In 1869, King Ludwig II transformed a former royal hunting lodge into a small, dazzling-white château meant to resemble the Petit Trianon at Versailles. The ornate exterior is restrained when compared to the interior, which is a riot of Neo-Rococo flashiness, glittering with gold leaf, mirrors, and crystal and ivory chandeliers. On prominent display in the Music Room is the king’s piano-harmonium; his long suffering teacher sniped into his diary, “Today I had my last lesson with the king. What a blessed day!” Among some ingenuous contrivances are a dining table that rose from the kitchens at mealtimes so that the king would not have to deal with servants, thus allowing him to carry on, undisturbed, conversations with his imaginary dinner companions Louis XV and Marie Antoinette. Ludwig was nocturnal and spent his nights lounging and reading in the Hall of Mirrors, where the candlelight seemed to be reflected endlessly, clouding the lines between reality and unreality, not unlike the king’s state of mind.

The park, with its formal French gardens, is more appealing than the overwrought interiors and fascinatingly playful. Here, as in Neuschwanstein down the road, you’re left to wonder if Ludwig was a dreamer or just plain mad. He would retreat to the Moorish Kiosk to indulge his Arabian Nights fantasies (also played out at Konigshaus Am Schachen, above Garmisch-Patrenkirchen; by smoking a chibouk (a Turkish tobacco pipe) and having his retinue treat him as an Asian prince. In the Grotte (Grotto), an artificial cave with stalagmites and stalactites designed to re-create stage sets for Richard Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser, he would be rowed over a waterfall-fed lake in a swan-shaped boat; his pet swans glided beside him and special lighting effects simulated the illumination in the Blue Grotto on Capri.