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Our vote for world’s coolest castle has to go to this incredibly beautiful creation high in the hills of Bavaria.

1. Neuschwanstein, Germany

Commissioned by ‘Mad King Ludwig’ in the 19th century, it is widely accepted to have inspired Disneyland’s famous fairytale castle. Ludwig was a colourful character. Also known as ‘the Swan King’, his ultimate fantasy castle Neuschwanstein (which means ‘new swan stone’) is crammed with swan motifs and icons. As a boy, he had grown up in a castle known as ‘high region of the swan’, situated next to Swan Lake, so his obsession with the regal bird is hardly surprising (if not all together sane).
Neuschwanstein became inexorably entangled with the mad king’s fate. The sprawling Romanesque Revival palace was intended as a refuge for the reclusive king, but opened to a steady flow of tourists following his death in 1886. (More than 1.3m people now visit annually.)

The fantastical design was meant as a reflection of the musical mythology of Richard Wagner, with whose operas Ludwig was disproportionately enamoured. Though Ludwig wrote to Wagner in 1868 that the castle was “a worthy temple for the divine friend who has brought salvation and true blessing to the world”, the composer died before ever setting foot in it. Wagner’s death greatly affected Ludwig, who had enjoyed a series of close relationships with men after he called off his one and only engagement in 1867.

In the end, the Swan King only lived in the castle for 172 days, before he died in mysterious circumstances soon after being declared mad. (A strong swimmer, he appeared to have drowned in waist-deep water.) Neuschwanstein is impressive enough without having such dramatic legend woven into its walls, but the history enriches a visit here. Walk or take a horse and cart up the winding entrance road that climbs to the castle, and be sure to admire the surrounding Alpine valleys as well as the opulent building itself.




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