An island just 1.5km across the Chiemsee from Prien, Herreninsel is home to Ludwig II’s Versailles-inspired castle. Begun in 1878, it was never intended as a residence, but as a homage to absolutist monarchy, as epitomised by Ludwig’s hero, Louis XIV. Ludwig spent only 10 days here and even then was rarely seen, preferring to read at night and sleep all day. The palace is typical of Ludwig’s creations, its design the product of his romantic obsessions and unfettered imagination.
Ludwig splurged more money on this palace than on Neuschwanstein and Linderhof combined, but when cash ran out in 1885, one year before his death, 50 rooms remained unfinished. Those that were completed outdo each other in opulence. The vast Gesandtentreppe (Ambassador Staircase), a double staircase leading to a frescoed gallery and topped by a glass roof, is the first visual knock-out on the guided tour, but that fades in comparison to the stunning Grosse Spiegelgalerie (Great Hall of Mirrors). This tunnel of light runs the length of the garden (98m, or 10m longer than that in Versailles). It sports 52 candelabra and 33 great glass chandeliers with 7000 candles, which took 70 servants half an hour to light. In late July it becomes a wonderful venue for classical concerts.
The Paradeschlafzimmer (State Bedroom) features a canopied bed perching altar-like on a pedestal behind a golden balustrade. This was the heart of the palace, where morning and evening audiences were held. But it’s the king’s bedroom, the Kleines Blaues Schlafzimmer (Little Blue Bedroom), that really takes the cake. The decoration is sickly sweet, encrusted with gilded stucco and wildly extravagant carvings. The room is bathed in a soft blue light emanating from a glass globe at the foot of the bed. It supposedly took 18 months for a technician to perfect the lamp to the king’s satisfaction.
Admission to the palace also entitles you to a spin around the König-Ludwig II-Museum, where you can see the king’s christening and coronation robes, more blueprints of megalomaniac buildings and his death mask.
To reach the palace, take the hourly or half-hourly ferry from Prien-Stock or from Bernau-Felden. From the boat landing on Herreninsel, it’s about a 20-minute walk through pretty gardens to the palace. Palace tours, offered in German or English, last 30 minutes.