Mondsee – a charming little place

Tucked away in the scenic Salzkammergut region, Mondsee is another one of Austria’s lesser known wonders.

After a wonderful day at St. Gilgen and the Wolfgangsee, we decided to do a quick stop at nearby Mondsee before heading back to Salzburg which was our base for our German Austrian alpine trip.

Mondsee is another little Austrian village in the Salzkammergut region that will have you fascinated by its beauty and idyllic charm in no time.

On a cloudy evening, we arrived in Mondsee. We parked in the main square of the village. It’s a small square, lined with colorful townhouses, mostly restaurants and stores selling handcrafted wares.

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Just opposite this main square is the Collegiate Church of St. Michael, which used to be the monastery church of Mondsee Abbey. The Mondsee Abbey was founded in 748 and there’s some interesting folklore around why the abbey was founded and how the name Mondsee, meaning moon lake, came about.

The church is possibly most famous for being the venue for the wedding of Maria and Captain von Trapp in the famous musical ‘Sound of Music‘. The church is quite the sought-after church for weddings in the area ever since the film was released.  Also known as the Basilica St. Michael, the church is one of the primary reasons tourists flock this little village. Even if you are not a huge Sound of Music fan, this little village will still leave a lasting impression.

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The Basilica of St. Michael
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The interiors of the church are quite impressive
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Especially impressive is its baroque style altar

Right outside the church is the city tram stop. Now, this is a tram ride we highly recommend you make part of your Mondsee itinerary. The tram ride is just lovely – the driver gives you a very informative tour (even if you are the only soul on the tram!) and takes you thru the smallest of Mondsee streets. The best part of the ride is when the tram arrives at the Mondsee promenade and takes you right in front of the Mondsee – and you are mere inches away from the lake! That was a fantastic and unique experience.

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At the promenade, you can get off the tram and enjoy a nice stroll along the lake. Take a walk around the promenade park as well… you’ll find gorgeous little streams and bridges that make you feel like you’re in a land of fairies.4836534628017574288-account_id=2 (2)

 

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The beautiful Countess Michelin Gräfin von Almeida

 

Just a few metres away is the Mondsee Pier where you can get the best views of the beautiful Salzkammergut region.

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It was just us and these ducks braving the cold, rainy evening…

We stood at the pier for a long time, just basking in the silence around us.. watching the tranquil waters of Mondsee make little magical ripples.

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We wish we’d had more time to explore this beautiful alpine village of Austria. We hope to go back to Austria someday soon during summer. Mondsee is quite popular for water sports – it is the warmest lake in the Salzkammergut region and folks from nearby towns flock this little village during the summer months.

If you are visiting the Salzkammergut region of Austria, be sure to make little Mondsee part of your Austria holiday – it is a special place!

We fell in love with Mondsee and the other little villages in the Salzkammergut region – they are filled with such incredible beauty that you’ll always want to go back for more. 

St. Gilgen and the Wolfgangsee – pure wonder

Surrounded by beautiful blue lakes and stunning alpine panorama, this picturesque Austrian village will steal your heart.

We made our way to St. Gilgen on the second day of our German-Austrian alpine road trip. Situated on the northern shore of the Wolfgangsee, St. Gilgen is one of the most scenic little towns in the popular Salzkammergut region in Austria.

We had a late start to St. Gilgen after our delightful visit to Lake Chiemsee the previous day. But, located just 25 kilometers away from Salzburg, we were in this charming little town in less than 30 minutes.

We headed straight to the Zwölferhorn Cable Car station. Zwölferhorn is part of the Salzkammergut mountain range of the Eastern Alps. The eastern part of the Alps, although not as high as the western range, is blessed with plenty of lakes, most of which are in the Salzkammergut region of Austria. This is quite evident when you stand atop the Zwölferhorn. You are surrounded by numerous deep blue lakes including the Wolfgangsee, Mondsee, Fuschlsee and Attersee. It’s a pretty spectacular view!

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Wolfgangsee, the big lake at the front and Mondsee, at the back

The Zwölferhorn cable car is said to have begun operations over 65 years ago. It’s a short 15-minute breathtaking ride to the top.

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View of the magnificent Austrian Alps as we make our ascent to Zwölferhorn

Once you get to the top, there are a whole bunch of viewpoints you can walk up to, in just about 10 minutes. You get strikingly different views from each side.

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Despite a cloudy day, the beautiful mountains and valleys of Salzkammergut make for a great view
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Wolfgangsee narrows down as it flows towards the southern side

The top of Zwolferhorn is simply a little paradise. The views are insanely good. We grabbed one of these benches and just sat there, hand in hand, admiring the beauty of Austria.

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We were missing something though…

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Brew with a view

A delicious pint of one of Austria’s fine beers completes the delightful experience! Stiegl is one of Austria’s most popular, revered beers. Unfortunately, they just brew a lager style offering no ales. But, the beer is worth trying. It’s quite a refreshing easy-drinking not-too-hoppy lager. (More on our beer travels in Austria coming soon in a separate post!)

Despite the somewhat warmer temperatures, there was still some snow around. But the weather was pleasant. And, the place wasn’t too packed with tourists – one of the biggest advantages of traveling during the off-season. We found a cozy little spot and sat sipping our beers and basking in the spring sunshine – the perfect recipe for a great day!

The Salzkammergut mountain range is quite impressive. Dachstein is one of the tallest and most popular mountains in Salzkammergut and is known for its fascinating ice caves and glaciers.

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Some of the mountains of Salzkammergut

We’d planned on visiting Dachstein as well on this trip but hit some bad weather and decided to save this for our next Austrian trip. The views of the Austrian Alps from Dachstein look mind-blowing and you should definitely make it part of your itinerary if you can!

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The large mountain you see is Schafberg

Schafberg is another popular mountain around the Wolfgangsee and at the foothills of this mountain is St. Wolfgang, another charming little village. Schafberg is well-known for its historic steam cog railway that has been offering rides up the steep mountain for over 120 years! [Fun fact: The train has also featured in the hugely famous movie ‘Sound of Music’. Most of the movie was actually filmed in and around the Salzkammergut area.] The Schafbergbahn was sadly not operational in early April and we missed this exciting ride.

There’s so much to do around the Wolfgangsee and so much beauty!

But, we first needed some food! We decided to head back down to St. Gilgen and grab a bite in one of those lovely lakeside restaurants.

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The Wolfgangsee Schiffahrt takes you on a beautiful ride across the lake, meandering through crystal clear blue waters. Apart from St. Gilgen and St. Wolfgang, there are a few other little villages by the Wolfgangsee you can visit if you’d like.

Having happily stuffed ourselves with some delicious food and ales at the Fischer Wirt restaurant, we decided to wander around little St. Gilgen.

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Hidden alleyways are the best place to start
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Just love how trees look in early spring – still blossoming with the littlest of green leaves

St. Gilgen is a small village with lovely little houses dotting the lakefront. It is also sometimes referred to as Abersee. But is popularly known as ‘Mozart village’. Although Mozart never visited the place, a few of his family members lived here and there’s a Mozarthaus to commemorate the great composer and his family.

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Not too far away from the Mozarthaus is a lovely statue of Mozart himself in front of the Rathaus (town hall).

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St. Gilgen Mozartplatz

It’s not just music but wonderful art as well that adorns this quaint little village.

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A fountain dedicated to Mozart’s mother who was born here

Our last stop was the parish church of Saint Aegidius, aka Saint Giles, after whom the village gets its name.

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It is a small church done up in baroque style. While the interior of the church was splendid, the little cemetery at the back of the church was heart-warmingly beautiful. It was so endearing to see the little notes on the tombstones, the fresh bouquets of flowers, the candles and the photographs on the graves.

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It got us thinking about our own loved ones we lost in this sometimes difficult journey that is life. Our spirits weren’t dampened though. If anything, this town filled us with an overwhelming sense of love and appreciation for the beauty that surrounds us.

We simply fell in love with St. Gilgen. It is just a tiny place in the vast land of Austria but it is one of the prettiest places in this remarkable country. We made a silent promise to come back to this enchanting little village.

Lake Chiemsee – a dreamy retreat

On a cloudy yet beautiful spring day, we began our six-day road trip across the German Austrian alpine towns.

The drive was simply wonderful. The fields were blanketed with lush green and there were little wild flowers everywhere. Not so far away from the fields were thick forests with trees slowly coming to life. Absolutely love this time of the year; when everything is springing back to life with this intoxicating newness.

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A quick phone capture as we sped past these gorgeous fields

Our first stop was Lake Chiemsee – one of Germany’s largest lakes, also known as the Bavarian Sea. Surrounded by the Chiemgau Alps, the Chiemsee lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in Germany. The alps tantalize us with its majestic beauty miles before we approach Chiemsee.

There are many lakeside towns in Chiemsee but the most notable one is Prien. The Bavarian town of Prien am Chiemsee while packed with tourists, is still a cozy little town and you can find a heavenly little spot for yourself by the lake to get lost in.

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A magical evening by Lake Chiemsee

Lake Chiemsee has three islands – Herreninsel, Fraueninsel, and Krautinsel. Herreninsel meaning gentlemen’s island, is the largest and possibly the most visited. Fraueninsel aka ladies’ island is the prettier one of the lot (but of course!) and Krautinsel is said to be uninhabited. We took the Chiemsee Schifffahrt from Prien to tour the islands.

The boat ride was just wonderful. We sat on the upper deck enjoying the slightly cold breeze and the scenic views of the German alps.

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Of course nothing like a beer to make the experience just perfect

We got off at the Herreninsel and began our short trek to the Herrenchiemsee Castle, one of the three Ludwig castles.

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It is a beautiful 15 min walk up to the castle
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If you don’t feel like the walk, you could hop on one of these carriage rides instead

Large luxurious gardens welcome you to the palace.

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The Royal Palace of Herrenchiemsee is modeled on the Palace of Versailles and was built by Ludwig as a ‘Temple of Fame’ for King Louis XIV of France who the Bavarian king ardently worshiped. The castle rooms are filled with paintings of the French king.

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Somewhat ordinary looking from the outside but extravagantly decorated on the inside

It is said to be one of the most expensive castles that King Ludwig has built and it’s quite evident once you walk inside the castle. The decorations are rich and exquisite with large chandeliers with the most intricate designs, magnificent furniture, and elaborately handcrafted items & showpieces. Possibly the most stunning room in the palace is the Great Hall of Mirrors with numerous chandeliers and mirrors lining the hall on either side and brilliant paintings embellishing the ceiling.

The Herrenchiemsee castle is definitely much more beautiful on the inside compared to the Neuschwanstein castle which is one of the prettier castles from the outside with its fairy-tale look and gorgeous alpine views.

We quite enjoyed the guided tour to the Herrenchiemsee; the guide was funny and cheerful and gave us great insights on the castle and the fascinating life of King Ludwig.

After your castle visit, do take a break at the little cafe with a nice pint of German beer and enjoy the soothing view of the gardens and the fountains.

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The fountains are decorated with wonderfully sculpted art
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and some strange but interesting art..

It was time to hop back on the boat and head over to Fraueninsel. You do want to plan your visit to Lake Chiemsee in such a way that you have time for both these islands. Most tourists just visit Herrenchiemsee for the palace and turn back. You will be missing out on the true Lake Chiemsee experience if you do that. While the boat ride to Herrenchiemsee is beautiful, it is nothing like the breath-taking, scenic views you’ll get if you head on over to the Fraueninsel. And the little island itself is just astonishingly beautiful.

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A lone sailboat out on chilly cloudy evening
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A view of the Benedictine monastery as we approach Fraueninsel
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A closer look at the monastery

The monastery was founded in 782 and was rebuilt multiple times over the last few centuries. We couldn’t enter the monastery but could take a walk through the pretty little cemetery at the back of the monastery. The graves were so lovingly decorated with flowers, pictures, and little lanterns.

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While the monastery is considered the key attraction of this small island, we highly recommend you taking a walk around the island. It’s such a small place that in less than 20 minutes, you can go around the entire island. It’s the prettiest little car-free island, with every house having its own private pier and cosy little sit-out by the lake. The houses are also adorned by lovely gardens.

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See the little eggs on the flower bush? We were visiting during Easter..

If you’re looking to do nothing much but just sit by the lake, relax, and take in the beauty surrounding you – this island is just the perfect spot. It’s quiet and cosy.

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Do keep an eye on your watch though as you can get lost in the alpine charm of this little island and miss your boat. We baaarely made it to the last boat out! We ran with all our might and just about made it to the pier as the boat was coughing up its engine to sail away.

In any case, not a bad place to be stranded at eh? The little island does have a few hotels and B&Bs. If you are looking to stay overnight in Chiemsee and prefer a less crowded place, you should opt to stay here rather than the packed Prien am Chiemsee.

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Lake Chiemsee was such a great start to our alpine road trip. Its quaint towns and islands with their unspoiled beauty and indescribable charm left a lasting impression on us and we are so glad to have made Chiemsee a part of our German adventures.

(We visited a whole bunch of gorgeous little towns across Germany and Austria during this road-trip. Stay tuned for more posts!)

Füssen and Schwangau – a little piece of heaven

Two little picturesque German towns surrounded by the mighty, stunning Alps.

There’s nothing like the Alps to fill you with child-like glee and make you squeal with delight at every little sight of them. We just cannot seem to get enough of them and have been very fortunate to see the extensive, breath-taking range of the German, Austrian and Swiss Alps.

Füssen and Schwangau are located in the midst of the Allgäu Alps – which extend across Bavaria in south Germany and Tyrol & Vorarlberg in Austria. The little town is about an hour from where we live (in Ulm). After an exhilarating drive, we arrived at our Scottish/Irish themed hotel where we had a fabulous night of whisky tasting. It had been so long since we had drunk good whiskies in this beer-famed land. We lost count of how many whiskies we’d had – each one better than the last. They had SUCH an amazing collection of whiskies from all around the world! This was our primary motivation to book this hotel of course. The hotel itself was quite nice – friendly staff and located very close to the Hopfen am see, one of the many lakes in the region.

The lake was frozen of course, considering the sub-zero temperatures we’d been having through January. And, in just a minute we were away from the hotel and on the lake, taking a walk on the ice sheets. We were just blown away by the beauty that surrounds this small town.

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Hopfen am See, Füssen

It was our first time walking on a frozen lake and we weren’t sure how far out we should venture especially considering there were some sizable cracks across the lake and we were the only souls on the lake!

We then headed over to the Tegelberg mountain in Schwangau. This was just a few kilometers out from Füssen. Tegelberg is known for its winter sports and you can find a whole bunch of people skiing including teeny kids. They all row up in their groups, all padded up and carrying their ski gear, looking super excited with no trace of fear – ah, they were such fun to watch!

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Foothills of Tegelberg, Schwangau

We took the Tegelbergbahn or cable car up the mountain. It was a beautiful but somewhat suffocating a ride. The little cable car fills up nearly 45 people standing shoulder to shoulder with their noses almost touching the glass door! It was such a surreal experience compared to our cable car rides in Switzerland. But when we got out of the car, the views took over everything else. The Alps oh, the gorgeous alps .. they were everywhere.

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Meet the Allgäu Alps

We decide to hike up the snow-covered Telgelberg mountain to get to a higher point. It was a steep, slippery climb but with the prettiest views all along the way.

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All we could feel was a deep sense of bliss and contentment

We make way for skiers, young and old.. we also make way for a dog, a cute labrador that climbed up the hill so effortlessly wagging its tail ever so cutely.

Huffing and puffing, we make it up to the top, and are rewarded with breath-taking views. And, excited to take a peek down the big mountain, I take a few steps dangerously close to the edge.. and I am washed over with the sweetest rush of fear and joy.

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We could have stood here forever…

We just stand there in amazement with all the other guys that made the climb.. just soaking in all this wondrous beauty. After a bit, we make the descent. Going downhill is always tricky and going down a snow-trodden mountain is even more tricky.. keeping our balance and taking small careful steps, we make it down to the restaurant. We get some grub and beer and sit down to have our lunch by this gorgeous view.

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Brew with a view

Reluctantly, we make our way back to the cable car and down to Schwangau. We then drive over to Füssen.

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Hello beautiful

Füssen is such a pretty little town. It is known for the Neuschwanstein castle which technically is actually in Schwangau.. People stay at Füssen when visiting the castle and are just rushing through to their next destination and barely explore this gem of a little city. Not only is it picturesque with the lovely Lech river flowing through and with the Alps in the background, it is rooted deep in history and tradition and was luckily untouched by the world war destruction.

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Füssen has a little castle of its own – Hohes Schloss

We got to the Hohes Schloss / High Castle a little late and we couldn’t check out the inside but were able to walk around the inner courtyard and admire the unique art decor of the castle.

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Courtyard of the Hohes Schloss – this unique artwork is replicated all over the little town

On the way to the castle is the Basilika St. Mang – the interiors and ceiling art of this abbey church is simply beautiful. And, they have the most embellished church organ I have ever seen. And we were in love with their cherub pulpit – so intricate and unique! Simply loved the church. Germany has some of the most beautiful churches.

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Basilika St. Mang, Füssen

Not too far from the town is the Lech Falls. This is just the prettiest little falls ever in the midst of surreal alpine beauty. The gorgeous emerald waters of the Lech river fall down and flow around the city of Füssen.

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We just walked around the area of the Lech Falls taking in all the beauty.. Slowly, we make our way back to the town centre – Altstadt.

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Pretty little streets of Füssen lighting up as dusk approaches

We make a short stop to pick up some Schneeballs  a delicious local pastry that has been around for 300 years or so! It’s available in a multitude of flavors and being coffee lovers, we went for one in a cappuccino flavor.

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After a few more strolls around the little town and a couple of local beers, we arrive at the Schlossbrauhaus in Schwangau. The two little towns are just a few kilometers apart and we sure did some back and forth in this one day.

This seemed to be a popular brewery in this neck of the woods and they claimed to serve some craft beer as well. Now that definitely got our attention and we were excited to try out their beers. Unfortunately, we were quite disappointed in their so-called “craft beers” which were really just the traditional German Pils and Weizens. We don’t mind the traditional German beers especially the wheat beers but their beers were a disappointing version of the traditional beers even. That said, it wasn’t all wasted time as they served some finger-licking local food! And, they had some sort of a local event that day and there was a whole bunch of locals dressed as kings, queens, soldiers etc. and it was fun just watching these finely dressed people gather around a few beers. We were just minutes away from the famed Neuschwanstein castle and no wonder we had royalty flocking the bar.

If you’d like a good pint in the area, you should visit the Allgäuer Stüberl or Hotel Hirsch (both serve some delicious Bavarian brews and lip-smacking local food). Not being a huge fan of the Pils, we usually stick to the Weizens when it comes to traditional beer in Germany.

The next morning, we visited the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles. So, to be honest, it was our last item on the things to do in Füssen. The Neuschwanstein is a pretty looking castle, inside out. But, the insane crowds that throng to it even during the coldest of winters and take a trip all the way here just to see the castle is beyond our understanding. Blame it on Walt Disney for making this “Sleeping Beauty” castle such an obsession with tourists visiting Germany. And no, this is not all that this beautiful country is about. Well, nevertheless, it is a beautiful castle with splendid architecture and is worth a visit if you’re in the area. And do take the short trek to the Marienbrücke, a little bridge not too far from the castle that offers a full view of the castle and some beautiful views of the surrounding area.

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View from the Marienbrücke

Note that visiting the castle has to be carefully planned. You simply cannot be late for your reserved time slot – if you do, you will not be allowed to enter at all. We reserved our tickets online (we took the king’s ticket) and skipped the long queues to purchase the tickets. We took an English guided tour; the guide was friendly and did a decent job of recounting the life of King Ludwig II (known as the mad king). King Ludwig led a fascinating although lonely life and died under mysterious circumstances. He was obsessed with castles and swans among other things. The Neuschwanstein (new swan stone) castle has lavish and beautiful interiors and the art that adorns the walls are spectacular. The castle tour itself felt way too short and rushed; well, it had to be this way so it could accommodate the crowds that visit the castle everyday.

Our guide for the Hohenschwangau castle was more impressive, giving us some interesting, humorous anecdotes of King Ludwig II and his family. The interiors of this castle is just as lovely, may not be as extravagant and rich in its decorations but quite exquisite nonetheless. The artwork and the Turkish inspired designs are admirable. The Hohenschwangau stands on the ruins of the old Schwanstein castle and the  Neuschwanstein stands on the ruins of the original Hohenschwangau. They sure mixed the heck out of these castle names!

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The new Hohenschwangau

The castles are close to the Alpsee which like the other lakes in the area was frozen. There were many more people out walking on this lake (some were even running and jumping) and this time around we ventured farther into the lake and had the most wonderful time.

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Headed to the Alps – one slow step at a time on the Alpsee

For us, the castles were definitely not the highlight of Füssen and Schwangau. They are worth a visit for sure but you’d be missing out on SO much if you do not check out the sights in and around Füssen.

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The dreamy Bavarian countryside where time stands still

Füssen and Schwangau are fairy tale towns even without the castles and we have some of our most cherished travel memories from these two little towns.