If you visit Munich, don’t overlook Nymphenburg, four miles west of the city center.
It’s the former summer palace of the Wittelsbach family that ruled Bavaria for 800 years. The grounds are an opportunity to reclaim your sanity amid the urban surroundings of a world city.
Nymphenburg still is “home” to Franz, Duke of Bavaria (Franz Bonaventura Adalbert Maria Herzog von Bayern). The head of the House of Wittelsbach was born July 14, 1933, and lives behind the gilded facade in part of the estate you can’t visit.
The Wittelsbachs took over Bavaria in 1180. Franz’s great-grandfather, King Ludwig III, was the last ruling monarch of Bavaria, deposed in the revolution that followed WWI.
The family has a contested link to the British throne. The Jacobites trace the line of “legitimate” British monarchy down through the legal heirs of James II of England. To them, the head of the House of Wittelsbach is the correct heir via the Stuart claims to the thrones of England, Scotland, France and Ireland.
Guide books assure us the claim is not actively being pursued.
From the city, the public transit paths to the summer palace include a trek on foot after the last stop. On an Indian summer afternoon, ice cream at this cafe is practically impossible to resist.
The mile-and-a-quarter long canal in front of Nymphenburg offers a pretty view of the summer palace and its entrance. At some times during the year, you can ride a gondola on the water.
At dusk, young couples enjoy the canal view from the Gerner Bridge. It’s a popular free destination for date night.
Nymphenburg was started in the 17th Century by Prince Ferdinand Maria and Henriette Adelaide of Savoy to celebrate the birth of Max Emanuel, heir to the Bavarian throne.
The palace was extended over the next centuries. With its beautiful gardens and grand rooms, it soon became a favorite of Bavarian rulers. Several were born or died here.
Long gravel paths, benches and gardening encourage the visitor to savor the beauty of the grounds.
The extravagantly ornate grand hall has secrets a guide will be only too happy to reveal to you. One is musical instruments, as the space was used as a concert hall. I wanted to see the ceiling, as it was the work of famous Baroque painter Johann Zimmerman who painted on his back for 10 months at age 76.
Interior rooms and corridors creak with that old-house, wooden-floor feel.
To me, the best part of Nymphenburg is outside, and the 450 acres of grounds offer crushed-gravel paths, brooks, cascades, bridges, lakes, statues and palatial outbuildings. It has its own botanical garden. At the Royal Deer Garden, you can watch pale brown deer and sheep or even pet them. On some Saturdays, the courtyard fills up with flea markets.
The staff of Hermes, bow of Diana and scepter of Proserpina were stolen from the sculpture garden last summer, and the police haven’t been able to find them. But the Bavarian Palace Department says the lost items have been replaced with replicas made with a 3-D printer and enhanced with a special varnish.
The “back yard,” like the grounds surrounding many European castles, threatens to take your breath away. Multiple paved and gravel paths offer a long, slow opportunity to marvel at the impotent efforts of architects to harness nature.
Looking back at the palace from about the mid-point of the rear grounds offers views as stunning as those in front.
The grounds seem to go on and on. No matter how crowded, there’s always a private spot.
Across the lake, the cupola provides yet another spot for study or quiet contemplation.
At first, this sight made me think I’d stumbled into an old painting. From this hillside, it must have looked like this in the 1700s, as groundskeepers harvested wheat here with horse-drawn carts.
The serenity of this sight has partly to do with the regal way its lone occupant glides across the scene. The beauty here seems beyond the gilded buildings and manicured gardens of the formal palace. It reminds me why I come back to Nymphenburg any time I’m in Munich for more than a day or two.