Tag: Detour

Detour: The Palaces of King Ludwig II

When visiting World Heritage Sites in Bavaria, King Ludwig II’s two palaces Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee and the castle Neuschwanstein offer a nice detour. Many tourists actually believe one of those to be a World Heritage Site, but wrongly so. Equally wrong are those who consider it a copy of Disney’s Cinderella castle. But let me start at the beginning…

Ludwig II lived between 1845 and 1886, and ascended to the Bavarian throne in 1864. He was a generous patron of the arts and initiated and financed many architectural and artistic projects. The older he became, though, the less he bothered with matters of state and was considered to live in a sort of dream world, hence his nickname ‘Märchenkönig’, or fairy tale king. He was considered mad by many contemporaries and eventually declared insane and deposed as king. Shortly after, he was found dead on the shores of Lake Starnberg, but the initial explanation of suicide by drowning did not hold when it was discovered that there was no water in his lungs. The mystery probably won’t be solved any more, and whether Ludwig II truly was a little mad or just a misunderstood eccentric, Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee make for excellent sightseeing destinations.

Neuschwanstein probably is the most famous of the three, and often mistaken for either a World Heritage Site or a copy of Disney’s Cinderella castle. The amount of misinformed drivel you are confronted with by accidentally listening in on tourists’ conversations could make your blood freeze. But don’t let me get carried away by this, one of my pet peeves.

What Neuschwanstein Castle certainly is, is one of the most photographed castles in the world. I have visited Neuschwanstein Castle twice so far, and both times I was more than a tad frightened of being trampled underfoot by the hordes of visitors. The sheer number is mindblowing; 1.5 million visitors per year, according to Wikipedia. But then Neuschwanstein really does offer everything people look for in a castle:
It is situated in a lofty spot in the mountains (though not so high up you couldn’t reach it), it has lots of towers and turrets, and nooks and crannies, and once you have made it up, there are spectacular views across the foothills of the Alps and the Allgäu region. Not to forget the legends that still keep popping up of a deranged king trying to build an idealised version of a castle, only to committ suicide (or be killed, rather) before it was even finished.

Despite having visited the castle twice, there is much more to see. I would especially recommend taking some time for longish walks in the area, because those would provide stunning views of the castle from different viewpoints – and the landscape itself is beautiful and makes for a perfect holiday destination, especially if you’re into hiking, biking or paragliding.

 

Building works on Herrenchiemsee – or more correctly, Herrenchiemsee New Palace – were begun in 1878 and, as with Neuschwanstein castle, never finished due to Ludwig II’s death in 1886. The palace is located on Herreninsel island within Lake Chiemsee and offers spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and especially towards the Alps mountain range. Despite the rather large number of visitors I encountered, the island offers quiet and tranquility. You can walk through woods and fields, or take a trip on a horse-drawn carriage. I even saw several young deer when I was there. Due to the size of the island, visitors aren’t all lumped together all the time, except for the waiting areas for the boat transfers to the Fraueninsel island and the mainland.

Most remarkable about Herrenchiemsee palace is that it was planned as a copy of Versailles. I think that similarities in the garden’s layout are certainly there, but it would take a lot more to even come close to Versailles’ grandeur. Notwithstanding, Herrenchiemsee palace is striking, and in my eyes it gains most through its situation: If I had a chance to build myself a palace, I would definitely enjoy a location surrounded by woods and water.

 

Linderhof palace is perhaps the most extravagant of the three building projects, and shows Ludwig II’s eccentricity best: It sports a hermitage, grotto, Moorish kiosque and Morroccan House, as well as lavish interior design inside the palace. Linderhof is also the only building project that King Ludwig II saw completed. The palace grounds are situated within the Ammergebirge Nature Reserve, which makes for beautiful surroundings, and the palace was actually built on the site of an old hunting lodge. To be honest, though, I believe I would have preferred the unspectacular hunting lodge over the overwrought style of the new palace…

 

All three palaces are easily accessible from Munich, though not in one day. As they are each located in beautiful surroundings, I would recommend at least an overnight stay for each rather than just going for a short trip from Munich. Neuschwanstein is located close to the World Heritage Site Pilgrimage Church of Wies (or Wieskirche), which I’ll soon write about, as well.

 

I would like to thank the Bayerische Verwaltung der staatlichen Schlösser, Gärten und Seen for granting me a photo permit for exterior photographs at the three palaces and for providing additional photos (see captions above for details).

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Detour: The Art Nouveau Swimming Pool in Aachen

When in Aachen, most tourists naturally focus on the cathedral, which was Germany’s first World Heritage Site, and on the lovely historic town centre. And who would blame them – Aachen is one of the prettiest German cities I know and despite the cathedral often being overshadowed by its much larger and more well known ‘neighbour’, the Kölner Dom in nearby Cologne, I personally find Aachen Cathedral prettier.

However, a little detour within Aachen is quite in order: One really shouldn’t miss a visit to the public swimming pool Elisabeth-Halle, which is an Art Nouveau gem.

 

The pool building is located in the town centre and was built between 1908 and 1911, making the Elisabeth-Halle over a hundred years old and, more importantly, one of Germany’s few remaining Art Nouveau pools. Many were destroyed or experienced a change of function, unfortunately.

So, even if your hotel accommodation does not have a pool, don’t forget to bring your swimming gear on a trip to Aachen. You’ll feel transported back in time on visiting this pool, starting right on entering. The entrance hall is huge, and it only gets better the further you go inside. You’ll be awed by the high ceiling, which makes for an especially nice swim when the sun is out. With the many large windows, it feels a little like swimming outside when the weather is nice.

The changing rooms are amazing as well, charmingly old-fashioned and situated all around the pool and on two storeys, due to the height of the building. Apart from the main pool, there are several others, not all of which are still in use. In former times there were also so-called ‘Wannenbäder’ available, i.e. tubs, which could be used for small money by people who did not have proper bathing facilities in their accommodation. They can still occasionally be viewed and I found it quite interesting to see the individual small rooms, each with its own tub. Nowadays, they aren’t in use anymore, as modern facilities in houses and flats leave this former ‘Bäderkultur’ (bathhouse culture) unnecessary. There were also sweating baths and down in the cellars there was even a bathing facility for dogs! =)

 

When I undertook a guided tour of the building, I was quite astonished to find out that the cellars were used as air-raid shelters during WWII, you can still see some of the signage. I think I would have freaked out if I had had to spend any long-ish amount of time down there. The tour of the cellars was worthwhile, in any case, as we were given a huge amount of information on how a public pool actually works, regarding the layout, the running of it, the heating and the water hygiene regulations.

 

I really recommend a visit to the Elisabeth-Halle when you’re visiting Aachen, it makes for quite a change to swimming in regular, modern pools. Don’t worry, though, the showers etc. were all modernised a few years ago, its only the building and design that are retro.

The city’s webpage for the pool is only available in German, I’m afraid, but it does state the address, opening times and contact details, which should be helpful even to people who do not speak German.

 

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Detour: Opatija

When I visited the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, I stayed in Opatija, which is located right on the coast in the Kvarner Bay.

Apart from Opatija being a lovely destination in its own right, it is located so that you could quite comfortably visit two World Heritage Sites while staying there: the above-mentioned Plitvice Lakes and the Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica in the Historic Centre of Poreč. However, I think that this holds true mostly if you have a car at your disposal – I was stuck with public transport and did not manage to visit both sites. To be fair, though, I might have, if I had planned a little better in advance.

 

There is evidence of Optija being inhabited from before Roman times, but it really took of as a hip seaside resort for the rich and the famous in the 19th century. At the time, the area still fell under the jusrisdiction of the Austro-Hungarian empire and Opatija became a favourite resort on the so-called Austrian Riviera. A large number of hotels and villas was built, many in the beautiful Art Nouveau (or Belle Époque) style. Thankfully, many remain and were or are being restored, making Opatija a rather pretty city. One of the aspects I enjoyed perhaps even more is the promenade called Lungomare, which allows you to stroll along the coastline for miles and miles. It actually connects several towns in the area. I was also quite taken with the situation regarding food: There are sufficient numbers of cafes or restaurants, and even food stalls where you can grab a bite if you don’t feel like dining out. When I visited, there were several events on at the open air theatre, and you could regularly listen to really good musicians in the park for free.

 

In case you’d like to explore the surrounding area, there are several pretty towns strungs along the coast, you could go hiking inland in Učka Nature Park or go on a day trip to Istria. Alternatively, you could visit the islands of Cres or Krk.

Opatija makes for a lovely detour from visiting World Heritage Sites!

 

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