Everyone knows Neuschwanstein. It’s a huge tourist draw in Munich, one of the most famous buildings in the world. You’ve seen its fairy-tale turrets nestling in a dramatic pre-alpine setting in a thousand jigsaw puzzles and travel agent posters. Part of the building’s ongoing allure is the legend of its owner, the so-called “mad” king, Ludwig II of Bavaria, who commissioned it as an architectural embodiment of his beloved Wagner operas.
But here’s an idea: why not head for another of Ludwig’s fantasy creations? Herrenchiemsee, for instance, an island-bound palace set in a lake just an hour south-east of Munich. The building watches majestically over formal landscaped gardens, but if the façade looks familiar, that was entirely deliberate. Ludwig – besotted with the absolute monarchs of France– ordered up a truncated version of Versailles (which actually is a little bit nuts when you think about it). It was never completed and Ludwig only spent nine nights there.
As well as dodging the crowds which throng Ludwig’s more famous digs, from mid-May you can get a fascinating insight into the man and his obsessions in a major new exhibition. Making use of unfinished rooms never before open to the public, it will look beyond the fluff which makes up much of the Ludwig legend. But was the Bavarian king actually mad? Well, in a less enlightened time, being reclusive, eccentric and gay – as he was – was enough to make the label stick, and Ludwig was forced to abdicate before drowning in mysterious circumstances in 1886. Of course once you’ve seen Herrenchiemsee and spent some time in its creator’s company, you can make up your own mind.