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Fairytale refuges for the fairytale king

Born in 1845 into the House of Wittelsbach, the shy and idealistic Bavarian yearned for the Romanticism of the Middle Ages and the grandeur of Absolutism in the French court. He died in mysterious circumstances in 1886 at Lake Starnberg. His castles brought him fame throughout the world as the “fairytale king”. He was a passionate admirer of the operas of Richard Wagner (1813-1883) and their colourful medieval worlds. The pair got to know each other in 1861 and over the years developed an almost spiritual bond in a most unusual friendship. Scenes from Wagner's musical dramas were a running theme throughout Ludwig II's castles, which were built as tributes to his “divine companion”. The composer on the other hand, who pioneered the concept of operas as all-encompassing works of art, needed his patron's money for the opera house he planned to build in Bayreuth.
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Neuschwanstein Castle, Hohenschwangau

Neuschwanstein is known all over the world as a symbol of idealised romantic architecture and the tragic tale of its lord. After Ludwig II's sovereignty was taken away, he withdrew into his own world of myths, legend and fairytales on a rugged mountain peak by the Pöllat gorge. He had already felt the lure of the Middle Ages as a child prince growing up in medieval Hohenschwangau Castle. When Ludwig II started construction of Neuschwanstein in 1869, he united aspects of the Wartburg, a quintessentially German castle that had only been restored a year before, with those described in the Castle of the Holy Grail from Wagner's “Parsifal”. Neuschwanstein Castle, which was only given this name after Ludwig II's death, unashamedly harks back to the German Romanesque of the 13th century. Indeed the southern wing was only completed in 1891, five years after the king's mysterious death at Lake Starnberg.
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Linderhof Palace, Oberammergau

Of the three palaces that Ludwig II actually had built, Linderhof Palace is the most inspired. He loved the seclusion of its location in the Graswang valley, where his father, Maximilian II, had the “Königshäuschen” built. In 1874, this wooden hunting lodge was extended by a U-shaped wing and converted into a royal mansion. With Linderhof Palace, the other-worldly, hypersensitive king created a splendid building complex with an exterior that copied the royal French palace architecture of the 18th century. The interior is furnished in a magnificent “second rococo” style, with an opulently decorated, playful décor, the aristocratic way of expressing sophisticated living. Linderhof Palace was the king's only project to be completed in his lifetime and he stayed here more often than at his other two fairytale refuges.
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Herrenchiemsee Palace

In the 17th century, King Louis XIV of France presided over the most extravagant court in Europe, and the Palace of Versailles provided the inspiration for many other residences of the European nobility. His most fervent admirer was Ludwig II of Bavaria, who saw the sovereign as the ideal embodiment of the monarchy. In 1873, he was able to buy idyllic Herrenwörth island in Lake Chiemsee, the perfect place to not only copy the luxurious palace of his French namesake, but to better it. Its isolated location perfectly suited his melancholy nature and craving for solitude. The interior of the “New Palace” is impressive for its staircase, bedroom and intimate apartment in a charming French rococo style. The crowning glory however is the huge Hall of Mirrors, which is an almost perfect copy of the original “Galerie des Glaces” in Versailles.
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  1. Neuschwanstein Castle, Hohenschwangau
  2. Linderhof Palace, Oberammergau
  3. Herrenchiemsee Palace