How long you'll need
Allow 3-5 days
What you'll see
The world and his grandmother head for the castle at Neuschwanstein in the season. But there’s a lot more to the region than this magnificent piece of theatricality.
It is a place of towering scenery, sumptuous hotels and outrageous castles, mostly the work of King Ludwig II, so it is not surprising that so many visitors head for Füssen, in southern Bavaria.
The town itself, at the foot of the Alps, has a pretty and well preserved old centre with lots of terrace cafes and accommodation choices, and there are two or three big lakes in the vicinity, the closest of which – the Forggensee – has a well-run spa hotel on the shore, the Hotel Sommer.
Neuschwanstein (left) ten minutes northeast of Füssen, is spectacular from the outside, and less convincing inside, with a fairly perfunctory (specific start times) guided tour pushing the numbers through. You should allow lots of time to walk (or ride) up to it and around the immediate area, though, and particularly to go up to Mary’s bridge for the view down. The older castle within the same local area, Hohenschwangau, is actually more interesting inside.
Füssen is surrounded by good cycle routes, and if you’re feeling strong it’s a good rural ride out to the sumptuously baroque Wieskirche (pictured), a famous pilgrimage church romantically sited in the fields at Steingaden. The café opposite, Gasthof Schweiger, does excellent local food. Otherwise, Hopfensee and the eponymous little resort on the lakeshore is an easy destination from Füssen.
For more interesting Ludwig stuff, head north out of town on the Romantic Road, and then break off eastwards to Oberammergau, the deeply religious town that stages its famous Passion Play every ten years. Lots of woodcarvers at work here on religious motifs. Up the valley west of town is the Linderhof Palace, another of King Ludwig’s creations, and more perfect on the inside, but less spectacular on the outside, than Neuschwanstein.
And finally, there’s a real Ludwig treat high in the mountains for anyone ready to make the effort. The King’s House at Schachen (left) was his mountain lodge, but it can only be reached on foot after a two or three hour walk uphill. The best starting point is a car park in meadows close to a particularly sumptuous hotel, the Schloss Elmau, which itself is southeast of the resort town of Garmisch Partenkirchen. You can also start from Garmisch itself, although it takes a bit longer. If you want to overnight on the mountain, there’s a well-equipped mountain hut with restaurant and bunkbed rooms, the Schachenhaus.
From top to bottom: Neuschwanstein: Mertens. Wies Kirche, Bayern Tourismus. Linderhof: Oberammergau Tourismus. Schachen, Andrew Eames