Neuschwanstein Castle along the Autobahn, for example, leads to Neuschwanstein Castle. A fantastical flourish of turrets and spires, the towering structure is wedged into a mountaintop and its magical setting has long led American visitors to label it Disney-like, inaccurately as it happens. Neuschwanstein came first and Disney’s chimerical structure is actually inspired by the dreamlike building whose construction was commissioned by King Ludwig ii, rumoured insane and known as the ‘fairy king’ (not solely for his predilection for building fairytale buildings). The unprecedented scale and expense of the project almost led Bavaria to financial ruin, and he was found dead in suspicious, never-explained circumstances shortly before its completion. Now the building is one of Bavaria’s most celebrated sights, with over 6,000 tourists each day visiting what was Ludwig’s own swan song. Equally beautiful, but far less crowded, is the alpine region of Berchtesgaden. A municipality that ripples along the Austrian border, it’s shadowed by the 2713m Mount Watzmann,, and is pretty much a real-life version of every Heidithe-milkmaid fantasy you care to
think of. Verdant valleys; soaring peaks; wooden chalets swamped by flowerboxes; chirpy blonde children (again); cows wearing bells… it’s all here in abundance but the overall effect is blissful calm rather than small-town angst. Beautiful all year round, the area is also popular in winter when deep snow means skiing is possible and bobsleighing and lugeing are practised in the lakeside resort of Königssee. for longer stays in the area, the best accommodation option is the five-star intercontinental Berchtesgaden (Hintereck 1, Berchtesgaden; www. intercontinental.com). Supremely comfortable, it offers an excellent spa, great restaurant and roaring log fires every night, but it’s the setting that’s the main draw – 1,000 metres up, the vista is spectacular and the site was once the holiday destination of choice for a former German premier. Admittedly, the endorsement is tainted somewhat when you consider that the leader in question was Hitler, but the location itself remains regarded one of the most beautiful parts of the country, a sky-high setting from which to survey the very best Bavaria has to offer.
BAVARIA: HOW TO GET THERE With regular departures from Heathrow, Germany’s national airline lufthansa offers the most convenient way to reach all parts of the country. Flights to Munich cost from just £49 one way, including all taxes. www.lufthansa.com
Bryan rodrigues enjoys aﬀordable luxury at park plaza county Hall The park plaza county Hall is tucked away on Addington Street, London, SE1, right opposite County Hall and a quick stroll from Waterloo – which means if you’re heading for the gay (de)lights of Soho, you’re not far off track. The hotel, somewhat Manhattanesque in style, only opened in 2008, so still feels fairly new. It has a cool yet accomplished feel and look, with a set of guest services to match. Park Plaza County Hall may be a pleasant surprise for a hotel that is part of this chain. The Senior Guest Services Manager, Luke, showed me to my room – with a spectacular view across to the London Eye and with really nice touches including toiletries by Gilchrist & Soames in the junior suites and the penthouses. Excellent customer service, with the correct balance of attention to the needs of guests and their respect for privacy, was definitely the norm - clearly preferable to a crew which may be more easy on the eye but possibly clueless. The beautifully lit Spectrum bar is open to the public and is worth visiting if you happen to be passing or work in the area – particularly for its cocktails list. Dinner in the restaurant is also recommended – we enjoyed a tian of white crab (£7.50), followed by halibut (£15), which the chef grilled for me at my request and which was delicious. The wine list also has variety and is well-priced. Park Plaza County Hall has a young attitude and is undoubtedly gay friendly. Best available rates are via www.parkplaza.com
LONDON GAY TOURIST OFFICE LAUNCHED
Any visitors to London will be interested to know that a new gay tourist oﬃce has opened its doors. In the evening it may be a glamorous Champagne Bar, but during the day, the first floor bar at the Ku Bar is now a Gay Tourist Office – a dedicated lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender visitor centre for anyone new to London, or for London’s own LGBT residents looking for information. The centre plans to offer information on the gay scene, hotels, travel services, community events, sexual health, cultural events, charities and voluntary opportunities. There will be maps, magazines and brochures, plus a laptop hub for getting online. You’ll be able to buy tickets for events and activities, and take advantage of theatre deals and discounted entry flyers. Check out the new Gay Tourist Office upstairs at the Ku Bar, 30 Lisle Street, WC2. Doors will be open Monday to Saturday from noon till 6pm. Further information can be taken from the newly-launched website at www. gaytouristoﬃce.co.uk