Have you ever wished you could visit a fairytale castle without going to a place that starts with the word ‘Disney’? Ever wanted to feel like fairytale are truly real? Or walk in the footsteps of princes and princesses in a real fairytale castle?
Wait no longer my friends! There is such a place, and it is in a magical land, called Germany.
The hubby and I actually wound up in Germany by accident. It wasn’t on either of our lists of places we wanted to go, but I had to go for work at the time, so we decided he would fly in after my work was completed, meet me in Munich for the 200th Anniversary of Oktoberfest – a story for another day – and we’d spend 10 days making a giant “C” shape driving around Germany from Munich to Berlin. It was the best travel ‘accident’ we’ve had yet!
On our third day, we made it about 60 miles southwest of Munich, just outside the small town of Füssen, to the fairytale castles of the ‘Dream King,’ Ludwig II.
Nestled in the Ammergebirge mountains of the Alps, the smaller of the two castles, Hohenschwangau, was built by Crown Prince Maximilian between 1832 and 1836 to replace the ruins of a Medieval castle, Schwanstein Castle. Hohenschwangau, the cozy castle, as I like to call it (tongue in cheek, mind you), is a sprawling peachy colored castle with nearly all the makings of a magical fairytale castle Four turrets mark the corners of the main keep of the castle, with several other spired towers on other parts of the building within the complex.
This castle was used regularly by the Wittelsbach family (aka the Royal Family of Europe – seriously, if you don’t know much about them, they’re worth looking into) as a summer residence. In fact, it is where Ludwig II was introduced to composer Richard Wagner, leading to a lifelong friendship. Since he spent much of his childhood at Hohenschwangau, his bedroom ceiling was painted as the night sky, and when he got older, he could see the progress of the construction of his newer castle from this same bedroom window.
Hohenschwangau has a beautiful garden with a wonderful fountain, and overlooks this particularly lovely part of Germany countryside. Although Hohenschwangau is amazing and magical in and of itself, it is important, I think, to see this piece of fairytale history first, as I do believe one would find it quite underwhelming if seen after it’s sister castle, the ultimate fairytale castle, Neuschwanstein.
In 1869, Ludwig II began construction on his dream castle, Neuschwanstein, laying the cornerstones atop a crag in the mountains overlooking Swan Lake and the castle of his childhood, Hohenschwangau. In an ideally picturesque setting, the grand palace sits with pointed towers seeming to reach higher than the distant mountain tops, flags waving in the breeze, greenery growing up to surround the pure whiteness of the castle that could surely only come from the folds of a fairytale book.
There is somewhat of a hike from the parking lot up to Hohenschwangau….there is a vigorous hike from there to Neuschwanstein. Since the tickets for Neuschwanstein are for timed entrances, we bought our tickets for a bit later, saw Hohenschwangau, then had a bit of a snack and a drink by Hohenschwangau. Every area of Germany specializes in a certain beer, so just go with it and order ‘a beer.’ It’s exciting and you’ll always get something refreshing and delicious! Then and only then, did we make the hike up to Neuschwanstein.
You can take a carriage ride or a bus ride up to the castle – but don’t! Unless of course you have to… You don’t want to miss the Marienbrücke, a wonderful footbridge with one of the best views from which to see the castle. You can also immerse yourself in the alps with the sounds of nature all around you on this little (300 foot high) bridge. Don’t worry Dad – I didn’t lean over too far!
Once you actually make it up to the castle (and it is a hike), you will be whisked away to a fairytale world of rooms painted with fantasy scenes from Wagner’s operas, gold and silver everywhere, a unique throne room, and views of the outside that will make you absolutely fall in love with the magical land of Germany.
P.S. There are 2 other palaces Ludwig built while determinedly emptying his empire’s coffers: Linderhof & Herrenchiemsee (the “Bavarian Versailles”). These, while not necessarily straight out of a fairytale, are certainly worth a look as well if you have the time and are into that sort of thing…