There are places you dream about visiting, but when you go there, they fail to live up to the hype. There are places that in real life turn out just as postcard-perfect as you want them to be. And then, once in a great while, you encounter one of those really rare things – a place, an experience, a moment – when the reality doesn’t just live up to the fantasy, but surpasses it in every way.
Back in high school I had a poster of Neuschwanstein Castle on my bedroom wall. I dreamt of adventure and epic romance – here I should note that I also had a poster of Kylemore Abbey and a calendar of Prince William, upon which to draw inspiration – and Neuschwanstein was the perfect embodiment of both. I’m not sure that I ever actually believed that the castle existed in real life; as I’ve written before, Germany as a whole wasn’t a very real place in my perception of the world when I was growing up.
Then I moved on to college and started inching closer to realizing my dream of travel, which was eventually kick-started with a year abroad in France and Spain. And yet, despite now being only a few hundred miles away, Neuschwanstein stayed firmly put in that same parallel reality where I married the heir to the throne of England.
The most magnificent sight of the castle opens up from a rather precariously positioned footbridge over a veeeeeeery deep canyon. And it’s breathtaking. There’s no other word for it.
One of the most humbling experiences of my life took place in a crowd of tourists patiently taking two-inch steps as we all made our way onto that bridge for THAT view. There were Russians and Americans and Germans and Chinese and Indians and Arabs and Brazilians and Nigerians and every single one of them – every single one of us – made the exact same sound when finally allowed to catch a glimpse of the castle in all its glory.
The sound of awe.
You know that clichéd saying, “Beauty will save the world”? This is the kind of beauty that Dostoyevsky had in mind. Because it makes every man, woman and child from every corner of the planet, of every age, every caste and every creed pause, gasp, and bow down before something so much greater, so much more powerful, so much more incredible than any of us and all of us combined.
Neuschwanstein, with its magnificent positioning on a cliff of an Alpine range, overlooking a pastoral valley and crystal-clear lakes, is a perfect marriage of human ingenuity and natural wonder. You want to look at it endlessly. You want to take a thousand of identical photos because even when seeing it with your own eyes you can’t quite believe it exists, and you must capture proof before it melts away like a mirage.
I don’t know what will be the next experience to take my breath away like Neuschwanstein did, nor do I care. I know that I already have got to live out my most epic fantasy, and it was even better than I imagined.
NOTES ON VISITING NEUSCHWANSTEIN
- Once you arrive at the town of Neuschwanstein, you’re still a bit away from the castle, which I believe is about a mile uphill. There are buses and carriages that can take you there, but if you do not have mobility issues, please try to make that path on foot. There are SO many magnificent vistas that open up along the way, and even the surrounding woods themselves are lush and beautiful, a sight onto themselves. Give yourself about an hour, and bring water, but it is so, so worth it.
- All the reviews that I’ve read prior to my visit about the tour of the castle itself were rather lukewarm, but I absolutely loved the interiors. No, there’s no gold dripping from the ceiling like at Linderhof, but the décor is really beautiful and unique. I already mentioned in a Munich post that I felt a weird kind of kinship with Bavaria; well, the halls of Neuschwanstein really reminded me of the halls of the Romanov boyars in medieval Moscow and of illustrations in Russian fairy tale books (photos aren’t allowed thus there aren’t any here, but once again – totally worth it).