Tour Review: Gray Line Neuschwanstein & Linderhof Royal Castle and Oberammergau Tour from Munich
It’s no surprise that Neuschwanstein Castle is one of the most visited castles in Germany – this fairytale castle inspired Walt Disney to create the Magic Kingdom. And so it was high on our must-do-trips-from-Munich list. Having spent an overly festive day at Oktoberfest, the husband and I arrived at the Hauptbahnof (central station) rather bleary-eyed at 8.30 am the next morning.
The stop is within a two-minute walk from the central station. We were quite keen on this tour as it included Linderhof Castle, which turned out to be a rather lovely bonus particularly when flecked with autumn gold.
King Ludwig II was known as the ‘fairytale king’ for good reason – his vision for Linderhof and Neuschwanstein is a legacy to be envied. Nestled cosily in the Bavarian Alps, the stylistic Linderhof Castle with its manicured parkland and the summer residence of Neuschwanstein with its rugged, atmospheric backdrop are testament to his artistic vision. He was also a great admirer of Richard Wagner.
Linderhof Castle – Romance is in the air
From Munich, we glide by smoothly across the pretty German countryside as the guide talks knowledgeably about Bavaria and its immensely diverse landscape. She tells us about Bavarian traditions and we’d just missed one of the most colourful customs called Almabtrieb – every autumn the cows make a procession through the village, adorned with cowbells. The lead cow is decked out with a headdress of plaited twigs, flowers and ribbons to indicate that all the animals have come safely through the Alpine summer. Of course, much music, dancing and excellent Bavarian beer accompanies this celebration.
It’s interesting trivia like this that makes it worth having a guide, instead of burying your nose in a guidebook. She answered many questions and had plenty of anecdotes to share, even if her delivery was a bit dry. When she went around the bus collecting entry ticket money to the castles (both castles € 23), some preferred to only enter Neuschwanstein.
Travellers may be missing a trick here if they skip Linderhof entirely on their visit to Bavaria. Its immaculate grounds have a romantic appeal and make for great selfies (though poor shy King Ludgwig II might be turning in his grave as I say this). Influenced by French architecture, the rooms are sumptuous and the park combines elements of the French Baroque garden and the English landscape garden.
Pitstop in Oberammergau
The next stop was the pretty little village of Oberammergau, which is a bit of a tongue-twister of a name. Famous for the Passion Play performed once a decade, this village set against the backdrop of the Alps features Luftl (Luftmalerei) fresco paintings on the houses. Dating back to the 18th century, wealthy residents showed off their status with colourful frescoes on the façade of their houses. Though it was meant for some quick shopping, we could have done entirely without the stop, for the visit was too fleeting to get anything from it.
The path to the castle starts in the village of Hohenschwangau where we grabbed a quick bite to fortify ourselves for the uphill climb. There is an option to take a bus or a horse carriage (at Ecophiles, we strongly advocate against that) but the 30-minute walk is much more eco-friendly and doable without too much stress.
King Ludwig greatly admired composer Richard Wagner and the castle was built in his honour. We would highly recommend you don’t skip a guided tour of the castle even if you’re on a budget. The interior was inspired by Wagner’s characters – in fact, Neuschwanstein literally means “New Swan Castle” referencing the“the Swan Knight”, one of Wagner’s characters.
Funnily enough, the shy king had built this castle as a retreat from public life but now it is visited by 1.4 million people every year. Very modern for a medieval castle, for it had hot air central heating and running water on every floor, apart from other mod cons for the day.
In the 1840s, as a birthday present for his mountain-climbing wife Marie, he had the bridge, the “Marienbrücke”, built high above the Pöllat Gorge. Our only quibble with this tour was that we didn’t have enough time to visit this bridge that offered the classic view of Neuschwanstein.
Back in Munich
After the guided tour of the castle, it was back to the Bavarian capital. The tour packs in a full day but there is a lot to take in. Given that you’re travelling with a bus load, there weren’t any delays (that were in their control). All in all, a memorable day trip and one that took us to the underrated Linderhof Castle that was indeed a gorgeous surprise. And at the end of the Neuschwanstein guided tour, the view is worth a king’s ransom.
For details of the tour, check out Gray Line’s website. Tours start from €54 per person.