If you are looking for a romantic and luxurious Christmas holiday, I will share a well-kept secret with you: Go to Schwangau and see the Neuschwanstein Castle village at the border of Germany and Austria.
Having lived in Dubai during the boom years, and seeing new buildings emerge like mushrooms, I cannot believe how unspoiled the Neuschwanstein Castle area is. Despite more than 1 million tourists visiting Neuschwanstein every year (and 3 more castles in a 3 mile radius), there are no high-risers, no ugly modern buildings (a tribute to a great local government who puts tradition over financial gains). Instead you will feel as if time has stood still: old farms and mountain chalet style houses abound and you still see farmers on their bicycles leading their small herds along the road to the pasture – a marvelous heart-warming sight in a first world country. So here are my top 10 reasons for spending your winter and Christmas Holiday in Schwangau and the Neuschwanstein Castle area.
1. Magic Neuschwanstein Castle & The King Ludwig Story
Neuschwanstein Castle is one of the most famous and arguably the most beautiful castle in the world. It attracts more than 1 million visitors per year from all over the world and even inspired Walt Disney to come up with the Magic Kingdom/ Cinderella castle. Through Hollywood The Magic Kingdom and Cinderella Castle, however, might be even better known than the stunning original in the Alpine mountains of Bavaria. Neuschwanstein Castle was built by King Ludwig II in Bavaria. His mysterious death in a nearby lake remains the substance for rumours to this day.
2. Great Skiing and Winter Sport Opportunities (downhill, nordic, ice skating)
Within a 5-30 minutes drive you will have no less than 5 ski resorts and 140km of slopes for downhill skiing / snowboarding / ski touring at your disposal. There are slopes for all abilities and ski schools as well as ski/snowboard rental opportunities in almost every resort. Almost all resorts provide a snow-garantuee providing additional powder snow should the weather not comply. With mountain huts scattered all over the Alpine mountains, you will find plenty of reasons to stop for sunbathing on the terraces sipping a hot drink or enjoying a plate of rustic mountain hut food, like “Kässpatzen” (small local noodles tossed in mountain cheese) or “Kaiserschmarrn” (torn pancake with raisins and almonds topped with apple or cherry sauce). You can even go night-skiing right under Neuschwanstein castle. Schwangau also provides 30 km of nordic skiing tracks, 2km of which are also flood-lit at night. Finally, there are tobogganing slopes from many mountain huts and in most ski resorts and ice skating opportunities on one of the 6 lakes in the immediate neigbhourbood.
3. Romantic German Christmas Markets
German Christmas Markets (“Weihnachstmarkt”) are famous for their cosy and romantic Christmas atmosphere. You wouldn’t want to miss them. Schwangau runs a culinary Christmas Market in November and Füssen, the medieval cobble-stoned town 3 miles away runs a magic Christmas Market most of December. Imagine strolling through a maze of stalls displaying treasures from wood-carved figures, “nutcrackers”, little pottery items to all kinds of Christmas decorations while the air is filled with the sweet smell of mulled wine and freshly baked waffles.
4. Wellness Opportunities to Relax & Treat Yourself
There are plenty of wellness offers in the area such as massages, sauna, light therapy etc. Of special interest are the hot pools at the royal spa thermal bath (“Königliche Kristalltherme”). Connected indoor and outdoor pools allow you to enjoy the warm steaming water while raising your head in the ice-cold air – just imagine the feeling of snow flakes falling all around you melting instantly as they hit the warm water. Across the fields you see the nordic skiers sliding by and against the mountain behind them emerges Neuschwanstein Castle. An experience not to be missed !
5. Breath-taking Horse-sledge Rides through the Winter Wonderland to See Wild Deer Being Fed
You can rent your own horse-drawn sledge or join one of the regularly scheduled excursions to the castles, the mountain huts or the deer feeding area in the woods. Wrapped up in warm blankets you’ll enjoy the clean fresh air and the breath-taking panoramic views of snow covered mountains and white valleys. One of my personal favourites is seeing the wild deer being fed so close to you that you can nearly touch them. To avoid them rushing away, you’ll hardly dare to breathe trying to stay silent as you see the majestic male deer slowly approaching the rest of the herd: a magic encounter with the wild !
6. Dramatic New Year’s Eve Fireworks Wherever You Look
In Germany New Year’s Eve is always celebrated with fireworks wherever you look. Everyone in this country can buy and launch their own and most families do. Why not try it yourself while you are here? Imagine watching the fireworks over one of the castles holding your loved one(s) and making a wish for the new year ahead. It makes for an unforgettable moment. After midnight many families engage in a tradition called “Bleigießen” (lead pouring) to predict everyone’s good fortune for the new year. Little pieces of lead are melted in little pans over the flame of a candle. Once the lead is liquid you pour it into a bowl of cold water where it instantly forms a shape. Everyone then has fun interpreting the meaning of this shape to predict the pourer’s fortune for the coming year. You can buy the full “lead pouring” kit at supermarkets in Germany. Good luck J !
7. Delicious Local Food Specialities
The local food is delicious and you will find plenty of restaurants to choose from. Pork dishes like “Schweinshaxe” (pork knuckle) are frequent but game and fish are also local specialities as is the famous “Apfelstrudel” with vanilla sauce or ice cream. A local speciality is the “Brotzeit” which are big platters with cold cut meat and cheese served with fresh German bread, freshly baked “Brezen” (big soft pretzels) and bread rolls. Finally, there is variety of local beers to try and why not visit the local brewery or the cheesemaker for a guided tour on how those delicacies are created?
8. Luxury & Rustic Hotels and Holiday Accommodation
There are lots of cosy holiday apartments and luxurious hotel rooms to choose from. Lately more and more luxury holiday apartments cater to the growing demand for a truly relaxing and luxurious holiday. Most architecture is kept in the typical “Allgaeu” style, a variation of the mountain chalet using lots of wood on the facade and featuring wooden balconies on several sides of the house. There are also many working farms which offer accommodation combined with an experience of true farm life. For a first world country and the village of the King’s Castles Schwangau has an astonishing amount of dairy farms. So get ready to hear the gentle ring of the cow bells wherever you stay 🙂
9.Welcoming and Friendly People Who Celebrate Their Traditions
From the moment we arrived in this region, people have been extraordinarily friendly and forthcoming. They are helpful, authentic and genuine. Everyone takes great pride in their traditions and heritage and all through the year there are festivals displaying local dance, music, clothing (“Lederhosen” and “Dirndl”) and of course beer. Most people in Schwangau speak enough English to hold a conversation and many do so readily with astonishing fluency. There is also a growing international community in the region and of course tourists from all over the world. This makes Schwangau a true “international village”. When you come drop me an email and I will help you with insider knowledge about this dream location.
With so much natural beauty, high Alpine mountains and crystal clear mountain lakes all in the same small region, it is hardly surprising that the bishops and German Kings built their castles here. Even the Romans and Celts had decided to settle here. In fact, the Via Claudia Augusta, one of the big Roman trading roads leads right through Schwangau joining the province of Germania through Austria to Rome. You can find Roman pillars and visit a whole Roman villa on your magic trip to this exceptional place.