Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Germany - Alpine region (1)

No visit to Germany can be considered complete without a visit to the Alpine region (Allgau) in southern Bavaria on the Austrian border. The fact that it is also the location of the fabled castles of King Ludwig II of Bavaria is no mere coincidence, their location was by design, literally and figuratively. Further, that Richard Wagner performed here for the pleasure of the King, as well as the fact that it was a venue of choice by Wagner, all adds to the mysticism of especially Neuschwanstein.
We cycled to Schwangau and the Information centre near the two castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein on our first full day in the area. The cycle track goes through wooded areas with glimpses of the two castles as you pedal along, rest stops with benches every now and then to simply take in the splendour of the surroundings, until you reach the busy Information centre area. We soon learnt that the way to do a non crowded visit is to book your tickets for the next day's tours in advance. This means you don't queue and if you take the first tour (in our case the English tour) at 09:00, your experience will be much different to say the midday tour.

On the cycle path to the castles

Portrait of Ludwig II in the woods of Hohenschwangau

The river Lech near Schwangau

View of Schwangau

View from our motorhome .... !

So with tickets for the first tour of the day in hand, we cycled again the 4km and arrived at the entrance to the older castle of the two, Hohenschwangau. This is where the young Ludwig grew up and spent much of his youth. It is also from this castle that he planned and watched the building of his new castle Neuschwanstein. The day was perfect, warm and sunny, ideally suited to sightseeing. The inner courtyard where you await your designated start time had a handful of people, which was wonderful as this creates the right ambiance.


The murals and artwork adorning the walls deserves mention and in the soft morning light made for good photography. Fountains and other features at Hohenschwangau add to the experience of this 'fairytale' castle. Swans played a big part in the life of Ludwig II and was also used as the heraldic symbol of his reign.

The tour of Hohenschwangau is done with an audio device but lead by a guide who can answer questions and takes about 1 hour. I found this mix of electronics and personal guide to work well. It means you look around the rooms at your own pace and interest and not struggling to hear or see what the guide is telling or showing.
The walk up to the entrance of the second castle is a steep one, albeit on a tarred road. This took us about 30 minutes but is most rewarding in terms of views over the surrounding area. You can opt for a horse drawn carriage or bus, but many walk and so did we. The castle is currently undergoing extensive exterior maintenance but the entrance and 'first view' has been completed and is looking fabulous. The interior is supposedly unaffected but I noticed darkened rooms and drawn curtains so as to protect and diminish the effects from dust. The tour here is all by guide and you need to listen and look in order to follow it all.
Only about 30% of what was planned by Ludwig II was ever completed, the rest for reasons of cost was abandoned after his death at age 41. The hall where Richard Wagner and other composers performed for the King I found the most impressive, it is still used for small performances today and apparently has good acoustics. Of interest to Joan was the inside and outside murals of St George slaying the dragon. The myth endures .... re the patron saint of England .... so visible inside a Bavarian castle! See link below.


St George slaying the dragon on the left

View from the castle looking north towards Lake Fussen 

We cycled back to our motorhome having thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, stopping in the 'old town' part of Fussen for a look around and an ice cream. The day was ended with a BBQ behind the motorhome with table and chairs, much to the envy of the neighbours. Way to go!

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