While you might naturally assume that the largest, and arguably the most beautiful, of Bavaria‘s lakes offers countless opportunities for quiet reflection, Chiemsee also offers reflections of a more dramatic sort.
Less than an hour’s 21st-century drive south of Munich, Chiemsee in the late 19th century was considerably more difficult to reach. That didn’t stop it from being a gathering place of royalty!
Its haunting, dreamy atmosphere made Chiemsee irresistible to Germany’s ultimate dreamer, King Ludwig II. Here he began building his third and final Castle, Schloss Herrenchiemsee, on Herreninsel, the larger of the lake’s two most prominent islands.
Schloss Herrenchiemsee (Neues Schloss) was meant to replicate the Palace of Versailles, establishing for all time the glory of the German throne. King Ludwig, however, met a mysterious and untimely end in 1886. Except for its central portion, Herrenchiemsee Schloss was never finished. That, however, was enough!
Within the central section of the Castle is the astonishing Great Hall of Mirrors, with seventeen mirrored doors reflecting more than thirty crystal chandeliers and forty-four golden candelabra. As one who never tired of his own legend, Ludwig had the events of his life immortalized on the room’s painted ceiling. He also had installed in the Palace’s dining room a unique self-setting table. Between courses it descended to a room where servants waited to replace empty dishes with full ones!
Would you prefer the quieter kind of reflection during your visit to Chiemsee? Take the ferry from the resort town of Prien not to Herreninsel, but to its smaller neighbor Fraueninsel (The Ladies’ Island), the site of the oldest abbey in Germany. Duke Tassilo III founded a Benedictine Convent here in 782, making it the oldest abbey in Germany.
While the convent has been transformed into a college and is not open to the public, the church is a fantastic combination of architectural styles including Romanesque, Baroque, and Gothic. You may never see anything to compare with its 8-sided onion domed tower!
Treat yourself to a walk around the island (you can see the whole thing in about half an hour!) along its picturesque lanes overflowing with flowers. Sample the local culinary highlight, Raucherfisch, at the island’s small fishing village.
In late May the village celebrates its yearly Corpus Christi Festival, when all the fishing boats are garlanded with flowers and fishermen wear traditional Bavarian garb. The boats circle the island and stop at each of its corners so that the Gospel can be sung. No matter when you visit, don’t leave the island without some of the wonderful fruit liqueurs and marzipan made by the Benedictine sisters!
Chiemsee’s western shore resort of Prien, in addition to being the jumping-off point for the two islands, is a climactic health resort in its own right. Here you can undergo treatment for a variety of conditions.
Prien is also a great family resort, with the Prienavera pool complex right on the lakeshore. Turn the kids loose to ride the white-water canal or the water slides while you unwind in the whirlpool, or tone up with a water aerobics class!
Just south of Chiemsee, you’ll find the central Alps with their breathtaking views. Both novice and expert climbers will be able to manage Kampenwand, as the ridge crossing between the mountain’s main and western peaks has only a few spots classified as Grade II to Grade IV. The tallest peak in the vicinity of Chiemsee, however, is 1,963-meter or 6,640-foot Sonntagshorn, on Bavaria’s border with Austria.
Last but not least, Chiemsee, of course, offers all the expected water sports and sailing opportunities. After treating yourself to your favorites among them, it’s time to lie back in your own comfortable bed, and surrender to the dream that is Chiemsee! ;-)