There was something immensely satisfying about this holiday, pedalling in the shadow of ‘mad’ King Ludwig’s flamboyant castles, and completing a delightful, week-long loop through the bucolic Bavarian countryside.
Maybe it was the sheer variety of scenery: from luminous-green meadows framed by towering mountains, to shimmering lakes – great for cooling dips and bouts of swimming – and attractive, enchanting woodland. Perhaps it was the string of appealing, flower-bedecked villages I pedalled through, each with an inviting Gasthof
ready to slake the weary cyclist’s thirst. Or it could have been the blend of family-run accommodation – from a super-comfortable spa hotel in the countryside to a fully-functioning brewery and beer hall
Part of my sense of satisfaction, though, was down to its sense of circular symmetry. My ride back to Füssen at the end of the week felt almost like returning home: familiar cycle paths beckoned me onwards, and a strangely comforting line of jagged Alpine peaks crowded the near horizon, welcoming me back to where I had begun, a full six days of blissful biking before.
And what a start it had been: an opening day’s route which had its own pleasing circular form – the whole holiday in microcosm. There’d been lakes with beaches, magnificent mountain views, and Dirndl-dressed waitresses proffering foaming glasses of beer – as I’d hugged the shores of glittering Forggensee in a vaguely clockwise direction.
Having set out around Füssen mid-morning, I hadn’t intended to pause until early afternoon, but what could I do when, only 6km into my ride, I came across possibly the most inviting beer garden I’d ever seen? So, lakeside Café Maria, festooned with flowery window boxes and providing panoramic views across the water, tempted me out of my saddle with barely 5km under my belt. I was soon off again, though – meandering my way between pretty villages as I headed vaguely northwards along lakeside cycle paths and quiet lanes to reach a dramatic, wooded gorge – the Tiefental – that I could admire from the relative comfort of a level cycle path across a bridge.
I’d already passed numerous potential bathing spots by the time I’d tackled the short-but-stiff ascent at the farthest end of the lake; so, perspiring somewhat from the climb, I started to fantasise about digging out my swimming shorts. I was almost halfway, after all; and when the chalet-style Kiosk Panorama-Stadl appeared, as if out of nowhere, at the base of an exhilarating, freewheel descent close to the lakeshore, I needed no further invitation. I parked up, quickly changed, and jumped in.
The word ‘kiosk’ suggests little more than a cycle-friendly wooden shack, but there was all I could have wanted here, and more: changing rooms (with showers), wooden decking befitting the ‘Panorama’ moniker, some tasty-looking bar meals, and those ubiquitous – and mightily refreshing – Steins of Bier. There was even a small cycle workshop for those in need of running repairs.
Another testing rise was to follow, but its reward – views of open countryside with mountains beyond – was truly a sight for sore legs. And the following stretch, through rolling farmland with Forggensee off to the right, hidden from view, was different again. But it wasn’t long before the water reappeared, enticing me towards another swimming spot and watering hole by the campsite at Brunnen.
An unexpected traffic jam was to follow – in Bavarian bovine form. I was forced to make way for a herd of beautiful brown cows lumbering casually down the lane, marshalled only by an equally nonchalant-looking young lad on a bike with a stick. From here, I could’ve been back in Füssen within half an hour, were it not for the fact that I had business with a king. Diverting along quiet lanes towards Schwangau, the flamboyant forms of Ludwig II’s two remarkable and unpronounceable castles came gradually into focus; as, too, did the capacious Königsschlösser coach park with innumerable air-conditioned vehicles spilling out groups of tourists from just about every corner of the globe.
The full story behind these touristic mega-draws – Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau – can wait for another day, but the whole visitor experience is fascinating, in more ways than one. The castles themselves, and the stories of poor King Ludwig, were truly arresting; but being shunted through the various rooms and hallways by our guides with clockwork precision felt like a collective masterclass in Teutonic, conveyor-belt efficiency. Suffice to say – I was relieved to have booked in advance!
Done with my brief foray into selfie-stick land, I beat a hasty retreat to the sanctity and serenity of my bicycle bubble once more, hitting the country lanes again to reach the Tegelbergbahn cable car. From here, I could ride up the mountain in relative peace, and gaze down upon one of the finest views imaginable...