Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fairy-tale Castles: Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau

We’d seen Würzburg, we’d seen Rothenberg, we’d seen Nürnberg – it was time to head to the real life fantasy world of King Ludwig the II, or as his friends know him, Mad King Ludwig. 

I was pretty pumped as we climbed on the train. Füssen and the land of fairy-tales was just a 5 hour ride away. 

We had one connection in Augsburg that was long enough for us to grab lunch in the station. German train station food is actually not that bad. 

Mostly we just sat back and watched the Alps get closer. 

As we chugged through smaller and smaller towns getting closer and closer to Füssen and the foot of the Alps we started making a list of friends and family we thought we could convince to go in on a property in Southern Bavaria with us.

Who wouldn’t want to move to a quaint, idyllic village in Germany with us? 

We hopped off the train in Füssen ready to explore our fantasy future home. (Maybe there is something in the air there that leads people to listen to their imagination…)

Our hotel was a just a short walk from the train station. Let’s be real, the old town is only a few blocks, pretty much everything is within easy walking distance. 

We’d picked Hotel Fantasia for our two nights in Füssen. The TripAdvisor reviews were good, the photos looked good, and the price was right – about 70 euro a night when we visited.

Also, how can you not stay at a fun hotel with brightly colored rooms when you’re here to tour the fantastical castles of yore?

Our room wasn’t exactly large.

It was though perfectly nice for us. Technically, it sleeps 3 with the bunk bed. The bunk made a nice place to store stuff to keep the floor a little clearer. 

The bathroom seemed more spacious than it looks here and the hot water was plentiful.

Our room even had a little balcony/enclosed sitting porch. It was really cute and if it hadn’t been so cold out and we’d been in town longer I could definitely see us enjoying a glass of wine before dinner out here.

Here is it from the outside. See that carved wood balcony? That’s our room! 

This hotel also had a cool lounge area in the basement with TVs, computers and board games. We ventured down there to use the internet one night (had to upload our holiday card photo – more on that later) and it would have been a great space to hang out if you were travelling with a larger group.

We left the hotel to do a self-guided walking tour before dinner. First stop, this charming roundabout and statue of Luitpold, Prince Regent of Bavaria. Luitpold ruled Bavaria after Ludwig II was declared unfit to rule until it was absorbed into the German Empire.

The old town is pretty charming. We wandered for a while, just taking it all in.

We found Reichenstraße, a pedestrian street, lined with shops and restaurants and decked out for the holidays. 

Pretty charming. You can see Füssen’s castle/fortress peeking up on the hill behind us. 

Füssen had a small Christmas market in the courtyard of the St. Mang monastery. The market was only open on weekends though and we were visiting on a Tuesday and a Wednesday. We poked our heads in and kept moving. 

Just around the corner from the monastery is the Church of the Holy Spirit.

It stands out from the rest of the buildings with its beautifully frescoed façade. 

We went looking for the Füssener Markthalle, a market hall with stalls, and according to our guidebook, a wine bar. After walking down just about every twisting street in Füssen’s altstadt we found a wine bar, and a Google image search when we returned home confirmed that it is what we had been looking for.

I couldn’t care less though because we had a great time. We ordered two glasses of wine and the man behind the bar spoke great English and gladly answered our questions about the wine. We chatted for a while and one glass turned into two and talking about wine turned into the man (who turned out to be the owner) telling us about his epic adventure renting a van and travelling around the United States for a year about a decade earlier. 

I wish I had a photo to share of this place, or even remembered the name. It was a great place for a pre-dinner drink.

Warm, perhaps slightly buzzed, and armed with a local’s recommendations for dinner we headed back out into the night.

We ended up at the Hotel Hirsch, which came highly recommended by our new local friend. I wish I had a photo of the charming interior. (Can you tell I decided to start this blog AFTER we returned from our trip?) 

We ate in the hotel’s Bierstube or beer hall, but this isn’t like the beer halls you’ve read about in Munich. The whole restaurant was a smallish room with a few wooden tables and carved wooden chairs. I would describe it as intimate, rather than raucous and rowdy. 

And the food? Amazing. Bavarian style grilled and roasted meats with the traditional accompaniments. 

We walked back to our hotel through nearly empty streets. There is not much nightlife to speak of in Füssen.

Füssen’s castle, Hohes Schloss, looked pretty impressive lit up at night.

Our guidebook and family who had visited before warned us of the long lines at Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. We booked our tickets months in advance, selecting the first tour of the day. 

If you pre-book tickets you have to pick them up an hour before your selected time or they become void. The ticket office only opened an hour before our selected time so I lobbied and convinced S to be on the first bus out of Füssen to the village of Hohenschwangau – about a 15 minute ride. 

I was worried that a crowd and long line might keep us from being able to make it to the desk to pick up our tickets an hour ahead of time like the website had warned.

The empty bus should have been my first sign that I had been a little over zealous about our punctuality. 

This is S, behind the camera is me, and we’re the only two people who got off the bus in Hohenschwangau.

On a positive note, doesn’t Neuschwanstein look lovely in the crisp morning air over S’ shoulder? 

 Welp, alone on the street, we decided to look for some breakfast and started to walk up the hill into town. 

I tried to convince S that this was part of my plan all along. Get there early and grab some breakfast to eat while we waited in line for the ticket booth to open. We were on the bus that got us here an hour before the ticket booth opened…

Luckily for me, S is the most charming and supportive husband ever, had a great attitude about the whole thing and quickly got distracted by this sign on our walk into town.

Eagle crossing?

Oh, and the castles were pretty distracting as well. Here is Hohenschwangau on its hill overlooking the village. 

And across the street, a perfect photo op with Neuschwanstein on the opposite hill.

We forgot about how early we were and happily snapped photos as we walked through town. Note: the lack of other tourists did make this part a little easier.

After a walk through town (there is really only 1 main street…) I proudly took my place at the front of the line to wait for the ticket booth to open. 

And then we waited…and waited. Breakfast had been a non-starter since nothing was open yet. So we stood in line taking turns to read the informational signs in the courtyard in front of the ticket both. 

Might I add that it was REALLY cold? There was a gift shop next to the ticket booth where I could see staff setting up for the day while we waited in line. In addition to something breakfast like I was seriously starting to wonder if they had socks on sale so I could double up. My toes were starting to go numb. 

Eventually, tickets, giant bretzels, and hot chocolate (no socks) in hand we made our way up the hill to Hohenschwangau, our first castle of the day.

We had plenty of time to take our time walking up and were again able to take advantage of the virtual aloneness for photo taking. 

Let’s just say we were pretty charmed by the views. 

This photo is looking down at the Museum of the Bavarian Kings and the bus parking lot which was just starting to see some arrivals while we were on our walk up the hill.

No photos are allowed inside the castles, but we had lots of time to take photos of the outside as we waited for our tour number to be called.

From the hill where Hohenschwangau is perched the view north of the valley at the foot of the Alps is breathtaking. Anyone want to go in on that place in Bavaria with us?

Don’t skip Hohenschwangau. I know it’s not as famous or as glamourous, but it is very pretty, the views are breathtaking, and seeing where Mad King Ludwig grew up does kind of help you understand where he might have gotten his penchant for the fantastical. Hohenschwangau is a fairytale castle, even if it is the often forgotten older sister to the Disney-inspiration of Neuschwanstein. 

The ticket website recommends an hour to make your way (walk, bus, or horse-drawn carriage ride) between Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein and we followed this. We chose to walk (The bus was not running when we visited because of icy road conditions) and without the crowds it only took us about 20 minutes to get to Neuschwanstein on the top of the other hill.

There is a viewing platform just down the hill from the entrance where we stopped to take photos. 

Note the lack of crowds. While December might be the high season for cities with famous Christmas markets it is the low season out here at the castles. 

I ignored my numb toes and totally lost myself in the chance to take unobstructed photos of this popular historical site.

You know what made it even more magical? It started snowing right as we stopped to take these photos. I kid you not. It doesn’t get much more festive and charming than that.

We walked up to the castle looking for a bathroom, and there is one here, just through the entrance gate, but it was mobbed by a bus tour group that had come up the hill while we were taking photos.

We decided to walk back down the hill and try our luck at a little restaurant/gift shop near where the carriage rides drop you off.

No luck there. No WC. At least not that we could find. There was however a chance to take photos from another angle – a welcome time killer. Walking up and down the hill was also helping warm my toes. =)

Through the main gate that you saw above in an inner courtyard where you wait for your tour number to be called.

Your ticket has a number and when it is time to like up for your tour it will show on the screen here and you line up behind the turnstiles to be taken inside.

I can only imagine how crowded and chaotic this inner area gets during the high season.

We passed the remaining time before our tour by – you guessed it – taking more photos. This place is seriously pretty, y’all.

It started snowing again while we waited for our turn to go in.

No photos are allowed inside Neuschwanstein, but rest assured, it is pretty amazing. The man made himself a grotto with a secret door to his bedroom…this place is like no other. The tour lasts about an hour. We felt it was the perfect amount of time to gape at the fantastical décor. 

Back outside again we decided to make the climb to Marienbrüke. 

Technically, the path and bridge were closed due to icy conditions. S assured me that it was totally safe and if it did get really icy that we would turn back. 

It was pretty easy for us to just walk right past the rope draped across the road that led up to the bridge. 

The view from the top was worth the 10 minute walk up. (It also wasn’t really that icy.)

Those of you who know us IRL will recognize this as our holiday card photo from last year. 

It started snowing again while we were on the bridge which just made the view and the atmosphere that much more special. 

Here we were on a bridge, practically alone, with a gorgeous view of a castle I’d spent most of my life wanting to visit and it was snowing – magical doesn’t quite begin to capture it. (File this to: yet another reason to travel off-season)

We rode the horse-drawn carriage down the hill. It was only 3 euro each to go down (its 7 euro each to go up) which seemed like a good deal after climbing hills and walking through castles for most of the day.

We popped into the Museum of the Bavarian Kings for a quick visit. Unless you are a huge genealogy buff and/or want to know everything there is to know about the Wittelsbach family this is a quick visit kind of place. It does make a nice book-end to a visit at the castles and is a nice place to warm up if you visit during a colder time of year like we did. 

We paused for a photo at the village maypole on our way back to the bus stop to catch the bus back to Füssen.

There is a bike/walking path that connect Füssen to Hohenschwangau that looked like it could be a fun way to get between the two towns in the warmer months. 

We capped our visit to Füssen with dinner at Madam Plüsch. (TripAdvisor here) We enjoyed a lovely meal at a corner table on the first floor. There is a larger dining room upstairs. After spending much of our day outside and climbing hills the hearty Bavarian cuisine and beer was a very welcome end to the day.

We loved our time in Füssen and are glad we didn’t do a rushed day trip from Munich. Unlike the crowded Christmas markets it was nice to spend two days moving at a slower pace, never caught in a crowd, taking in historical sites, delicious wine, and great food.

I hope you enjoyed reading about our time in Füssen, come back next week – we’ll be in Munich!


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