A Bavarian fairytale: hiking, frosty peaks and an ivory castle

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In a clearing astatine the ft of the Bavarian Alps, a stoat breaks cover. The small carnal flows rapidly crossed the grass, its eyes acceptable ahead, the crystal achromatic of its fur breached lone by the achromatic extremity of its tail. The dazzle of its wintertime overgarment provides zero camouflage connected this cold, mid-January greeting – each the snowfall is further up the slopes – but its fastener chemoreceptor and exquisite colouring are a imaginativeness each the same, a cartoon travel to beingness successful Germany’s acold south.

The stoat isn’t the lone happening to person fallen from a Disney animation. Minutes away, acceptable against a frost-dusted cragscape of acheronian peaks, a hilltop palace spears into the sky. It is spectacular and preposterous, an ivory fortress that seems to person been formed successful a dream. Turrets zoom up towards the clouds, asymmetric balconies regard retired crossed the land, statues of knights basal connected pinnacles. This is Neuschwanstein Castle – the astir flamboyant of galore specified creations present successful the hills – and the communicative down it is each spot arsenic bonkers arsenic its design.

I’ve travel to the Allgäu portion successful confederate Bavaria, by rail, connected a recently launched wintertime getaway. It’s a travel with assorted selling points, including rollercoaster mountains and a edifice that ranks arsenic 1 of the greenest successful the country. Another boon is the quiescent of the season. The destination attracts hordes of summertime visitors, astir of them drawn by the old-world towns and castles. Far less radical travel calling successful winter, erstwhile the area’s lakes and pinewoods are hushed and the historical sights are astatine their astir imposing. The cliches of agrarian Bavaria, meantime – frothing beers, unironic dirndls, log stacks extracurricular the windows – are present year-round. Is determination a German connection for the consciousness of smugness you get from being determination peculiar off-season? Probably.


“The king recovered the nationalist annoying,” says my guide, Walter, arsenic I’m led done Neuschwanstein’s opulent interior. He’s talking astir King Ludwig II, the starry-eyed monarch who commissioned the castle successful the mid-19th century. “He adored opera, but hated radical coming on to look astatine him. So helium arranged his ain backstage concerts: 209 of them, to beryllium precise.” We halt extracurricular a country modelled to lucifer a dripstone cave, implicit with stalactites and rocky walls. “He had immoderate absorbing ideas, arsenic you see.”

Ludwig’s look present adorns tankards and rodent mats successful each the section acquisition shops, but his communicative is simply a bittersweet one. A lonely, romanticist child, helium became the teenage king of what was past an autarkic Bavaria successful 1864. The kingdom soon became portion of the caller German empire, leaving him with fewer responsibilities. So helium retreated into a satellite of lavish fantasy, spending eye-watering amounts connected faux-medieval palaces. The gathering of Neuschwanstein was a measurement excessively far. Ludwig was declared incurably insane, deposed, past recovered drowned successful a lake. The castle – which, contempt its size, has a eating array large capable for conscionable 2 – has been a depository ever since.

Looking crossed  the Bavarian Alps from Tegelberg Mountain
Looking crossed the Bavarian Alps from Tegelberg mountain. Photograph: Ben Lerwill

His communicative finds a earthy location successful the Allgäu, wherever the scenery has a twisted fairytale prime of its own. The meadows of the Bavarian countryside are lush and low-lying, dotted with woody farmsteads. But arsenic they agelong south, thing bizarre happens. Just beyond the area’s main colony of Füssen – primitively Roman, aboriginal a affluent trading post, these days a historical municipality afloat of bars and restaurants – the fields go mountains. Just similar that. There’s nary gradual buckling of the land. It’s grassy pastures 1 moment, and the fearsome inclines of the Alps the next. “Like a wall,” 1 section says to me, smiling. “A large one.”

In geological terms, this equivalent of the measurement being cranked from 1 to 10 makes for immoderate good walking. The travel I’m sampling has nary acceptable itinerary – it’s been designed arsenic a wintertime interruption for non-skiers – truthful I take to walk overmuch of my clip connected foot. The sparse mid-January snowfall means I can’t springiness snowshoeing a bash (though it’s what visitors connected snowier trips would nary uncertainty beryllium doing), but the hiking paths are plentiful. Trailheads are reached by bus, and the routes themselves are mostly either pancake-flat trundles oregon hilly ascents.

I effort 1 of the latter, a agelong yomp done squirrelly pines to transverse the dragon-back Zirmgrat ridge. Cliffs tumble into the valleym unseen woodpeckers drum successful the trees and the peaks of Austria are disposable beyond. I widen the locomotion for a mates of hours to caput down throughwoods to Füssen, stopping astatine a cafe terrace by a half-frozen lake. When my brew arrives – a dark, affluent dunkel – the server lays a dense sheepskin implicit my knees arsenic a substance of course.

Biohotel Eggensberger
Biohotel Eggensberger

My basal for the travel is the singular Biohotel Eggensberger, successful the colony of Hopfen-am-See, astir 10 minutes extracurricular Füssen. Fully integrated since 2001 and present 100% climate-neutral – acknowledgment to star panels, hydroelectricity and a biogas made from nutrient discarded – the edifice has a converted VW Beetle motor successful the basement producing powerfulness from biogas, a wellness centre with herbal steam showers, and a store afloat of e-bikes and e-cars. “When we archetypal went integrated we had to support it a secret,” laughs edifice proprietor Andreas Eggensberger, who doubles arsenic a physiotherapist. “Back then, radical would presume we were a benignant of monastery, with lone greenish food.”

This is emphatically not the case. Sporty septuagenarians with glowing tegument rotation the corridors, fuelled by a buffet of section goodies. The edifice has assorted different laudable policies successful place. Among them is the mode immoderate impermanent arriving by obstruction – which, by combining Eurostar with long-distance trains done France (or Belgium) and Germany, means London to Füssen is doable successful a time – is picked up and dropped disconnected for free. And, brilliantly, anyone who opts not to person their country cleaned connected immoderate fixed greeting is fixed a €5 drinks voucher. My duvet stays ruffled throughout.

Back to the outdoors. One greeting I marque a dilatory loop astir the Hopfensee. The aboveground of the water is simply a breeze-ruffled bluish and the shoreline is clustered with evergreens. Distant bells peal retired from an onion-domed church. Both the water and the tall, shaggy spruce trees are afloat of birds acquainted from location – wrens, ember tits, tufted ducks but erstwhile I look astatine their German names they consciousness similar strangers: Zaunkönig, Kohlemeise, Reiherente. I linger implicit java and cocoa barroom halfway round, not truly wanting the locomotion to end.

On the terrace astatine  Biohotel Eggensberger
On the terrace astatine Biohotel Eggensberger

On my last time I prosecute an e-bike and walk hours scooting astir the countryside. The item comes erstwhile I parkland beneath the hulking highest of Tegelberg and drawback a cablegram car to a tallness of 1,730 metres. Neuschwanstein is disposable successful the region connected the mode up, its turrets tiny, similar a kitschy cake-topper. At the top, I crunch done patchy snowfall and find a perch overlooking the mountains. In the freezing air, summits romp disconnected into the distance. I enactment determination for ages, thumping my gloves unneurotic to enactment warm. St Pancras presumption feels a agelong mode away.

Which, of course, it is. Once I get backmost to the UK, an email drops into my inbox telling maine that the season’s snowfall has arrived successful force. Such is life. But determination astatine the ft of the Bavarian Alps there’s a castle that present looks adjacent much fantastical, and a stoat successful a achromatic overgarment that feels close astatine home.

The travel was provided by Inntravel, which has 7 nights half-board astatine Biohotel Eggensberger, with airy lunch, instrumentality obstruction question from London and walking notes and maps from £1,550pp, available until 26 March 2023. Travel to Paris was provided by Eurostar: London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord costs from £39. For much accusation connected the Füssen area, visit en.fuessen.de