If you’re interested in seeing pictures of castles, mountains and lakes, keep reading!!
This trip started because my friend Ben and I just turned 40 this year. We’ve been doing landscape photography trips together for nearly 20 years and decided to go somewhere good! Cheridy and I went to some of these regions on our honeymoon but that was before I knew how to take good pictures so I was really excited to go back.
Here is a highlight slideshow that also contains video clips that I did not include in the blog post below.
5/3/16 Day 1
Today was strictly a travel day. Here’s a helpful tip for Michigan folks; Check pricing on Air Canada from Windsor or Toronto. I was able to get my flight for $650 instead of $1300 by flying from Toronto instead of Detroit. It was worth the 4 hour drive to save that much money!
5/4/16 Day 2
We both were coming from two different parts of the United States but we were able to get flights that landed within 30 minutes of each other and we met up in the baggage claim area of the Munich airport.
The first stop on our trip was Schloss Linderhoff which was a roughly 2 hour drive from the airport. It was a quaint little castle with beautifully manicured grounds in southern Germany.
Our next stop was Lake Plansee in Austria. It was roughly 20 minutes away but the direct road through the mountains was closed for construction so we had to drive 1.5 hours around. It was a pretty gloomy and gray day so the beautiful lake did not shine like it could have. We move on to our evening stop in Hohenschwangau Germany which was one of the top highlights for our trip; Neuschwanstein Castle.
There is a long and fairly steep walk to get up to the castle but it’s definitely worth it. There is also a bridge over a nearby waterfall that gives an unobstructed view of the castle with the valley behind it but unfortunately that was closed for construction.
That evening we also photographed the neighboring Castle Hohenschwangau which is also a very unique castle that is only a few hundred yards from Neuschwanstein Castle.
There is a small lake right next to the castle that is a beautiful place to enjoy nature.
That night I planned to get a few more aerial shots of the castles but I accidentally crashed my drone into a tree during a bad takeoff and it broke the camera off so that was unfortunate on our first day out photographing.
That evening we stayed at Pension Albrecht which had a balcony view of the castle (Room #5). Neuschwanstein Castle is 620m from the balcony according to our host. That evening we had a fantastic dinner at Alpenstupen Restaurant and did a few night shots of the castle once it was lit up.
5/5/16 Day 3
In the morning we woke up and did a few more castle photos before heading out on a long drive.
We drove from southern Germany into southern Switzerland as we headed towards Zermatt. On our way, one of the mountain passes (Furka) was closed and we had to put our car onto a train and have the train take us to the other side of the mountain. That was unexpected and interesting to say the least!
Zermatt is known for three things. It has amazing skiing and outdoor activities. It is a car free town so you have to park in the next town over (Tasch) and take a train in. It is at the base of the world famous Matterhorn mountain.
We stayed in the Superior room of Hotel Alpenblick which gave us a nice view from the balcony of the famous mountain. This gave us the chance to photograph it with the stars at night.
5/6/16 Day 4
We woke up first thing in the morning with the sunrise light (6:10am) to photograph the mountain once again.
After breakfast, we took the train back to our car in Tasch and then drove on to Sion. Sion is a beautiful city that mixes modern with medieval. There are two hills that rise up right in the middle of the city. One has a fortress, and the other has an old cathedral and chapel.
As we drove in, we found a spot on the expressway with a gorgeous view.
We then spent some time hiking up both hills and taking photos from different perspectives.
Our next stop was Chateau D’Aigle which is a beautiful castle surrounded by vineyards with a background of the Alps.
We found a good view from a road in the vineyards away from it.
Then we drove into the nearby Parc Naturael Regional Greuyere Pays-d’Enhaut. It was very pretty with towns speckled along the hillside. We drove out of the park towards the town of Gruyers. There was a pretty hilltop castle. It was REALLY crowded at the castle so we drove out by the air strip for pictures but we need to come back earlier in the day when the light is better.
We then drove to Lausanne which is an incredible city on the north shores of Lake Geneva. We spent a long time trying to find the cathedral which is one of the famous sites in Lausanne. It was easy to spot but difficult to drive to as we found the roads to be quite confusing even with GPS. We eventually made our way there and it was worth it!
Lausanne was the farthest west we would go on this trip. We then had a nice drive along the waterfront towards Montreux which is on the eastern end of Lake Geneva. Montreux is known for the famous Chateau de Chillon which is an incredible medieval castle with a jaw dropping mountain backdrop perched right on the shores of Lake Geneva.
Parking in the areas where the best views are was a bit challenging so we spent some time driving around to make sure we knew where to go at the right time of the evening for the best photos.
This evening, we stayed at Hotel du Port which we were not impressed by and we had dinner at their restaurant across the street; Restaurant Oasis. We did not love the food but the location right on the lake was very impressive.
5/7/16 Day 5
We got up nice and early to start a long day and also to photograph the beautiful morning light on the lake.
We headed back to Gruyers for some morning castle shots with the mountain backdrop. It was definitely worth going back to!
One of the things that kept catching my eye were the stunning golden fields. I googled it and found that they are fields of Canola flowers. The colorful fields and blossoming trees were gorgeous.
We then drove to Lake Thun where there were three beautiful little castles. The first was on the west side of the lake; Castle Shadeau with beautiful flowers and perfectly manicured grounds.
On the North side of the Lake was Schloss Oberhofen. It’s a really cool castle that sticks out into the water. We weren’t there at the best time of day for photography but I was still able to get a good shot.
I really liked the tunnel of vines on the opposite side of the castle.
On the South side of Lake Thun was Schloss Spietz. My favorite view of this castle was from the flower gardens in the front.
Behind the castle is a beautiful old chapel.
We then drove up the Lauterbrunnen valley with the towering peaks from the Alps on both sides. We stopped at Staubbach Falls which is a nearly 1000 ft. waterfall plummeting off the cliff. There were actually multiple falls in this area but this one was the most impressive.
The next stop was Grindelwald which is a quaint mountain town deep in the Alps. One of the main touristy things to do in Grindelwald is to take the Jungfrau railway to the top of Jungfraujoch. We planned to do that but although it was a clear day outside, there were deep clouds at the very top masking all the views so we stopped at Kleine Scheidegg and got some good mountain and snow pics. The train up the mountain is an impressive cog railway system. The big bank of clouds in the background are where the train goes to if you take it all the way to the top. Jungfraujoch is the highest train station in the world.
This picture blows me away. I didn’t notice when I was taking the picture but when editing it, I had it blown up large on my monitor and noticed right near the middle of the picture is a hut. What a crazy place to build!!
Around Grindelwald, they have some hotels that are really high up in the mountains that you can only get to by cable car. Unfortunately all of those were booked already (or possibly not open for the season yet). We found a hotel that was ok, not worth blogging about, and after checking in, we ended up driving back down the mountain towards Interlachen and then on towards Lake Brienze which is another huge lake on the opposite side of Lake Thun from Interlachen. We stopped at Schloss Isetwald for a few quick photos.
It was late in the day and we were hungry so we headed back to downtown Grindelwald for dinner and then stayed around to do some evening photos of the town.
Wow, that was a lot of stuff for one day!
5/8/16 Day 6
In the mountains, there is often not much of a sunrise because the mountains block a lot of the light so we slept in a bit this morning before we got up to get on the road. As we were driving towards Engelberg we stopped at an overlook with the little town of Lungern below.
On our way there, I had to laugh when I looked up at the GPS and saw THIS:
It was a circular corkscrew like tunnel in the mountain with a set of switchbacks on top of it!!
Anyway, we then drove up the Engelberg valley and took the Mt. Titlus cable car up to the top of the mountains. There were LOTS of people!!! It was also extremely windy up there!! It was beautiful but really cold at the top.
The last section of cable car is actually a rotating cable car. It rotates 360 degrees by the time you get to the top. Although that seemed awesome at first, when you cram it full of 30 people and you’re all smushed together…it’s not as enjoyable as you might think.
At the top of the mountain, they also have a suspension bridge called the Cliff Walk that you can walk out on. It is at an elevation of about 10,000 ft. However, we were up in a cloud and couldn’t see much of anything…although it was still pretty cool!
If you watched the video at the top of this post, I put in a quick time lapse clip from the cable car on the ride down to Engelberg.
Next we drove to what ended up being one of my favorite spots on the trip. We found an unexpected surprise with Schloss Meggenhorn on Lake Lucerne. It’s a small Chateau built on a hill with an incredible view of the entire lake. The grounds are amazing and behind the castle is a hill that you can go up with even more magnificent views. We were blown away by how beautiful it was there on this perfect 75 degree day with blue skies and white puffy clouds.
Just up the road was Neuhabsburg Castle but that is private property so we could only get a quick photo from a few blocks away.
From there we headed down to Vitznau on the coast of Lake Lucerne where we would connect with another cog railway that would take us up Mt. Rigi. The train ride up has spectacular views as you get higher and higher above Lake Lucerne.
Mt. Rigi has a hotel right at the very top but it wasn’t open for the season yet so we stayed at Hotel Alpina at the train stop called Rigi Kaltbad-First. It’s a nice little hotel and restaurant with some pretty views of the Alps. Just know that despite the creative photos they advertise with, there are obstructed views due to the train station and an apartment complex. It was still a nice place to sit and enjoy the evening.
We took the train the rest of the way up to the top of Mt Rigi. Everything was closed so we just took some pics and enjoyed the fresh mountain air.
That evening we had dinner at the hotel and just watched the light color change in the mountains.
It’s pretty awesome to be able to get a photo like this from your hotel balcony!
5/9/16 Day 7
The next morning we took the first train down the mountain and then drove to Naturpark Thal which had an old medieval castle on a hill above the town.
From there, it was on to Aarburg which is a medieval city built on a hill. We didn’t go into the city but just found a couple of unique vantage points.
We drove on to Schaffhausen with the Kleinfall waterfall. It was like a mini Niagara Falls with boat tours that would take people out to experience the mist and power of the water.
The next stop is Sigmaringen Castle looming above the river. We had light and color to capture this amazing scene and even had a white swan floating in the river.
Next we went to Hohenzollern castle. It’s a huge castle on top of a hill with a view of the town below. To view the castle we went to the next mountain over which was called Zellerhorn. It was a 20 minute walk from the parking lot to a beautiful overlook with the majestic castle in the distance. This is one of my favorite views from the trip.
I misplanned the last day of the trip and didn’t leave us enough to do. Instead of having a relaxing day to unwind before our flight home, we decided to drive all the way over to Austria so that we could have one more day exploring the Alps. It was too late in the day to drive all the way so we had a long drive back towards Munich and stayed at a nice hotel called hotel Mutz where they had a terrific breakfast spread.
5/10/16 Day 8
We got up early and drove in Munich rush hour to head towards the mountains in Austria. Unfortunately the weather was pretty miserable and it was grey and raining all day. Our first plan was to drive up the Grossglockner high alpine road for a true mountain driving experience. We had a few stops that led to some fun pictures. We saw this waterfall on a mountainside across the valley.
When we got to the top of the mountain pass, we were definitely up in the clouds! It was neat to look down and see the switch-backed road below.
The occasional breaks in the clouds were beautiful!
As we drove back down the mountain, we had a quick stop in a town called Hieligenblut which has a high steepled church that commands attention.
Next we drove a few more hours to Hallstatt. Hallstaat is one of the most photogenic towns in the world. It sits right on a beautiful lake. BUT…it was pouring rain and the only good viewpoint of the town we had to walk to so we skipped it because the photos wouldn’t have been good anyway.
Here is a picture that I had taken from there about 10 years ago.
Today we spent almost 12 hours in the car and due to the rough weather, we really didn’t see much but…all the other days on our trip were fantastic so we shouldn’t be complaining!
We started driving back to Munich and I had to stop for one more photo of the yellow Canola fields.
5/11/16 Day 9
Today was a travel day to fly home. The only thing I want to add to this blog post is just a couple of travel tips for if you are traveling in Germany, Austria or Switzerland.
1) The booking.com iPhone app is fantastic for booking hotels quickly while in Europe!
2) Make sure to read your rental car agreement carefully. Ben found a deal for $150 for a car for the week. When we got to Germany we were told that we had to pay an additional $600 due to other local fees and insurance. Even though Ben’s credit card provided insurance, since we didn’t have anything in writing, they required us to buy their insurance which was almost $450 of that extra fee. The paperwork that he received in the Stats said that we didn’t need the insurance as long as we were covered but they never mentioned bringing written documentation. They would not give us the car unless we signed up for the extra fees and if we didn’t, we would have lost the $150 that we had already paid. I advise that you don’t rent from Dollar, Thrifty, or Hertz if you go to the Munich airport. They are partners out there.
3) Some countries require you buy a vignette which is a driving pass which allows you to drive on the highways of that country. You can only buy them at gas stations near the borders and they are typically inexpensive. The vignette for Austria lasts for 10 days and I think it was around $10. The one for Switzerland is good for a year and that one was around $40.
4) If you need to take any trains or cable cars or anything, The google maps app typically has current schedules for everything.
5) If you want to use your Verizon phone while traveling? They have a travel pass which is $10 per day which allows you to use your standard minutes and data with no additional roaming or long distance charges as long as you are calling home or calling within the country that the pass is for. It worked really good for me. However, it didn’t always do a good job picking up the right carrier and sometimes I had to switch the carrier from auto selection to manually select one and I would then get a much better connection. When I landed in Munich I had no service which I couldn’t understand. Meanwhile Ben was picking up a full LTE signal from a different carrier. Once I switched, I was fine.
6) Many hotels will have a free breakfast included which typically has bread, meats, cheeses, hard boiled eggs, croissants, jelly, cereal, milk, orange juice, tea/coffee. Definitely try to stay at a place with a free breakfast as it will save quite a bit of time and money.
I hope these travel tips were helpful!