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Versailles-am-see

Posted in Germany, Prien am Chiemsee by folkestonejack on June 1, 2015

The first stop on our tour of King Ludwig II’s palaces brought us to the town of Prien am Chiemsee, an hour’s journey by train from Munich. It was here that Ludwig audaciously planned to build a new Versailles in tribute to his idol Louis XIV and the lost age of absolutist rule, having discovered a suitably reclusive spot on a heavily wooded island in the middle of the lake.

Herrenchiemsee Palace

Herrenchiemsee Palace

As a visitor you get a sense of the seclusion that the island of Herreninsel offered as you take a ferry from the harbour and follow this with a twenty minute walk through the woods to reach the palace. The ferry crossing offers only the briefest glimpse of the palace, adding to its dramatic effect, as was entirely intentional.

The island was to be a new kingdom that Ludwig could wander, taking delight in his new palace as it came into view from the myriad of pathways that cross the island or from the grand vista of the canal. It is a pity that Ludwig never got to build his island railway as it would have been fascinating to see how that would have fitted into the scheme.

Once you reach the palace grounds you find that they offer a curious pick and mix, with a copy of the Latona fountain from Versailles and a couple of fountains from the royal palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso. All entirely delightful, even if the vision remains incomplete – the final element, a copy of the Apollo fountain from Versailles, was never installed. The fountains spring into life every half hour adding to the marvellous vision of the Palace.

One of many splendid fountains at Herrenchiemsee

One of many splendid fountains at Herrenchiemsee

The interior of the palace is breathtaking from the moment that you enter the state staircase (a replica of the Ambassador’s Staircase from Versailles, recreated from engravings as the original was destroyed in 1752) to the moment that you step out of the last room.

Opulent does not even begin to cover the breathtaking decoration and furnishings in each room (where many of the equivalents at Versailles have long since lost their furnishings these rooms are almost fully furnished, having not suffered from the ravishings of two revolutions). The re-creation of the Hall of Mirrors is particularly impressive, but so are the individual elements such as the chandeliers and delicate flower bouquets made entirely of Meissen porcelain. The guides can’t linger if they are to get the vast number of visitors around the building, but that’s probably just as well as you could spend forever focusing on all the marvellous touches to these rooms!

The tour of the King’s living quarters, which have little to do with Versailles, proved to be the highlight for me. In particular, Ludwig’s bedroom with its blue globe night-light (naturally, on a richly carved and gilded stand) gave a much stronger sense of his personality and you could imagine how beautiful the room must have been with its artificially created moonlight filling the room. Another touch that gave a sense of the man behind the legend came from the ‘magic’ table which could be mechanically lowered and raised, allowing Ludwig to dine without coming into contact with his servants. Such a lonely existence.

On our visit to the palace an art exhibition was taking place in the unfinished rooms, offering a rare opportunity to see just how plain these rooms are. These rooms are empty brick shells, perfect for modern art but a world apart from the rooms we had seen moments earlier. On our visit it was stressed that talk of Herrenchiemsee as an ‘unfinished’ palace are a little wide of the mark for the construction plans of 1878 show no further interiors than the ones we can see finished today – demonstrating just how well the finished rooms created sufficient illusion for the King’s purposes.

The Fama Fountain

The Fama Fountain

The palace also houses the King Ludwig II museum which offers a fascinating glimpse into the King’s long lost residence in Munich (destroyed during the Second World War), his remarkable winter garden (a vast water filled conservatory built atop the Munich Residenz, dismantled in 1897) and a variety of other projects that never got off the drawing board.

One unexpected attraction in the palace was a small exhibition about the bats of the island which proved quite fascinating, including a live infra-red link to the colonies in the attic. The attic is home to the greater mouse eared bat, geoffroy’s bat and the highly endangered lesser horsehoe bat (one of only three remaining colonies in Bavaria). Beyond the palace, fifteen out of twenty-three bat species known in Bavaria occur in Herreninsel. Maybe this explains Ludwig’s penchant for avoiding the daylight and staying up for the night hours!? After all, what’s one more conspiracy theory to add to the many others…

After leaving the palace we sampled the delights of a radler on the terrace before exploring the monastery (worth a visit in its own right for its beautiful interior and the fascinating contrast of the simple apartment that Ludwig II used whilst overseeing his project) and taking a walk out to get a view of the Lakeside Chapel of the Holy Cross. You can easily spend an entire day here.

Practicalities

Prien am Chiemsee is roughly an hour by train from Munich and Salzburg. We opted for the 7.55am train from Munich which arrived at 8.52am. From the railway station it is an easy 20 minute walk to the harbour (our choice) or you can take a trip on the steam railway if it is operating (an 8 minute journey).

Our walk got us to the harbour in perfect time for the 9.25am sailing, arriving at Herreninsel around 9.40am. If there is a queue for tickets at the harbour you can usually buy tickets on board. Tickets for a tour of the palace are purchased at the ticket booths close to the jetty on Herreninsel. At this time of year the early morning English language tours don’t seem to be in such demand – there were just 10-12 people on our tour slot (10.15am).

It’s worth grabbing a copy of the ferry timetables as the return timings are a little erratic, with the gap between crossings ranging from 15 minutes to 50 minutes.

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