The Bavarian Alps, which stretch from Germany’s south eastern corner west to Bodensee (or Lake Constance) are a natural divide with the Austrian border. The craggy bergs, such as we had seen at Berchtesgaden, rise steeply and dramatically from the foothills to form an impressive, almost operatic, backdrop.
It was German Unity weekend, a national holiday that celebrates the fall of the Berlin Wall and the coming together of East and West Germany in the late 1980s, as well as the creation of a German state.
Arriving on Saturday morning in the pretty town of Füssen at the foothills of the Bavarian Alps we were in fact very lucky to get one of just two available places at that time of day at its largest stopover (120+ campervans).
Füssen is charming with frescoed houses, artisan shops, eateries and a myriad of hotels and hostels for the many millions of visitors that pour into it annually. Why? Because it is the base from which to discover the most photographed and famous castle in the world – King Ludwig II’s mountaintop Neuschwanstein.
The weather was cool and cloudy but with sunny spells predicted for the afternoon we set off by bus to Schwangau from where we boarded a packed cable car to the top of the Tegelberg at 1730m.
Joining families and tour groups at the base of the trail to the summit there was time to enjoy a quick lunch of bratwurst with a spectacular view across the Ammergauer region rich in pasture lands and lakes, the largest of which, the Forggensee, glinted brightly.
Heading down the slope we began what would be a thrilling and challenging descent of 1000m. Our way was down an indeterminate trail which, in places, was supported by a network of ancient tree roots. Often we were inches from the side of the berg with a steep drop plunging down into thick forest.
For two hours we clambered down the trail picking out footholds on rough surfaces and sometimes scaling rock faces by way of roughly hewn steps or metal ladders.
The trail seemed to diverge in a myriad of ways picked out by mountain goats or possibly other hikers to avoid the rocks and instead slither down scree or muddy slopes. Without signage we relied on instinct and the sight and sound of other hikers ahead or below us.
Etiquette on the trail was questionable, and we were certainly the most accommodating people on the berg that day.
No matter, the views were stunning. As we headed around the mountain’s north face we were rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the iconic Neuschwanstein’s many-steepled and turreted outline. Simon ventured onto the edge of the craggiest heights to capture the perfect picture.
The castle is an exercise in romanticism and was designed by Ludwig and a theatrical set painter to present a vision of chivalry and Kingship in the Middle Ages.
Ludwig seems a strangely tragic figure, being a puppet king of the Prussian state and obsessed by a very Germanic soul-searching for his own, and Bavaria’s identity. He died in mysterious circumstances having been declared insane by his own government. He was 41, handsome and unmarried and was found drowned in a shallow lake together with his doctor.
Ludwig II is now the most beloved of all of the Kings of Bavaria and his architectural dreaming draws and delights millions of people from all around the world, every year.
Off the mountain side and battling through the throngs that crowded onto the Marienbrücke for photographs and the inevitable selfie, we discovered that we had missed the bus back to Füssen and had nearly an hour to wait.
It was getting cool so we tramped off down the cycle path to town and arrived in the centre as the bus pulled up alongside us at traffic lights.
Pleased with our efforts it was time to seek out the locals and enjoy a beer and the autumnal decorations in a pretty candlelit ‘fass bier bar’.
Here’s a gallery of our fabulous views…