Because I’m doing my Masters dissertation this year (or I say I am, I actually need to make some serious progress on it), I’m having to use annual leave for writing it rather than going fun places, so we’ve been trying to make the most of bank holidays when booking our holiday. So we used Good Friday and Easter Monday combined with some annual leave to get six days for the price of two and headed to Germany. I’ve wanted to visit Neuschwanstein Castle for ages (who hasn’t? It’s on most bucket lists of places to see) but had never been. So, we worked out a trip that would allow us time to see the castles and also to visit Munich, which was where we were flying into. Plus, the chance to practice my German is always helpful in reassuring me that my time attending German classes every Tuesday, even though I often have to really force myself to go, isn’t a waste of time.
One of the reasons why I think more people haven’t been is that Neuschwanstein isn’t actually that easy to get to. It requires either a car or a train ride from Munich to Fuessen and then a bus from there. It’s possible to do in a day from Munich, but it’s just over a two hour train journey so it’s better to not have to do there and back in a day in my view.
We landed into Munich airport at 4pm and trains to Fuessen are every hour and alternate between direct trains and trains that involve a change. With a 40 minute ride by S-bahn from the airport to the main train station in Munich, the first train we would conceiveably manage to catch was the direct 17:51 which would get us in just before 8pm, quite a reasonable time to check in and then get dinner. The next train was an hour later, required a change and would get us in just before 9pm, but would allow us time to pick up food at the station. I was hoping to get the first but knew that much of it depended on how quickly we cleared the airport (we had a checked bag) and got onto an S-bahn train.
As luck would have it, we cleared the airport quickly, grabbed S-bahn tickets and jumped on an S-bahn train with a few minutes to spare. I knew things would be tight for time so I’d already scoped out the map of Munich train station and with the assistance of the Deutsche Bahn website (which helpfully provides details of the platform the train is leaving from and every stop on the way to your destination with timings – got to love the Germans and their efficiency), I knew exactly where we needed to be. As it turns out, everything had been super smooth and we had time to spare. We bought our tickets and boarded the double-decker train when it arrived. All smooth. A few minutes after pulling out of the station they made an announcement, which wasn’t repeated again, in German, saying that if you wanted to go to Fuessen that you would need to be in the front four carriages as the back four would be staying at Buchloe. Thank god for those German classes as our ticket was one for the Allgaeu region and so didn’t say we were going to Fuessen so the conductor wouldn’t have known to warn us. So, even though we were on the direct train, we still ended up having to get off and switch carriages. As it turns out, all of the train stations between Munich and Fuessen are teeny tiny two track affairs so no risk of getting lost or missing a connecting train.
The train goes at a rather leisurely pace and I’m sure if it cracked on it could easily be there in half the time, but it’s a beautiful ride through the countryside, especially the second half of the journey as you approach the mountains and everything gets much more rural.
We arrived into Fuessen and checked in at our hotel, the Hotel Sonne, before heading out to grab a quick pizza dinner and a quick wander around Fuessen as it got dark before turning in, ready to head to Neuschwanstein the next morning.
Rather than try and cram everything into one post, I thought I’d post about the castles separately as they do really deserve their own post (and so does Fuessen). I’d only really thought about staying in Fuessen as a convenient base for visiting the castles but it turns out that it’s a gorgeous little town and well worth a stay almost in its own right. Our hotel was right on the main street too which was super convenient, although it’s not big enough that anywhere would have been too far away. When we were done with exploring the castles each day we spent out time wandering the streets of Fuessen.
All of the buildings were painted in beautiful pastel shades and many were painted with elaborate decorations. Seriously Pinterest-perfect.
Seriously, how adorable is this place?!
The town is beautifully framed by a backdrop of mountains but one of our favourite places was down by the Lech river. It’s an astoundingly beautiful turquoise green colour and it runs through Austria and Germany. In places along the riverside pathway you can get down onto little natural sand and pebble beaches from which you can enjoy the peace of the river flowing by.
The river was a really peaceful place to stroll and an ideal place to wander before dinner in town. Plus, it makes for some stunning views.
On our final day in Fuessen, after we’d visited Hohenschwangau Castle and before we caught the train back to Munich, we decided to walk to a viewing type point I’d read about – Kalvarienberg. I couldn’t work out from my research what it was exactly though. I’d seen photos of a monument type thing with Christian crosses on on the top of a hill but it wasn’t a church and so I couldn’t really work it out, but we headed there anyway. We walked along the river heading for a waterfall (Lechfall) which I knew was the start of the trail.
The waterfall itself is alright and probably a nice place to aim to get to if you’re out for a stroll. The sun had finally come out on our final afternoon and the water was looking beautiful. At that point we saw a sign which proclaimed we were only 600m from the Austrian border and we were tempted to go and see if we could get across to say we’d been to Austria (neither of us have been, although we want to do a whole tour of Austria one day). But we got seduced by a little cafe across the road selling ice cream and then decided to carry on in our pursuit of the Kalvarienberg, rather than get diverted.
We climbed up into the woodlands following a well-trodden trail. As we headed up the trail we started to come across tiny little stone buildings which housed imagery of the crucifixion story and little plaques in German with the story and extracts from the Bible. The extracts told the story sequentially as we climbed the trail
Apparently it’s called the Stations of the Cross and it wasn’t something I’d heard of before but Wikipedia does a better job of explaining it than I could: “Commonly, a series of 14 images will be arranged in numbered order along a path and the faithful travel from image to image, in order, stopping at each station to say the selected prayers and reflections. This will be done individually or in a procession most commonly during Lent, especially on Good Friday, in a spirit of reparation for the sufferings and insults that Jesus endured during his passion“. The name Kalvarienberg made more sense, meaning Mount Calvary, being the site where Jesus was said to have been crucified.
What was entirely coincidental was that we were climbing this hill on Good Friday and so there were actually quite a few people doing the same thing, although many of them were clearly doing it for the religious significance, we were doing it for the view.
And boy was the view worth it! On one side of the highest viewing platform was a view down and over Fuessen town and on the other side an amazing panoramic view across to the mountains.
From there you could see over to Neuschwanstein Castle and Hohenschwangau Castle. It was so much more beautiful than in the pictures. It’s so worth walking up there if you’re staying in Fuessen or have some time on a day trip.
After that highpoint of our time in Fuessen, we headed back down the hill to pick up our bags from the hotel and head to the train station to get the train back to Munich, another beautiful train ride through the Bavarian countryside, although this time it was lighter than on our way to Fuessen. We even saw a group of deer happily grazing in a field as we went by. Truly amazing.
It’s funny but on our two-destination trips I always like our side trip more than the big city. I liked Cordoba more than Madrid, I liked Sintra more than Lisbon and Bled more than Ljubljana. I was the same with Fuessen and Munich. I fell for Fuessen entirely, which surprised me as we mostly stayed there as a base for seeing the castles, but it really was so much more. It’s well worth the effort to get there.