Neuschwanstein was a massive bucket list item of mine, and since I wanted to do non-mainstream things on this trip, I decided to do a Mike’s Bike Tour of the area. Their offices are easy to find if you know where the Hofbrauhaus is, as its pretty much around the corner from there. Natalia and Alec were our guides, who were fantastic. Natalia is Bulgarian and Alec is Australian, and both live in Munich. I found it odd that Natalia was wearing at least 4 layers of clothing, so was wondering what I had missed since I just had a top and rain jacket on.
There was beer, water, and snacks on the bus which we could buy at any time. Being Bavaria, beer is so much part of the culture that you can pretty much have one at whatever part of the day that you wish. Natalia said that “If you don’t drink beer, you seriously need to reconsider your lifestyle”. I couldn’t agree more.
It was about a 2 hour drive to Hohenschwangau, the quaint little town that is the home of Neuschwanstein. We did get to travel on the Autobahn, something I had been wanting to do for a very long time.
The bike tour was amazing, and although it drizzled almost all of the time that we were riding, it didn’t make it any less enjoyable. The tour group consisted of around 36 people, so Alec rode in front and Natalia at the back, in case there were any straddlers. The trail was 9km long and lasted about 3 hours, and it was mostly flat. We stopped many times to take photos and absorb our surroundings. The views were out of this world as we went through open fields, around a lake, and through some forest. For someone whose fitness level is in the negative, I didn’t have any trouble at all except at the end where the gravel incline was a bit much to handle. I chose to walk it, along with a handful of others, as it was the last little stretch before meeting everyone else at the restaurant, Bistro Ikarus, that was next to where the bikes were to be stored.
Lunch was not included in the tour, and everything was cash payable, so we could order anything we liked from the restaurant. I had a great spot to sit, where I could see the castle through the door to my left. I sat with my new Belgian friend, Camille, whom I sat next to on the bus to Hohenschwangau. We were joined by a newly married American couple from Washington D.C, and a Canadian guy who was taking a short break from his teaching job in Dubai since everything was closed for Ramadaan. We all had a beer, since we now believed that we were Bavarians, and I chose to have a dish that Natalia recommended, called kässpatzen. It is basically a Bavarian macaroni and cheese with fried onions on top, although it looks and tastes a little more sophisticated. The pasta isn’t macaroni either. I washed it down with a König Ludwig Weissbier, a perfect accompaniment.
After lunch, we then went back into the middle of town in order to do some souvenir shopping and take a quick walk to the Alpsee Lake before being given the choice of either walking up to the castle or taking the bus. The bus costs €2 which is worth it if you’re tired from the bike ride. It arrives only a few minutes before those who do the walk up, so the walk might not actually be too bad.
Close to where the bus stops, there are breathtaking views of the peach-coloured Hohenschwangau Castle, and the Alpsee Lake.
You do have the option of visiting the Hohenshwangau Castle as well, and will need to pay an additional entrance fee. I was not really interested so waited in the bus as Alec and Natalia explained the itinerary to the few that were. Note that the Neuschwanstein Castle tour price is not included in the tour, so you would have to pay the Mike’s tour guides and they will obtain the tickets for you.
The castle tour itself is pretty short – about 20 minutes, which is why its advisable to make a whole day out of visiting the castle if you’re staying in Munich. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take photos of the interior, as I expected. Usually in places like that, copyright laws are what stop you from taking photos, however we were told that it was because they did not want to make the tour any longer than it should be because of having to wait for people to take photos and consequently have to catch up with the group.
The castle interior is like nothing I have ever seen. I don’t know if it was because I was still getting over the fact that I was literally inside Neuschwanstein, or because it was that spectacular. Nevertheless, I was in complete and utter awe of the place. What I remember most is the Royal Bedchamber with its Neo-Gothic style bed, and silver-plated washbasin with the spout in the shape of a swan. My other favourite and most remembered place was the Throne Room, which gave me goosebumps and cold shivers all over upon entering it due to its high ceilings, Byzantine chandelier, and marble staircase that went up to where the throne would have been but which was never completed (such a shame).
I must give fair warning – there are a heck of a lot of stairs to climb when you’re on the tour, at least 4 floors, and they are the narrow spiral staircase kind. So if you’ve got any health issues or are claustrophobic, take that into consideration before doing the castle tour, as you can ascend only in single file.
I did take a photo while I was inside the castle. However, it was not of the interior itself, so I guess I was technically allowed to do so. It was the only place where I found a completely open window, so I could not pass up the opportunity to take a photo from inside the castle since the only pictures we ever really see are of its exterior. I also wanted to capture what King Ludwig would have seen in his time, so I got this:
Once the tour was over, we descended dozens of stairs to the bottom where we were met with a long, wide tunnel-like passage leading outside. The tunnel was had a rather chilly draft. There is also a gift shop at the bottom, which I had a quick glance through, but chose not to buy anything since I had already done by shopping in the town itself.
We were met by Alec and Natalia, who waited at the exit as we came out, in order to show us where to grab a bite and meet for the walk down back to the bus. This was a little after 5pm. When I saw Natalia, she had put her body warmer jacket back on and I realised that she had actually been to Neuschwanstein so often (up to 5 times a week) that she knew exactly what kind of weather she’d be experiencing. Or rather, how many seasons she’d be experiencing in a single day. I had seen her with a tshirt on and then a few minutes later, the hoodie. I found myself feeling slightly envious of the fact that she could experience such beauty so often that it had become almost like routine for her to pack that many items of clothing for a single day. If only it were possible to just drop everything and travel for a living!
After chatting with Natalia and Alec for a while, I headed down to the little cafe next to the castle and grabbed a pretzel and a Hofbrauhaus beer while waiting for the others, and joined the newly weds I had had lunch with. The pretzel was so filling that I did not eat anything else for the rest of the evening.
The walk down was actually quite exhausting as the incline was rather steep, so there was a lot of pressure on the knees. One of the men on my tour walked backwards a few steps to get some relief. I should have done the same, but I was still struggling to finish my rather large pretzel while holding an open beer, so I had enough things to concentrate on already. It was a very scenic walk though, as we were going through a pretty thick green forest.
What else can I say about Neuschwanstein Castle? Not much except for how much I think everyone needs to go see it. It is the castle that inspired the Disney castle, and it really is like something out of a fairy tale. Walk around the area and see as much as you can. Take a walk to the Alpsee Lake. Have a pretzel or two. In Bavaria, you can never have enough pretzels or beer.
Magic does exist, and it is at Neuschwanstein Castle.