FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Royal refuge in the Ammer mountains

Posted in Ettal, Germany by folkestonejack on June 2, 2015

The morning train from Munich took us south into the Bavarian mountains to seek out Linderhof, the most secluded of Ludwig II’s palaces. It is also the most human in scale, so it is perhaps no surprise to learn that this was where the young king spent much of his time, enjoying life at the royal villa for extended periods away from Munich.

Mountain retreat

Mountain retreat

It still takes a little bit of effort to get to Linderhof if you use public transport, which only serves to emphasise the relative seclusion of the location to this day. It was a somewhat surreal journey for us as the security precautions for the G7 summit meant that every station along the route had been heavily populated by policemen, backed up by a fleet of police vans. The impression of travelling through a police state was not dispelled by a further security checkpoint on the road leading to Linderhof!

The journey was well worth it. The richly decorated interior of the rococo-style palace is simply spectacular, far exceeding the opulence that you expect of such buildings. It may be a short tour but every room packs an incredible punch, from the small dressing room lined with portraits of Louis XV’s mistresses to the vibrant blue and gold decoration of the king’s bedroom.

On top of this, the surrounding park offers up an array of wonderfully decorative refuges ranging from a Moroccan house to a Moorish kiosk with a peacock throne. In many respects the park buildings act as stage sets, allowing Ludwig to step into the legends that he so loved and escape the realities of his day to day life.

The Temple of Venus

The Temple of Venus

Although our visit was in bright daylight this is not how Ludwig would have been most familiar with the palace as he was very much a creature of the night – rising for breakfast as the sun set, taking lunch at midnight and heading to bed as the sun rose! The rooms must have looked astonishing as they sparkled by candlelight, particularly in the hall of mirrors where the reflected light and shine of the abundant gilt decoration must have created an incredible effect.

After leaving the palace we headed to the remarkable Venus grotto, which gives the appearance of being hewn from the rocks, but is an entirely man-made construction constructed using canvas and cement. At its heart is a ten metre tall cave with stalactites hanging from the roof which contains an underground lake and waterfall. On the water a gilt shell boat rests. All of this was illuminated by electric lighting, creating different colour effects. It is a wonderful illusion and hard not to be impressed as you stand by the water’s edge.

The Venus Grotto

The Venus Grotto

Our guide ran through a long explanation of the grotto in german before switching to a recorded english commentary which she left running as she headed off to get ready for the next group, by which point we were the only visitors left in the cave. It suddenly felt far too cavernous, so goodness only knows how Ludwig must have found it when he was in there alone, drifting in his boat.

Overall, we had a great day at Linderhof but it is difficult to get a good sense of Ludwig’s time there as the tour guides present a sanitised version of Ludwig’s life story that is presumably intended to play well to any audience. The edited story presented to visitors describes the loneliness of Ludwig’s life after he broke off his engagement whilst neatly omitting the scandalous tales of his male companions!

Practicalities

Linderhof first opened to the public two weeks after Ludwig’s death on 13th June 1886 and attracted 619 visitors (up to September) despite the lack of connecting routes. Once these difficulties were overcome the visitors poured in and the palace now sees over 1 million visitors a year. Various permutations of route by public transport are possible today, but all require at least one train journey and one bus ride.

We caught the 8.32am regional train from Munich to Oberau, arriving at 9.45am. From the stop outside Oberau station we picked up bus 9606 at 9:58am and took this as far as Oberammergau, where we switched to bus 9622 to Linderhof. It took us two and a quarter hours to reach the palace. It didn’t appear to be a popular option – we were the only passengers on bus 9622!

Tours are incredibly well organised at all of Ludwig’s palaces with your ticket giving you an admission slot for a specific time. Shortly before the appointed time you have to scan your ticket to get into what can only be described as a ‘sheep-pen’ for humans (there are four pens and an electronic display indicates which one you need to enter). Once all the tourists have been coralled a gate opens at the other end, allowing you to start the tour under the watchful eye of your official tour guide. It may sound bizarre, but it is a really efficient system that ensures the staff can get as many people through the building during the day. Given the hefty visitor numbers that really is impressive.

It appeared that the biggest influx of visitors had arrived in the morning on the day we visited, though I don’t know whether this is typical. The upshot of this was that the grounds were noticeably quieter in the afternoon. Taking public transport gave us a degree of freedom to spend as long admiring the grounds as we needed. In practice, we found that 4 hours was sufficient time to see the palace, grotto and surrounding park (with time enough left over to get a refreshing glass of radler before catching the 3.06pm bus back).

The return journey gave us a 29 minute break at Ettal between buses and a chance to glimpse the wonderful interior of the Kloster Ettal. It’s certainly worth a look if the timings permit it.

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