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: On the Trail of the Holy Grail: Doune Castle

This post is copyright to Invoke Delight.  If you are reading this at a site other than https://invokedelight.wordpress.com then you are reading stolen content that is taking my hard work and presenting it as their own so they get the amazing Google search rankings that I have worked very hard to optimize.  I am aware of two such incidences, the latest being today, both times involved my travel articles.  You should redirect now.

You may or may not have heard of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

They were a comedy ensemble who, from the late 1960s onwards, blazed a trail of innovative comedy that directly challenged society, television tropes, audience-assumptions, gender roles, and continually pushed the boundaries far beyond that which was deemed “appropriate” at the time they were making it.

Their original BBC series prompted three films, one “And Now for Something Completely Different” was a compilation of clips from their TV show.  “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” was their first attempt at a feature film, and was more about challenging the traditional way in which medieval Britain was portrayed in modern media than it was about the actual story of the Holy Grail.  “The Life Of Brian” was their story about another bloke who lived in the same town as Jesus and who was not the messiah.  That one ruffled a few feathers at the Vatican and I believe a bishop had a televised argument with John Cleese about it on channel 4 (ready the popcorn and cups of tea, it’s over an hour long).

Life of Brian was filmed in Jordan, which is somewhere in Africa. I didn’t really have the budget, bodyguards or bulletproof car required to go to Jordan safely. Instead, I decided to go to Doune Castle in Scotland, where almost all of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed.  Also we were in the area, and the road to the Highlands was closed due to heavy snow.

Doune Castle doubled up as the filming location for the following castles in Holy Grail: Camelot, Swamp Castle, Castle Anthrax, and that French castle at the beginning. It was a private castle when they filmed, and the reason it was chosen was because The National Trust for Scotland (as Historic Scotland was known at the time) refused to allow Monty Python to use any of their castles to film (and they’d booked separate ones for each castle in the script) – but the National Trust for Scotland only informed them of this two weeks before they were due to start filming, so they had a last minute struggle to find a privately owned castle that was open enough to the public to actually film in there. Thankfully, Doune Castle fitted the bill perfectly. The castle, originally built in the 13th century, was in excellent preservation condition and had a lot of original features without any visibly different “restoration” (some restoration has been done but it’s surprisingly sensitive for a Victorian repair). It had enough rooms that were visibly different to one another that it could easily be used for the location of the several castles the script required.

We overnighted in the layby in front of the castle in our car camper, making this the first castle we spent the night at during our Scotland trip (before we reached the Mercure Barony Castle Hotel in Peebles), and I have never felt so secure sleeping in the car before.  It was nice to get a full night’s sleep without any disturbances from traffic or construction workers either, unlike the previous night.  We chose not to overnight in the castle car park as this would have been a) definitely trespassing and b) bad manners.  We might have been car gypsies, but we didn’t need to act uncivilised and go round taking advantage of poor defenceless car parks.  A bonus of using the layby was that it was on a public road so it was legal to park overnight in Scotland, and it meant we awoke with a beautiful view of the castle in the morning.  We left at 7am and drove to Stirling for an early breakfast at McDonald’s before coming back at 9am when the castle was open, because it makes good sense to not be in an obviously wildcamping car at the time of day when all the members of staff are arriving to start their day.  I feel very strongly that one must be careful when wildcamping in any vehicle or tent because if the law is abused, it will get taken away, as has happened on the eastern shores of Loch Lomond in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, which is why we had to park and sleep over an hour away from Ben Lomond on our first night in Scotland.  Thanks to the asshats who took advantage, there’s now a bylaw that no vehicle can be occupied overnight (and no tents can be pitched) on that side of Loch Lomond, except in the one paid campsite, and the police drive round and check, and you can get fined and lose your vehicle.

I made a film of my visit to Doune Castle, which you can see here:

Take me to Youtube instead, I don’t want to watch an embedded version! (click if this is what you are thinking).

Sorry about the bad sound, I didn’t have a camera crew with me to re-record, it was all shot in one go on a mobile phone, and my video editing software is about as good as getting a panda to chew the ends of files and stick them back together with eucalyptus gum.  The best I could do was play a piccolo over it all afterwards.
I did have to reduce the resolution on this film because Youtube failed to upload it three times, after taking over 18 hours apiece, and I’ve been trying to upload it since Friday, which is unfortunate but I’m hoping it’s still watchable because I’ve been dying to show you all since I got back.

Have you been to Doune Castle?  What did you think of it?

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.