Bavarian Castles & Fairy Tale Forests
November 14, 2014
Today, I'm going to finish up my travel log of Germany with the castles of Hohenschwangau and the ultra-famous Neuschwanstein, which boasts inspiring Walt Disney to come up with the idea for Cinderella's Castle.
Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein are almost right next to each other in the same town. However, Neuschwanstein is disproportionately more famous than its yellow ancestor and most people actually skip seeing Hohenschwangau all together. We met a bartender in Munich who went on and on about how making the day trip to Neuschwanstein (2 hours or more by train/bus from Munich) was not worth the time and effort to see just a few interior rooms. And, I have to say, that's true. If we had made the journey all the way to the Alps just for Neuschwanstein, we would have been sorely disappointed. Because the castle was never finished, the 30-minute tour only goes through a few chambers and gives a little history about the castle's builder, "Mad" King Ludwig. The history is definitely interesting (Ludwig had weird obsessions with Grimm fairytales and Richard Wagner, went bankrupt from trying to build Neuschwanstein, was declared mentally insane at the request of his family and confined to their residence in Munich, then drowned with his phychiatrist under mysterious circumstances in one of the lakes on the palace grounds), but the tour is short and a little underwhelming. Yes, the castle is magnificent, but our trip was made worthwile because we decided to see both castles.
Hohenschwangau was built by Ludwig's father to serve mainly as a hunting lodge, though the family lived there for most of the year. Ludwig's mother fell in love with the Alps, and was apparently a very headstrong woman for her time. Since there's only so much embroidery and wiling the day away that one can do, she decided to take up mountain climbing, and is the first known female mountaineer in Europe. The tour of Hohenschwangau is the same length as the one in Neuschwanstein, but it feels like you see more and more history and local lore is explained throughout. I even kind of like the style and views of Hohenschwangau better, so if you happen to want to visit these magnificent places in the future, I recommend seeing both castles.
I also ventured to the Bavarian Forest, and this is where I can't recommend Couchsurfing enough. Though it is possible to venture into Bavarian Forest National Park without a car from Zwiesel (where we were staying), getting to all the sights and to and from town would have taken so much longer. Not only were our hosts over-the-top nice, they even drove us to the park and spent the day with us hiking and seeing the beautiful sights. Couchsurfing with them, as well as the four other hosts we had, really enriched our trip.
Not only did we hike and see beautiful forests (which are completely different from the alpine forests of the Rockies), Bavarian Forest National Park is also partly a wild animal refuge (though some of the enclosures made it feel like a zoo, especially the bear habitat), and we saw wolves, moose, bears, otters and many types of birds. There is also the wooden tree-top walk Baumwipfelpfaud, which takes visitors up above the forest floor to a giant egg-like structure that leads you to a magnificent view of the forest and surrounding towns. The Bavarian Forest may be overshadowed by its much more visited relative, the Black Forest, but it is very much worth a visit.