So there is quite a large number of castles and fortifications from 1204 onwards that are still (relatively) intact today -- which is interesting. But it didn't end there. Maxmillian II built his summer castle, Hohenschwangau, as some sort of fairy tale castle. And his son, Ludwig II, inherited that trait -- he went on to build several castles, of which Neuschwanstein is the best known. It is no mistake when the Bavarians call them their 'fairy tale king'. But these buildings are relatively modern (construction of Neuschwanstein started in 1869!), so they are well preserved too.
All this inspired us to plan for a vacation to Bavaria, to go see some castles. (Earlier this year, we did a week-long vacation in the Loire valley to visit some castles as well, so why not keep the theme?) We hadn't really planned an order or a list of things to see, but it all worked out. We spent five days in Bamberg (towards the north of Bavaria), six days in Ebersberg (near München, the capital of Bavaria and relatively central) and six days in Pfronten, which is towards the south-west, in the Bavarian Alps. Every single day, we visited a castle, palace or a fortification (sometimes well-preserved, sometimes a ruin). We haven't seen everything (the three-hour one-way hiking trip to see the royal lodge in Schachen and then hiking back three hours didn't really fit in our plans or our physical condition), but we've seen quite a lot -- and all of the highlights.
I've been taking crappy selfies with the castles that we visited (often only of the exterior, because photography of any kind was not allowed inside), and I want to share with you the crappy selfies of my top three Bavarian Castles.
1: Linderhof Castle was built by Ludwig II. It is, as far as I know, the only castle that was actually completed. It is situated in the beautiful Bavarian Alps, and it is relatively small. Ludwig lived here for quite a few years, so it is the best expression of his creative drive. He was a big admirer of the absolutist kings of France, like Louis XIV, who lived 150 years earlier. By the time of Ludwig II, Bavaria had already been converted into something resembling a consitutional monarchy -- and perhaps he felt like he was being sidelined by history. All the portraits in Linderhof are of Louis XIV, XV and XVI and their ministers and mistresses -- there is nothing in there that refers to Bavaria!
The rooms are lavishly decorated in barok/roccoco style, with plenty of gold leaf to go around, as well as lavish stucco ceilings and 'stucco marble'. You just don't know where to look... But there's plenty to see outside as well. At the front of the castle is a terraced garden leading up to the 'temple of Venus', featuring a gold-plated fountain with a jet that comes higher than the castle itself! (Which isn't running all the time, they turn it on every hour on the hour.) At the sides are formal gardens with gazebos and classical statues, and at the back is a cascade leading down from the 'music kiosk'.
And then there are the other buildings on the castle grounds, which are very special as well! There's the Moroccan pavilion from the World Fair in Paris that Ludwig bought and the 'Moorish Kiosk', which is an opulent ottoman palace with rich decorations and detailing -- both inside and out. But the 'piece de resistance' is the Venus Grotto: an artificial grotto depicting the set for the first act of the Tannhäuser opera by Richard Wagner. It even features coloured electric light, and the water could be warmed as well by cleverly hidden furnaces!
View from the terraced garden in the front of the castle, with the fountain active.
Front of the castle.
The Venus Grotto, with the swan boat in the lake.
2: The Hermitage at Bayreuth started off as a place where the people in power could play they were hermits/monks/nuns! It was intended like some kind of LARP: you'd enter the compound dressed for the part and lived in contemplation for the duration of the 'play'. Then, at the end, there'd be a huge feast and you could return to your 'normal' life. The simpleness of the rooms was offset by the beautiful 'purification chamber' (which you have to book a tour to see) and the banquet hall.
Then a Prussian princess, who had been raised to become the queen of England, didn't turn out to become the queen after all, and she was shipped off to be married to a Bavarian noble because they couldn't use her at court in Berlin anymore. She was kinda bitter by it all, and she ended up at the Hermitage. They say living good is the best revenge, and she had her revenge by expanding and remodelling the keep, as well as building lots of things in the expansive grounds, from the fountain-filled 'lower grotto' (a fake ruin build like a ruined classical palace with lots of water features) and the 'new castle' with it's richly decorated outside and formal gardens.
It is a wonderful place to wander around, enjoying the gardens and the buildings -- do sit down at the terrace of the cafe in the right wing of the 'new castle' to enjoy the garden and the waterworks. Their chocolate cake is really good! And do book a tour -- it's very cheap, and you get to see the inside of the keep and the purification chamber, which is worth the price of admission alone. We've spent a lovely day here!
The 'Chinese' pagoda, on top of an artificial hill. A spiral path cut into the hill leads up to it.
The 'new castle'. Note the mosaic on the pillars and the golden statue on the top of the main building!
The main building of the original castle. Not much to look at from outside, but the inside...!
3: Veste Coburg is a fort towering high above the city of Coburg. From the city centre, you have to walk through a wonderful landscape park to reach it. (Think Goffert park in Nijmegen, except much larger -- and on a hill.) It's of military origin, so you have to go through some gates to get inside. Up there, you have a wonderful view of the surrounding land from the battlements: you can easily see for miles around. You can freely wander through the courtyards and access some of the battlements.
But the real attraction is inside! The castle has been converted into a museum, and artefacts from the long history of the castle, as well as related objects, have been collected and are presented. And there is just so much to see! We saw a temporary exposition of bladed weapons from all over the world out of the private collection of a history professor, but when we went into the museum proper, we were really impressed with the rooms. Most castles are nice, but perhaps a bit impractical to live in -- but not here. The private quarters are all elegantly panelled and have a practical layout. The enormous oak book cases lined the corridor with a cosy reading nook set next to a window -- you could easily manage to see yourself living here. It's cosy. And the 'hunting room' is a beautiful work of art, with the inlaid panelling all throughout the room (walls and ceilings) -- truly a masterful piece of work!
Once you get through those rooms, the museum starts in earnest. There's art objects of all the eras that the castle has existed, but also paintings, wood carvings... There's a whole museum's worth of glass objects. There's a large hall with various types of full-plate armour for man and horse, along with jousting lances. There's... well, there's a lot to see. There's even a cellar with carriages and sleighs that were used for the "ladies' caroussel"... You can easily spend a full day in Veste Coburg.
Close to the castle, having walked uphill...
Gate to the castle.
One of the cellars with carriages and sleighs.
Honorable mention: the München Residenz treasury because it's just so cool. This is the treasury of the Wittelsbach family (except for the reliquaries, those are exhibited elsewhere -- with the exception of the St. George reliquary) and it is glorious. But the family has been in power for over 700 years, so they have quite a bit of... stuff. Like a collection of crowns. I mean, sure, you could have a crown, but they have a collection of them. I mean, I have seen the British and the Danish crown jewels, and they're impressive -- but that would be just one of the items on display here -- one of many.
Travelling altars, icons, drinking vessels -- made of shells or rhino horns, trimmed with silver or gold, set with jewels... A whole friggin' table made out of precious stones, artfully inlaid to depict a scene. Even 'mundane' stuff like an hourglass -- except it's made of artfully worked silver inset with rubies as big as your pinky nail. There is just so much to see, and it's all so exquisitely crafted with such precious materials! I caught myself drooling a few times... The wealth is really mindnumbing.
klik 'modelling' the crown of an English queen...
So yes, Neuschwanstein isn't even in my top three... I mean, it's nice and all, but these three are better. Go figure.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the prices for the admission tickets. Whereas you'd easily pay EUR 15 to get admitted into a castle in France, you'll easily get admittance for two for that price in most castles! In some places, that also includes a guided tour -- for instance, while you can visit most of the rooms of the Würzburg Residenz on your own, there are rooms that you can only visit under the supervision of a guide. Sometimes you book a specific tour (and there is often the choice between German and English), sometimes you just have to wait for a bit before the next tour starts off. Some castles you can only see as part of a tour. And unfortunately, on most of those guided visits, photography of any kind is not allowed. But that's not too much of a problem, is it?
I can heartily recommend a visit to Bavaria and its many castles!