Travel Stories

Neuschwanstein Castle

Vision of a King

As it rises from its alpine backdrop, Neuschwanstein Castle near Füssen has all the drama of a well-planned stage scene. And so it is. The late-19th-century dream castle joins various architectural styles with the eccentric fancy of Ludwig II, Bavaria's most peculiar sovereign. From afar, he adored the anorexic Austrian Empress Elisabeth, he wrote about suicide in his diaries, and he bankrolled composer Richard Wagner. He also loved building castles. In the process, he nearly bankrupted his government. Today, he's the equivalent of a pop star in Bavaria for giving Germany its most popular tourist attraction.

The castle itself isn't the point of a visit to Neuschwanstein. It's the land around it, the magnificent views over forests, valleys, and snowcapped peaks. With this in mind, those who hike to the castle up the Pöllatschlucht gorge are in for a challenging adventure. Roots impede the trail in places and in other spots, waterfalls make the path so slippery that hikers sometimes must cling to a rope to keep from falling. It's in this gorge that King Ludwig's real-life drama almost ended. After he was driven from the throne, he begged his servants at Neuschwanstein for the key to the highest tower. They refused—and for good reason. He'd told his hairdresser, "If you want to do your job, look for my head in the Pöllatschlucht." Not long after, Mad King Ludwig's body was found in Starnberger Lake. Suicide or murder? To this day, nobody knows for sure.