Cruising the romantic road of Germany
Germany’s most popular tourist route, the Romantische Straße, stretches nearly 350 kilometers from Würzburg to Füssen. While it follows an old medieval trade route, the Romantic Road, as it is known in English, is relatively young. Created in the 1950s, it was designed to bolster tourism in the area. In fact, the first visitors were friends and families of U.S. soldiers stationed in the area at the end of World War II. Drive the whole route or select just a few stops; the Romantic Road is guaranteed to provide you with many “oohs” and “aahs” as you take in some of the best that Germany has to offer.
Taking the route from north to south, we begin in Würzburg. The center of the Franken wine region, the town has a surprisingly cosmopolitan feel with its many outdoor cafés and wine cellars. The city is home to The Residence, one of the most important Baroque palaces in all of Europe and once home to the powerful prince-bishops. The Residence has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take a stroll across the Alte Mainbrücke, which is the oldest stone bridge spanning the Main River. Originally constructed in 1120 and rebuilt in the 1500s, the bridge provided a connection between the Marienberg Fortress, the vineyards and the town. The Baroque statues, added in 1730, line the pedestrian-only bridge and add to the uniqueness of the structure. Today, Würzburg hosts many festivals, musical events and outdoor markets, making it a popular destination. In the summer months, take a boat tour up to the summer hunting lodge of the prince-bishops at Veitshöchheim.
Bad Mergentheim & Weikersheim
Heading out of Würzburg, you will come across two smaller but distinct towns along the Tauber Valley, Bad Mergentheim and Weikersheim. Bad Mergentheim boasts four thermal springs and is home to Baden Württemberg’s largest spa. For cycling enthusiasts, the 100-kilometer Tauber Valley Cycling Route provides a unique opportunity to experience the area. Cycling maps for all abilities and levels are provided at the local tourist office. If castle viewing is more your style, then you should not miss a trip to Weikersheim. The Weikersheim Palace is elaborately decorated, and the expansive Baroque gardens are considered among the most beautiful in Germany. Some have even compared Weikersheim’s grounds to the gardens at Versailles. During the summer months, many festival and musical events are held at the estate. Looking for a unique dining opportunity? You cannot go wrong with a meal at the Laurentius Restaurant and Hotel. This gourmet restaurant offers a romantic setting with seating in the vaulted wine cellar.
Rothenburg, Dinkels-bühl & Nördlingen
The most popular and not-to-be-missed section of the route takes visitors to the three towns in Germany with intact ancient city walls. Rothenburg, Dinkelsbühl and Nördlingen provide visitors with an up-close view of how villages may have appeared so very long ago. The best-known village on the Romantic Road, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, is a prime example of a walled medieval village. During the Middle Ages, the Market Square was host to events, meetings, markets and even executions. Today, the square gives visitors a glimpse of architecture spanning both Gothic and Renaissance periods. If you happen to be in Market Square at the top of the hour, stop and look up at the famous tower clock with its hourly chimes and animated figures on either side. During the Christmas season, the town boasts an impressive and popular Christmas market.
Lesser known but no less impressive, Dinkelsbühl is still surrounded by medieval walls and towers, while the half-timbered houses from the 15th to 17th centuries provide another vivid example of life in the Middle Ages. Finally, in the Free Imperial City of Nördlingen, make sure to walk along the tops of the old city walls – the best preserved and most complete – and climb the tower of St. George’s Church for panoramic views of the quaint town and countryside.
The route will then lead you to Augsburg, Germany’s third-oldest city and the birthplace of Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s father. There are several noteworthy sites to explore while visiting the city. The town hall, or rathaus, is one of Germany’s most important works of Renaissance architecture dating back to the 17th century. Augsburg is also home to the first social housing project, the Fuggerei. Designed to provide homes for needy citizens, the residential settlement was built in the 16th century by the Fugger family, and the housing project still functions today. The Fuggerei has it own city walls, church and entrance gates.
The Journey Ends in Füssen
When heading to Bavaria’s highest lying town – Füssen – your journey will take you through delightful Bavarian villages such as Landsberg am Lech, with its pretty town center, and Pfaffenwinkel and its UNESCO World Heritage site, the Pilgrimage Church of Wies. Once in Füssen, make sure to explore the pedestrian downtown area with its historic merchant houses painted in pastel hues. The Lech River runs through the center of town, and the Bavarian Alps provide a spectacular backdrop. Füssen is also a good launch point for visiting the fairytale castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau.
Neuschwanstein, the fairytale castle of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria, is instantaneously recognizable. Not only was it the castle flown over in the delightful children’s movie, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” but it also became Disney’s design for Cinderella’s castle. Take a walk on the Marienbrücke, a suspension bridge offering spectacular views of Neuschwanstein. The bridge is older than the castle and named for King Ludwig’s mother. Walk down to the Alpsee and take a delightfully pleasant stroll around the lake, or hike up into the mountains on one of the clearly marked trails for amazing views of the mountains and the castle. Not far away, the Hohenschwangau Castle was in ruins when King Ludwig’s father, Maximillian II, purchased it in the 19th century. He oversaw the rebuilding in the style of the Gothic period, and it was here that King Ludwig spent most of his childhood.
The Romantic Road ends in this region of incredible castles and natural beauty. A fascinating, awe-inspiring look into Germany’s most scenic areas, the route provides hours of touring and fun. Don’t own a car or do not want to drive? No worries. There are many options for touring the area. The Europabus cruises along the route and provides many stopping opportunities. A special train service is also available between the villages of Nördlingen, Dinkelsbühl and Feuchtwangen. Visit www.romantic-road.com for information and options. nto Germany’s most scenic areas, the route provides hours of touring and fun.”