BRACING BAVARIA! Crazy Castles, Soaring Scenery and Extraordinary Outfits -- Southern Germany Makes for a Fun-Filled Family Break
Byline: by Lucinda Bredin
SEVERAL sights in Garmisch-Partenkirchen will stop you in your tracks: and an elderly man dressed in full Lederhosen -- leather shorts with bib, jaunty feather adorned hat, hunting horn slung over his shoulders -- is one.
My teenage sons decide he's a former extra from The Sound Of Music reliving the glory days. But then another man appears dressed in exactly the same way. Regional costume is taken very seriously in this part of the world.
This is picture-postcard Germany, and set in a valley surrounded by glorious mountains, Garmisch looks so perfect, it's as though you had stepped into a Technicolor film set.
The streets are flanked by timberframed houses with hanging baskets. The regimented lines of onions and beans decorate front gardens, and piles of chopped wood stacked neatly against the walls add to the sense of order. That feeling of fairytale magic continues when you look up past the pretty domed church steeples to see a crystalline view of snowy mountains.
One reason to visit Bavaria is to explore the homeland of characters ranging from barking to the seriously unhinged.
Leading the field is the 19th-century king Ludwig II, who even in his lifetime, had 'Mad' added to his title. His compulsion to build huge mock-Gothic castles wouldn't get him certified these days, and you can't call someone insane just because he indulges in a taste for outrageous upholstery and liberal application of gold leaf.
But there's no doubt Ludwig was eccentric -- you only have to visit Schloss Linderhof, his whimsical palace tucked away in a forest, to realise that.
To reach it, we drive along the winding roads through the Ammergau Alps. It was one of the most exhilarating car journeys I've ever taken -- and it's not just the staggering scenery: German drivers seem compelled to overtake on every hairpin bend.
This dreamy palace was Ludwig's version of Versailles (in itself a slightly mad idea as it has only six main rooms) and it's exquisite. A riot of gilt carving with crystal chandeliers dripping from every ceiling, it's an extraordinary sight.
But in Ludwig's lifetime, very few of his subjects saw it. A dedicated recluse, the King ate alone in his dining room at a table that was lowered to the ground floor kitchens, where it was laid for dinner, and raised again. Ludwig dined undisturbed.
THE grounds are dotted with exquisite, but utterly bonkers, follies: the Moorish kiosk, a Moroccan House and the Venus Grotto.
Obsessed with the operas of Richard Wagner, Ludwig was inspired by the composer's Tannhauser to recreate a cave carved into the hillside with waterfalls and a gilt shell boat, on which he would sit alone in his dream world. …