Take the scenic route on the Romantic Road
While a straight line is the shortest connection between any two points, the Romantic Road is undoubtedly the most attractive connection between more than two dozen Bavarian ones. Coined in the 1950s to describe the 350 kilometers (261 miles) of highway in southern Germany between Würzburg and Füssen, and originally known as the “Romantic Road for Couples in Love”, the oldest holiday route in Germany has linked the river Main’s wine country with the foothills of the Bavarian Alps since the beginning of the 19th century.
Formerly a trade route during the Middle Ages, Germany’s Romantic Road still retains much of its old world charm. The road winds through forgotten patches of countryside like pearls on a necklace – connecting walled towns and picturesque villages. Drive alongside beautiful vineyards, clear glass-like waters, and rolling hills, until you reach the majestic rolling hills in the shadow of the Bavarian Alps. Travelers enter many towns through an arched gateway complete with guard towers and cobblestone streets. Inside you’ll find awe-inspiring gothic cathedrals, half-timbered fachwerk houses, beautiful historic hotels and often a medieval festival or fair.
• Starting Point: Würzburg, 75 miles southeast of Frankfurt
• End Point: Füssen (Neuschwanstein Castle), 82 miles southwest of Munich
Highlights along the Romantic Road
Würzburg: Located in the heart of the Franken wine growing region, Würzburg is famous for its exceptional wines and gourmet restaurants, colorful wine festivals, and charming vineyards. The architectural gem of Würzburg is the Residenz Palace, considered one of the three most beautiful castles in Europe (after Vienna’s Schoenbrunn and Versailles in Paris). Take a tour and marvel at Tiepolo’s ceiling frescos, the Grand Staircase, romantic gardens, and end the day in the wine tasting cellar. English guided tours to the Würzburg Residenz take place daily at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The gardens are free to the public.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber: Heralded as the best preserved medieval town in Germany, Rothenburg ob der Tauber (red fortress above the Tauber) and its fortified city center are picture-perfect. Walk atop the medieval wall that encircles the old city center, or climb the narrow staircase of the historical Town Hall for a spectacular view of the city and beyond. It’s Christmas all year long in Rothenburg ob der Tauber! Käthe Wohlfart Christmas Village brings all the sights and sounds of Christmas together in one place. Don’t forget your military ID to receive a 10 percent discount (or Rick Steves Travel Guide for an additional 10 percent off). VAT forms are also accepted. Visit the German Christmas Museum to ogle over the ornaments and exhibits from the 19th and 20th century, Christmas towers and more.
There is something going on in Rothenburg ob der Tauber year round. If you’re going to visit anyway, combine it with the Historical Shepherds Dance in April, the Master Draught Play and Parade (June), the Wine Festival (August) or the Imperial City Festival in September.
Dinkelsbühl: The old town of Dinkelsbühl boasts 16 fortified medieval towers, several authentic city gates, and an amazingly intact ring wall. Take a tour through the historical town with the night watchman, who is on patrol in the illuminated city center at night—free of charge at 9.00 pm daily from St. George’s Minster (Easter to October).
Augsburg: Encounter the legacy of the Romans and the wealthy traders from the Middle Ages. Arguably the second oldest city after Trier, Augsburg’s 2000 year old past comes to life in the historical city center with its baroque town houses, splendid boulevards, and traditional restaurants.
Pfaffenwinkel: This part of Bavaria (called “Pastor’s Corner”) is famous for its churches and pristine landscapes. A must-see pilgrimage: the Wieskirche (White Church in the Meadow) in Steingaden. Set in a town lost deep within the Bavarian countryside, the magnificent 18th century rococo masterpiece, practically in the middle of nowhere, invokes a sense of secluded romance.
Füssen: The fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein completes the allure for tourists. Neuschwanstein is a 19th-century Gothic Revival palace set on a rugged hill above the village of Hohenschwangau. Affectionately known by many as Cinderella’s Castle, Neuschwanstein offers much more than a dramatic backdrop. It was also constructed with many appreciated non-medieval amenities such as flush toilets and hot and cold running water.
A few tips for visiting Neuschwanstein: The castle is very crowded in summer (6,000 visitors a day); the best time to visit is spring or fall. The walk up to Neuschwanstein is not stroller friendly; however, transportation is available for a small fee. For the best panoramic pictures, take a walk up to Mary’s bridge (Marienbrücke), which crosses a spectacular waterfall and gives you a breathtaking view of the castle and the plains beyond. No photographing or filming is allowed inside.
The Romantic Road Tourist Association offers daytrips from Frankfurt (to Wurzburg and Rothenurg ob der Tauber) and from Munich (to Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Castles) as well as a shopping excursion to the Romantic Road Outlet Stores from Frankfurt. For more information on the Romantic Road and the day trips above, go to www.romantischestrasse.de