Chiemsee was the largest lake entirely within Germany's borders. It was a beautiful lake perched at the foot of the eastern Bavarian Alps that provided an incredibly scenic backdrop for the sailboats and water skiiers that congregated there every summer. Despite being on a major thoroughfare between Munich and Salzburg, the Chiemsee was surrounded only by small resort towns. It was perhaps this sense of minor seclusion that inspired King Ludwig II to take the lake's largest island, the Herreninsel ("man's island"?), and convert it into his own private lake cottage, complete with the Versailles-like Schloss Herrenchiemsee.
Indeed, Versailles was the inspiration for the castle's appearance -- primarily large, square, and boxy. Follow this link to the Versailles page and note the similarities between the first photograph in this page and the first picture on the Versailles page. Not an exact match but pretty close. King Ludwig continued his bow toward French royalty, loading the interior with portraits of French kings.
Like Neuschwanstein, Herrenchiemsee was big, magnificent, and unfinished. In fact, only twenty of its rooms were completed, those twenty being available for a tour. Sadly, though, pictures of the interior were not permitted, and therefore I can only describe what it was like. Fabulous! ... oh, you wanted more detail. Ok. The dominant color was gold. Everything was elaborately trimmed in gold, with massive candlelit chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Many of the walls and stairwells were paneled in solid red and green marble. The ballroom was almost a hundred meters long and lined with about fifty massive candelabras along each wall. I recalled that we visited about a dozen rooms, constituting most of the finished area of the palace.
The tour guide (only guided tours were allowed) pointed out a couple interesting facets. One was that the bed was an unusual shape, meaning exceptionally wide, as this castle was built when King Ludwig II was older and more, er um, rotund. Also, just as in Linderhof, the dining room only had a table for one, and the table sank through a trap door so that Ludwig could be in complete privacy. Unlike Linderhof, though, visitors are able to go downstairs and view the mechanisms.
Because I visited the island in late November, the gardens were mostly dead and the magnificent fountains were covered for the winter. However, during summer the grounds of the castle were beautifully sculpted, facing a canal that led out to the lake.
There are other buildings on the opposite end of the island, in fact the third photograph shows what used to be the original island palace, though I did not pursue its history. It served as a museum when I visited the island. Near it were the island's guesthouse and an old stone chapel, shown in the fourth photograph, that was still in service. Boats ran continuously in a circuit among the Herreninsel, the nearby Fraueninsel (the second largest island on Chiemsee), and the resort town of Prien am Chiemsee. A single fare allowed one to take the full circuit. There were also ferry boats that ran from the Herrenchiemsee to other towns on the lake.
There was one thing I noticed as I left Herrenchiemsee by boat to the Fraueninsel. From the water, the Schloss was completely hidden from view by the trees, even in the wintertime with all the leaves gone from the trees. I had to wonder if that wasn't the plan, to make the Herrenchiemsee completely isolated from view. This certainly was consistent with how King Ludwig had another of his palaces, the Linderhof, constructed so it isolated himself from the public.
I do not know if we'll get a chance to visit the Chiemsee in future, but if so it will be in the summertime when a good outdoor visit to the Herrenchiemsee, in full bloom, would be possible. It certainly would allow for better photographs of the island.
Trip taken 29 November 2002 -- Page last updated 13 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin