Germany’s rolling rivers: The tranquil Tauber

Germany’s rolling rivers: The tranquil Tauber

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

We continue to hang around at home, dreaming of the time when travel’s a go again. We don’t know when, but that glorious day will come, and as you fish around for a theme for your next day trip, let the course of a river be your guide. Today we’re exploring the attractions along the Tauber River.

Portrait of a river: The Tauber River rises in a town in the district of Schwäbisch Hall and flows through the German states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria along an 82-mile course before pouring into the Main River in Wertheim am Main.  The towns of note through which it passes include Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Creglingen, Weikersheim, Bad Mergentheim, Königshofen and Tauberbischofsheim— all of which make up part of the tourist route known as the Romantic Road. It’s thought that the Tauber derives its name from the Celtic word for water.

Start at the source: The source of the river is found in the small town of Rot am See, and for a short stretch it forms the border between Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg before making its way 15 miles northeast to reach our first town of real touristic interest, which is a beauty indeed.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber: This exquisitely preserved medieval gem of half-timbered houses and cobbled lanes is the epitome of German quaintness and a destination in its own right.  You can’t help but feel transported back in time as you stroll atop the stone walls erected to protect the town from invaders centuries back and soak up the views of the red-tiled roofs, steeples and spires.

There’s much to see here, but let’s stay focused on the Tauber.  For a view of the valley into which you will soon descend, stroll to the end of the Burggarten. To access the river, pass through the Spital Gate, which leads to the Wildbad, a stately spa facility completed in 1903. Head downriver to the Tauber Bridge, a double-arched beauty. The curious construction is due to the fact that the first bridge built proved to be too short, so a second one was built directly above it. A toll bridge in the Middle Ages, the duties gathered from the traders who crossed it contributed to the town’s prosperity. During World War II, the bridge was destroyed, and post-war, it was rebuilt in its original style.

If you and your friends or family are the biking type, here you can pick up the Tauber Valley Cycle Path, a route through an area marketed as the Liebliches Taubertal, or Lovely Tauber Valley, and with good reason. The 62-mile track wends past meadow, hill and forest before ending where the Tauber means the Main. As its route is overwhelmingly flat, it’s a fine option for families with younger children.

As we hike or bike north along the river, we find ourselves traversing the Mühlenweg, a stretch known for its high density of mills. Many have been converted to guest houses, while others are in private hands. Take note of the beguiling Toppler Castle, a charming whitewashed house perched atop a stone pedestal. Before reaching Detwang, you’ll pass the Unter den Linden beer garden— a serene setting in which to enjoy a bite and a brew.

Detwang: A quick detour into the Church of St. Peter and Paul allows you to admire an amazing altar. The wooden carving of the Crucifixion dates back to the early 1500s and is attributed to Tilman Riemenschneider, a carver and sculptor considered one of the leading artists of the late Gothic period in Germany. Entering the church costs just a couple euros in admission fees.

Creglingen: A pause in this bucolic town reveals treasures including another Riemenschneider altar in the Lord’s Church; the Thimble Museum, where 3000 thimbles and sewing implements are on display; a Jewish Museum shedding light of the life of two Jewish communities in the Tauber valley from the 17th century until 1939 and the Lindleturm Museum, a tower in which the rooms and furnishings of its last resident remain remarkably intact. The moated Castle Waldmannshofen houses an unexpected sight: a Fire Brigade Museum, offering a look at fire-fighting technology over the last 200 years, firemen’s helmets and fire-fighting equipment.

Weikersheim: Just six miles west of Creglingen, we find ourselves in a town graced with a stunning castle and gardens. Schloss Weikersheim epitomizes the Renaissance ideal of a country estate and is considered a bit of an off-the-radar gem. Delights of its interior include massive chandeliers, a towering fireplace and sculpted animal murals in the Knight’s Hall. The Elephant of Weikersheim is a pachyderm you’ve never seen the likes of before. You can tour the inside only as part of a guided tour, and these are offered in German only, but you’ll be handed a guidebook that allows you to follow along.  

Bad Mergentheim: This stylish spa town has plenty to fill several hours of an afternoon. Bad Mergentheim was home to the headquarters of the Teutonic Order from 1526 until 1809, when the order was dissolved upon Napoleon’s orders. In 1826, a shepherd discovered mineral springs in the vicinity, and the town soon began catering to those who came to cure their ills. Highlights of the sprawling Mergentheim Palace include its English landscape gardens and a church with a sumptuous Rococo interior and ceiling frescoes. The palace also houses the Deutschordensmuseum (Museum of the Teutonic Order). The town’s Wildpark keeps 70 wild and wonderful species of animals native to Europe happy in largely natural surroundings and the Kurpark, with its fountains and footbridges, is a wonderful place for a leisurely stroll.

Lauda-Königshofen: This town made up of 12 municipalities is the place wine drinkers have been waiting for. Stop and enjoy a drop of Baden wine, sold in the classic round Bocksbeutel bottle or explore the old town of Lauda, which brims with quaint, centuries-old homes.  

Tauberbischofsheim: A brief stop here reveals a tidy Old Town center overlooking a spacious market square. The Kurmainzisches Schloss, more museum than castle, offers a collection of artifacts testifying to the continuous settlement of the Taubertal Valley, along with weapons, clocks, furniture and other items.

Wertheim am Main:  Some 20 twisting and turning miles later, both we and the Tauber reach our goal, the Main River. While the town is best known these days for its Wertheim Village outlet stores, the massive mall isn’t the only diversion. For a stretch of the legs, hike up to the castle ruins upon the hill, or find your happy place amongst the cafes in the colorful, lively market square, where you’re sure to find just the right beverage with which to toast the conclusion of a day filled with history, nature and gracious beauty.

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