10 January 2016 – Neuwachstein Castle and Füssen, Germany
Our plan for the day was a trip to the Neuwachstein Castle, which is the Fairy Tale castle that the famous Disney ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Castle is modeled on. The Castle is on a rugged hill above the village of Hohenschwangau near Füssen in Southwest Bavaria, Germany. The area is beautiful and we hoped to have time to explore the villages, Füssen and Lake Alpsee, and maybe fit in a ride on a horse and carriage with the kids.
We were all up again at 6.45am for an early breakfast before our train out of Munich. Of course we had to wake the kids this morning, when they were awake themselves the same time the previous day when we had nowhere to be. At least they are predictable!
We all had a good but quick breakfast, with freshly made hot chocolates for the kids again, which made them happy. As usual we’d packed all but the last few things the night before, to make for a faster get away in the morning. We had barely unpacked with only 2 nights in Munich, and the fact that the majority of our clothes were now dirty, as we hadn’t washed in a week, being in hotels without washing facilities. We should have been able to pack up in 5 minutes but the kids were not cooperating with cleaning their teeth and putting on coats due to being tired, so it turned into a bit of a debacle. We did eventually make it downstairs and checked out of the hotel.
Most people visit Füssen and Neuwachstein Castle as a day trip from Munich. There are a number of bus companies that run return day tours from Munich, and it is an easy 2 hour train ride each way if you want to do it yourself. In our original trip planning we had anticipated spending 3 nights in Munich and doing the Castle as a day trip from Munich. We then realised that our next destination, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, was not very far at all from Füssen (less than 60km). However, the Bavarian Alps run through this region and it’s rather difficult to get between towns without a car. Most people go in and out of Munich as the train is express between Munich and Füssen, and Munich and Innsbruck (our destination after Garmisch).
We, however, thought that it would be nice to spend a day and night in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (in the Bavarian Alps) and check out the ice caves and then take the scenic train trip through the Arlberg pass on the way to Innsbruck in Austria. Distance wise, this was a more efficient journey, but not time wise. We spent countless hours researching the best way to get between towns, and the possible train and bus connections, and eventually decided on making our Neuwachstein Castle day a ‘transit day’, taking our luggage with us and continuing on from Füssen that afternoon towards Garmisch. We booked what we thought was the most efficient route, a train from Munich to Füssen in the morning, then in the afternoon, a train followed by a bus to get us to Garmisch. Only when we re-checked our tickets the night before departing did we discover that the train in the afternoon was heading back towards Munich and actually stopping at the Munich-Pasing station for our transfer to what we thought was a bus to Garmisch. Despite the back-tracking this was still the most time efficient route.
It did mean we did a late night re-plan of what we were doing with our luggage. Anto figured out that we could leave our luggage at Munich-Pasing station rather than take it with us to Füssen and luggage locker it there. When booking the trains we had made sure there were luggage lockers at Füssen and it was never going to be an issue, but the option of not carrying luggage for an extra 4 hours on trains was appealing!
The new plan was to all travel to Central together, via a short walk through the shopping centre and then a metro, and then the kids and Alan and I would get off at central (with a bit of hand luggage) and find our train to Füssen. Anto and Mikl would stay on the metro and take all the suitcases through to Munich-Pasing, several stops down the line and luggage locker them there, in order to retrieve them later that night. Anto and Mikl would then (hopefully) meet our train to Füssen as it stopped through Munich-Pasing and we would be on our merry way, minus 6 large suitcases. The plans all hinged on timing, but it seemed relatively sensible.
Alan, the kids, and I managed to find our train to Füssen without too much trouble, although with a bit of walking to find the correct platform which was tucked around a corner. Much to Soren and Astrid’s delight we got a top floor seat. Sitting in the top deck of ‘double-decker’ trains is very exciting when you are 2 and 4!
Once on the train, I messaged Anto the carriage number for our train so they could jump on when we went through. The train was only stopping for 2 minutes and then there was a 2 hour wait until the next train to Füssen, so they needed to be ready to jump on as soon as the train stopped. Of course in my tired state I’d counted the carriages from the wrong direction. I realised the mistake as the train was pulling into Munich-Pasing. There was apparently a bit of confusion at the Munich-Pasing station about the train number and when it was announced on our train that we were heading into Munich-Pasing I immediately messaged to say we should be coming through now, but the station was huge and despite being at the correct platform, Anto and Mikl didn’t see the train straight away. The train stopped for all of one minute and I didn’t see them get on, but Anto had only just got my message about the correction to the carriage number and it took a few minutes after the train had left the station to find each other. As we were almost immediately barreling along at over 100km/h and away from the station, I wasn’t sure they’d made the train, and they weren’t sure they were on the right train as they couldn’t locate the rest of us where they thought we ‘should’ be. With another 2 hour wait for the next train it would have stuffed the day up totally and made for a nervous few minutes until we found each other.
Once on board, and the nerve-wracking bit of the day done, we settled down for an easy 2 hour journey which was rather scenic. We went past some nice villages with snow-capped mountains in the distance. There was not much snow in the villages yet. Soren kept himself amused by watching TV on the tablet, and Astrid spent her time drawing.
We arrived into Füssen at 10:30am and discovered that the train station had been entirely ripped out and was being rebuilt. We couldn’t see any luggage lockers, as there was currently no actual station, so nowhere to leave the extra (heavy) bags of hand luggage (including laptops) that we had brought to use on the train. At this stage we were very thankful that we didn’t have the 6 suitcases with us as had been the original plan. All of our careful research hadn’t indicated the recent train station rebuild.
So with more heavy backpacks than we wanted, we walked around the corner and found 2 huge buses waiting to take pretty much the entire train load of people into Hohenschwangau village. Füssen is a lovely town, and we planned to explore it in the afternoon, but it was clear that the tourism industry for the area is built around the Castle visits. The buses were standing room only, but were covered on our Bayern ticket (the cheap group train ticket we had used to get to Füssen).
It was a short bus ride, around 10 minutes, into the village. It probably would have been scenic but we could pretty much only see the people in front of us. Once in Hohenschwangau, the swarms of people got off the bus and all walked up to ticket centre to get our Castle tour tickets. This is where my careful research did pay off. Even in Winter the ticket lines can be long so I’d pre-booked us tickets, but the lines just to pick up the tickets were still huge. Luckily Anto only had to wait about 10 minutes to pick up our tickets not the hours other people had to wait to buy tickets. We saw some people from our same train just heading up towards the Castle as we returned from our tour. They had all been in the ticket lines for purchasing on the day. The very, very long lines!
The Village of Hohenschwangau lies at an elevation of 800m on the shores of Lake Alpsee. The Neuwachstein Castle is up a very large hill that overlooks the Schwangau region. You can walk up to the castle, which takes around 30-40 minutes and is relatively steep, or in the warmer months buses run up the hill. They do not normally run over Winter due to snow. Horses and carriages are also available to take people up to the Castle, but again do not operate in icy conditions, but sometimes run in snow. We had anticipated only having the option to walk, and if we were lucky maybe being able to use the horses. Of course there was no snow in sight, so the buses were actually running. While collecting the tickets, Soren had fallen asleep on my back in the ergo, so we decided we’d go on the bus and save horses for later when he was awake. Meanwhile, Anto had found a hotel that would store the extra backpacks for the day, which was ideal as they were rather heavy. It is impossible to miss the Neuwachstein Castle from the Village, it is rather imposing sitting up on the hill!
The bus up to the Castle was also standing room only and had about 30 more people on it than it should have. The bus was going up a very windy road with sheer cliffs, either side. It was a rather scary ride, but we did get good views. The buses use a different road than the horses and pedestrians, given the speed the buses were flying up the hill, this is a good thing. When we got to the top, at the bus drop-off point we still had a reasonable walk up to the castle but it was not too steep. The walk was rather scenic, with views over the valley and up towards the Castle.
The walk up from the bus drop-off point did provide very nice views of the Castle, and it was photo central as everyone was trying to get ‘the shot’ of the castle and the obligatory selfies. The best place to view the Castle from a distance is Marienbrucke (Mary’s Bridge). We had hoped to walk there for some nice shots but it was closed for renovations. It is often closed in Winter anyway as the snow and ice make it dangerous. The gorge that runs behind the Castle, Pollats Gorge, is also good for views and a short hike, but was also closed due to falling rocks. So no picture postcard shots for us, but we did still enjoy the views.
In case you hadn’t figured it out, Neuwachstein Castle is enormous. You actually need to take photos from a distance to get the whole of the Castle in, even my wide-angle lens wasn’t going to cut it within 100 metres of the Castle.
Neuwachstein Castle was commissioned by King Ludwig II aka ‘Crazy King Ludwig’ who intended the Castle to be a personal refuge. The Castle was only built in the late 19th Century and was built in the ‘Romantic Revival’ style which is a romantic interpretation of Middle Ages castles. This has the bizarre effect of the Castle appearing to be very old and hark back to the style of many of the French Chateaus and Castles built in the Middle Ages. But, the Castle is in fact quite new, and very ‘modern’ when seen up close. It was also never lived in. Ludwig died before the Castle was completed and it was open to the public immediately after his death in 1886. More than 61 million people have visited the Castle and 1.3 million visit the Castle annually, more than any other Castle in Germany (and probably all of them combined).
Work on the Castle commenced in 1869 and was paid for out of the King’s personal fortune. The cost of building the Castle was large and escalated throughout the 2 decade build. At the time of his death the Castle had cost over 6.2 million Deutschmarks to construct and was not yet complete. The King was also undertaking many other building projects (many of them similarly self-indulgent) and owed over 14 million marks in debt to the government. The Bavarian government then decided to depose the King and he died in mysterious circumstances a few days later. He had only spent 11 nights in the castle before his death and it was far from complete.
When we arrived at the Castle entry we still had a half hour wait until our tour. You can only see the Castle in a tour, you aren’t free to wander around at your own pace. The tours are conducted in several languages, so we had booked on an English one when I pre-booked the tickets. No large bags or backpacks are allowed into the Castle (although mysteriously my camera bag was deemed OK this time), so Alan had to store his backpack. This meant we now had our bags stored across three different locations in Germany!
While we waited for our tour we took more photos from the Castle courtyard and checked out the view down into the tree-lined valley. Definitely no snow! Soren was now awake, which was probably for the best as we couldn’t take him into the Castle on my back in the ergo anyway.
We finally got to head in for our tour at 1230 with a large group. To even get to the start point of the tour you have to walk up lots and lots of spiral stairs, this Castle is not for the unfit or disabled as even getting up the hill involves some walking and the Castle is full of tiny stairs. Astrid was not impressed. We had another short wait for our guide and then were off on our tour. There are no photos allowed on the tour, and security officers everywhere to enforce the rule. You are allowed to take photos out the windows though, and I can definitely see why the King chose this spot for his retreat, check out those spectacular views!
Had it have been completed, the Palace would have had over 200 rooms. Ultimately only 20 rooms were finished. The tour takes you through those rooms and my goodness they are over the top. The King was clearly spending money hand over fist, the rooms were full of very ornate ceilings and furniture, and had all the 19th Century mod-cons. Ludwig was obsessed with swans and there are swans featured everywhere, including an entire ‘swan room’. The throne room had the most intricate mosaic floor I have ever seen. The castle is very bizarre, it’s definitely different to most other Castles, but in a Disney-like way. You can see why everyone thought the King was a little crazy.
The tour was only around 20 minutes long and it was relatively interesting. However, there is a reason we don’t normally do the organised tours. Soren was not well-behaved. He was clearly over-tired and was being quite noisy and disruptive, not his usual self, but totally the wrong timing. We had to take him out of several rooms. Astrid was perfectly behaved, so we were half way there.
The tour finished after viewing most of the rooms, and you are allowed to peruse the gift shops at your leisure and then head into the room with the Castle models, which were interesting after you have been walking through bits of the Castle.
You can then head into the Palace kitchens (photos are allowed in here) and they were amazing. They were never used, but they are any avid cooks dream. Just the collection of copper pots and copper moulds were amazing. I think Antony was in heaven!
When we were ready to head out of the Castle and back down the hill, Soren totally cracked it and flatly refused to put his jacket on. He had a massive tantrum in the middle of the Castle, much to the amusement of hundreds of people. Yes, we were ‘those poor parents’ that day.
We did finally get the jacket on and escape the Castle (with a few hundred more stairs) and headed out the front for a few more photos.
We’d been promising a horse and carriage ride for the entire trip, and we had hoped to do at least one of them here at the Castle. It was planned as a special treat for the children (even the badly behaved ones) but Soren was doing his darndest to make us cancel the idea. In the end he had complied with our wishes just enough to be allowed on the horse.
The views on the way down were very nice and the kids loved the horses. Walking would have been faster (the walkers were overtaking us at times) but the kids thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was cheaper and quicker than most of the other horse and carriage rides we had come across.
Once we were back down in the village, we said a very big thank you to our horses for carrying us down. The kids could have patted them all day, but they had to trudge back up the hill with the next group of people.
It was now very late, and a very long time since breakfast. We wandered the village to find the best option for a late lunch. We found a nice looking pub and wandered in.
The food was pretty decent, I had a vegie strudel with cheese sauce. Astrid had white sausages with pretzel. Soren demanded schnitzel so shared one with Anto (with salad and chips). Mikl had lentil stew with Weiner sausage. Alan had pork medallions with kale and roast potatoes. Of course there was beer, the kids are obsessed with smelling the different beers, much to the amusement of other restaurant patrons. I ordered a gluhwein and the waiter insisted I try a white gluhwein which was amazing. We should have had more!
After lunch we had time for a quick explore of Hohenschwangau Village. There is a second castle, the Hohenschwangau Castle, that sits above the village. It was the childhood home of the Ludwig and was built by his father. You can also tour this Castle, but we had figured we would be pushed for time so settled on a look at it from the outside. It’s up a much smaller hill than Neuwachstein Castle, but you can also catch the horsey transport up there if you wish. The Village is beautiful, but extremely touristy. There looked to be a few interesting museums but it was mostly cafes, restaurants and tourist shops.
The Village is set on the shores of the Alpsee (‘Alp lake’). The lake is a popular tourist attraction because of its proximity to the castles but has great walking trails around its 5km shoreline. It is also inhabited by wild swans that are particularly friendly.
Alpsee might be secondary to the Castles in the tourist attraction stakes, but it was just beautiful. The clear, still waters, with their reflections of snow-capped mountains and the coloured skies, in the late afternoon light. I could have stayed there taking photos all day!
We took a short walk along the lake shore, but never thought we were going to have time to do the whole lake circuit. The kids enjoyed the swans and the lake views, but didn’t seem convinced that the lake was too cold for swimming. Soren managed to lose his hat, which I noticed, just as we were leaving the lake, so I had a quick walk back to the lake and located it near the boat shed.
Reluctantly, we dragged ourselves away from the lake and went to collect our backpacks from storage and found the bus back into Füssen, to ensure we were there in plenty of time for our train connection. The buses seemed to run pretty frequently. Again it was packed full, but it was also free on the Bayern ticket, so we didn’t mind too much.
Füssen is situated only 5km North of the Austrian border and has a population of around 15,000 people. It is best known for its violin-making industry. When we arrived we had some time before our train, so had a chance to wander the town, as well as look for some dinner supplies for the train. Of course we then realised it was a Sunday, and there were going to be no supermarkets open! The Old Town was lovely, with lots of cute painted building and lovely looking cafes and restaurants. We would have had plenty of food options if we were staying there for dinner, but we’d only just had lunch, and had several hours of trains ahead of us that afternoon!
It’s certainly a town worth checking out if you are in the region. Not needing any food or drink right then, we headed back to the train station and there was an earlier train waiting that went to the correct station. It was slightly less direct (more stops) but still got us into Munich-Pasing earlier than our planned train, so we decide we might as well get on it rather than standing in the cold. We were all in need of a rest after a big day. Everyone was yawning, except for Soren!
Astrid slept almost the entire train journey, as did Alan. Soren flatly refused to sleep and had several tantrums between being cute and entertaining all the other passengers in our carriage. They thought he was cute, his parents were a bit over him this day!
We finally got into Munich-Pasing just before 6pm, and grabbed some salads and rolls for a train dinner from a takeaway place in the station. As we were collecting our luggage from the luggage lockers we figured out that the bus we thought we had next was in fact a train. We ended up catching it from the same platform we exited the Füssen train from. We had a high quality ‘train platform’ dinner in the cold while waiting for our train. When it arrived we found there weren’t many spare seats (these were not reserved seat tickets) so we ended up on fold-out seats with a huge pile of luggage, not that comfy for a long trip.
Of course the kids don’t rest and it’s a long 1.5 hours. The train was heading through to Austria. We’d travelled from Füssen, back North towards Munich and were now heading South, but the other side of the Bavarian Alps. The train was splitting in Garmich-Partenkirchen, so Astrid was excited about the fact that she was going to see a train split and talked non-stop about it. For 1.5 hours. We did not have enough alcohol or chocolate with us for this train trip!
We did finally get into Garmich-Partenkirchen at 8pm. Astrid got to see the train de-couple and split off in different directions. Stuff the Castles, her day was made! The next excitement for the evening was a group of youths smashing bottles and 2 minutes later as we are walking out, we hear multiple police cars with light and sirens head down to the train station. A bit of Sunday night entertainment.
As we exited the train station, it was raining, but all loaded up with bags and kids, we just plodded on. We got a bit wet, but it was only a 500m walk to our hotel. Garmich-Partenkirchen is a Winter sports town but there was not currently snow, so not much open. We were staying in a quaint Bavarian hotel for the night. The one staff member was there to greet us and show us to our rooms. It appeared there were three rooms currently occupied in the hotel, and we had 2 of them! The last hiccup for the night was when the hotel lady realised how young Soren and Astrid were. We had booked a family room, but she had originally put us in one with bunks for the kids, and quickly changed her mind and moved us up 3 flights of stairs into a family room with separate beds. It was probably a wise move, even if we could have done without the extra stairs.
The exhausted kids were happy to see a shower and a bed, but in their over-tired state managed to chat until after 9pm. It had been a very long day for all concerned.
Statistics for Sunday the 10th of January 2016 in Germany – the day started out at minus 1 degree in Munich. The mean temperature for our day in Füssen was 2 degrees (the average for this time of year is supposed to be minus 7 with snow!). We ended the day in Garmisch-Partenkirchen at 2 degrees. The total walking for the day was just over 12km, with Astrid walking the whole day, even if we didn’t make her walk up the big hill and took the bus instead!