We’d driven the 350 km of the Romantic Road over 2 days and reached the end, Füssen. Nestled at the base of the German Alps, this tiny town has the biggest claim to fame as the access point to the fairytale castle Schloss Neuschwanstein. This most famous castle of Germany has supposedly been the inspiration for Walt Disney’s famed castles at all their theme parks.
I love all things Disney, just love them. I’ve grown up on a staple diet of Disney princess movies and even today, I get goosebumps seeing the logo of Disney productions with the lit up castle and the stars shimmering over it. Naturally, when I heard about the “original” Disney castle, I was desperate to fit Neuschwanstein castle into our itinerary.
We left early to visit the castle. A bright and sunny day, a heavy breakfast to power us through the day and a fully charged camera were important adjuncts on this beautiful drive along the mountains.
As we approached Neuschwanstein, we saw the castle perched up on a small cliff, playing peek-a-boo from between the trees. It looked stunning!
Thanks to the internet, we knew where to go and where to park. More importantly thanks to the internet, we had booked the castle tour online, which meant that there was no queue for us to pick up our tickets. Best thing ever. This meant that we waltzed past 100 people (minimum) to an empty ticket counter. However, the online booking didn’t save us from the bus queue with huge tour bus crowds. Since you can’t drive up to the castle, you have to take a bus, horse carriage or walk.
The queue for the bus seemed never-ending, but moved quickly as soon as the bus rolled up. Since Murphy always gets his way, the bus doors shut just as our turn came, making us wait another 20 minutes in the glaring sun for the next one. However, it was good that we didn’t walk up, it was very steep and the bus groaned its way up slowly. The kid was very upset about the horses struggling to pull the heavily loaded carriages up the slope and was determined to write to the German chancellor about the cruelty shown to animals here.
After getting off the stop, we still had a long walk till the castle itself. As we rounded a corner, we got this stunning view.
It was all too pretty and we went trigger-crazy, but remembered that we had to climb onto the Marienbrucke, the bridge from where you get the best view of Neuschwanstein castle. The bridge is a metal bridge high above a narrow gorge and initially, I was a little scared walking on it. But the sight of the castle took away all fear.
Precariously perched on a cliff, surrounded by tall mountains, with the Alps as the backdrop, Schloss Neuschwanstein was the perfect castle. I could completely understand the obsession of King Ludwig II to build this castle. Apparently, it was designed first by a scene painter, and later on, architects came into the planning process. The king had himself written to his close friend, the opera composer Wagner, “The location is one of the most beautiful to be found, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple.”
Worthy temple indeed for a recluse king who’d been stripped of most of his powers, and was ruler mainly in name. This was his dream castle, but sadly he died before completion.
Just below the bridge was a waterfall plunging into a turquoise-green pool. There was a walking path down in the gorge, but the sight of it from high up was just too scary for me to venture all that distance down.
However, I did want to continue on the narrow rocky path beyond the bridge, from where the views of the castle are even better, but the kid got very frightened by the lack of people and the steep climb and refused to go on.
We crossed the bridge and walked a long walk to the castle, looking up at its side façade.
Neuschwanstein can only be entered at fixed timings with tour guides who leave every 5 minutes. If you miss your time slot, you can’t enter the castle at all. So we stood outside the castle in the heat well in advance till we entered and started the tour. The tour itself was very rushed, so we couldn’t enjoy it much. The castle was grandly decorated but photography is not allowed inside, so there are no pictures of the interiors.
There was a throne room with a very high brilliantly painted ceiling which lacked a throne as the king died before the room was completed. The room that I liked the best was a grotto, fantastically lit up. A grotto in a castle? No wonder they called him the mad king. The paintings on the walls were inspired by operas of Richard Wagner, but the pieces de resistance were a swan beak tap with fresh spring water, flushing toilets and telephones. All this built in this remote high location in the late 19th century was certainly commendable, and expensive. So expensive that the king was certified crazy and arrested a few years after the construction began. Most shockingly, he was found dead with the certifying psychiatrist only two days after his arrest. Murder, they wrote?
We were done with the palace in 30 min after which we went out to the balcony to enjoy the views that King Ludwig could barely enjoy, of lake Alpsee and the gorgeous Bavarian Alps.
The bright yellow castle between the two lakes was Hohenshwangau castle, the king’s father’s palace and childhood retreat. He stayed here to supervise the construction of Neuschwanstein, which towered over this smaller castle.
We could appreciate the stunning viewpoint of the Marienbrucke after seeing it from here.
“Good we didn’t walk down into the gorge,” I thought with relief.
“I walked on that?” was my next emotion. “What a precariously balanced bridge!” Once we had our fill of the views, we walked through the kitchens and an interesting souvenir shop and came upon a model of the castle.
We walked through the courtyard, where we lost each other. Or rather, the hubby and the kid lost me. It’s a staple for every trip, that we miss each other somewhere and then go nuts locating each other.
Reunited, we walked down the long leafy walk to Hohenschwangau castle, which we had decided not to tour from inside to avoid castle overload.
It painted a very pretty picture as a bright yellow building against the bright blue sky. Climbing up to it was a very steep walk indeed and we were very tired by the time we reached the courtyard but impressed by the multitude of swan fountains and swan flags.
The view of the lake from the courtyard was stunning, glistening in the sun with the snow-capped mountains behind. “What a beautiful view to wake up to,” I thought.
We turned to have a last view of Neuschwanstein before leaving. This was the view that King Ludwig II must have been dreaming of while his castle was being built. Such a non fairytale ending for a fairytale castle.
We had chosen to stay at Hopfen am see, a lakeside town near Füssen, for beautiful views over an Alpine lake. We had wanted to see the town of Füssen too, but we thought we’d see it in the evening as it was too hot in the afternoon, even though it was on the way. However, we found Hopfen am see terribly crowded and we couldn’t get any parking anywhere. It was a though the whole of Germany had descended onto this lake. After failing to get a parking spot after driving through twice, we finally drove back to Füssen for lunch.
We parked on the street outside the pedestrian only old town and walked in the bright sun past the small pretty houses. Food was the priority and so we sat down at the first vacant table.
Füssen was terribly crowded as well. “What’s with these people,”I wondered, “Do they also not cook on Sundays like the Gujjus?” After a lacklustre meal, we roamed a bit of Füssen. It had pretty colored houses and a castle of its own, and a river ran through the town.
We walked down the main street and the river and admired the pretty houses, but it was intolerably hot and sunny.
I was keen on seeing the Lech falls, a small manmade waterfall on the river Lech, a short walk from the old town. By this time, a few clouds started rolling in, covering the sun and making the walk more pleasant.
We crossed the bridge over the river and started climbing up alongside the river to the falls.
The footpath had a clearly marked cyclist path and this area must be very popular for cyclists as there were so many of them. My dear child walked continuously over that designated path and almost got run over.
We huffed and puffed along the 20 minute climb to the falls.
They were thoroughly disappointing. I knew that the falls were small, but this was positively tiny. The Lech falls were known for a deep turquoise color, but this day, they were a dull grey mirroring the sky. We turned back quickly and crossed the river to see the museum looming up ahead.
It was drizzling so we rushed for shade in an ice cream shop and ate some delicious ice-cream. As soon as the rain stopped, we walked out of the town and headed back to Hopfen am see and drove past the lovely lake Forgensee.
It was bad luck that we visited Füssen in the heat, after we were already tired at the castles. It was a beautiful town in a very charming locale, that we’d have loved had we seen it in the evening, after a good rest.
Thus ended our Romantic Road drive, where the towns provided the romance and the castle the tragedy. It was a wonderful drive with great stops along the way, a must see part of Germany.