Castles in the Sky

In 1866, after Bavaria lost a war against Prussia, Ludwig II, the quirky King of Bavaria, was no longer considered a sovereign ruler. So the following year, he began to plan a new kingdom, with castles and palaces that allowed him to take his rightful place on the throne.

Inspired by his childhood summers spent enjoying the romantic mountain scenery at Hohenschwangau Castle, rebuilt in 1832 by his father, Crown Prince Maximilian II, Neuschwanstein Castle was created in 1880 after some 300 architects and artisans worked day and night for two decades to carry out the king’s monument to the kingships of the Middle Ages and a copy of the legendary Holy Grail hall. If you’re a fan of the 1968 musical “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” which was partially shot here, you’ll recognize the castle as the home of the Baron and Baroness of Vulgaria and their infamous Child Catcher.

The magical autumn scenery at Neuschwanstein Castle

The palace, set in southwest Bavaria on a hill above the village of Hohenschwangau, was also built to honor the German opera composer Richard Wagner. Soon after he lost power, Ludwig II wrote to Wagner that the location “is one of the most beautiful to be found, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple for the divine friend who alone has bestowed salvation and true blessing on the world. … In every respect this castle will be more beautiful and habitable than the lower Hohenschwangau, which, year by year, becomes desecrated by my mother’s prose; they are bound to take revenge, the desecrated Gods, and come and stay with us up in the lofty heights, where the air of heaven is blowing.” Wagner died in 1883 before he had stepped foot in the building and in 1886, the king’s financial antics led the government to declare him insane and interned him in Berg Castle, where he died the next day in the waters of Lake Starnberg.

Photo by Ondrej Prosick/

The castle was opened to the public six weeks after his death and by World War I, Neuschwanstein was a lucrative source of revenue for Bavaria’s royal family, the House of Wittelsbach. Its history includes surviving both world wars, serving as a depot for art seized from France by the SS and the eventual surrender to Allied forces.

Today Neuschwanstein welcomes almost 1.5 million visitors per year, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. The palace can only be visited during a 35-minute guided tour, or through other special tours. In summer’s peak season, Neuschwanstein has as many as 6,000 visitors per day, and guests without advance reservations may have to wait several hours. But fall is the time when the alpine landscape turns the rugged hillside into brilliant hues of crimson and ochre, giving the castle a magical glow. It’s no wonder Disneyland was inspired to build the Sleeping Beauty Castle in its image.

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By Justine Amodeo

Feature image: Feel Good Studio/