Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria is probably the most recognized castle in the world. Sitting high on top of the cliff overlooking the Alps, surrounded by the dramatic cliffs and mountainous streams, it is an ultimate symbol of idealized romantic architecture and a reminder of a tragic story of a king so eccentric and reclusive.
King Ludwig II built the castle as a personal retreat, a refuge from reality and a sanctuary from the “profane” world. “Look after these rooms; guard them as a holy place,” Ludwig told one of his servants. “Don’t let them be profaned by the common herd.” Oops. That obviously never happened. Ironically, only seven weeks after the king was dead, the castle was opened to the public and now it is one of the most visited castles in the world, with over 1.3 million people visiting a year.
Being so popular makes Neuschwanstein Castle very uneasy place to visit. It’s not like you can drive by, pop in and out and get on with your life like we usually do. Noooo. It requires so much more than that… But of course, being ignoramuses that we are, we did it a stupid way. Since we usually book things about a day ahead, the closest hotel we found to the castle was about 20 km away. OK, not a big deal, we just got up a little earlier and drove for 20 minutes. Once you drive up, you have to get tickets. Doh! The ticket line in the summer (especially on Sunday, I have to remind myself to never go anywhere on Sunday!) about 10 miles long. OK, another stupid mistake. Smart people book tickets online, which of course I’ve tried, but turns out that you have to book not later than 2 days ahead. Well, who plans THAT far ahead???? After spending maybe an hour in line we finally got the tickets for the tour. Apparently, it’s impossible to just go to the castle and wonder around, no, you have to go with the tour and all the tickets are sold with the time and group number printed on them. Ours was only 2.5 short hours later, so we relaxed, took out time and decided to take a horse carriage ride up to the top (yeah, we are lame like that).
You have several option on getting to the top – taking a shuttle bus, taking a carriage or walking up for 40 minutes of steep uphill. We thought carriage ride would be nice. Nope, another mistake: long, slow line, the drop off is in the front of the castle, meaning we had to walk for another 20 minutes, dragging whining Tiny, all the way up the hill to see the view from the bridge and then back. Between that and all the picture-taking and bathroom stops we ended up not having enough time to take pictures of the front and had to come all the way back at the end of the tour. We should have taken the bus instead, which drops you off right up the top and walked down hill. Well you live, you learn. So, finally, after 3 hours of getting to the castle itself, we were finally ready to enjoy the views and the tour.
The castle is stunning, you have to give it to it. It’s beautifully designed and executed, even thought it had never been finished inside. The views from the castle are gorgeous, including the Hohenschwangau Castle next door, a.k.a “that other castle that no one ever heard of until they got to the Neuschwanstein Castle”. That other castle is probably magnificent in it’s own way, but who cares?
The interior of the castle reflects king’s great love for the works of Richard Wagner, especially Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, and his obsession with Percival, the Grail King. Photos are not allowed inside, so I stole a couple from Wikipedia.
It’s sad to realize that Ludwig II never saw the castle complete. Only 11 rooms were finished by the time of his death. Apparently being reclusive is not a good trait for a king, so after he spent all the money building the castle, he was pronounced crazy and dethroned in 1882. He died under mysterious circumstances couple of days later and his body was found in the Lake Starnberg, together with the psychiatrist who had certified him as insane.
And one last peak as we were driving off…