Seeing Schloss Neuschwanstein covered in snow is one of those crazy pipe dreams for your bucket list, but you never think it will actually happen. Especially in May. But snow over the castle it did, and Kofo and I were lucky enough to experience the magic of seeing the ‘Disney Castle’ in its most beautiful setting.
What the castle is supposed to look like in this weather…
Glance to the left, and this is what it actually looks like.
To get there from Munich, you catch a train to the historic medieval town of Füssen, just a few kilometres north of the Austrian border. Neuschwanstein, and its older, yellow-coloured sibling Hohenschwangau, are located in the village of Schwangau – you can either walk for an hour from Füssen train station, or catch one of the many buses that await you in the station car park. It couldn’t be much simpler!
Easy as pie!
We hopped onto the 7:52 train from Munich Hauptbahnhof, feeling a little chilly, but not really expecting it to snow. However, as we got deeper into the countryside, the layer of white stuff on the ground got thicker and thicker. We were worried the trains would be cancelled, or we’d be stranded in Füssen, but this is Germany. Not only do the trains run in adverse weather conditions, they run on time. Absolute madness.
When the bus arrived in the Schwangau village, we jumped off it and straight into a snowdrift. It was at this point we realised our shoes were woefully inadequate – Kofo wore some canvas trainers. I thought I’d fare better in my boots, but these boots are very well worn, so melted snow seeped into my socks through the holey sole. Not fun, but at least we had umbrellas to protect our beautiful hair from the snow.
Kofo had based today’s hairdo on Minnie Mouse, since we were going to see the very castle that inspired Walt Disney…
Last time I came to Neuschwanstein, we’d forgotten to book tickets in advance. We just about got tickets for the last tour of the day, but I didn’t want to leave it that last minute again, so we made sure to pre-book this time. Sadly, it didn’t change the fact we had to get up early, because we had to pick up the tickets an hour and a half before the first castle tour (of Hohenschwangau) at midday. We got the ‘King’s Package’ for 30 Euros, meaning we would see Hohenschwangau first, followed by Neuschwanstein.
This did give us some time to kill, so… snow selfies!
Before I came to Bavaria, I didn’t realise just how beautiful it was. Schwangau sits at the feet of the Alps, and there’s a beautiful mountain lake (Alpsee) you can walk around in between your castle tours. In the summer, the Alpsee is crystalline and tranquil, perfect for a peaceful boat ride or even just dipping your toes. Today, its clear waters were almost ice, and the only things in it were some (extremely resilient) ducks and swans.
Appropriate really, because ‘Schloss Neuschwanstein’ means ‘New swan stone castle’.
The ducks, doe-eyed and adorable as they were, came up to us in the hopes we might feed them. It broke my heart a little bit because we had only brought chocolate to nourish ourselves, and I feel ducks don’t mix well with Mars bars. So we had to leave them hungry and cold.
After a quick souvenir-buying stop (partly to pick up mementos, partly to buy Kofo some gloves, and mainly to just defrost a bit), we headed into the Museum of Bavarian Kings to use their toilets and have a look round. After refreshing ourselves and secretly snaffling some chocolate to keep us going, we headed inside to have a look. It turns out the King’s Package doesn’t cover entry to the museum as well, so we had an awkward interaction with the guide as we fumbled around for tickets we didn’t have. Oops. We promised we’d come back later, and would pay for tickets…
For now, though, it was time to begin our walk up to Hohenschwangau, which in ordinary conditions would have taken us 20 minutes or so, but in the snow, it took us more like half an hour.
Very odd, seeing snow coat the bright green, leafy trees. Easy to forget that it’s actually May.
Pretty though this uphill struggle was, freezing cold water was soaking into mine and Kofo’s socks, to the point we both felt we were going to get frostbite. We would have taken the buses up to the castles, but owing to the slippery conditions, the buses weren’t running. Most unusual for Germany.
The poor, struggling horses still had to carry entire carriages filled with people on their backs, though. They had to do it both up and down the hill – it wasn’t kind.
When we finally arrived at Hohenschwangau’s gates, we were 20 minutes early for our tour. The tours work on a very tight system – you’re only allowed to pass through the turnstiles at the exact time your tour starts, then you file into the castle, where you’re met by your guide and given the tour. Rather than waiting 20 minutes in the cold and the frost and the snow, we went inside the gift shop, finding many other freezing tourists with the same idea huddled inside.
We bought ourselves a cup of hot cocoa and attempted to warm up, but nothing was working fast enough. When a space next to the radiator finally opened up, Kofo and I jumped at it, standing up against it so our toes could be toasted underneath it. The relief of finally being able to feel our toes again was indescribable – but we did feel a bit bad, as we were hogging a highly-coveted spot. Eyes filled with disgust were upon us… but we were too cold to care.
Hohenschwangau castle is the less famous of Schwangau’s two hilltop palaces, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. A fortress has existed on the site until the Middle Ages, but the present, brightly coloured building has existed since 1837. Maximilian II, who we learned was kind of a big deal in Munich, was responsible for its reconstruction, as he saw the sorry state of Hohenschwangau while on a walking tour of the area, and took it upon himself to rebuild the place. We’re very glad he did – it’s a lovely sight to behold, and the interior is well thought out and nicely decorated. It was the Bavarian royal family’s summer retreat, and you can just imagine Maximilian II, his wife Marie of Prussia, and their kids having a night in the living room. Or drawing room. Or dining room… they’re rich, so there’s a lot of rooms to mess about in.
Photo credit: Kofo, because it’s actually decent, and not blurry as hell.
The castle tour is divided into two halves. You start on the first floor, which was where the main reception rooms were, as well as the Queen’s quarters. Then, you go upstairs, to where the king lived, worked, and hosted prominent guests (such as the composer Wagner). It was at this point Kofo’s mind wandered, wondering how Maximilian II and Marie of Prussia had two kids if they lived in separate quarters. “Did they have, like, scheduled sex or something?” she asked our guide. He laughed and said he would explain later on in the tour.
When we got to the King’s bedroom (which was very seductively decorated, with painted climbing plants, and a light up moon and stars on the ceiling and everything. Man had taste), the guide pointed out a concealed door. Behind it was a passageway that led into Marie’s bedroom, so they could meet for liaisons without being seen by anyone. Naughty, eh?
After chatting to the guide a bit more – something he was quite receptive to, as I think he was just glad we were listening to what he was saying and engaging with him – we started down the hill again. Back to the Bavarian Kings museum for another discreet toilet stop and Mars bar. We thought we could get away with not being seen, but we bumped into the guide we’d seen earlier. We didn’t make eye contact.
The map had said that in normal conditions, it takes 40 minutes to trek up from the village to the perch Neuschwanstein sits on, so we headed on up the hill with an hour to spare. Plus, we’ve got a habit of stopping to take many photos. But, at least you can enjoy them from the comfort of your warm, weather-appropriate clothing now, readers.
The way the green leaves drape over the icy waterfall… it’s a photographer’s dream. Shame I don’t have any talent.
We got up to a viewpoint of the castle with some time to spare, so we played in the snow for a while, looked down into the ravine, and took some more pics. Annoyingly, the gatehouse and front turret of the castle are undergoing renovations at the moment, so you can’t see it in its full glory – but we made the best of it.
I take my work seriously. I wrote the cover feature for this bookazine, and now I’m taking it to its rightful home. Managed to get my face in the company-wide weekly email, too, so that’s something!
Neuschwanstein castle, while it looks like the stuff of fairy tales, is actually a fairly modern creation. One of Maximilian II’s sons, Ludwig II, was a man with more money than sense. He was also, like me, a romantic (though admittedly he took it a step too far and imagined himself as a character from one of Wagner’s operas). Ludwig liked nothing more than pretty castles, and had fond memories of his summers spent in Hohenschwangau. So, in an attempt to recreate that childhood magic, he designed and built Neuschwanstein in the late 19th century.
It’s a turret lover’s dream.
It took years (and a lot of money) to construct, and Ludwig was so keen to live there that he moved in in 1884, before the castle was even finished. He was only there for six months, before he died in mysterious circumstances – found dead in a lake, along with his psychiatrist. To this day, we don’t know what happened to Ludwig II – but we do know that he was a deeply unhappy man, who struggled with the pressures of rule, as well as his homosexuality.
To start your tour, you go through the turnstiles. You start in the servant’s quarters, before ascending the most beautiful spiral staircase. The central column is a giant palm tree trunk, and the domed roof is painted to resemble palm fronds, fruits, and a glittering desert night sky. It’s utterly stunning, but I’m afraid I can’t show you what it looks like, as you’re not allowed to take pictures inside. Booo. You’ll just have to Google it.
You then go around the state rooms of the palace – that’s the blue and gold Byzantine-themed Throne Room (which never had a throne in it, because it wasn’t made by the time Ludwig died), the King’s personal chambers (including his bedroom, study, and literal man cave… otherwise known as a grotto), and the Hall of Singers. The latter is the biggest room in the palace, as it sits inside the magnificent castle roof, spanning the entire length of the building. Its walls are adorned with paintings of Arthurian legend, and Ludwig intended that Wagner perform some operas in here. That never happened, sadly. Sucks for him, and for us, because the room was undergoing some serious renovations – meaning scaffolding covered pretty much every surface. What a shame.
You finish your tour here, but on the way out you get a look at the castle kitchen. This made us hungry, and we wanted to stay indoors to keep warm, so we made a beeline for the cafe. Kofo really wanted a hot apple strudel, and I fancied a pretzel and some tea, so we bought our food and sat down.
Sadly, ‘Warmer Apfelstrudel’ either didn’t mean ‘Warm Apple Strudel’, or it had gone cold. Either way, we weren’t too happy. But it’s okay, Kofo got her fix the next day.
And my hot water cost £2.50. Bastards.
Sufficently snacked up, the plan was to make the 20 minute hike up to Marienbrucke (bridge) to capture this stunning shot.
Stolen from Google… sadly, the bridge was closed, so we couldn’t get our own version.
Marienbrucke had been shut because of the snow, which we probably should have guessed, as there weren’t the usual throngs of tourists lining up to get their shot when we saw it from the castle. Instead, it was like a snowy ghost town. A little disheartened, we started back down the hill, in search of another snack to cheer us up.
We’d seen this place on the way up, and it looked promising, so we had a look to see what hot treats we could get our hands on.
As we neared the lodge, a warm, sweet smell greeted our nostrils. A man was deep-frying some dough and dusting it with sugar. “Aha!” We thought, “could murder some doughnuts right now”. Only they weren’t doughnuts – they were quarkbällchen. Well, looks like a doughnut, smells like a doughnut, so how different can they be?
Substantially, we found out. They are pleasant, warm and sweet to bite into, but there’s a bit of a weird aftertaste, which I think stems from the fact they’re mostly made of egg and cheese. I wouldn’t go out of my way to find them again, but if I found myself on a snowy day with only another bloody Mars bar to eat, I’d have a quarkbällchen or two gratefully.
If mozzarella sticks did dessert, this would be it.
On our way back to Schwangau, we encountered a number of things. Aside from trying to avoid slipping down the path (which, at this point in the day, was a mixture of slush and horse poo), we saw many an unsuspecting person get snow-dumped on by the trees, and someone throwing up as someone else tried to shovel the horse poo away. Worst of all, a group of annoying German schoolkids had decided to target Kofo and I, mercilessly throwing snowballs at us. I’m not sure why they picked on us, but since our snowball-making skills weren’t up to scratch, we did what the kid in the Elf movie did and just took the snow bombs uncomplainingly.
Someone had, however, made this cool snowman. So that was nice.
There was just one place left to visit before we got back on the train to Munich.
Ah, Museum of Bavarian Kings. You never failed us.
Yep. We went into the Museum of Bavarian Kings for one last look/toilet break/warm up. As it was just before closing time, we thought we’d avoid the guide we had seen twice already, but alas – life doesn’t always work out that way. He looked me straight in the eye as my gloved hand bit into yet more chocolate, which you weren’t supposed to eat inside. I felt awful because we never did buy those tickets we’d promised to, but had used the loo three times that day. Perhaps karma will come back to haunt me, one day.
By the time we returned to Munich about half past 8 that night, it was as if it had never snowed. The flakes on our clothes had long since melted, and there was no dusting of powdery snow on Munich’s rooftops. Just a chill in the air, and the snow-capped Alps in the far distance, to remind us of all we’d experienced that day.
I say I may never come back to Neuschwanstein, but let’s be real, I probably will. It’s the real-life Disney castle! How could anyone resist a third, or even fourth, trip there? For now, though, I’ll say so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodnight…