Enchanting, stunning and full of history, a trip to these two castles in Germany will leave you wanting more.
I can't see much as I peer out the window of the train from Munich to Füssen. There's a thick mist, which doesn't lift even as we reach two hours later. It's about a 10-minute bus ride from Füssen station to the village of Hohenschwangau, where you must buy your tickets before you make your way up to the castles. It's cold and the line to the ticket centre is endless, but I'm soon distracted by the beauty of the place as people walk by quaint restaurants and shops, which are wrapped in the mist and droplets that hang on the bare twigs of trees near us.
Rooms of Reminiscence
Had there been no mist, we would see Hohenschwangau Castle looming up in front of us. Go back to the days of King Ludwig II and travel to the castle in a horse carriage for approximately € 4.50 per person for the ascent and € 2.00 per person for the descent. We choose to walk up the path through the woods and in about 20 minutes, we're at the cream structure surrounded by a beautiful garden with a view of the village below. Once the seat of the Lords of Schwangau in the 12th century, it was rebuilt by Ludwig II's father Maximillian II in the Gothic Revival style. King Ludwig II spent a large part of his childhood and youth at the castle and used it as a summer residence until his death in 1886.
We enter the Billiard Room where a brilliant handmade cherry wood billiard table occupies most of the space in the room. After a quick look around we move on to the Dining Room, also called the Swan Knight's Hall, because of the medieval murals of the Lohengrin saga. “The royal family did not see much of each other during the day except for lunch and dinner, because in those days the king and queen lived on separate floors,” the guide informs us. As we walk through Queen Marie's (King Ludwig II's mother) rooms, he points out that there are no wardrobes in Queen Marie's dressing room, “because her clothes were in a room, on the third floor. Her servants would bring them down for her whenever she wished”.We move on to the Queen's bedroom, where most of the furniture is from Greece and Turkey and then to her Reading Room, Writing Room and her Living Room. We learn about the passageways through which the servants had to crawl in order to heat up the stoves, as we make our way to the king's floor. We walk into the Hohenstaufen Room, which was used as a dressing room by both Kings Maximillian II and Ludwig II, but it was converted into a music room by the latter king. Ludwig II loved classical music and entertained Richard Wagner as a guest in Hohenschwangau Castle in 1865. In the Tassozimmer or the bedroom of the kings, a beautiful ceiling redesigned by Ludwig II showcases the night sky, which could be illuminated from the third floor using petroleum lamps giving him the feeling of sleeping outside. In the alcove of the king's reading room, we see King Maximilian’s reading chair– quite a modern contraption with an adjustable backrest and an adjustable footrest. We finish off with the King's living room and step out into the cold once again.
Walking through fairy tales
Tour timings to both castles are fixed and we're scheduled for the 4pm tour at Neuschwanstein Castle. After a quick bite of bratwurst sandwich, a pretzel and some apple cider, we take the shuttle bus to Marienbrücke or Queen Marie's bridge, named after the mother of King Ludwig II. I could have never imagined the sight from the bridge. The narrow bridge over a 45-meter high gorge is packed with people and we inch our way forward, careful not to bump into people trying to click a picture. I look up to see what they're clicking and I am stunned. Neuschwanstein castle, known to have inspired Disney's Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella Castles, emerges high above the mist as the sun shines down on it's pointed towers piercing the clear blue sky. My brain cannot seem to comprehend such beauty and for a moment I think I would rather sit on the iron bridge and gaze at the castle than go inside for the tour. It's about a 15-minute downhill walk from the bridge to the entrance of the castle.
Construction of the five-storey Romanesque castle began in 1869 by King Ludwig II, but it was never completed. We head up to the second floor of the beautiful castle and walk through the 'Red Corridor', which was used as the servants' quarters. We peek through the open windows of the servants' rooms, which are still completely furnished with oak furniture. We move on to the Throne Room, the most impressive room in the castle. It is believed that it was in his Throne Room that the king wanted to pay homage to the idea of royalty as bestowed by the grace of God. One will notice however, that there is no throne in the room, but it was meant to be placed on top of the marble stairs in the apse of the hall. The paintings show six sanctified kings standing between palm trees overlooking the space reserved for the throne and in the apse is Christ sitting on a rainbow with Mary, John and the angels, at his sides. To the right and left of the staircase are the twelve apostles. We move on to the dining room and the bedroom, which has intricate oak wood carvings especially on the canopy above the bed, the dressing table and the reading chair. The curtains and the furniture coverings are in the king's favourite colour—blue. The dressing room, living room and the king's study are equally breathtaking and the singer's hall, which is a copy of the Minstrels Hall of the Wartburg Castle in Thuringia occupies the entire fourth floor. Downstairs, the kitchen is still fully intact. We exit the magnificent castle, built for a single inhabitant and begin an hour-long walk to the bus stop with thoughts of the days of King Ludwig swirling through my mind.