How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days: Drag Him Around All of King Ludwig’s Castles.

After almost two years in Bavaria, I can finally say that I have been to all three of King Ludwig’s ridiculously over-the-top castles.

And so can my boyfriend, who pretended to be as impressed as I was as he was marched around them all.

When I first arrived in this barmy little part of Germany I couldn’t help but notice that the name and face of “Konig Ludwig” was everywhere. Here he is:

English: photograph of King Ludwig II of Bavaria

Dashing chap. Photo credit: Wikipedia

From beer bottles to beer mats, from pub signs, to pub lanterns, and from bread bags, to fridge magnets; the late Bavarian King is on all of them. There’s even a signposted walk that goes through our town called the King Ludwig Way. He is clearly Bavaria’s most famous person, besides that Pope who did a runner.

Hundreds of thousands of people a year come to this part of Germany to visit Ludwig’s castles, and it’s not hard to see why. The thought, craftsmanship, attention to detail and money Ludwig II ploughed into these beautiful palaces is beyond belief. And kind of depressing when you think that most of our stuff comes from Ikea.

Sadly Ludwig died in mysterious circumstances at aged 40 in 1886 and barely spent much time in his eccentric creations or live to build more he had planned.

The King is said to have had a very sheltered childhood with little contact with the real world. This led to him being ill-prepared when he became King of Bavaria aged just 18. He developed a fascination with the operatic composer Richard Wagner, and was at odds with his catholic beliefs and supposed homosexuality. He was shy, felt misunderstood, and built his dream castles as a way to escape the pressures of his life.

After whittling away most of the royal family’s fortunes on his castles, Ludwig was declared “insane” by doctors who had never examined him in person. He was banished to Berg Castle on the Starnberg Lake. It had once been one of his favourite residences but was practically turned into a prison after his arrest.

The following day Ludwig and his doctor were found dead, floating in the lake after going for a walk. It is not known whether they were murdered, if they died accidentally, or if Ludwig killed the doctor then committed suicide.

I have developed a bit of a fascination with Ludwig myself, and have been captivated by his remarkable and tragic story. As a result I have not only visited his palaces, but also his summer holiday home, the spot where he died and also his tomb (morbid I know). I saved my German guy from the tomb visit, but the rest he has most definitely seen. “I would never have bothered if I hadn’t met you,” he added cheerfully.

The castles now belong to the Bavarian State, although some of the entry fees still go to Bavarian royalty.

Here’s my insider guide to the castles and other locations associated with the ‘mad fairy tale’ king.

Neuschwantein - scaffolding hidden

Neuschwantein – scaffolding hidden

Neuschwanstein: No I can’t pronounce it either. Sounds like “Noishvanstine”.

If you’ve ever wondered where the hell everyone in Bavaria is, they are here at Neuschwanstein. Germany’s most popular tourist attraction heaves with people from all over the world even on a quiet day, but even at its busiest, it’s well worth a visit. The palace sits in a gorgeous setting in the mountains and is believed to have been the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Construction began on Ludwig’s dream medieval palace near Fuessen in 1869. He dedicated it to Richard Wagner and many of the artworks inside depict scenes from his operas. Sadly the castle wasn’t finished before Ludwig died, and he only spent around 170 days in it.

My favourite bits inside were the King’s wood-panelled bedroom and his bathroom, where his toilet is actually disguised as a very regal-looking chair. The water from the taps here came direct from a nearby spa (as you do). The palace also features an artificial grotto and an amazing kitchen beautifully advanced for its time. Ludwig loved technology, and he also had one of Germany’s first telephones here. Sadly you can’t take pictures inside any of the castles.

The palace is about a 40-minute uphill walk from the town of Hohenschwangau. (There are horse-drawn carriages for those unable to walk and lazy people). You need to buy tickets from the ticket centre in the town for a 30-minute tour of the palace.  As these get booked up you may have to wait a few hours for your tour, so leave plenty of time. In the meantime you can also visit 12th century Schloss Hohenschwangau, which was renovated by Ludwig’s father Max. There are lovely views from here of the green hills and stunning alpine lake below.

The views from outside Neuschwanstein of the Bavarian countryside below is also great, plus you can take a walk along Mary’s Bridge for that all-important photo of the castle nestled in the mountains. Unfortunately it was really foggy when we went so we couldn’t see said castle. The castle was also undergoing renovations on one day we visited (I’ve been twice) and it was covered in scaffolding in parts. Hardly the fairy tale we were expecting, but still.

You can catch a train to Fuessen from Munich and catch a bus to the castle. For latest ticket prices and opening times, please see the official website here.

Charming Linderhof

Charming Linderhof

Linderhof: My personal favourite.

Much less touristy than both of the other castles, stunning Linderhof in Ettal is the one I would most recommend seeing if you only can do one and you’re blessed with decent weather.  Although this palace is smaller than the others, it is set in a stunning green valley with wonderful gardens, forests and a few out-buildings including a Moorish Kiosk. This was Ludwig’s private retreat, where he hardly had visitors, and it just feels much more personal than the grander palaces of Neuschwanstein and Herrenchiemsee but nonetheless extravagant.

You could easily spend a day here exploring the gardens and surrounding land (only open in summer). But if you’re pushed for time you could see Linderhof and Neuschwanstein in the same day, as they are about an hour’s drive from one another and looped together on tours. Again Linderhof, inspired by Versailles, can only be seen by joining a tour of the inside but you can wander the grounds in your own time.

If taking public transport you can catch a train to Oberammergau and then a bus.  See the official site here for more information.

Herrenchiemsee at the back

Herrenchiemsee at the back

Herrenchiemsee: The one Ludwig only spent 10 days in.

Built on an island on the stunning Chiemsee with the Alps in the distance, this palace was also modelled on Versailles and dedicated to King Louis XIV of France. Ludwig went to great lengths to ensure that this palace was similar or even better than the one in France. The most famous room is the Hall of Mirrors, which also features more then 2, 000 candles. The palace also boasts a 60,000 litre capacity bath and one of the world’s finest porcelain collections.

What’s more surprising than the extravagance of this place is the fact that Ludwig only spent 10 days here and even then it wasn’t complete as his money ran out (this palace cost more than Linderhof and Neuschwanstein combined). He never intended to really use it for anything either. It was, as the knowledgeable guide said, just a ‘time capsule’ for him to escape his everyday life. There is also a great museum on site telling you all about Ludwig’s life and a self-service restaurant with a terrace on the palace’s forecourt. Nice touch.

To get to the palace you need to catch a boat to the Herreninsel from one of the departure points on the Chiemsee. We caught the short boat trip from Prien, about an hour’s drive from Munich and on the Munich-Salzburg train line. It is then a 15-20 minute walk through countryside and woodland to the palace (horse-drawn carriages also available). Again the palace can only be seen by joining a tour, lasting around 30-minutes.

For information, visit the official site here.

Ludwig’s Island Retreat: The Casino, on Rose Island, Starnberg Lake.

This is nothing like a casino at all, so gamblers don’t come disappointed. Instead the Roseninsel is a romantic little island with a very sweet-smelling rose garden and villa, where Ludwig used to hang out with his friends. You can catch a tiny boat to the island from the small town of Feldafing on the Starnberg lake, then spend a couple of hours wandering through the gardens and touring the inside of the summer house for a few Euros. Starnberg is about a 15-minute drive from Munich, with trains stopping at Feldafing from Munich on the S6 line.

We attempted to tour the house with our 18-month-old son in tow. Ever tried doing a historical tour with a loud little man and a group of unimpressed Germans? Big mistake. I dropped out, leaving my boyfriend to go it alone while I entertained our little chap in the garden. “Take some pictures” I instructed. This is one that came back.

Fortunately he did take some more, revealing the intricate and sometimes simple interior.

Although no where near as grand as the castles, the villa was built without a kitchen (that was situated in a building to the side of the villa instead) so the cooking fumes did not overcome the smell of the roses from the garden. Tall trees were also planted around the garden to stop the rose smell from escaping. The smell is amazing and I would recommend visiting in summer when the flowers are in bloom.

It was a lovely afternoon out, and one that can be combined with a trip to….

The spot where Ludwig Died: Berg, Starnberg Lake.

Marked by a simple cross erected by his mother, this is where Ludwig was found dead. Although Berg Castle is closed, you can wander through the woodland leading to the cross. There is also a pretty neo-Romanesque memorial chapel built in honour of Ludwig. Berg is about an hour’s walk from the town of Starnberg (one of Germany’s richest areas. Look out for women dressed as Cruella De Vil).

For details on the chapel, call +49 (0)8151 5276. For details on catching the boat to the Rose Island, call +49 (0)171 722 2266.

Ludwig’s final resting place. The crypt of Michael’s Church, central Munich.

Drawn in to the Renaissance church from the busy shopping street of Kaufingerstrasse, I discovered this was actually where poor Ludwig was finally laid to rest – in a rather creepy crypt besieged by visitors and worshippers (entrance 2 Euros). The crypt is full of tombs of late Bavarian Royals, but there’s no second guessing who the largest and most decorated one that sits behind iron gates belongs to.

King Ludwig's tomb

King Ludwig’s tomb

It’s also ironic that the king’s tomb is in Munich because he grew to hate the city’s residents for their opposition to his close friend Richard Wagner.

It seems the troubled King, who in the end just wanted to cut himself off from the world bestowed upon him, will never truly be left to rest in peace.

And Then The Pigs Magically Became….Sausages

On Saturday we went to one of my favourite local spots in Bavaria, a tiny, picturesque village up in the hills with a farm, adjoining restaurant, and a 5-star bakery.

I’ve never heard of a 5-star bakery before and I’m not exactly sure why the Kasprowicz in Gut Kerschlach is one, except for the sign outside saying it is and the exceptionally good cakes.

But at least I can now say that I have been to a 5-star bakery, even if there weren’t any limos parked outside, high-class hookers hanging out at the counter or bread rolls lounging around in tuxedos smoking cigars.

To get to the village you have to drive to another small village in the south of Bavaria called Pahl, and walk 20 minutes or so along a trail through tall forests and rolling countryside with gorgeous Alpine views.

It’s very pretty to say the least.

Once more it’s great for kids, because there’s very little traffic up there, and you can tour the farm with its kids’ park and zoo, with  moo moos, bunnies, baa baas and neeeee-ighs! (This is how I talk now I have a 16-month-old).

Now we all know how much kids love animals. And how much nicer it is to see them on an ‘eco’ farm, being treated all humanely and stuff. It was a lovely family outing, and our hearts were literally singing with joy as we skipped around in the sunshine like characters from a Disney movie, talking to the animals all Dr Dolittle like.

But sadly we were unable to find the oink oinks. The map showed their barn as being at the back of the farm. But they were nowhere to be found.

Max has just learnt how to make grunts like a pig.  When you’re a parent and your child learns to make grunts like a pig, THIS IS ONE OF THE HIGLIGHTS OF YOUR YEAR.  Therefore, we had to find those smelly noisy pink buggers as if our lives depended on it.

After ten minutes of frantic searching, we found what we thought was the pig area. Hooray! Max’s face lit up, and he started making his cute oink oink noises.

We all skipped over holding hands, with grins like the Cheshire Cat (not really but got to keep up the Disney-esque-ness of it all). We had found the pigs!

But instead of the pigs we actually found this….a sausage factory.

Are you having a laugh? Who puts a sausage factory on a farm for kids, right where the pigs are meant to be? That’s the wurst!

There wasn’t even an attempt to disguise the factory of horrors. There’s a whopping great big sign on the sausage factory announcing it’s a sausage factory, explaining to the children what happens to the animals inside. The way they break the news is quite hilarious. The sign is in German, but let me (or Google) translate.

“Kerschlach Factory. Here the animals that come from the farm and from partner companies are slaughtered in an animal friendly-way and are transformed into speciality sausages.”

“Transformed.” What a nice way of putting it.

It was a sad end to a beautiful day. We trundled off, heads bowed,  looking and feeling grim. Damn those Germans for always being so brutally honest and direct. Practicality rules over everything here. Feelings don’t always count. That’s why there was a sausage factory on a farm for kids. That’s why my friend’s nan lives in a sheltered housing scheme for the elderly with great views of the cemetery over the road. That’s why people here still wear Crocs – in public.

Although I have to admit, I have enjoyed a German sausage or two in my time.  They taste amazing. I guess there’s no point hiding the truth of what happens to most pigs in what is the land of sausages. In Britain I doubt this scenario would have existed, for fear of being insensitive and giving children nightmares. Not in Bavaria!

And at least, like whenever something doesn’t go to plan here, we can cheer up over five-star cake.

The Great Bavarian Get-Away: Lake Maggiore, Italy.

Lago Maggiore

Lago Maggiore

Another reason why we should all be jealous of Bavarians besides their stinking riches is that they can drive to Italy in just a few hours. Northern Italy is therefore a very popular holiday destination for the Bavarians, with no hassle of catching flights, boats, or trains required. Just jump in your car and go!

The Great Italian Lakes are a top spot, with many Germans popping down to wonderful places such as Lake Garda for some rest and relaxation. Yep that’s right. While us Brits have the windswept Isle of Wight, the Germans have Lake Garda. No contest there then really.

British seaside

The Great British holiday

Beach Fun

vs the German one. Photo credit: Ozgurmulazimoglu

On the day we left Bavaria just a few weeks ago it was 6C and raining so heavily half of Germany flooded. When we arrived in Italy four hours later it was sunny and 22C. It’s consoling to know after such a long harsh winter in Germany that warmth and sunshine is just a drive away.

The journey there took us to the very south of Germany, then through Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, then over the border into Italy. Five countries in just a few hours! With a one-year-old! Needless to say Max wasn’t in the best mood after that trip.

Lake Maggiore is not one of the better known lakes, and that’s why we decided to head there. Italy’s second largest lake straddles the border of Switzerland and Italy, and is just an hour’s train journey from Milan. Its beauty is immense, with its clear waters framed perfectly by the mountains, rich green peaks, and picturesque rustic towns, some hundreds of years old. Historic villas, palaces, botanic gardens, and crumbling churches add to its allure. The colours and scenery are among the best I have ever seen. I truly fell in love with it.

We were surprised to find that somewhere so close to the Swiss border was still so enthusiastically Italian, with passionate people with the fiercest hand gestures in the world, lots of designer handbags, a plethora of pizza and pasta, and the smell of rich coffee filling the air. For someone who loves nature and has forever longed to be in Italy, this was my dream world!

I could have spent every day of our week’s break sitting in one of the many cafes watching the Italians go by. ‘Ciao!’ ‘Prego!’ and ‘Bella!’ seem to be the only words you really need to learn in Italy. The Italians all seemed to love our son Max too. Here is a little old lady in a bakery doing a dance for him, and blowing him kisses. Italians are the opposite of Germans – crazy! I loved them.

There were so many little towns and sights to see around the huge lake, we sadly couldn’t do it all. These were our favourite bits:

Villa Taranto: A spectacular 16 hectare botanical garden that really isn’t as boring as it sounds. The plants and trees here are from all over the world, with seeds collected by a Scottish captain on his travels. Neil McEacharn created the garden on a whim after buying the villa in the 1930s. He left it to the Italian Government when he died aged 80 in 1964 to carry on his work. What a great travel legacy to leave behind.

Stresa: Beautiful town where old-school Italian glamour meets relaxed, lakeside charm. The magnificent hotels overlooking the lake here have welcomed kings, princes and the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to put on a nice dress and heels and sip pink champagne. Unless you’re a ‘real’ bloke.

The Islands: You can catch a boat to the islands on the lake. We went to Isola Bella, and toured its remarkably opulent palace and wonderful gardens. We also visited Isola Pescatori, an island popular with fishermen and lots of German tourists in socks and sandals.

Lake Orta isn’t too far away either. We found it to be a mini Lago Maggiore, but much quieter and less touristy.

I am already planning my next trip to Bella Italia – the country, not the awful chain restaurant. Until then, Tutti Frutti!

Life’s Simple Travellers: The Storks of Bavaria

Not much happens in the little Bavarian village I live in called Raisting.  Well, the library at the local school opens on Monday and Thursday evenings. And the Doner Kebab man comes and parks his little van here on Thursdays too. So I would say that Thursday is definitely the busiest day in Raisting (population about 12). But what little Raisting lacks in people power it definitely makes up for in terms of animals.

When I take my baby son for a walk around the village the monotony of pounding the same streets time and time again (there aren’t many of them you see) is broken up by the various animals we see. There are the horses, the black fluffy ‘moo’ cows, regular black and white ‘moo’ cows, chickens and lots of different types of birds that little Max loves to see and watch me try to impersonate. Back in my hometown in Essex in England we really don’t have much wildlife (apart from the drunk animals you get on Southend High Street every night) so this is all a novelty for us.

My favourite Raisting wildlife however has to be the storks, who return year after year to this little part of Bavaria to their nests. The White Storks are believed to be as faithful to their nests as they are to their mates, hence their return to the same spot here each spring. In Raisting we have a number of purpose-built platforms on the top of high poles that the birds use to build their nests, and it’s great to see so many of these long-legged creatures rambling wild around the village in the summer. I once cycled through a field and noticed a good 30 of them just hanging out, catching mice or whatever it is storks do in fields. Typically I didn’t have my camera on me but I’ll always treasure the memory. There’s something really special about seeing an animal in the wild, and not cooped up in some crappy ‘wild’ life centre.

The birds also melt my heart as they remind me of when my son was born on April 2 2012. As I waited for his birth the storks had arrived in the village and were flying high above as I waddled around with my huge bump hanging out of my leggings. Of course, the legend goes that storks bring babies, and I thought it was too cute that I was waiting for mine just as they arrived here in Europe all the way from Africa.

Storks are strong in German folklore, with their nests believed to bring good luck and protection against fires. You will also see many wooden stork decorations in front gardens to announce that a child has been born to the family that lives there. When I arrived here all fat and pregnant I thought this was the best tradition ever. In Essex this cutesy stuff just doesn’t happen. Mainly because people aren’t that thoughtful, and also because the storks would be stolen or urinated on if left outside at night.

A wooden stork in Raisting

Anyway, when I realised that other women were returning home from hospital with their babies to these wonderful giant wooden birds in their garden, I decided I had to have one too. Forget the baby. I WANTED A STORK. And most men should know that it always pays to listen to the really hormonal, emotional woman who has just given birth and won’t let them forget that they did so for the rest of their lives. I made it clear to Markus that his life wouldn’t be worth living if I came home and there was NO stork. If I was going to squeeze his baby out of my vagina, I WANTED A STORK. And crap loads of chocolate.

Despite my extreme subtlety, he got the message. And this is what greeted little Max and I, Mariah Carey, when we first arrived home.

The stork was hand-crafted and painted by our friends (Bavarians are really good at making things). It’s holding an Australian flag as its sack because Max was conceived there (in the country, not in the sack). It’s by far one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. I’m tearing up now just thinking about it, but that’s because I’m a mum and we cry at everything, including things like manky-looking pigeons that can’t walk properly.

The storks are yet to return this year, although two did stay in Raisting this winter, according to the local newspaper (yes, this does make headlines here). I saw one of them poking around someone’s garden in the snow last week. These travellers migrate to Africa from central and eastern Europe, but have to go all the way via Turkey and Egypt to the east or Gibraltar in the west because the air thermals they depend on don’t form over water. They must bloody hate the Med. But then at least they don’t have to fly over Malta, as the Maltese like to shoot birds for fun, and then they would be dead. And that would be a terrible blow to little Raisting (pun intended).

Many people who are keen travellers often find it hard to stay in one place for too long. As another travel blogger said to me recently, life can seem to be a tug of war between nesting and nomadic. Therefore I salute you, oh pretty storks. You seem to have the perfect mix in life. Nesting in Europe for the summer, then buggering off before it gets too cold for a fantastic journey south into Africa.

Without the barriers in life that hold us humans back, they make it look so simple.