The Romance of Schwangau

Schloß Neuschwanstein
dasWerk Michael Mitrenga und Maike Zimmermann GbR / Kontributor-MOment

Schwangau lies at about 800 meters above sea level and is a mere four kilometers north of Füssen. It’s certainly a worthwhile stopping-off place in its own right, for it offers ready access to many key tourist interests along the Romantische Straße, including and especially Schloss Hohenschwangau and Schloss Neuschwanstein.

Schwangau’s population is no more than about 3,200 and those residents are attuned to catering to the wishes of both day trippers and long-term visitors, particularly those who have spent time in Füssen proper and who are slowly heading north to enjoy all the tourist attractions along the Romantische Straße. Ideally, tourists should take advantage of every opportunity to investigate every site personally and thoroughly.

Visit Schloss Hohenschwangau

The first major attraction accessible on the way to Schwangau from Füssen is Schloss Hohenschwangau, built in the 19th century by Maximilian II of Bavaria (1811-1864) on the ruins of a 12th-century fortress built by an order of knights which petered out in the 16th century. The primary construction of Maximilian’s replacement castle lasted four years, from 1833-1837, and minor additions and modifications continued well into 1855, including an alpine garden organized later on by Queen Marie, Maximilian’s wife/widow.

Schloss Neuschwanstein Castle for Romanticism

The second major attraction after Schloss Hohenschwangau is Schloss Neuschwanstein, built quite nearby by Maximilian’s son, Ludwig II of Bavaria, who ascended to the throne upon the death of his father in 1864 and who commissioned Schloss Neuschwanstein four years later. The castle, a superb embodiment of so-called castle romanticism, reflects primarily two things: Ludwig’s devotion to Richard Wagner and his eccentric wish for privacy. Schloss Neuschwanstein is deemed a masterpiece by most authorities and more than 1.3 million tourists visit it annually.

The Backstory 

Two trips taken by Ludwig in 1867 greatly influenced his concept of Schloss Neuschwanstein’s design. The first was the Wartburg castle near Eisenach and the second was the Château de Pierrefonds in Picardy, France. Ludwig associated both castles with the feelings aroused by Wagner’s operas. Ludwig’s combining those feelings with his near idolatry of Wagner sparked the construction of Schloss Neuschwanstein, which eventually incorporated Byzantine elements, Romanesque components, and Gothic influences—all uniquely blended through the expertise of 19th-century architects, designers, and craftsmen.

Ludwig was a very, very eccentric individual by any standards and his eccentricities eventually cost him not only his kingdom but his life. His ministers, guided by Count von Holnstein and wearied by his financial extravagances, colluded with his uncle, Luitpold, Prince Regent of Bavaria, to depose Ludwig.

During the first quarter of 1886, the ministers commissioned a psychiatric report authored by four physicians—bribed and pressured by Count von Holnstein—who had never met, much less treated Ludwig, which reports, based on gossip, hearsay, and innuendo declared Ludwig insane and asserted that he “... suffered from paranoia, and concluded, ‘Suffering from such a disorder, freedom of action can no longer be allowed and Your Majesty is declared incapable of ruling, which incapacity will be not only for a year’s duration, but for the length of Your Majesty's life.’” Shortly after midnight on 12 June 1886, forces loyal to the coup arrested Ludwig, sent him to Berg Castle near Munich, where they confined him with Dr. Bernhard von Gudden, the chief of the Munich asylum. The next day, i.e., 13 June, Ludwig and von Gudden were dead, ostensibly drowned in waist-deep water.​

Planning Your Visit

The two castles are a heart-racing 35-45-minute walk (1.5 km) from one another. Horse carriage transportation is available for less doughty tourists. Before planning your visit to Schloss Hohenschwangau and Schloss Neuschwanstein, contact the main office to confirm the hours of operation.

Another important tourist attraction that is the often overlooked—a great mistake—is the Museum of Bavarian Kings (Museum der Bayerischen Könige). The museum traces the origins of the Wittelsbach dynasty (Maximilian, Ludwig, et al.) from its beginnings at the end of the 12th century to modern times.

The museum’s website will give you a glimpse of what’s in store for tourists. One can easily spend a day, including meal, in and around the museum and the gift shop offers unique and spectacularly interesting offerings. For its hours of operation, contact the museum. For those who wish to stay a few days to get a thorough look at both castles, you may pamper yourself royally at the Hotel Müller or Hotel Alpenstuben, as well as many other smaller, more intimate hotels. Restaurants worth your patronage include Zur-Neven-Burg, Alpenrose am See, Café Kainz, and Ikarus.