At the second stop I hopped onto the docks and into a small village named Leoni and set about searching for the official start to the way. Most hikers choose to take the 11 km journey to Starnberg on the day of arrival, I had oped to combine it with ‘day 2’ to make a lengthy 31 km day. I had to make sure I made the ferry at the end of the walk by 5 pm in order to reach my room for the night.
Quiet winding roads soon lead uphill before detouring into a spectacular beech forest, here the trees grew far taller than I was used to in wind battered Scotland. The air was filled with a delightful smell of earthy undergrowth and rang with birdcall from the canopies above; stepping from the road into such a world of green seemed so sudden; it was almost as if I had entered Narnia.
A small white sign with the bearded silhouette of King Ludwig pointed toward a church somewhere ahead between the trees; ‘The Votivkapelle.’ A romantic idealist King Ludwig was instated as king of Bavaria in 1864 at just 19 years old, he became renowned for his spectacular building projects; his castles still able to strike awe and wonder to those who visit, but alas it was at their tremendous cost that eventually lead to his downfall. Two days after being removed from the throne Ludwig and his personal doctor were discovered washed ashore on the Starnberger See; a mysterious end to the romantic eccentric.
It it this very spot where the king’s body was found that the memorial Votivkapelle church now stands; the impressive and ornately carved building to reflect his visions of grandeur dwarfs the modest cross upon the shore. For me this cross marked more than the passing of a king, it was the official beginning to the way.
Leaving the church for a wide track I continued through the woods toward Starnberg. Narrow roads and lakeside trails lead to and fro from town to water’s edge; the already hot morning air tempting a dip in the cool water. Before long a series of tall wooden bridges spanning two canals lead my track back toward the centre of Starnberg, I had returned to the docks to which I had set forth earlier in the day. I was officially onto the route of ‘Day 2’ toward Diessen.
Followed by loud booms of impending thunder I set out from town under the guidance of small blue ‘K’ symbols, the way markers to the route would become my companion for days to come. Tall wooden beamed houses soon faded into fields chirping with crickets. I was aiming toward the gentle Maising gorge which ran along the path of what once had been a glacier into the distant woods. Passing a small white chapel of St. Mary I left sight of the town behind.
Once again the crickets faded into birdsong as I crept into the tall beech woods. A small brook gurgled at my side as I meandered through the forest. Light dabbled upon the side of the path and often I would catch a glimpse of rainbow trout lazily drifting through the calm waters. Passing below a tall road bridge the trail wound uphill, the stream now falling in trickling waterfalls from nearby Maising village.
Maising town itself was a quiet and attractive collection of red roofed houses and barns, the bright tiles still crackled with the heat after the passing thunder storm. At the side of a small pub at the top of the road I set off into the open fields. Behind the golden swathes of wheat another tremendous boom-clap echoed across the plains, time to find shelter!
Taking refuge inside the Maisinger Seehof Gastaette (Inn) I watched the rain pass by in a quick yet intense curtain, sipping a lunchtime weissbier (wheat beer) I waited for the sun to return. As it passed to leave the ground smelling with the earth scent of petrichor I stopped to watch herons and waders dabble between reeds in a mirror calm lake to my side, above in the woods I caught to my delight a fleeting glimpse of a greater spotted woodpecker.
Passing into the town of Aschering I stopped to admire the first of many churches to come. A tall white and red testament to Bavarian architecture it was a beautiful sight before the dark clouds behind. Nearby a tall blue and white striped maypole towered over the houses, adorned with the traditional signs shaped to mimic the professions of the local residents; a fish, an anvil, a tractor, a plough, an axe all gave an insight into how the locals made their living.
As the tractor and plough on the maypole might have suggested I soon found myself wandering uphill through large maize fields and shortly into a dense pine wood. This time the coniferous forest laid a colourful array of various mushrooms to admire like jewels aside the trail. Before long a tall spire appeared beyond the trees, I was eagerly waiting to catch a glimpse of the famous Andechs monastery yet this was not it, the remains of a monastery were now the annex to Andechs prison … possibly the most scenic place to loose ones freedom I have ever seen. Beyond the tall barbed fences lay open fields and distant townships which rolled into the afternoon haze.
Passing the white walls of the Andechs Monastery I peered in to glimpse a small chapel, despite being built in 1455 only to be confiscated by the state in 1803 the monastery had retained much of is original grandeur, however the most impressive sight lay ahead. Beyond the gently snaking path, beyond the 14 small white shrines to represent the stations of the cross, beyond the fields and trees a tower stood. The tall pointed spire of the Andechs church rose like a needle from the top of a steep hill, it dominated the skyline all around it to display its colourful salmon pink walls and copper bulbous top.
Following cobbled roads and a bustling crowd of others who had gathered to admire the spectacular church I climbed uphill to the base of the spire. The tall walls dwarfed the other buildings of the small township, inns and cafes lined the streets to fill the air with a delicious scent of warm baked bread. Munching on a pretzel lunch I passed the church under flocks of crows which soared above, somewhere in the valley ahead lay Herrsching and my ferry.
Descending into a steep sided gorge I followed the last boundary of the church walls, back in woodland I enjoyed the shelter of the thick beech canopy as the heavens opened once more. Intense rain clattered through the branches to scatter across the track ahead, I made a dash toward town.
With just 10 minutes to spare before the ferry arrived at the dock I arrived at the shore. The bustling town of Herrsching was the largest I had passed since Starnberg. Lines of cafes and inns stretched from the pier up the main high street, the occasional small church seemed lost amongst the bustle of life rumbling up and down the narrow roads. The rain had passed leaving colourful reflections in puddles to enjoy as I waited to board.
Sat inside next to a warm heater and holding a cool Weissbier I enjoyed watching thick curtains of rain cast across the lake at a comfortable distance, the smooth water seeming to swallow the dark clouds into a soft hue. In the distance I watched as the tall bulbed church tower amidst the town of Diessen drew closer.
Passing a scenic dock covered in fishing nets and cork floats I wound into Diessen in search of the Seefelder Hof Hotel. Hidden between the colourful array of narrow streets the large traditional hotel came into view. Greeted with the friendliest of welcomes I was delighted to be ushered into a cosy room and to be announced that they served the best food in town.
With a dinner of pork medallions cooked to absolute perfection on a bed of local wild mushrooms and spatzle (a traditional pasta) the owner was right; without a doubt the best meal I have had in a long time. I enjoyed the night in the fine company of a group of Australians; fellow hikers who would follow the same route as I for the upcoming days.
Watching the sun set into an orange haze over the silhouette of the church I set in to bed with the promise of good weather and an eagerness to continue.
An early yet relaxed start saw the day begin with another waddle, so far each day the spread of meats, cheeses and pastries had grown increasingly extravagant; needless to say I had devoured far more calories than I would surely burn.
I set off with the hope to enjoy a gentle walk toward the next townships with the hope of stopping to admire the many churches along the way. The narrow streets wound uphill toward a church which stood between colourful houses. Adorned with crosses or ornately carved balconies many of the houses sported spectacularly ornate frescoes upon the walls painted with a little extra gold in the morning sun.
The Marienmuenster Church was the first church of the day. Beneath its towering walls and tall steeple was a small wooden door; to my delight with a gentle push and loud creak it swung open. I stepped inside to the echo of my own footprints across the stone walls.
An incredible fresco was adorned across the roof yet somehow seemed lost in the veritable feast for the eyes that was the rest of the decoration. Golden pillars, vines and ornate carvings covered every shelf, wall and windowsill. Pinks and reds, golds and yellow; every surface held something to look at be it an angel, a cross or a gigantic baroque alter. To describe it as a jewel would be understating the colours and spectacle. I had intended to visit but for a few minutes but to take in every angle took well over half an hour; by the time I stepped back outside I had to squint to adjust back to the dazzling sun.
Leaving Diessen behind I ventured from houses into rolling fields, hoping to glance a first view of the Alps I was slightly disappointed to see the 98% humidity clouding the view into a dull haze, on the positive I could just make out the Andechs monastery which I had passed the day before. Beyond more farm houses and barns I wandered into a new stretch of thick beech forest.
I was now following a children's nature trail, instead of blue K signs I was guided by yellow footprints sprayed on the trees and track. A chance sighting with a deer, a fleeting glance of a jay and a long stare at a luminously orange slug kept the natural theme alive as I went.
Once in a while a small shrine would appear lurking between the branches, each would have an ornately carved cross or virgin Mary within and often held a still flickering candle devotedly lit. With open doors and wooden pews I took their advantage to stop and enjoy a quick rest between tramping along the wide forest track.
It was almost a surprise as I emerged so quickly from wood back into field, the transition so swift it enhanced the views. Open prairies led ahead with a ribbon of tarmac road to follow, lonely barns stood between occasional tall oak trees between the wheat. Occasionally I would pass fields of curious cattle, their bells chiming musically as they flocked to have a look at their strange new visitor. Their bells were soon lost to the rustle of leaves in the wind as I returned to the woods.
Back on wide forestry trails I descended to discover a deep gully and a ford to cross a small stream. The water was a refreshing spot to enjoy a quick snack and listen to nearby wrens warbling from the banks. Ahead I was in search of the town of Wessobrun.
Leaving the forest to hop around a large black snake which was baking in the hot morning breeze I set off perhaps a little more cautiously toward the distant red roofs of town. A tall church steeple promised the chance to explore another ornately decorated wonder.
As I arrived at the monastic buildings I was set to enter and explore; suddenly out of nowhere an elderly man approached. In good English he announced ‘I am the local watch maker, I must check the bells…would you like to have a look?’ gesturing to follow he lead ahead toward the locked doors of a nearby bell tower.
I had no idea what to expect, this was not the usual guided tour as was offered in the church but a chance to explore ‘behind the scenes.’ With clunking turn of a heavy iron key and a loud creak of heavy hinges I was led inside. The room was small with a narrow dusty staircase leading into the floors above.
The silence seemed to be dampened with each step reverberating into the wooden beams and cobwebs above, I climbed and ducked through a hatch into the next room. Here a large glass box stood in the centre of the wooden floor, inside was an beautifully engineered clock; the glass allowed the chance to gaze upon all its inner workings with delightful ease.
The man explained how he had to check the timings were right every day, he expressed the importance that the bells rung exactly at the hour. Hanging above our heads were a series of tremendous weights which swung gently as he wound them high into the rafters, somewhere above the wires led to the bells.
As he tightened some cogs and wound some dials the watchmaker glanced at the time; we have a few minutes, he exclaimed with a wry smile, come on, lets go up to the bells..I followed through increasingly narrow staircases to reach the very top of the tower.
Four heavy brass bells hung in a row silently awaiting the heavy blow of the hammer in the imminent minute. The watchmaker put his fingers in his ears….any second now. A clunk from below, a whir of cogs and a whizz of wires; the hammer struck! A deafening ring of the four bells exploded from the strike, the room seemed to reverberate, the dust shook on the stone windowsills and a flurry of startled pigeons burst from the rafters. In 10 short seconds the deafening sound rang out.
Beaming from ear to ear (both of which were now ringing) I retraced back down the ladders and stairs to emerge into the warm sun once again, as quickly as he arrived the watchmaker shook my hand, nodded and left.
Left with the excitement of the bells I wandered inside to explore the impressive rococo decorations of the main monastery. Here there was no dust nor cobwebs but an extravagant array of gold leaf, marbled paintings and incredible frescoes on the walls, the display was too much to take in in a single glance and enticed the urge to linger. Extraordinary!
With a sweet pastry in hand from the local gasthof I headed toward a gorge, following a trail marked with a large cow painted like the German flag I descended into another fine woodland.
Before long I was back on the open country roads and heading fast toward the small farming hamlet Metzgengasse. Ahead on the trail I could see the Australians also walking the trail. Passing tall maize fields we walked together into the township, ahead another tall bulbous spire of the St. Leonhard church promised the chance to admire more rococo decorations. In similar fashion to the Wessobrun monastery the interior was a feast for the eyes, detailed paintings, gold leaf and marbled walls were overlooked with a spectacular ceiling depicting another heavenly scene.
I chose to linger to enjoy the church a little longer and left the Australians to push on ahead. Alone again on the quiet country roads I set my sights on the distant rise of the Hohenpeissenberg Hill - the final push for the day before descending into Rigialm for dinner.
The road soon jointed onto a seemingly endless straight forest trail, to each side tall pines and occasional beech trees rung with crickets and evening bird song. Over the tops of the trees the sight of the church atop the hill and the impending rumble of thunder over haze hidden alps helped to spur me onward.
At the edge of the forest I emerged onto a busy road at the base of the Hohenpeissenberg Hill, a short yet steep 200 m climb to reach the summit loomed ahead, a tiring stretch after a lengthy hike. Passing farmyards onto a narrow root covered trail I found myself in the Australian party’s company yet again. In the beautiful forest I enjoyed the occasional shrine erected to provide an excellent excuse to rest against the incline, the curses from those beside were soon muted with the promise of a cafe at the summit.
At the summit the Gasthof Bayerischer Rigi provided shelter from a torrential thunderstorm downpour; with a well-deserved coffee we dried out and enjoyed discussing the events of our day. As the storm abated I set out to explore the interior of the hilltop church which was built in 1619. Yet more beautiful carvings, paintings and gold greeted my arrival, a small painting near the alter purportedly had miracle healing powers; I joked with the Australians that they should get their blisters healed.
The promise of a spectacular view across to the alps was dampened in the clouds, however below the hillside the town of Hohenpeibenberg greeted our arrival and the promise to rest for the days ahead. Despite the rain the spectacle of wispy cloud hovering atop the pine woods below was a fine view indeed; in all the greenery it was strange to think that at over 900 m I was standing in the region of the highest hills of Scotland.
Leaving the hill behind we descended together through thick woodland. The path zigzagged upon itself in steep switchbacks to arrive into fields and then town. A final few kilometres along the road soon brought us to the Rigi Alm hotel. A quick change of clothes later and we were whisked back up to the Gasthof Bayerischer Rigi on the top of the hill, it was the only place open on a Tuesday for dinner.
A tremendous plate of cheesy spatzl, beef and mushrooms ensured any energy spent through the day was soon recouped, after coffees and a weissbier we returned back to the hotel to get ready for the morning.
The rain had passed through the night to leave a thick fog and cold morning dew on the grass outside. As I devoured another tremendous plate of salami, cheese and pates on freshly baked bread I watched a hummingbird moth dart across the flows beside the dining room window; its colour seemed exaggerated in the dull grey mist.
I set off at a fast pace to try and warm up in the brisk air, soon meeting with two of the Australians we set off together toward a gorge; the locals had prepared us with the announcement it was ‘Bavaria’s Grand canyon’ we three were eager to discover it for ourselves.
Although the mist shrouded any hope of a view it did seem to bring out the colours in the bright mosses and mushrooms along the woodland floor. Following a narrow wooded track we soon stumbled upon an elderly man picking mushrooms for his dinner; he eagerly showed us his bag of ‘Stone Mushrooms’ which closely resembled British ceps, they looked very tasty! For the rest of the woodland wander I found my eye focused upon the various fungi with the question ‘can I eat it’ echoing in the back of my mind. . . I always assumed probably not.
Soon giving in to a steep slow we switch backed to and fro toward the Ammer river which could be heard rumbling somewhere below behind a wall of trees. I was eager to be at the water’s edge in anticipation of a potentially vertigo enduring route ahead. Through muddy trails and thick brash we found our way onto a revealingly wide forestry track; to our side the milky blue water of the river gurgled down the valley.
My attention still focused on looking for mushrooms quickly became enthralled in a whole different natural wonder. As we walked along the water’s edge I started to notice an increasing number of fallen trees at the side of the path, there seemed to be little method in their felling; it was then that I realised who, or should I say what had done it!
The base of each tree had not been cut by saw but by tooth. It was the hallmarks of the Eurasian Beaver! With excitement and delight we spent a keen half hour sneaking around the flooded reeds and trees in search of a sighting; alas they proved characteristically illusive. The bonus of seeing a native black squirrel however made the explore worthwhile.
Delighted to have seen my first ever signs of beaver activity I took extra spring in each step as I walked toward the steepening sides of the gorge upstream. We soon arrived at a scenic roofed bridge which spanned the Ammer. This was our turning point uphill, away from the waters’ edge and onward onto boardwalk and narrow bridges, the chance to catch a higher vantage beckoned.
Investigating an intriguing natural limestone terrace which was covered in thick moss and colourful fallen leaved I enjoyed the chance to break from the steep steps. The path had climbed short but fast high into the woods. A little way ahead the steps gave way to iron boardwalks which clung to steep sided slopes. We soon reached a small picnic bench and the chance for a mid-morning picnic.
As we continued the path wound between the tall bare trunks of beech trees, the undergrowth was thick with ferns and mosses. In the flat light the greens seemed vibrant and the cool blue of the river seemed strangely inviting. Our path began to wind steeper and steeper; the trail grew muddy and narrow.
Boardwalks and bridges became more common, the narrow trail seeming to simply drop away toward the river below.
I found amusement that the old bridges now replaced lay ominously below as if to remind the hiker how far the drop would plummet. Between the branches rocky outcrops jutted out over the undergrowth. We had entered a world so different to the rolling fields of the last two days which seemed so much more beautiful as result.
The path twisted, dropped and rose between the trees. Occasionally steeper descents/ascents were gifted with a knotted rope to cling upon, others had steep often slippery steps to clamber down. After a while we returned to follow the side of the river, from here we knew that the end of the canyon was arriving, It almost felt a shame to leave the beauty of the woods and return back to the open fields; the promise of more churches to explore spurred us onward.
One of the shortest days on the route it came almost as surprise to find ourselves arriving toward Rottenbuch and the end of our journey early in the afternoon. A dark ominous blue cloud rumbled in the background and hastened our pace to reach shelter in time.
With seconds to spare I dashed inside the large church at the edge of town, no sooner had I entered the door than the rain began in tremendous curtains outside; from the shelter of the spectacular room I sat in a pew to wait and listen to the soothing clatter on the roof high above beyond another beautiful painted ceiling.
In a gap in the rain I made a dash for the Cafe Am Tor where I was booked in for the night. Splashing through puddles on the cobbled streets I passed under a tall white arch which spanned the road from the town centre to arrive at the cafe on the other side. The homely cafe was full of character, with beautiful paintings adorning the walls and quirky lampshades made from cutlery and colanders. In the corner the owner’s two week old baby slept quiet as a mouse in a hammock.
A tremendous selection of sweet cakes and pastries tempted a rest after changing into dry clothes. With the afternoon to spare and the rain beating hard outside we settled in to enjoy each other’s company in the warm comfort of the cafe. As evening arrived we set out to sample the local Italian restaurant.
We soon enjoyed food was as fantastic and extravagant as the owners' hairstyle!
The weather had again closed in overnight, when I woke to the now familiar smell of pretzels and salami I could hear the clatter of rain on the windowsill. Thankfully rain didn’t really matter as the highlight to look ahead to was one of Bavaria’s most celebrated historic churches; the church as Wies.
From Rottenbuch I left the church behind, drawn into a curtain of rain and set off on narrow farm tracks and single trail roads. A quick play on a random musical instrument constructed from cow bells later and I was making fast progress toward Wildsteig.
Passing over farmland and small forestry plantations I soon arrived at the edge of Wildsteig, to my side the Schwaigsee lake swam in and out of the mist. Following a tractor down the narrow streets to pass a small bakery I squelched onto a steep climb to another large church overlooking the town. A small stone grotto beneath its walls sheltered a small virgin Mary statue, following the track I briefly took refuge inside to change my map.
Returning shortly after to leave Wildsteig and head back to the fields I pushed on toward Wies. Following the familiar blue K marks I descended past farmyards and cattle fields before rising into woodland. After a half hour wandering between woodland trails and narrow roads I emerged into view of the famous Weis church.
Standing atop a low rise the church was larger than any I had seen since Andechs monastery, its size was held in comfortable modesty only by the dwarfing height of the alps which drifted in and out of view through the mist behind. Built between 1746 and 1754 by Dominikus Zimmerman the building represents some of the finest examples of Bavarian Baroque architecture, the church remains as a place of pilgrimage for those seeking to cure their ailments, however is far more frequented by the busloads of tourists who flock to gaze upon its stunning decorations. As suggested by my guidebook I paused at the entrance to seek out an MP3 player to play Johann Sebastian Bach for the ‘full’ baroque experience.
Inside the colossal size of the main room is visually awe inspiring. The roof sports the most intricate and colourful painting I had yet seen and each wall was uniquely adorned in golden decorative crosses, angels or vine leaves.
Before heading onward to Trauchgau I lingered for lunch in one of the nearby shops, to my delight inside I met my fellow hikers to eat in company. With a delicious plate of goulash & dumplings I was set walk the final few kilometres to complete the day. Over lunch we debated the pros and cons of taking the longer route or the shorter; with the cloud low and obscuring the alps I set upon taking the latter with hope to catch the evening light in the town itself.
From the church I followed along a narrow road into a forestry plantation, the trees reflecting in the mirror still puddles along the way. Occasional sightings of black squirrels or Jays hopping on the track ahead compensated for a lack of alpine views in the cloud above. Passing into the small town of Schober I caught a promising glimpse to the valleys ahead, the cloud seemed to be parting at last. Each field rung out with the musical clatters of cow bells, the sound seemed to be as much a part of the landscape as the native birdcalls.
As I arrived upon the edge of Trauchgau the clouds around the mountains started to disperse. I was just a few minutes’ walk from the Hotel Sonnenbichl where I would be staying for the evening so lingered to enjoy the view appear behind the red spire of the local church. It was a fantastic way to end a day’s walk.
The Sonnenbichl hotel was one of the larger hotels so far, with everything from a bar & restaurant to a swimming pool and Sauna it was the perfect place to end and dry out. The owner was also a Scotsman and gave a wonderfully hospitable welcome. Re-joining the Australians I settled in for a few weissbiers and a huge steak & spatzl dish as recommended by the barman.
With a short walk in Trauchgau to start the day I lingered in the narrow streets to enjoy the local architecture; here the buildings were large, even for Bavarian standards and each had their own characteristic hanging baskets, painted shutters or even ornate painting on the wall. It was still raining yet there was promise of an improved forecast in the afternoon; I hoped it would arrive just as I would at the castles just visible far on the distant hillside.
Following single trail roads to join a wide river I soon left Trauchgau and not long after found myself wandering into the quiet streets of Buching. Here another small white church was accompanied by a similar counterpart atop a hill nearby, to ease the road ahead I decided to stop and sample a local sweet pastry before pressing on into the fields ahead, I was eager to reach the castles.
Heading toward the Hegratsrieder See; a small lake in the distance I followed over rolling hills along narrow tarmac roads, the rain gently pattered on the grass leaving it dewy and sparkling on the verges. Arriving into the small farming hamlet of Greith I wandered into a large courtyard with decorative fountain in the middle, an attractive chapel stood behind; it seemed every village no matter what size had to have its own church.
As the road led to the shores of the Hegratsrieder See I enjoyed the slate grey reflections in the crystal water; not a breath of wind seemed to stir the surface. Ahead the mountains started to drift out of the mist, at last the cloud was rising.
To my delight a burst of sun crept across the fields, the warmth of the day suddenly saturating the air; ahead the romantic Neuschwanstein castle with its fairytale spires and precarious placement was lit golden against dark blue mountainsides; this was why I had come, the spectacle was awe inspiring.
Detouring from the route I ventured to toward a church in the open field ahead, I wanted to investigate a mysterious pile of pumpkins which lay by the roadside. Sat in the sun beside the mound of vegetables I watched the mist swirl around the castles ahead, it made the mornings damp hiking worth every second. Somewhere between the castles and I was the Pollatschlucht or Pollat gorge, a hidden wonder between them mountains and the finish line.
Passing a small abandoned sawmill I caught glimpses of the Hohenschwangau castle to my side, like the Neuschwanstein castle which was now almost above my head it was shrouded in mist with the dark moody blues of the mountains behind; ahead a wide river roared from the gorge.
The track went from gravel trail to iron bridge, literally bolted onto the cliff side above tumbling waterfalls it was a place to question ones sense of trust in the construction and ability to withstand vertigo; thankfully the beauty of light inter-playing between the cascading waters and thick pine trees which clung to the river’s edge was more than enough to distract.
Passing a towering waterfall to a deafening roar I caught another glimpse of spires above my head. Looking forward a tiny bridge spanned the highest point of the gorge I could make out crowds of eager onlookers peering over the drop toward where I stood. Beneath the bridge was the most impressive of all the falls, the grand finale before climbing back to the path and joining the masses.
Panting from a steep climb out of the gorge and onto the hillside I arrived onto a wide tarmac track. The sound of the river was lost to the bustle of people, after so long on the quiet road and trails from Starnberg it felt as if arriving into a city. Following the general flow uphill I wound my way toward the bridge I had so recently stood beneath; as I climbed the view stretched out to Fussen and the castles below, spectacular lakes and alpine vistas spread out into the horizon. Jostling for position on the bridge I caught sight at last at the Neuschwanstein castle from perhaps its most impressive angle; here the true spectacle of King Ludwig’s creative genius could truly be admired.
After lingering at the gorge and around the castle it was late in the evening before I set off toward Fussen to finish the day. Deciding to take the longer yet more scenic route back I descended into the valley where restaurants and shots appeared in their plenty. Crossing the roads toward the quiet waters of a nearby lake I rose into woodland and into silence once more.
The path rose at a gentle contour before dropping into the next valley in steep switchbacks, here I met the Schwansee lake which in the evening still was like a perfect mirror to the mountains and castles behind. Lingering I watched as the light started to grow golden on the summits above; I was excited to get a view from the last hill before dinner.
There was no better way to end a fantastic long distance trail like the King Ludwig Way than to sit atop a small hill and gaze back upon the mountains, castles and lakes in the setting sun. Beneath a series of three crosses I sat on the top of a small chapel, in total silence the spectacle seemed to swim out and grab at every sense; to one side was the mountains to my other the colourful houses of Fussen and home, separated by only a small descent and some hidden chapels it was tantalisingly close.
Arriving in the last golden light Fussen seemed all the more beautiful, the wide river at the edge of town was an inviting yet surely cold azure blue which contested perfectly with the red roofs and yellow walls that most of the buildings displayed. Children dressed in full lederhosen ran ahead in the narrow streets and the sound of a nearby band echoed through the bustle of triumphant walkers, meeting my fellow hikers I and the Australians finished together into the extravagant Hotel Sonne; perhaps the most luxurious of all the hotels so far. To celebrate finishing the hike we settled down to a superb three course meal and with what better than a weissbeer named ‘Konig Ludwig.’
The King Ludwig Way was complete but I had one extra day to explore and enjoy the wanders of Fussen particularly those of the castles I had briefly passed the evening before. I had planned early in the hike that I would set off at the crack of dawn to attempt an alpine peak, my hope was to catch a view back down from the summit. However a broad bank of cloud was fast approaching from the open fields with the likelihood of capturing the view into mist upon the tops. Instead I decided to venture back to Neuschwanstein castle and plan further from there.
Like a Disneyland castle Neuschwanstein perches upon the very top of the most unlikely steep hill. Flanked on three of the four sides by the towering cliff sides of the Bavarian alps and separated only by a deep gorge it is a romantic yet impenetrable fortress. Today the castle is overrun only by hoards of tourists to which a local industry booms.
From the bustling bus stop I joined a steady flow in the crowd to wind uphill toward the castle grounds. Passing countless gift shops, cafes and the occasional horse drawn cart I soon found myself enjoying the high vantage of the hillside. Looking back to the comparatively modest yellow walls of Hohenschwangau castle I peered out across the stunning lakes and alpine vistas; so far the cloud was staying high.
Gazing up to the Tegelberg chairlift in the distance I aimed to cross the gorge on the impressive bridge before climbing uphill to meet the lift station at the top. If the weather improved I would aim for the summit, if it did not I would return to explore the lower castles; it seemed like the best way to experience the best of everything the area had to offer.
Jostling for position I took a quick peer over the bridge back to the extravagant spires of the Neuschwanstein castle. Leaving the crowds behind I was soon following a narrow trail up into alpine pine forest, the immediate sense of wilderness spurred the urge to pursue the mountain above, to keep hiking and keep climbing up. Occasional glimpses back to the valley below were brought by vertigo inducing drops to the side of the narrow route.
Before long I had risen into a mist; gently swirling around between the trees it created an eerie stillness to the air. Joining a group of young locals I climbed in company toward the sounds of a cable car somewhere ahead. The trail often wound in precarious switchbacks or narrow contours around slopes; sometimes following through forest the route would open up into exposed steps shrouded into a sense of safety by the cloud.
It was mid-day when we arrived under the cables of the Tegelberg chairlift, leaving the woodland we wound onto a wide concrete track to soon discover a cafe and sudden bustle of activity on the top. We sat together for a celebratory lunch of sweet pastries and salami kindly shared amongst the group.
Now in thick mist continuing to the mountaintop less worthwhile, instead I jumped aboard the chairlift to return to Fussen via the castles one last time.
By the time I had wandered back into Fussen the light was again growing low over the hills and yet again the local band had appeared to play life into the evening streets. It was a sad feeling to be leaving Germany in the morning yet a triumphant ending to a long journey, in just one week I had hiked through open fields, impressive woodlands and into the mountains; most importantly I had walked through a ribbon of culture, where churches, history and local foods had made the King Ludwig Way more than a walk, it was a perfect way to get a taste of Germany.