With its pastel-coloured town houses, this charming little town situated on the green River Lech exudes a cheerful, almost Mediterranean flair. There are also plenty of bathing lakes in the surrounding area. And then, of course, there are the mountains and the famous royal castles. Text: Anja Keul, Photos: Tobias Gerber
Füssen: Places You Must See and Experience
Ring ring! From afar, you can hear it jingle, and a child shouts enthusiastically: “Ice cream!” Beppo Montuori is already making his way around the corner in his nostalgic ice-cream carriage and parking on the cobblestones directly opposite the St. Mang monastery.
In the background, the awe-inspiring clock tower rises upwards at the “Hohes Schloss” Castle; in the opposite direction, the path leads down to the River Lech and, from there, to the “Kalvarienberg”.
Fortified with yoghurt and raspberry ice cream made from organic hay milk, we quickly climb to the vantage point. It takes just under half an hour to walk up the “Kreuzweg” path, and then Füssen lies literally at your feet, caressed by the bright green shining River Lech.
From above, it is easy to see how prominently the “Hohes Schloss” or “High Castle” towers above the maze of medieval streets. From the mountain spur, it looks down on the gothic house gables painted in pale blue, pink or light yellow, as well as onto the numerous Baroque and Rococo church buildings.
Shenanigans in the "High Castle"
Completed at the beginning of the 16th century, the former residence of Augsburg’s Prince-Bishops is one of the most important secular buildings of the German late Gothic period. Even if there is some grandiose cheating involved: the decorative oriels, window frames and corner ashlars in the inner courtyard of the High Castle are all fake. But they serve as the perfect selfie backdrop, especially in the evening when the 500-year-old, masterfully created illusion paintings look particularly vivid.
In the small town of 16,000 inhabitants, you also want to reach for your camera all the time. Roses entwine over windows and doors; from the restored old town wall, the view stretches far into the countryside, romantic squares like the “Kappenzipfel” with a particularly beautifully painted house facade, a fountain and benches, are all a delight to the eye.
A Modern Sense of Home
With its pastel-coloured houses and wrought-iron signs, the “Franziskanergasse” alley is particularly pretty, especially when members of the “D’Neuschwanstoaner Stamm Füssen” perform the historic “Fiassar Bürgergwand” and the Allgäu mountain costume here.
Founded in 1900, the “Trachtenverein” cultural association (society for traditional costumes) is the oldest in the Allgäu and, thanks to the commitment of Richard Hartmann, is alive and kicking with more than 200 members. The Secretary and First Speaker of the main board has done a lot of research into old sources, looking in attics and cellars for bonnets, shawls and old photographs. A modern sense of home is close to his heart.
In the Allgäu “Heimatwerk”, which opened in 2020 in the heart of the old town, there will be lectures and courses on dialect, dance and music, and you can also learn elaborate traditional costume embroidery. The feathers made of white eagle fluff that adorn many traditional hats are the pride and joy of the “Neuschwanstoaner”: “They are 60 to 80 years old and come from the family. Today, there are no more to go around,” says Hartmann.
Royal Castles Outside the City
D’Neuschwanstoaner – the name refers to the famous royal castle of “Neuschwanstein”, even if many residents of Füssen roll their eyes a little when the name comes up. They find it a bit unfair that the stone-built dream of the “fairytale king” Ludwig II attracts so much attention just outside the city, followed by the castle “Schloss Hohenschwangau”, where Ludwig spent his childhood and youth. Both castles can only be visited on relatively short guided tours.
On the other hand, you can take all the time in the world at the City Museum of Füssen, which is housed in the south and west wings of the former Benedictine monastery of St. Mang. Highlights include the “Kaisersaal” or “Emperor’s Hall”, with which the almost 1,000-year-old architectural wonder wanted to demonstrate its grandeur, and the oval library with its ceiling painting. The exhibition on Füssen as a city of lute and violin makers is unique.
In 1562, Europe’s first lute makers’ guild was founded in the town, and later Füssen instrument specialists took the art to Vienna, Prague, Upper Italy and France.
A Tradition in Violin Making
Pierre Chaubert took the opposite approach. The Swiss man settled in Füssen after completing his master’s examination as a violin maker, reviving the tradition after 150 years. Meanwhile, his son Eric also works in the light-flooded workshop in the attic above the historic market hall.
Father and son have already restored several Stradivaris and Guarneris, and new violins take 200 to 250 hours to make. With planes the size of a thumbnail, Eric Chaubert shapes the tonewood for the perfect sound. The exact formulas for the oil varnish, however, are a secret. But in the museum there’s an overview of common ingredients like saffron, roots and earth pigments.
Two floors below, you can buy fruit, vegetables, meat and fish in the market hall in the late-Gothic former granary, or enjoy a snack put together by the surrounding stalls. This is then consumed in uncomplicated fashion at the long wooden table. Cakes and strudels are also available, of course.
Purists, however, prefer the “Kurcafé” in the “Hotel Schlosskrone” when it comes to sweet treats. Even at the end of the 19th century, the royal highnesses from Hohenschwangau appreciated this confectionery.
Sissi Cake and Tour Tips
“Sissi Cake” is worth every indulgent sin either way
In honour of the Austrian Empress Sissi, Ludwig’s soulmate, a chocolate truffle cake soaked in rich rum was created at the time. It is not known if the empress, who was very concerned about her figure, ever ate them. Nevertheless, master confectioner Marcus Kleiner bakes them day after day according to the recipe that has been passed down through generations. Decorated with hearts and Sissi’s own portrait, the “Sissi Cake” is worth every indulgent sin either way.
Around Füssen, there are plenty of opportunities to work off those delicious calories. Walking and cycling routes are well-signposted and described in detail on the city’s website and available as GPS tracks.
The “Ziegelwies” Forest Experience Centre, on the other hand, combines exercise with well-prepared information on mountain forests, biodiversity and the alluvial forest on the banks of the River Lech: alders, poplars and willows prevent the soil from being washed away with their roots when the mountain river overflows its banks time and again.
Summit Trail to Austria
High above the forest, visitors stroll along the tree-top walk, which is up to 21 metres high. The convenient wooden plank path leads across the border and into Austria at around 500 metres. Step by step, the mountain panorama opens up from Mount Aggenstein in Austria to the 1,720-metre-high, rugged Mount Tegelberg.
From the valley station in Schwangau, the Tegelberg cable car will take you up quickly, bridging the 1,000-metre difference in altitude with new glass cabins from Whitsun 2021. A whole series of hiking trails open up the mountain world. If you like, you can descend just a few steps from the mountain station and have a snack in the “Tegelberghaus”, a rustic wooden hut that Ludwig II used to visit every summer.
Allgäu Riviera or Lake Hopfen?
Which brings us back to the royal castles: The view of “Neuschwanstein” and “Hohenschwangau” on the ascent with the Tegelberg cable car is truly impressive. A completely different, charming perspective on the monumental buildings can be found during a boat tour on Lake Forggen. And afterwards, a little swim break, perhaps? On the way to the Festspielhaus, there are several pebbly entrances for jumping into the lake.
With a total of approximately ten bathing lakes in the immediate vicinity, Füssen has plenty of options for bathing fans, from the natural baths in Faulenbach to the rural bathing beach at Lake Weissensee and the “Allgäu Riviera” at Lake Hopfensee. There, you can enjoy a great sunset with food and drinks on the lounge terrace of the new “Seehaus” (Lake House).
In Love with Füssen
When saying goodbye to Füssen, there has to be another ice cream. There are plenty of ice cream parlours, for example, in the car-free “Reichenstraße” pedestrian zone with its many street cafés. Perhaps Beppo will also be jogging along at six kilometres per hour to take up one of the most beautiful spots in the old town – he knows quite a few...
The trained gelatiere professional from Westerwald has lived in Füssen since 2010: “We fell in love with the city on holiday and decided to move here.” I’m sure several other visitors feel the same way about falling in love. Topped off with a scoop of mango sorbet!