Our 40th anniversary (20 day) trip to Germany-Vienna: Part 1 - Castles
Overview: My wife and I celebrated our 40th anniversary with a trip to Germany and a side trip to Vienna. In Germany we arrived in Frankfurt then trained to Wurzburg. We rented a car and drove down the Romantic Road to Füssen with lots of stops along the way; finally ending up in Munich. In Munich we turned in the car and did the remainder of the trip by train. After 3 days in Munich we took the Railjet to Vienna for 3.5 days. From Vienna we took an overnight train to Lindau on Bodensee. Our last long train trip was Lindau to Cochem on Mosel where we spent 2 nights in Beilstein (on the Mosel) and 2 nights in Oberwesel (on the Rhine). It was about an hour train ride from Oberwesel back to Frankfurt for the flight home. Rather than giving a day by day account, we thought we could develop themes to cover. So in true democratic fashion, my wife assigned me “castles” (and “Vienna” – still being written).
Castles: There is certainly no shortage of castles in Germany. We saw plenty of them and toured a few. I will start with those we saw but did not tour. Along the Rhine there seems to be a castle at every bend – monuments to organized extortion of fees from river boats in the business of commerce. We took 2 cruises: one from St Goar to Bacharach, the other from Oberwesel to Braubach. Both were great. It wasn’t just about seeing castles: the towns, the river-going vessels and the knowledge that I was not at work, all combined for 2 very enjoyable crises. The St. Goar to Bacharach cruise had more castles to see; the Oberwesel to Braubach cruise got us to Marksburg castle for a tour. In addition, we saw a few castles (or castle ruins) as we rode bikes, buses or boats along the Mosel. On our drive from Linderhof castle to Füssen and from Füssen to Munich we saw Neuschwanstein Castle from the back and side, getting pretty nice photos of it as well.
We toured several castles: Linderhof, Herrenchiemsee, Meersburg, Marksburg and Auf Schönburg. Everyone of these castles was worth the effort and tour. Here are some thoughts: Since Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee were both built by Lugwig II, there are a lot of similarities in décor. I think seeing one or the other would work out well. We had a car when we saw these castles and that made it quite easy and quick to get to them. Linderhof is in the mountains; Herrenchiemsee is on an island in a lake. Linderhof is small and finished; Herrenchiemsee is large and unfinished. Both have gorgeous grounds – do you prefer mountain views or island views? Herrenchiemsee had the additional cost of having to pay for the ferry separately – could be a significant expense for a large family or group. If I had to choose, I’d pick Linderhof; my wife would too. Whatever you decide, you won’t be disappointed.
Meersburg castle was a great surprise! It was terrific. We went there because we had some free time and it turned out to be well worth it. They offer a self-guided tour so you can take all the time you want and all the photos you want. The views from the castle into Switzerland are beautiful. There is a gift shop and café inside as well. This castle was the biggest surprise of all the castles we saw because we hadn’t researched it and we went with no expectations. We really enjoyed it. We visited Meersburg during that part of our trip when we had no car. We had to take a train and a bus from Lindau to get there. (We also went to the Pre-Historic Celtic Lake Village the same day so it worked out well.) This trip would be easier with a car but we managed a whole day of fun by train and bus, so I would recommend it from Lindau.
Marksburg castle is one of only a few that has retained its original look and appointments – Burg Eltz is another. We had to decide between Marksburg or Burg Eltz. Since we were on the Rhine at the time and Burg Eltz is on the Mosel, Marksburg won. Both of these castles are not easy to get to without a car. The walk from town to Marksburg was uphill but manageable, about 20-25 minutes. (Burg Eltz is supposed to take an hour walk from town. We talked to another couple a little older than us and they said the walk took them 2 hours!) The tour was structured, 30 minutes and you could take photos. The castle was very impressive and worth seeing. Here is my advice: drive there if you can. Here is why: Marksburg castle was on the other side of the Rhine from where we were staying in Oberwesel. We were able to take a cruise from Oberwesel to Braubach and walk from town to the castle. Unfortunately, the tour in English was a 1.5 hour wait and there was pretty much nothing to do but wait. Believe it or not, you are so close to the castle while you wait you really cannot see it! There is a view of the Rhine, but what do you do after that? You sit and wait! Getting back to Oberwesel was another adventure. By the time we finished the tour and walked back to town, there were no more cruises going back to Oberwesel. We had to take a train up to Koblenz on the east side of the Rhine and take another train from there down the west side of the Rhine back to Oberwesel. We knew all of this in advance; we had the boat and train schedules so we knew what we were in for. Think how much easier it would have been with a car! We were there in September and perhaps the cruises run more frequently when it is a busier season, so check in advance.
Auf Schönburg is a hotel castle in Oberwesel. We decided for our last 2 nights in Germany we would be King and Queen. It’s good to be king AND it is really expensive to be king. If you can afford it, stay here. On arrival, there was a decanter of sherry and fresh apples waiting for us in our room that remained the entire stay. All the items in the in-room refrigerator are complimentary. The views of the Rhine are spectacular. The breakfasts and dinners (both included) are gourmet, and the service was top shelf. For guests, you can explore the grounds and enjoy a picnic on one of the terraces. I would encourage anyone who stays here to use ½ day to explore the castle and the grounds. The souvenirs are remarkably reasonably priced. The only drawback is getting up and down the hill. We never walked up – the cab fare from the train station at the bottom of the hill was about 8 Euros. We walked down once. I would not advise taking youngsters down the path; it is steep in spots and on much of the path, there are no barriers between you and the edge. DO NOT try to walk the path or the road with luggage – you’ll die trying. On arrival to their parking lot, the hotel will send a cart to pick up your luggage – but not all day. Naturally, we arrived at an off time and I had to drag our 2 wheeled suitcases across a wooden bridge, up a pretty steep, cobblestone, winding walkway to the check-in desk. That was no fun. (Obviously, I wasn’t the King yet!).
Every castle we toured was great. Clearly, having a car would have made getting to Meersburg, Marksburg, and Auf Schönburg much easier and convenient, but they are readily accessible by public transportation. We found, in addition to our Internet acquired information, the hotel staff and train station ticket staff to be very gracious and helpful in finalizing the best routes, often combining modes of transportation: trains, boats, buses and feet. Burg Eltz would have been nice to see. From the Rhine, my assessment is, if you have a car, it would be a nice ½ day adventure; without a car it could take most of the day. If time is short, follow Rick Steve’s advice and cruise the Rhine from St. Goar to Bacharach; then spend time touring Bacharach. Try to see either Linderhof or Herrenchiemsee. If you are near Meersburg, see the castle and eat in one of the local pubs. If you too want to be King and/or Queen, stay in Auf Schönburg. You will be treated royally.
I am going to begin to work on our Vienna experience and get it posted after Thanksgiving. (My wife will add her parts, hopefully before I kick.)
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Our 40th Anniversary Trip to Germany-Vienna: Part 1
Our 40th anniversary (20 day) trip to Germany-Vienna: Part 1 - Castles