Two Unbelievable German Fairytale Castles.

By all accounts, Ludwig II was a mad king.  Of course, madness is subjective, but most people agree that it’s a bit off the wall to build yourself a fantastic fairytale castle, then spend your kingdom’s vast fortune to build another one across the way, just so you have something nice to look at from your own, fabulous castle.  It’s even more ridiculous to hear that Ludwig II married a girl, then moved her into the other castle.  I’m sure that made for interesting sex, sending a messenger on the forty minute walk to ask: “Your castle or mine?” Only to receive a reply, eighty minutes later: “Oh, not tonight darling, I have a headache.”  May as well save oneself the effort and grab a villager instead.  Perhaps this explains why Hohenschwangau castle (often mistakenly called Hohenschwanstein castle) was quite near to the village of Schwangau and Neuschwanstein castle was way off in the distance.  Old Mrs Ludwig II couldn’t exactly complain if she couldn’t see anything that her husband was doing.  Perhaps if Henry VIII had adopted this two-castles-on-two-mountainsides approach, he could have saved himself all the nuisance of having to dispose of unwanted wives after the warranty period.

But he didn’t think of it.

In Britain, we never really consider Henry VIII a mad king, perhaps because he knew which end the crown was supposed to go on, and didn’t roam Buckingham Palace in his nightwear, and anyway, when he was compared to Charles I (who was so despotic, he caused the only English civil war) or George III (who figuratively wore his underpants on his head), he gets a free pass.  I think it comes down to the fact that, historically, we have tended to respect the institution of marriage a little too much.  Henry VIII was married to each of the six women who he wronged, but that’s fine because he married them.  If, as a bachelor, he had treated just one of those women properly but not married her, that would have been a scandal.  But beheading two wives?  That was reasonable, because he was married to them at the time.  I think the other reason we don’t remember any of our kings as properly, truly mad (rather than just bloody stupid), is because we’ve never had a proper despot on the throne.  Add to that the fact that we still have a monarchy and the Germans don’t, and it’s perhaps easier to see why the Germans embrace the madness of their erstwhile monarchy and open it up for tourists to see at low low prices (Austria’s got the market pretty well cornered on this too, but I’ll come to that in another article).

Ludwig II is suggested to have schizotypal personality disorder for which there is evidence from his autopsy – he died in 1886 under highly mysterious circumstances the day after he was dethroned for extremely paranoid behavior.  Fascinatingly, he was claimed to have drowned and it was recorded as a suicide, but he was known to be a good swimmer and there was no water in his lungs.  Add to that the further mystery that his psychiatric doctor was with him at the time – and the doctor was found dead with head and neck wounds and markings concurrent with strangulation.

There are plenty of things in Germany which are spectacular, or ludicrous, or despotic, but nothing in Germany is quite as spectacularly, ludicrously, despotically fabulous as the twin castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein.  We were so taken by them that we actually went to see them twice.

The drive was painful in both directions due to bad traffic around Munich.  We parked in Fussen for a breather and that was when we saw the first of the two castles.  I’ve been told by quite a few people that Schloss Hohenschwangau is supposed to be the best one, but Schloss Neuschwanstein was the first one I saw and it captured my imagination far more.  It was fit for a princess.  It looked like a Disney castle.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a castle that was quite so… well… castley.  If someone distilled pure essence of castle and made a castle out of it, Neuschwanstein would be the result.  This castle belonged to every Disney Princess who ever lived.

Neuschwanstein castle, Schwangau, Germany.
Neuschwanstein castle, Schwangau, Germany; taken from Fussen.
Neuschwanstein castle, Schwangau, Germany.
Neuschwanstein as seen from Schwangau.

We didn’t go inside either castle because (on the way to Salzburg) by the time we’d fought our way through traffic they were both closed for the day.  The same thing happened when we drove here on the way back from Rome, so I’ve not seen first-hand what they look like inside, but when they look like this from the outside, I can’t wait until we actually get to go in.  Photography is not allowed inside the castles.

Castle Hohenschwanstein, Schwangau, Germany, August 2014.
Castle Hohenschwangau, aka Hohenschwanstein, Schwangau, Germany, Taken August 2014.

The castles look even better in real life and I think they were well worth the  effort of driving here even though we didn’t go inside – I don’t think there’s anything like them to be found side-by-side like this anywhere else in the world.

Make it Happen:

There’s two parts to this – getting to Schwangau and then getting to the actual castles.  Once you’re in Schwangau the rest is pretty damn easy (as long as you DON’T mistakenly go to SCHWANAU which is 3 HOURS AWAY from where the fairytale castles are).

Getting to Schwangau:

  1. Fly to Munich airport then hire a car, accommodation is best in Fussen which also has a much better selection of restaurants and bars than Schwangau.
  2. Drive straight to Schwangau from your home address – this is what I did, it took two full driving days and one overnight stay in a layby in central Germany to get here after 5pm from the North of England.
  3. By public transport it’s really sketchy, which is why I never got here on my Interrail trip – basically Schwangau is a little bit remote and doesn’t have it’s own train station.  There is a direct train from Munich to Fussen which takes 2 hours 6 minutes, then you’re on your own to get to Schwangau (Google says it’s a 45 minute walk or a 12 minute cycle – so if you’re reasonably fit and mobile you can probably walk it in under 30 minutes; it wasn’t far at all by car), but if you’re willing to get a taxi this is another option from Fussen.  I can’t find bus info.

Getting to the Castles from Schwangau:

  1. Hohenschwangau is a very easy stroll from the centre of Schwangau.
  2. Neuschwanstein is slightly less accessible, you can take a 45 minute walk if you’re feeling sporty.
  3. The more common option to get to Neuschwanstein is to take the tourist buses (run by private companies) which costs about E2.60 there and back again.  I think there’s still some walking involved and the buses are unsuitable for disabled people due to the terrain between where the bus stops and getting into the castle.
  4. The most awesome option by far to get to Neuschwanstein is to take a horse drawn carriage, at E6 there and E3 back again.  There is a 15 minute uphill walk from where the carriage drops you off.  If you’re feeling especially fancy, you can also ride in a carriage to Hohenschwangau castle for E4.50 there and E2 back again.
  5. Entrance to the two castles on a twin ticket was 9am-6pm (summer) or 10am-4pm (winter) and cost E12 each or E23 for a combined ticket.  For more information click here.

Disabled, Wheelchair and Pushchair Access:
You can’t drive to the entrances, the closest parking is in Schwangau village centre which costs about E5, or there’s free parking even further down the hill in two large lay-bys. Neuschwanstein appears to sadly be generally unsuitable for wheelchair users or people with mobility-related disabilities due to its design (although some people have had success getting around, I think this has to be taken as the exception; if you’re planning a trip for a busload of pensioners, you’ll have to give Neuschwanstein a miss, but if you push your own wheelchair and you’ve got someone to help out on the hilly bits, you will be able to get around enough to see some of Neuschwanstein). Pushchairs can get to Neuschwanstein but if you’re not reasonably fit you will be utterly shattered afterwards.  If you have an invisible disability such as CFS or MS you may have extreme difficulty with Neuschwanstein because the bus queues are a lot of standing around waiting and the walk is hilly with no real breaks; if you’re having a low-energy day, I’d skip Neuschwanstein and go for Hohenschwangau instead.  Hohenschwangau on the other hand appears to be reasonably accessible if you can make it up the much gentler hill to the entrance (but if in doubt, double check this when you buy tickets, because everyone’s level of ability is different) and pushchairs are no problem at Hohenschwangau.  Everything I saw of both castles and Schwangau village was hills rather than steps.

For accommodation I strongly suggest you avoid the expensive hotels of Schwangau and instead stay in the beautiful large village of Fussen, as there is much more choice, it’s a bigger town and there’s lots of cheaper options and more amenities.  If arriving by train, staying in Fussen will also break up the journey a bit.  I found the absolute best selection of accommodation from Booking.com but do book early as it’s a popular but relatively undeveloped area, and when we were travelling to Schwangau/Fussen from Rome, I tried to book us a hotel for 2 days ahead but the cheapest options that were left started at 150 Euros which was out of my price range (this was September prices).  By contrast, there are currently options for mid-August available starting at £43 for two people, which is obviously a significant saving.  By comparison, for the same example date (12-13th August) hotels in Schwangau start at £93 per night for mid-August if you book now.

Has anyone else been to see these fabulous castles?  Let me know what you thought in the comments.

If you’re looking for more info on disabled access of major tourist destinations, I’ve also written about which parts of Rome were wheelchair accessible.

More info about ticketing etc here.

This article contains affiliate links, it doesn’t affect the prices you pay for anything, and if you choose to book accommodation from links on this page it just means I can buy food and petrol and all that lovely stuff (which gives me more time to write articles like this one).

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Travel Tuesday: In Pictures: The Mercure Barony Castle Hotel, Peebles

Last week on my trip to the Highlands, I checked into the Mercure Barony Castle Hotel, Eddleston, near Peebles, for a couple of nights R+R after two days car camping and climbing mountains and whatnot.  Peebles is in the Scottish borders between England and Scotland (far, far away from the Highlands) and we stayed here on our way back down to England.

To be honest, for the price I paid through booking.com, I wasn’t expecting an awful lot.  And the hotel is currently undergoing renovation so there were ambient builders and buildy noises, but they were mostly unobtrusive. There was a spa that I didn’t take pictures of because obviously phones and water don’t mix. But seriously, you have to see the grounds.  I could throw some hackneyed phrases around in a flailure to describe the place, but why TELL you about it when I could just SHOW you?  The Mercure Barony Castle Hotel was very photogenic, and it was pretty damn awesome to stay in a real castle!  Enjoy:

The castle, as it looked from the approach.
The castle, as it looked from the approach.
One of the turrets.
One of the turrets.
One of the many delightful waterfalls in the castle grounds.
One of the many delightful waterfalls in the castle grounds.
Some trees in the castle grounds.
Some trees in the castle grounds.
Intrigued by this mysterious sign, we looked around for the altar.
Intrigued by this mysterious sign, we looked around for the altar.
I was doing a distant staring pose so you could tell I was serious about finding this altar.
I was doing a distant staring pose so you could tell I was serious about finding this altar.
This is Commander Riker calling Beverly Crusher on the Enterprise. I'm on the surface of the planet, and that thing is happening again where I cannot straighten both legs at once...
This is Commander Riker calling Beverly Crusher on the Enterprise. I’m on the surface of the planet, and that thing is happening again where I cannot straighten both legs at once…
I wanted to do a mock-sacrificial virgins pose but the surface was very slippery and wet so clearly it wasn't good sacrificin' weather.
I wanted to do a mock-sacrificial virgins pose but the surface was very slippery and wet so clearly it wasn’t good sacrificin’ weather.
Looking back the way we came.
Looking back the way we came.
We don't know what these barrels be doing here, but there were no hobbits or dwarves around so we concluded that they'd escaped from them and were on the loose somewhere else in the grounds.
We don’t know what these barrels be doing here, but there were no hobbits or dwarves around so we concluded that they’d escaped from them and were on the loose somewhere else in the grounds.
We continued exploring.
We continued exploring.
Another mystery - a secret garden!  I half-expected to see Alice in there.
Another mystery – a secret garden! I half-expected to see Alice in there.
In another direction, the ice house.
In another direction, the ice house.
The silent tragedy of the lone lost glove.
The silent tragedy of the lone lost glove.
It makes the pitiful sound of one handed clapping while it awaits its life partner's return.  A poignant reminder that we will all have to be a lost glove at some point in our lives.  Or am I taking this too seriously?  These gloves always make me sad.
It makes the pitiful sound of one handed clapping while it awaits its life partner’s return. A poignant reminder that we will all have to be a lost glove at some point in our lives. Or am I taking this too seriously? These gloves always make me sad.
A sign for the Mapa Scotland, the amazing 3D relief map of Scotland, built by Polish soldiers, showing all the Scottish mountains; this was a key attraction when the hotel was built but has now fallen into obscurity.
A sign for the Mapa Scotland, the amazing 3D relief map of Scotland, built by Polish soldiers, showing all the Scottish mountains; this was a key attraction when the hotel was built but has now fallen into obscurity.
Repair work on the Mapa Scotland, the current hotel owners hope that the map will be restored to its former glory and become more well-known as it was an ingenious way of mapping such a densely mountainous country.
Repair work on the Mapa Scotland, the current hotel owners hope that the map will be restored to its former glory and become more well-known as it was an ingenious way of mapping such a densely mountainous country.
What castle hotel would be complete without a llama farm on the other side of the ravine where the three waterfalls flow.
What castle hotel would be complete without a llama farm on the other side of the ravine where the three waterfalls flow.
A close up of the llamas.  The blips in the background are wild rabbits who like to hang out with the llamas.  There was also a pony around somewhere.
A close up of the llamas. The blips in the background are wild rabbits who like to hang out with the llamas. There was also a pony around somewhere.
Just beyond the grounds, we found some mysterious Victorian ruins.  But that's a mystery we'll examine in another article.
Just beyond the grounds, we found some mysterious Victorian ruins. But that’s a mystery we’ll examine in another article.

I hope you liked this castle hotel as much as we did.  I can’t stress how amazing the pool, hot tub, jacuzzi and experience showers were as well.  For a very long time I have been petrified of indoor pools (last one we went to, I clung like a limpet to the side, panicking, all my muscles contracted and I couldn’t even swim a single width), but I actually managed to do some swimming here (ok, not the first time we went down, but the second, third and fourth times? I was doing lengths).  The breakfast in the restaurant was also outstanding, I think you could find a satisfying breakfast at their ample buffet, whether you are a carnivore, herbivore, fruitarian or simply a cereal fan; they even had soya milk for my tea!!  I can’t wait to stay at the Mercure Barony Castle Hotel again, and there will definitely be an again, this place was incredible.  I wanted to live there and was genuinely sad to leave.

If you would like to stay there too, I recommend that you use Booking.com to get fantastic rates.

Please note this article contains affiliate links so that if you want to stay in this incredible hotel, you can book it at a low price via Booking.com, which is a website I have used for years to get the best hotel deals and am excited to share with you. Any commission I get doesn’t affect the price you pay for your hotel.

Scotland’s Most Unusual Hotels

Ever wanted to stay in a genuine stone Scottish blackhouse, a railway signalling house, an art gallery or a traditional broch?  Dreaming about spending the night in a castle?  Fancy hanging out in a yurt?  This list of the best unusual accommodation in Scotland will inspire you!

1. Mongolian-style Yurts, near Loch Lomond:

This organic working farm in central Scotland has three traditional Yurts for a sustainable tourism experience in the midst of the beautiful Trossachs and Loch Lomond.  Each Yurt sleeps 4, and the centre often has lots of activities and crafts for you to join in with.

stay in a yurt in scotland on your next holiday yurt1

Find out more and book: http://www.westmossside.com/

2. Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, Isle Of Lewis, Hebrides, North Scotland.

Off the top left of Scotland, the Hebrides Islands sit waiting for you to discover them.  What better way than whilst staying in a traditional longhouse (called a Blackhouse) with all the modern amenities, but with architecture that gives you an insight into how people lived in the Iron Age.

blackhouse hotel accommodation self catering scotland stay

Find out more and book: http://www.gearrannan.com/

3. The Brochs of Coigach, Ross-shire, Highlands

Two iron age roundhouses in the North of Scotland, renovated and fully modernised, these are a truly luxurious way to explore a rugged and uninhabited corner of the world.

broch hotel accommodation scottish highland lewis

Find out more and book: http://www.achiltibuie.info/

4. Stay in a real lighthouse. Shetland Islands,

Make a trip to Shetland even more memorable by staying in a lighthouse on the main island.  Just imagine what sort of views this lighthouse gets!

lighthouse hotel accommodation scotland highlands holiday travel

Find out more and book: http://www.shetlandlighthouse.com/eshaness-lighthouse

5. Holiday like a King in a castle, numerous locations across Scotland

Scotland has a huge selection of castles to accommodate those with a taste for luxury and something a bit different.  With 41 castles to choose from, if one is booked, you can always try another.

castle hotel scotland holiday travel trip

Tulloch Castle Hotel

castle hotel scotland accommodation

Carberry Tower

Find out more and book: http://www.celticcastles.com/castle-search/list/scotland/

6. Stay in a church on the shores of Loch Ness

Drumnadrochit is the town with the Loch Ness visitor centres, on the banks of the stunning Loch Ness, a huge glacial crevasse filled with water and famous for entertaining kids with its stories of the Loch Ness Monster.

drumnadrochit church hotel acccommodation loch ness holiday in scotland

Find out more and book: http://www.visitscotland.com/info/accommodation/glenkirk-bed-breakfast-p180831

7. Or how about staying in Europe’s smallest working Cathedral instead?

cathedral1

This fully functioning cathedral on the Isle of Cumbray in southern Scotland takes guests.

Find out more and book: http://www.visitscotland.com/info/accommodation/college-of-the-holy-spirit-millport-p212221

8. If that’s too formal, there’s always this delightful treehouse, in Skye:

treehouse1

Find out more and book: http://www.sykescottages.co.uk/cottage/Fort-William-Isle-of-Skye-The-Western-Isles-Fort-WilliamAn-Gearasdan/Acorn-Lodge-18920.html

9. Stay in a first-class train, at a train station in Sutherland:

train hotel Scotland UK

You can stay in a first class train, which has self catering accommodation.  Each carriage sleeps two people.  Sleeperzzz also offers a converted bus, and they’re all next to a working railway station – but don’t worry about losing sleep, after all, how many trains go to the north of Scotland each day?

Find out more and book: http://www.quirkyaccom.com/sleeperzzz

10. Or you could stay in a Signal Box, at Kyle of Lochalsh train station:

signal house train station kyle hotel Scotland UK

If you don’t want to stay in the train, how about the signalling box?  At Kyle of Lochalsh station, you can pretend you’re the Station Master and re-live Thomas the Tank Engine.  Just don’t start believing your life is being narrated by Ringo Starr…

Find out more and book: http://www.quirkyaccom.com/kyle-station-signal-box

11. An art gallery

glasgow art house hotel arthouse accommodation gallery

The Arthouse in Glasgow… is it a hotel? Is it an art gallery?  It’s both!  And it has a restaurant.

Find out more and book: http://www.thearthouseglasgow.co.uk/

12. A working water mill

watermill hotel holiday

This listed 18th Century watermill offers accommodation in Bonar Bridge, Sutherland, Highlands.

Find out more and book: http://www.migdalewatermill.co.uk/

Which of these is your favourite?  I want to stay in all of them!!  Let me know which you love (or hate) in the comments and don’t forget to subscribe to Invoke Delight via WordPress or Bloglovin’ (links to the right).