Château de Herrenchiemsee

83209 Herrenchiemsee

Open daily from 9am-6pm from 1 April to 28 October and from 9.40am-4.15pm 29 October to 31 March.
The castle is only open for visits with guided tours (English twice an hour in summertime and once an hour in winter).
Visits last around 30 minutes. 
Tickets can be booked on line.
Price: €8 full rate, €7 reduced rate

Official site : www.herrenchiemsee.de

Getting there : catch a boat from the landing stage at Prien-Stock. Large car park nearby (Seestrasse 108 - 83209 Prien am Chiemsee)

Timetable here : www.chiemsee-schifffahrt.de

 

Visiting all the castles :

You can buy a combined “Königsschlösser” ticket (€24) which gives access to Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee. Valid 6 months.

 

The tourist attractions mentioned

Neuschwanstein Castle Neuschwanstein Castle
Neuschwanstein Castle
Neuschwanstein
2:00
Hohenschwangau Castle
Hohenschwangau Castle
Hohenschwangau
1:00
Linderhof Palace Linderhof Palace
Linderhof Palace
Linderhof
1:30
Linderhof Palace Gardens Linderhof Palace Gardens
Linderhof Palace Gardens
Linderhof
1:30
Herrenchiemsee Castle Herrenchiemsee Castle
Herrenchiemsee Castle
Chiemsee
1:30
Gentlemen's isle
Gentlemen's isle
Chiemsee
4:00