The Long Way to Lews Castle

What does a castlephile do when she has a spare couple of hours in Stornoway? Convince her new travelling companions to visit the local castle, of course!

Our target for today was Lews Castle. After consulting the map, it looked like we would have to take the scenic route to get to the castle, which (rather strangely) would take us right through the middle of the local golf course. The golf course was easy enough to find, and with an entrance like this, we thought we were on the right track.

Raon Goilf gate
En route to Lews Castle: The entrance to the Stornoway golf club

The signs for Lews Castle pointed into a forest that bordered the golf course, so we left the safety of the sealed road and hit a dirt track. We couldn’t see any sign of a castle. We weren’t even sure in which direction the town was. Should we turn back before we got lost? (And risk the local golfers laughing at the disoriented tourists?)

Almost on the verge of giving up, we noticed groups of university students appearing from somewhere up the hill. We decided to press on a bit further, although the castle was still nowhere to be seen. We heard whirring in the distance. A car engine spluttered. And then the roof of the castle appeared out of the leaves.

The restoration works at Lews Castle
The restoration works at Lews Castle

Unfortunately, the castle was closed for renovations. And the fence to keep us out of the workzone made it difficult to take a nice photo of what was a very pretty eighteenth century castle.

Lews Castle
Despite the restoration fencing, Lews Castle is very striking
Lews Castle
I thought that this was the best photo I was going to get of Lews Castle!

Admitting defeat, our next challenge was getting back to Stornoway. We could go back the way we had come through the golf course, but taking our chances, we decided to follow the students down a path that we hoped would take us safely back to Stornoway.

Five minutes later, we found ourselves back on Stornoway’s main road … only to look back and see this!

Lews Castle
Finally – the perfect view of Lews Castle from across the bay in Stornoway

What you need to know:

  • Stornoway is the largest town on the island of Lewis and Harris

Visiting the Grand Trianon

The portico and gardens of the Grand Trianon
The portico and gardens of the Grand Trianon

It’s a long walk from Versailles to the Grand Trianon. Tucked away at the back corner of the grounds of Versailles, at the end of the Grand Canal, the Grand Trianon is a single-storey palace that looks on to a colourful French garden.

Originally built in 1687 by Jules Hardoiun Mansart for King Louis XIV on the site of an older palace and restored at various times by both Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles de Gaulle, it has housed many royal family members and foreign dignitaries.

The portico of the Grand Trianon
The portico of the Grand Trianon. The black and white tiles are beautiful.

After I had been awed by the grandeur of Versailles, and fallen in love with the cosy Petit Trianon, the Grand Trianon had its work cut out in order to win me over.

And it certainly tried its hardest.

One of the hallways in the Grand Trianon
One of the hallways in the Grand Trianon
The Boudoir of Madame Mère, mother of Napoleon. Is that leopard print carpet?!
The Boudoir of Madame Mère, mother of Napoleon. Is that leopard print carpet?!
The Empress Marie-Louise's bedroom
The Empress Marie-Louise’s bedroom
The Emperor's family drawing room
The Emperor’s family drawing room
The Mirrors Room in the Grand Trianon
The Mirrors Room in the Grand Trianon
The Cotelle Gallery - this would make a beautiful ballroom!
The Cotelle Gallery – this would make a stunning ballroom!

So did the Grand Trianon win me over? Not quite.

While I loved the symmetry of the black and white tiles against the red marble colonnaded portico, and the elegant windows and massive chandeliers of the Cotelle Gallery, I felt as if the Grand Trianon was missing something.

Perhaps it was because I couldn’t associate it with anything. While I could link Versailles to Louis XIV, the Sun King, and the Petit Trianon to the whimsy of Marie Antoinette, I couldn’t connect the Grand Trianon to a historical person or event. It wasn’t as awe-inspiring as Versailles, and it didn’t have the cosy feeling of ‘I could live here’ that I felt at the Petit Trianon. It also came at the end of a long day of exploring the estate – maybe it was just bad timing that I didn’t appreciate the Grand Trianon as much as I did the rest of Versailles.

Have you been to the Chateaux de Trianon? Which did you prefer? Share your opinion in the comments!


Getting Lost in the Louvre

The main pyramid in front of the Louvre
The main pyramid in front of the Louvre

You would think that on my third visit to the Louvre in as many years, I would know my way around, right?


While the aim of this visit was to see the apartments of Napoleon III, I ended up walking around the same halls and corridors and seeing the same exhibitions that I had on my previous visits, and no matter what I tried, I couldn’t find a way to escape them.

Being drawn to the Denon Wing

Perhaps the Louvre has a special funneling system that makes sure all of its visitors end up heading for the Denon wing, or perhaps the Denon wing simply has a more prominent entrance than the Richelieu and Sully wings. Whatever the reason is, I always find myself walking straight over to the Denon wing’s security line when in the Hall Napoléon.


The Greco-Roman sculptures are among the first items that I seek out. From the masterpieces of the Venus de Milo, Psyche and Cupid, and the Winged Victory proudly standing at the top of the flight of stairs, to the lesser known but just as inspiring works, I find myself wondering about the reasons why the sculptor chose the particular design, and whether they modelled it after a real person or from their imagination. It’s easy to tell which are my favourites – it seems I’ve taken photos of the same statues each time I’ve visited (at least my taste in sculpture is consistent)!

The Venus de Milo
The Venus de Milo
Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss
Antonio Canova’s sculpture Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss
Suppliante Barberini
Io ou Callisto, Suppliante Barberini – one of the sculptures in the Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities section of the Louvre is one of the sculptures I seem to photograph on every visit
The Ingres Minerva
Athena, known as the Ingres Minerva, part of the Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities section of the Louvre

The Galerie Daru, a hallway lined with Roman sculptures, always takes my breath away when I first see it. Ancient gods and goddesses, emperors, warriors, and muses look out unblinkingly as visitors make their way from the sculpture exhibit, past the Winged Victory of Samothrace and upstairs to the rooms of French and Italian Renaissance art.

The Galerie Daru
The Galerie Daru: beautiful at first sight, but when you can’t find your way out of the Louvre it loses its appeal!
The Winged Victory of Samothrace
The Winged Victory of Samothrace

Here you’ll find one of the most crowded areas in the Louvre. Jostling for space in a crowd forty people deep, cameras held over their heads, everyone is here for one reason: to get a picture of a rather small painting by Leonardo da Vinci – the Mona Lisa.

The crowd in front of the Mona Lisa
The People vs the Mona Lisa: unbelievable how big the crowd is all trying to photograph the Mona Lisa

I’ve accepted that I’m not going to be able to take a decent photo of the Mona Lisa. My camera work is not good at the best of times, and here you’re not only battling against the other hundred people trying to take their own photos, but you’re trying to shoot through the protective perspex covering of the painting, which reflects not only the museum’s lights but the red lights from the cameras (and when I think about it, do I really need my own photo of the Mona Lisa when there are plenty of art books, prints and Internet images that are of far better quality?).

Though you might not get enough time to stand in front of the painting and fully appreciate it, it’s still quite special to see.

The Mona Lisa
Not a great shot of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, but the best I could manage given the circumstances!

In the hall behind the Mona Lisa were more paintings that I recognised, mostly from my high school French history textbooks. It’s a surreal feeling to look at these paintings in person, to see Eugène Delacroix’s Lady Liberty leading the French, Napoleon struggling against the cold on his campaign to expand his empire, and the coronation of him and his Empress, Josephine.

Liberty Leading The People
Liberty Leading the People, one of the French paintings in the Louvre by Eugène Delacroix
Bonaparte Crossing the Alps
Bonaparte Crossing the Alps, by Paul Delaroche

Here is where I always get stuck. The Denon wing does not have a second floor, so I usually turn back and go down past the Winged Victory, through the Greek and Roman statues, back out to the Hall Napoléon, and up the spiral staircase to the exit, always thinking is that all there is to the Louvre?

There’s more to the Louvre than the Denon Wing!

I didn’t realise this until my parents told me about how they had visited Napoleon III’s Apartments in the Louvre. How had I missed out on those? And why hadn’t I found them in my previous wanderings around the Louvre?

One of the painted ceilings of the Louvre
One of the painted ceilings of the Louvre

Why did the Louvre feel like a labyrinth when it was clearly segmented into three U-shaped levels? I’m blaming it on being a natural blonde, but somehow my habit of heading straight to the Denon wing had made me forget that there were two other wings in the Louvre. I realised this after studying the map for a while, and asking myself why it was that no matter how many stairs I climbed up and down, I never got away from the Mona Lisa and those omnipresent Roman statues.

Feeling sheepish, I walked back out into the Hall Napoléon, and searched for the entrances to the Sully and Richelieu wings, to find out what surprises they had in store for me.

Finding traces of the original Louvre in the Sully wing

The Louvre fortress
The foundations of the Louvre fortress, originally constructed in the twelfth century

The Louvre was originally built in 1190 as a fortress during the rule of Philippe Auguste, to protect the city against the Normans. The fortress stood until the 16th century, when François I began transforming it into the palace you see today.

The medieval fortress's walls
It was impressive how well preserved the fortress walls were given their age

You can view the medieval foundations of the fortress on the lower ground floor of the Sully wing which were uncovered during the 1980s. As I walked around the walls, moat and remnants of the towers, I found it surreal to think of how old and yet well preserved the fortifications were.

Medieval Louvre fortress
More foundations of the old Louvre fortress

… and Napoleon III’s apartments in Richelieu

The Cour Marly
The Cour Marly, gateway to the Napoleon III apartments

Heading in to the Richelieu wing, I felt like I’m finally seeing a different side to the Louvre. I found myself in the Cour Marly, its glass roof reminiscent of the lattice pattern on the Louvre’s pyramids. The sculptures in this room were originally commissioned by Louis XIV for the Château de Marly and seem brighter and more impressive than the sculptures I left behind in the Galerie Daru.

The staircase leading from Cour Marly to Napoleon III's apartments
The staircase leading from Cour Marly to Napoleon III’s apartments

From the Cour Marly, I climbed the stairs up to the first level of the Richelieu wing, and found my target. I felt like I was no longer in the world’s most famous art gallery. Here was the Louvre’s palatial side.

The Grand Dining Room
The Grand Dining Room, part of the Napoleon III apartments in the Louvre
The Grand Salon
The Grand Salon, part of Napoleon III’s apartments
The throne room in Napoleon III's apartments
The throne room in Napoleon III’s apartments

As I moved through each room, I couldn’t help wondering if when the French kings used the Louvre as their winter palace, whether every room on every floor in every wing of the Louvre was so richly decorated. If I thought the painted ceilings throughout the rest of the Louvre were stunning, they were even more magnificent in the apartments. The chandeliers in the Grand Salon were so large they almost dominated the room. It’s sad to think that the royalty who once lived here probably didn’t have the same feeling of awe at their surroundings as the people who visit the Louvre today experience.

The Louvre from the gardens
The Louvre from the gardens

I left satisfied that I learned a little bit more about the Musée du Louvre. The next time I visit, I’ll know my way around, and will make sure to explore other exhibits in the Richelieu and Sully wings!

What was your experience of the Louvre? Share it in the comments!

What you need to know:

  • Long line to get in to the pyramids? That’s not the only way in to the Louvre. Try one of the other entrances, such as that of 99 rue de Rivoli (Carrousel du Louvre) which will take you straight in to the Louvre via the inverted pyramid.
  • The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, but keep an eye out for longer opening hours on Wednesdays and Fridays.
  • Visit the official site of the Louvre for more information.

Sound and Light Show at Château de Blois

Sometimes it’s the things you stumble upon while travelling that make for the most memorable experiences. The Sound and Light Show at the Château de Blois was one of them.

Even though our accommodation was in Blois, we were using the town as a base to visit the châteaux of Chambord and Chenonceau and had no plans to visit the Château de Blois. However, while enjoying a not-so-French meal of pizza at the Restaurant Le Duc de Guise, there was a flyer on the table advertising the Son et Lumière de Château de Blois – a sound and light show at the castle. Initially we wrote it off – having spent the day on a six hour train from Munich to Paris, and then another hour getting to the Loire Valley, we were looking forward to sleep. However, the show was only presented in English for one night during our stay in Blois, and it looked awesome.

Sound and Light Show at Château de Blois

Under the arches at the Château de Blois
Sheltering from the rain while waiting for the Sound and Light Show to start

Just after 10pm we clustered in the courtyard of the Royal Castle of Blois and waited for the show to begin. And then it began to rain.

Luckily for us, just as the show started, the rain stopped – just as well, because the experience would not have been the same if we had to watch it huddled under the arches.

The château tells its story

The Sound and Light show is told from the point of view of the castle itself. The ‘castle’ recounts the intrigues, dramas, mysteries, and tragedies that have taken place over its existence.

The Sound and Light Show at Château de Blois
The Sound and Light Show at the Château de Blois uses projected images to recount the château’s history

 The show is an immersive experience: it is easy to forget that you are watching static images as the stories are played out using projections displayed on three walls of the courtyard with an accompanying soundtrack.

 Over the forty-five minutes the voice-over recounts many stories, though the two that interested me most were to do with Joan of Arc and Catherine de Medici.

Joan of Arc rests at Blois before breaking the siege at Orlèans

Joan of Arc rides into battle
Joan of Arc rides in to battle
I was aware of the story of Joan of Arc, but I didn’t know that she had a connection with the town of Blois: after being presented with her armour in Tours, she based herself in Blois to plan military operations. Before continuing on to fight the English and break their siege of nearby Orlèans, she had her standard blessed at the Eglise Saint-Sauveur.

Catherine de Medici guards her sons’ kingships

Catherine de Medici
The intimidating image of Catherine de Medici

 Catherine de Medici was not only Queen of France from 1547 – 1559, but also saw three of her sons – Francois II, Charles XI, and Henri III – become Kings of France and held a lot of influence over their rule. The Sound of Light show highlights Blois during the French Wars of Religion which plagued the reigns of Catherine’s sons and caused her youngest son, Henry III, to have his enemy, the Duc de Guise, murdered at Château de Blois.

Not interested in castles and history?

Even if you’re not interested in castles and history, this magnificent production might just change your mind! As the projections change the appearance of the Château de Blois it makes me want to go behind the scenes to learn more about how they put together Sound and Light Show.

The Sound and Light Show at Château de Blois
The projected images change the appearance of the Château de Blois
The Sound and Light Show at the Château de Blois
The outline of the Château de Blois shows how diverse the projections are

 All in all, the lack of sleep was more than worth it – the Sound and Light Show gave me a chance to learn more about the Château de Blois when I wouldn’t have otherwise had the time.

Have you ever been to a sound and light show? Were you impressed? Share your thoughts in the comments!

What you need to know:


Why I Enjoyed Staying In Blois While Visiting The Loire Valley

The Francois I Wing of the Château de Blois
The Francois I Wing of the Château de Blois

When planning to visit France, I knew I wanted to visit the Loire Valley. The only problem was where should I stay?

After striking places off of the list, mostly due to bad train connections, I had narrowed the choice down to two locations: the popular Tours, which seemed to be the hub of the Loire Valley, or the town of Blois.

I settled on Blois mainly because of price, and ended up feeling like I’d made the right decision.

Blois is close to Chambord and Chenonceau

Since my main purpose in visiting the Loire Valley was to see the chateaux of Chambord and Chenonceau, I needed to compare transport options and whether it was easier to get to them from Tours or from Blois.

Blois is much closer to Chambord than Tours. I found it difficult to work out how to get from Tours to Chambord without going on a coach tour, while there is a bus service that leaves from Blois train station and takes you to straight to the gates of Chateau de Chambord (see the office of tourism for a bus timetable as it varies throughout the year). A return trip only cost two Euros.

Catching the train from Blois to the town of Chenonceaux meant changing trains in Tours (and a brief panic attack when I realised that I had gotten off one stop too early at the Tours train station instead of St Pierre des Corps. Luckily, the train to Chenonceaux ended up coming back through both, so I ended up on the right train anyway!). The journey from Blois to Tours and back again added an extra hour to the travelling time, but that ended up being more than cancelled out by the time I saved catching the bus to Chambord.

I bought the bus ticket to Chambord from the bus driver, and the train ticket to Chenonceaux from the helpful staff at the train station, which was far less crowded than the Tours train station (where I queued for help when I was worried I had missed my connection to Chenonceaux).

Blois has its own castle

The Château de Blois
The Château de Blois

While Tours does have the Château Tours, which houses an art gallery, it does not have the history of the Château Royal de Blois.

Statue of King Louis XII
Statue of King Louis XII above the entrance to the Château de Blois

One of the main residences of the Valois royal family during their time spent in the Loire Valley, the Château de Blois has seen seven kings and ten queens live within its walls. It is open during the day, or you can catch the stunning Sound at Light show at night.

Blois has a small town feel to it

When I did visit Tours, it felt more like a small city, full of cars, double-lane roads, hotels and people. The old town of Blois, however, felt quainter and quieter.

The Cathedral of Saint Louis, towering over the rooftops of Blois
The Cathedral of Saint Louis, towering over the rooftops of Blois

While my days were spent away from the town, exploring Chambord and Chenonceau, there was still plenty to do when I returned to Blois. There were walking trails throughout the old town, where you followed brass circles laid in to the ground on a treasure hunt to learn more about the history of Blois.

Blois walking trail
Following the walking trails around Blois is like a treasure hunt – I learned that Joan of Arc visited Blois and used it as a base for the battle of Orléans

There were a lot of restaurants (the two that I ate at were very good!). Most people were friendly and patient when I tried out my broken French on them, and I felt safe walking back to the hotel after a late night at The Sound at Light Show.

but you’d better watch out for the dragons…

The Maison de la Magie
The Maison de la Magie, opposite the Château de Blois

The courtyard at the front of the Château de Blois is normally a peaceful square, bordered by the château, the gardens, the office of tourism, a cluster of restaurants, and Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin’s House of Magic (Maison de la Magie).

Unless you’re there when the dragons come out.

I was sitting in the gardens killing time while waiting for my bus to Chambord, when I heard a low growl mixed with a beeping sound. Whirling around, I found that the pretty Maison de Magie now had five dragon heads sticking out from it! Later I would learn that this was a homage to Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin and combined his love of magic, timepieces and animatronics.

The strange dragons of the Maison de la Magie
The strange dragons of the Maison de la Magie

Ultimately I was happy with my decision to stay in Blois and would definitely recommend it as an option as a base for visiting the Loire Valley.

Where would you stay when visiting the Loire Valley?

What you need to know:


Charlottenburg Palace: My Favourite Place in Berlin

When I need a break from travelling and want to relax for a while in Berlin, I head to the gardens of Charlottenburg Palace.

Charlottenburg Palace
Charlottenburg Palace is a seventeenth century baroque palace named after Sophie Charlotte, the first Prussian queen

Named after Sophie Charlotte, the wife of Frederick the Great and the first queen of Prussia, the baroque palace was constructed in 1699 and is the largest palace in Berlin.

I first visited the palace while on a school trip in 2001. I have vague memories of a beautiful light-filled ballroom, a dark crowded chapel, and the first of what has now been many rooms that house royal collections of porcelain and china.

The formal gardens at Charlottenburg Palace
The formal gardens at Charlottenburg Palace

But it’s the gardens that I really love. The formal gardens at the back of the palace are full of colourful flowers, manicured hedges, marble statues and water features. Beyond this ordered garden is a forest where you can spend the afternoon traipsing over bridges and discovering the monuments in the Charlottenburg Palace Park.

The Belvedere at Charlottenburg Palace
The Belvedere at Charlottenburg Palace

You can explore the Pavilion, view the porcelain collection in the Belvedere or make a more sombre trip to the Mausoleum of Queen Louise. If that doesn’t suit, perhaps try hunting for quirky objects hidden in the park, such as The Obelisk – a structure commemorating the date of March 11, for no particular reason other than it can.

The Mausoleum at Charlottenburg Palace
The Mausoleum at Charlottenburg Palace

My favourite thing is to do is to find a bench with a good view of the palace peeking through the trees, pull out a book to read and spend an hour or two chilling out, without anyone bothering me (something that never happens when I try the same thing on Museum Insel!). It is so peaceful and tranquil that the time slips by.

My favourite view of Charlottenburg Palace
My favourite spot in the Charlottenburg Palace Park – a park bench with a beautiful glimpse of the palace

After spending a few hours of downtime with a view like this, I’m ready to head back in to the rush of Berlin life.

How do you recharge while travelling?

What you need to know:

  • Charlottenburg Palace is also known as Schloss Charlottenburg.
  • While the gardens are free to walk around, there is a cost if you want to explore the palace. To find out more, visit the Foundation of Prussian Castles and Gardens in Berlin-Brandenburg website
  • To get to Charlottenburg Schloss take the U-bahn and get out at the Richard-Wagner-Platz stop. Turn left and walk up to the end of Otto-Suhr-Allee and you will find yourself on Spandauer Damm in front of the palace.

Tell Me A Fable: Fairytales, Fortresses and Forests in Göttingen

You’re a character in your favourite fairytale. You trip through the powdery snow, passing glassy lakes where swans glide and witches cackle as they fly overhead. You dart through snow-capped pine trees, past gingerbread houses, old mills and fortresses, to your home – your very own castle. For a fairytale setting like this, you could use your imagination. Or you could live it for real.

A statue of a lion
A statue of a lion bearing the Göttingen coat of arms outside of the town hall

The city of Göttingen is located in Lower Saxony, a short detour from the tourist trail Germans know as the Fairy Tale Road. Populated by numerous students, who flock to the renowned Georg August University of Göttingen in the school months, Göttingen was once the residence of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. The Brothers Grimm worked at the university during the 1830s – Wilhelm as a librarian and Jacob as a lecturer on literary history. During their stay, they collected many local folk tales from the villagers in the mountains that surround Göttingen for their Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Inside Göttingen's town hall
Inside Göttingen’s town hall

The mountains surrounding Göttingen hide many settings perfect for scenes out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Burg Hanstein, a gothic fortress built in the eleventh century and owned by the same family for most of its life, was destroyed by Swedish troops in 1632, during the Thirty Years War, and lies in that same state today. Wandering among the stone ruins, traipsing through the narrows corridors with low ceilings, into courtyards paved with cobblestones, up and down spiral stairwells, and past dungeons, you cannot help but think you’ve been transported back in time. After the self-guided tour of the fortress, the Knight’s Hall allows you to partake in a banquet atmosphere. Have some rich fruitcake and apple cider as you sit next to a crackling fire. The North Tower’s panoramic view of the lush green valley below Hanstein and the Harz mountains as they rise above the city of Göttingen is beautiful.

St Johannis Church
The spires of St Johannis Church

The Harz mountains are famed for witches. The Harz region was the last in Germany to cling to its pagan heritage, and thus a number of legends made famous in German literature have originated from this area. In winter, the green forests and colourful flowers of the summer months become a winter wonderland dusted with snow. A recreational playground for locals, there are lakes for swimming and slopes for skiing, as well as numerous walking trails. A favourite is to hike up the highest mountain in the Harz – the Brocken. The reward is a spectacular view of Lower Saxony, with brilliant blue skies and green fields in the summer, and sultry greyness during the winter where blocks of ice cling to poles and mining vehicles on display are frozen stiff. A stroll through the Brocken museum not only describes more about the flora and fauna of the Harz mountains and the strong mining industry which is found there, but also introduces tourists to its myths and tales, some of which were included by the Brothers Grimm in their collection.

The Little Goose Girl
The Little Goose Girl, or Gänseliesl, stands in the square in front of the town hall

The city of Göttingen itself contains its very own link to the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm. In the city centre, in front of the Göttingen Town Hall, the statue of the Little Goose Girl (Gänseliesl) stands upon a fountain accompanied by her goose and a basket of flowers.

Some shoppers in Göttingen may be lucky to witness the tradition which has earned the Gänseliesl the title of the most-kissed girl in the world: every postgraduate scholar gives the statue a kiss upon receiving their doctorate. At Christmas time, the Gänseliesl is surrounded by the stalls of the Christmas markets. Here, fruit, nuts, sweets, cake, crepes and gingerbread are for sale along with with traditional German Christmas decorations and toys. Music and revelry are the order of the day, with locals snuggling up with a mug of hot Glühwein, retaining the glass it came in to add to their collections. Fairy lights twinkle from every stand, choirs sing carols and the jovialty of the festive season shines over the Christmas markets and the Gänseliesl, making it that bit more magical.

The Wartburg
The entrance to the Wartburg, where Martin Luther translated the Bible

Most girls dream of being a princess in a fairytale, living in her very own castle. The Wartburg, a castle fifteen minutes away by train from Göttingen, has had many influential residents pass through its doors. It has housed Saint Elizabeth and been a sanctuary for Martin Luther to translate the New Testament from Greek to German. Its magnificent views and ornate architecture has inspired the minds of Goethe and Wagner to construct stories and operas about it. The very manner of its existence, built upon soil brought from far away, so that count could legally claim someone else’s land for the castle of his dreams, is legend.

Come to Germany, come to Göttingen and come discover these stories for yourself.


The Wartburg: Thieves, Saints and Legends

The Wartburg
The entrance to the Wartburg

The Wartburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and if its walls could speak they would draw their tales from hundreds of years of history and talk of people who passed through the Wartburg from Saint Elisabeth, to Wagner and Goethe, to Martin Luther. From spurious beginnings, the castle has been added to throughout the centuries, and was much admired by King Ludwig II, who took influences from the Wartburg to design Neuschwanstein Castle.

The Stolen Mountain

The Wartburg’s history begins with Ludwig Springer, who came across the hill that the Wartburg now stands on, and decided it would be an ideal location for a fortress. He said: “Wart Berg! Du sollst mein Burg sein!” (Wait, mountain! You will be my fortress!”) and went off to make it happen.

Unfortunately for Springer, he didn’t own the land. But where there is a will there is always a way. Springer transported soil from his own lands, deposited it on the hill, and then began building the fortifications on top of that – therefore no one could dispute that he had built the Wartburg on his own land.

The Exterior of the Wartburg

The exterior of the Wartburg shows the different architectural influences utilised over the years. There are also several lookouts over the town of Eisenach, the surrounding countryside and the Thuringian Forest. From the Wartburg you can see the Burschenschaftsdenkmal, a monument to students who lost their lives fighting for a united Germany in the late nineteenth century.

The Courtyard

The courtyard of Wartburg Castle
The courtyard of Wartburg Castle

After going through the main gate, you enter the charming cobble-stoned inner courtyard, where you can buy tickets for the guided tours and also souvenirs at the castle’s gift shop. The courtyard leads out to the rear of the castle, where the Knight’s Baths (a small pool) is located.

The Knight’s Room and the Kitchen

The Knights Hall
One of the sculptures in the Knights’ Hall

The Knight’s Room and adjoining Dining Hall date back to the 12th century, and are sparsely furnished. The Knight’s Room is the first room you see on the guided tour of the Wartburg. The adjoining Dining Hall displays a kitchen and table dating from the Middle Ages.

The Elisabeth Bower

The Elisabeth Bower
The walls of the Elisabeth Bower are decorated in mosaic

One of the most spectacular rooms in the Wartburg is the Elisabeth Bower. Named after Saint Elisabeth, a Hungarian princess sent to live in the Wartburg during the thirteenth century, the walls and ceiling of the room consist of mosaics depicting the stories of the castle’s inhabitants. Although the mosaic is a more recent addition to the castle (it was done in the 1900s), it is a memorable sight.

The Elisabeth Bower
The Elisabeth Bower is one of the most spectacular rooms in the Wartburg

In the thirteenth century, Princess Elisabeth of Hungary was sent to live at the Wartburg at the age of four, where she would stay until she was old enough to marry her betrothed and become the castle’s Landgravine. She was canonised in 1235 for such events as the Miracle of the Roses, which is depicted in paintings in the Elisabeth Hallway. Upon being caught by her disapproving brother-in-law taking bread to the poor at the local hospital, she was questioned about what was in her basket. Elisabeth replied “flowers”. When the basket was uncovered, the bread that had originally been put in the basket had indeed turned into roses.

The Singer’s Hall

The Singers' Hall
The Singer’s Hall at the Wartburg. King Ludwig II created a replica at Neuschwanstein.

If you’ve visited Neuschwanstein, this room may look familiar. Upon his visit to the Wartburg, King Ludwig II admired the Singer’s Hall so much that he had a replica (though on a larger scale!) added to his dream castle. A tapestry depicts the legend of the minstrel competition held in this hall, where the loser’s penalty was death.

The Minstrels' Competition
The painting depicting the minstrels’ competition

Adapted by Wagner for his opera Tannhäuser and not confirmed to be out of the realm of legend, the singer’s competition at the Wartburg was a battle between six minstrels whose aim was to entertain the landgrave and his family. With the penalty for losing being death, each singer praised the landgrave in the hopes of winning his approval. One, however, decided against this scheme and sang about the Duke of Austria instead. This earned him defeat and he risked death until the landgravine appealed for him. The contest was agreed to be re-scheduled for a year’s time. This time, an unbiased judge was brought in, and no one was executed for losing the contest. The competition is said to have taken place in the Singer’s Hall, where a large wall painting depicts the event.

The Festival Hall

The Festival Hall at the Wartburg
The Festival Hall at the Wartburg

The final room in the tour is the Festival Hall. Originally used as a banqueting room, the Festival Hall played host to student fraternities. These days, the large space is used for concerts and ceremonies, including the graduation ceremonies of the local schools.

The Museum

The Wartburg Museum
A display at the Wartburg’s museum

The tour finishes in the Festival Hall. You are then left to your own devices to explore the rooms of the museum – a collection of paintings, furniture, armour, weaponry and everyday household items. I loved the leadlight windows and curiosities on display. (Standing next to the suits of armour made me feel very tall!)

Martin Luther’s Buchstube

Martin Luther's Buchstube
Luther’s Buchstube, where he translated the Bible in to German

During the 15th century, while in exile, Martin Luther spent some time at the Wartburg. Here he worked on his ideas of the reformation, as well as projects that included translating the New Testament into German.

What you need to know:

  • It is free to walk around the castle grounds, but you have to pay for a guided tour in order to view the castle’s interior. Tours are offered in German and English, and show visitors through the minimalist rooms of the Knight’s Rooms and the Dining Hall, the beautifully decorated Elisabeth Bower, the Wartburg’s Chapel, and the Festival Hall, before allowing you to explore the Museum and rooms where Martin Luther stayed.
  • To find out more about the Wartburg Castle, go to the Wartburg Castle’s official website

Linderhof Palace: Ludwig’s Country Escape

I must admit, I didn’t know much about Linderhof Palace before I went there. It was not on my list of must-see castles, and although it was one of King Ludwig II’s castles, I had heard more about Chiemsee, Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein. Linderhof Palace was a mystery.

The gardens at Linderhof Palace
The lake and gardens in front of Linderhof Palace

From the carpark, it is a short walk up to a cluster of buildings where you can buy tickets, food, drink and access the amenities. Following the path further, you enter Linderhof Schlosspark, and pass streams of gushing water, and an idyllic lake complete with King Ludwig’s beloved swans paddling gently on the water.

Gardens at Linderhof Palace
Golden statues at the Wasserparterre in the gardens at Linderhof Palace

Schloss Linderhof is not a sprawling castle. It looks quite square and compact from the outside, and was not what I was expecting at all. But the palace itself is beautiful – the decorative balustrades and the carving on the stones make it different from Ludwig’s other castles. It is less imposing and majestic than Neuschwanstein and Chiemsee – until you get inside.

Linderhof Palace
The facade of Linderhof Palace – summer brings long queues!

The guided tour takes in the upper storey of the palace. The first upstairs room we were shown into was the music room, followed by an antechamber, Ludwig’s bedroom/study, and finally a room which seemed like it was lined with mirrors – a trick to make the room look bigger.

The gardens were beautiful, filled with fountains, manicured lawns and plants, and gilded sculptures. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to fully explore the gardens and the rest of the grounds surrounding Linderhof. It was a shame – they seemed to stretch on forever from both the front and the back of the palace.

The Neptune Fountain at Linderhof Palace
The Neptune Fountain at the back of the palace

I would have loved to stay longer and explore the gardens of Linderhof Palace, and especially to see the famous grotto. Maybe next time?

What you need to know:

  • Schloss Linderhof is in the mountains of Bavaria, Germany, near the town of Ettal.
  • The easiest ways of getting to Schloss Linderhof is by car or with a coach group. See the official website for directions.
  • You can only see the inside of Schloss Linderhof as part of a guided tour. Tickets for the guided tours can be purchased onsite. Check out the official website for information on tours, prices and opening times.
  • Photos are not permitted inside Schloss Linderhof.
  • Visit the official website of Schloss Linderhof.