An unfinished castle, sitting on an island lake near Munich, highlights the extravagances of King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
Our Bavarian friends took us on a short ferry ride across the picturesque lake from Prien en Chiemsee to the two kilometre square island of Herrininsel. Arriving at the jetty, we took a 20 minute walk through forested parkland to the Versailles-inspired gardens and sprawling castle of Herrenchiemsee.
King Ludwig II
Mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria lived in a fantasy world. His was obsessed with the work of composer Wagner, the French Versailles Court and building elaborate castles.
Ascending the Bavarian throne at a young age, the reclusive king preferred to retreat into a fantasy world of music and beautiful objects.
The King grew up in Hohenschwangau castle near Munich, where he continued his father’s passion for building large castles. Ludwig built his own elaborate fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle and the Linderhof castle where he would retreat for quiet solitude.
Ludwig acquired the island of Herrininsel in 1873 and poured limitless funds into recreating the magnificence of the Palace of Versailles. His “New Castle” became known as the “Bavarian Versailles.”
Only 20 rooms of the palace were completed, costing more than Neuschwanstein and Linderhof castles combined. The Bavarian coffers were nearly depleted, the building was far from finished and the citizens began crying out that he was mentally unfit to rule.
Ludwig stayed in this unfinished castle for only 10 nights when he was found dead in a lake in mysterious circumstances in 1886. Whether he was murdered or committed suicide during one of his frequent bouts of “melancholy” has never been answered.
Versailles inspired gardens
Our friends told us the story of Herrenchiemsee as we walked through the parkland. We soon arrived at the immaculately manicured Versailles-inspired gardens, sprawling towards the lake in front of the massive palace.
The gardens are resplendent with fountains and garden sculptures, replicating the gardens in Versailles.
The “Frog Fountain” built in 1883 as a copy of the Versailles fountain, is the centrepiece of the garden. It is crowned with marble figures of the Goddess Latona, with her children Diana and Apollo. According to legend, peasants refused water to the thirsty goddess, so to punish them she turned them into frogs.
For a few minutes every half hour the spectacular water features positioned throughout the gardens run, showing the full extent of the landscaping.
A half hour tour through the castle must be pre-booked and photography inside the palace was strictly forbidden.
Inside we found opulence on an almost obscene scale. A grand, curved sweeping staircase rises from the tiled entry. One wing leads to nowhere. A reminder that Ludwig’s grandiose plans were unfinished at the time of his death. Here we could see unfinished portions of the castle, with plans to extend the already immense palace even further.
The completed section of the grand staircase features recessed sculptures and ornate frescoes. This leads to the few finished rooms in the palace, where there are views over the gardens and into the lake beyond.
We were almost blinded by the dazzling gilt in the state bedroom. The ornate, golden, hand carved canopied bed sits on a pedestal behind a gold balustrade. Walls, ceilings and Louis XIV furniture are all covered in gold and designed to rival the Versailles Palace of Ludwig’s fantasies.
The king’s private room, the “Little Blue Room”, continues with the theme of stucco and gilded carvings. A globe at the end of the bed bathes the room in a calming blue light. This apparently took the makers several months to perfect to Ludwig’s satisfaction.
Such is the size of the palace, Ludwig was concerned that food would be cold by the time it was brought from the kitchen to the state dining room.
So a hatch was installed in the floor beneath the dining table. The massive table, complete with gold dinnerware, was hoisted from the kitchen below to the diners above.
Hall of Mirrors
The dazzling Hall of mirrors, is 98 metres long. This is slightly longer that the similar hall in Versailles. Here the light reflects from the mirrored walls. Beams of light bounce off the the domed, gilt encrusted ceilings which are inlaid with frescoed paintings. Glittering pendant chandeliers provide a display of unrivalled opulence.
Ludwig had original moulds of the Meissen porcelain used to make candelabras throughout the palace destroyed so they could not be copied.
Even the King’s private bathroom speaks of the scale of Ludwig’s excessive plans. We crossed over a heated bath larger than a small swimming pool via a narrow bridge to reach the end of the castle.
King Ludwig museum is located on the lower floor. Here we learned about the reign of the Bavarian King, his devotion to the French King Louis XIV and to his composer friend Wagner.
A horse-drawn carriage can take visitors back to the jetty. However, we chose to stroll through the gardens towards the lake, taking in the scenery before our ferry home.
Getting to Herrenchiemsee: Ferry from Prien am Chiemsee
Admission: 9 euros, plus additional entry charges to regular exhibitions
Herrenchiemsee is open from 9-6 daily. Closed January 1 and December 24/25/31 and Shrove Tuesday
Full details of attractions and exhibitions on Herrenchiemsee is avaliable here