We were rushing as we arrived in Füssen, Germany. We were staying at the Hotel Restaurant Alatsee, and on Mondays and Tuesdays their hotel and restaurant close at 4:30, so we had to be there by then to check in. We made it with only minutes to spare, and the poor girl was worried we wouldn’t make it. She had been trying to call me, but I had forgotten to update the booking with my German number. Whoops.
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Hotel Restaurant Alatsee is in the most perfect location – if you have a car. It’s outside of Füssen, down a narrow track through the woods, sitting on the edge of a beautiful little lake. There are no other buildings around, but the lake is a popular destination for locals and visitors alike to relax or hike or ride bikes. While we were there we saw many people doing just that.
The hotel itself is more of a restaurant, with a few rooms upstairs. We had booked one of the cheap rooms, which ended up being a small twin room with a shared bathroom. There were only two other couples staying though, and they seemed to have their own bathrooms, so effectively we had the bathroom to ourselves. While not luxurious, it was perfectly comfortable, and really, we didn’t spend a lot of time in the room anyway.
The reason we had come to Füssen was to visit Neuschwanstein Castle. This is arguably the most beautiful castle in Germany. It is the inspiration behind the Disney Castle that we all know so well. Neuschwanstein was built in the late 1800s by King Ludwig II. He never got to see the finished castle though, as he died months before it was completed. In fact, after he died, work stopped and to this day there are many rooms that are still incomplete. The castle was in fact never furnished, even though it opened to the public not long after King Ludwig’s death. Ever since visitors have been coming from near and far to see this beautiful building.
The weather was absolutely perfect when we arrived at Füssen. The skies were that perfect blue and there was no wind at all. This is what spring in Europe should be like, not the horrible rainy weather we had been consistently having! We decided to take advantage of it and go straight to Neuschwanstein Castle. The only thing was that because it would be after 5pm by the time we arrived, we would not be able to go inside. We thought we would go anyway, and then if we chose, we could go back in the morning.
To visit Neuschwanstein Castle you don’t just drive up to the door. That would be way too easy. Visitors park in one of four carparks designated for this purpose. Because we were there late in the day we were able to park in the closest one, carpark 2. Right near here is where the ticket office is to purchase or pick up your tickets to go inside the castle. When you do this, you will be allocated a time slot to enter, probably more than an hour away in time.
Then you start the trip up the hill. It is possible to pay extra and be taken up in a horse and carriage (I believe the fee is €6 per person) that runs every half an hour or so, or you can do what we did – walk! It’s a pretty steep walk, and the signs at the bottom say to allow 45 minutes. We did it in around 30 minutes, but still I would allow that amount of time.
Even though we had lovely blue skies it was still really cold. The walk up through the forest surrounding the castle added to the fairytale atmosphere for me as there was still a lot of snow on the ground.
Once at the castle, there are of course the usual souvenirs and expensive tourist eateries. There is a viewing platform to look out across the valley and nearby lakes. There were also lockers here for storage, but they seemed to be roped off, so I am not sure if they are new and are not yet ready for use.
We spent a few minutes admiring the castle up close, then moved off to the right of the castle entrance to another path, leading even further up the mountain. We were making our way to the Marianbrücke (Mary’s Bridge) which gives amazing views back over the castle. I had heard nightmare stories of crowds of people all trying to cram onto this kind of flimsy wooden bridge, but thanks to going later, there were only a handful of people there. The only downside to going later in the day is that the sun is behind the castle. For that perfect photo with the sun on the castle and to avoid the crowds, go up here early in the morning.
We took our time taking photographs and just enjoying the view, and then started the trip back down the hill. The whole visit had taken us between 1.5 and 2 hours, so if you were also going inside the castle, you would need to have half a day here at least.
For dinner we went into the town of Füssen. We had a bit of a walk around looking for somewhere to eat as we were feeling particularly indecisive. We ended up eating at the Bayrish Pub. We just got basic food, I resorted to my favourite, pizza. It was delicious, and so big that we probably should have shared. Simon ordered a burger. I would happily recommend this place for this sort of meal.
We discussed what we were going to do the next day while we were eating. The weather was going to be back to raining and we felt a bit ambivalent about going inside the castle. We had loved hiking up and around the outside, and we had heard so many reports about that being the best part. I wanted to do some more hiking the next day – but not necessarily up that hill again. We would decide in the morning!
Sure enough, as the sun came up, the rain was coming down. By the time we had breakfast though it had stopped, and we decided to put on out wet weather gear and take a chance on it not pouring all day. We were going to hike from Alatsee to Füssen, explore the town and then hike back. There was a circular hiking route, about 10km round trip, so we could see a different path each way.
Hiking into Füssen was good. We only got a little wet, there was a lot more going uphill than I had expected though. The path was fairly good, so overall a nice walk to get the day started.
We were almost into the town when we saw a sign. To the left was the town centre, 250m away. To the right was a waterfall, 1km away. Of course we had to go check out the waterfall! The 1km ended up being a lot longer than we expected though, as about 2/3 along the path some workmen had dug it up and were doing some work on it. We looked around for an alternative path, but every other path we tried, Google told me we couldn’t get through that way. Our only option was to go back the way we came – or to walk through the construction site. We gestured to the men, who while not actually indicating we could pass, kind of hesitated in their work for a few seconds on the excavator, and we quickly scuttled through. I still don’t know if that was the right thing to do or not.
Lechfall is pretty cool to see, but it’s really not as impressive as I imagined. What I liked the most was the power. The surrounding lakes look calm and serene, but here the noise over the 12m drop is so deafening that conversation on the bridge is impossible. The waterfall is actually a man-made mini-dam of the Lech River, installed in the 1700s to help stop the town from flooding. Across the top of the dam is a bridge, called the Maxsteg. It is said that St Mang crossed the river Lech in one big step, with small impressions in the rock on either side of the river being his footsteps. Just a few metres further along the river you will also see a bust of King Maximillian II carved into the rock. The bridge was also named after him when it was built in later years.
The detour to the waterfall took us in a bit of a loop, and we entered the Old Town of Füssen from the opposite side to originally planned. On the way in we noticed the Reptilienzoo Allgäu, which looked like it would be a good option if you are looking for things to do with kids in Füssen. I wanted to go in and have a look, but lets just say Simon is not such a fan of reptiles, so we continued on to the Old Town.
Like all good towns there were a few beautiful churches to check out in Füssen as we passed. The first church was the Hospital Church of the Holy Spirit (I hope I got that right) which had a distinctive façade. It was a small church but worth a minute or two to have a look inside too. The big church is St Mang’s Basilica, which is yet another awe-inspiring church. It is part of the St Mang’s Abbey (or Monastery) complex, which was originally built in the ninth century. It has been changed many times over the years, and is now the location of the Museum of Füssen and the public library.
We were searching for the tourist information centre, and wound our way through the beautiful cobbled streets and colourful buildings on our way there. There seemed to be a theme through the town of gods decorating the buildings, we saw Nike and Poseidon, but I have been unable to find out an information on these.
While I always recommend a visit to the tourist information office in a new town, I found this one a little disappointing for me as an English speaker. The Füssen office had a lot of information in many of the other European languages, but surprisingly, not as much as I would have expected in English. I did pick up a brochure to help with our road trip the following day, but that was about it. This is a good option though if you are looking for free wifi. We ended up grabbing some lunch from a nearby shop then sitting out the front (with many other people) taking advantage of the wifi while we ate.
After we ate we starting walking the streets again, this time heading towards the Church of St Sebastian and the Franciscan Monastery of St Stephen. We found we couldn’t enter either of these, but did discover a nice viewpoint of the city skyline (and it was signed as such with a map pointing out each building) but I think someone needs to some along and trim some of the vegetation after the spring growth. Adjoined to the monastery is a small church, and around the side of that is the official end of The Romantic Road for the pilgrims who trekked along it.
We ended up back in the main town square, deciding to grab a coffee, rest our feet and do a little people watching before starting the trek back to Alatsee.
We didn’t get back to see the inside of Neuschwanstein Castle, but I don’t feel like I have missed out on anything because I still enjoyed the way we spent our day.
We arrived back just in time for the start of the dinner service for the restaurant, and we were starving. Along with the usual German fare, there were a whole pile of baked potatoes with different toppings, so we thought we would give those a go. Clearly potatoes are bigger in Germany that we are used to, because these meals were huge. A couple of glasses of wine later, and I was ready to drag my tired legs up to bed.
It was an early morning the following day as we had planned a big day of driving. We were going to drive a portion of The Romantic Road. This route runs from Würzburg in the north through various towns and cities until it reaches Füssen. It seems that most people travel in that direction, from north to south, as all the information we came across talked about it in that direction. While the whole trip is 410km long and recommended as a 5 day trip, we were driving just 89km of it, from Füssen to Landsberg am Lech. Then we would turn towards the east and make our way to Munich.
The first stops on the road were Füssen and Schwangau. Füssen we had already explored, and Schwengau is the town at the base of Neuschwanstein Castle. While we had seen those, we hadn’t visited the other castle in the area, Hohenschwangau. This was where King Ludwig II grew up and was living as he watched his fairytale castle being built just across the valley.
Again we did not go into the castle (we were actually too early and it wasn’t open yet) but I have heard that this castle is arguably more interesting that going inside Neuschwanstein because it was actually lived in and used as a castle. Instead we climbed up to the castle and explored the courtyards. Again the views were fantastic, and the sun was shining and it was looking like a perfect day.
Now I’m not going to tell you about every stop, because it soon became clear that this was almost the “tour de churches”. Every small town had a church or two to visit that was beautiful, significant, or both. We quite enjoyed stopping and having a few minutes to look at each one and walk around the streets of the town looking for unique and interesting things.
The most impressive church on the route I have to mention though, and it’s the Wieskirche. This is a pilgrimage church, built to house the “Tortured Saviour”. This wooden figure was deemed too graphic to stay in town, so was given to an innkeeper who took it to her house in the countryside. It was here that a miracle occurred, with this figure weeping. Years later this baroque church – officially called “Pilgrimage Church to Our Tortured Saviour on the Meadow” – was built. It is absolutely beautiful inside, with some amazing frescoes on the ceiling. It’s a bit of a detour off the main road, but if you are near by, do not miss calling in here for a look.
From Weiskirche we decided to go and look for an optional add-on to The Romantic Road, a nearby waterfall. The directions were a little vague, something like “find the farmhouse, walk down the path, through the forest etc” so I thought I would instead type it into Google Maps. Good old Google found it, so off we went. Well, I think we ended up driving on that path past the farmhouse! It was all getting very rural. We stopped where Google Maps told us – but no waterfall. I changed the method of getting there from car to walking, and then discovered it was another hour on foot to reach the waterfall. Not enough time for that today!
What I could see on a nearby ridge, silhouetted against the sky, was a cross in the middle of a field. We walked up to have a look at it, but we ended up none the wiser as there was no information as the why it was there.
We did around ten stops during the day, mostly in small towns. We would take a short walk around each one, looking at notable sites as listed on the guides we found. Mostly this consisted of churches as mentioned above. A few times there were museums, but they tended to be open on limited days or at certain times.
Towards the last few towns the weather turned rainy and we were getting wet each time we went out to explore. We particularly liked the town of Schongau, where we spent an hour or two exploring.
By the time we reached Landsberg am Lech, it was late afternoon and the rain was consistent. We drove into town to try to find parking, but the first two places were full and we would have to park a little further away. We were cold and tired, and definitely all churched out for the day, so instead we gave up and headed for the motorway, where we drove non-stop into Munich. We thought we were making great time, but soon discovered why Google was telling us it would take a lot longer than it seemed – the last ten kilometres we hit the traffic and it was crawling speed from then on.
We were glad to reach our hotel, go get some dinner, then rest up for the next few busy days in Munich.
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