Prince besieged at Ludwig's castle

THE most famous of Mad King Ludwig's fabled castles in Bavaria is at the centre of a dispute that pits a great aristocratic family against local farmers and conservationists.

Schloss Neuschwanstein, the jewel in the crown of the "Fairytale King", is alleged to be under threat from a prince residing in a rival - if somewhat less splendid - palace near by. At the foot of the cliff upon which Bavaria's number one tourist attraction is perched, Prince Max Emanuel von Thurn und Taxis wants to build a hotel.

Not an unreasonable proposition for a village that receives more than a million visitors every year, argue many people. The T&T concern already runs a "sport and seminar" centre, offering para-gliding, river-rafting, mountain-biking and a round or two of golf. But now the Prince wants to extend his little golf course and erect a 5-star hotel on his own land, within view of Neuschwanstein. "We need a good hotel here, because the ones that exist in the village are aimed merely at tourists," he says. The venture would tap a new market, attracting rich customers who wish to combine business and pleasure.

The trouble is, opponents retort, his "monster hotel" would destroy the scenery that draws tourists to the village of Schwangau in the first place. A leading conservationist has said the Prince's plans amount to an "onslaught on the fairytale world of King Ludwig".

Bavarians are too respectful to say the word "mad" of the sovereign who bankrolled Wagner, commissioned a string of architectural follies and drowned himself in a lake in 1886. To besmirch his legacy, as the Prince is alleged to have done, is still tantamount to high treason.

Prince Max is trying desperately to clear his blackened reputation. He is resigned to erecting the "Golf Academy" on the existing golf course. More importantly, he has agreed to shrink the hotel complex. From the initial 150 rooms, he cut out 25 and resubmitted the plans to the village council. Yet at last month's council meeting, the plans were thrown out again. "We fight on," the Prince vows. He now proposes to rub another 25 rooms out of the blueprint in an attempt to placate his opponents. But that may not do the trick, either, because the row is no longer just about golf.

The loudest protest is coming from the farmer whose land borders the princely dominions. The neighbour is untroubled by the altered view of Ludwig's castle; he is worried about the noise. To be precise, he fears that hotel guests will be so put out by the clanking of cowbells - the farmer's - that they will all come complaining to him. And the last thing a Bavarian farmer wants on his doorstep is whingeing tourists.