Could there possibly anything more romantic than following a road which ends at the spot where the greatest of all Germany’s romantics, King Ludwig II, chose to build the closest thing to a fairy tale castle that the world has ever seen?
Almost certainly not, especially when you consider that the entire 350 km or 217 mile length of the Romantic Road (German: Romantische Straße), from Würzburg to Füssen, meanders through the very same idyllic villages and landscapes which gave rise to Germany’s 18th-century Romantic movement. Many of Germany’s poetic, operatic, and fine arts masterpieces owe their existence to the inspiration of the Romantic Road!
Along the way you’ll join the Romantische Straße’s other followers in feasting your senses on red geraniums bursting forth from village window boxes, and hilltop fortresses and castles from which Teutonic knights rode off to war. Spend sunny afternoons exploring immaculately-preserved medieval town squares with ancient Town Halls and soaring Gothic church spires, and sipping wine so heady that it must be what Heinrich Heine drank when writing his Buch der Lieder! ;-)
The Romantic Road heads south from Würzburg, slowly descending through hillside vineyards and woodlands into the Tauber River Valley. At Bad Mergentheim it leads to the moated castle the Knights of the Teutonic Order received from the Royal House of Hohenlohe in 1219.
Eighteen of the Knights’ Grand Masters used the castle as their primary residence for nearly three hundred years, beginning in 1525. A young Ludwig von Beethoven performed regularly in the castle, and was greatly impressed with its spiral staircase!
Just 13 km or 8 miles east of Bad Mergentheim is the town of Weikersheim, the ancestral seat of the counts of Hohenlohe. Here Count Wolfgang II built his magnificent 16th-century Baroque moated castle, complete with a Knight’s Hall sporting 30-foot ceilings. The castle also has a laboratory in which the Count practiced alchemy (presumably so he could turn stones into gold and pay for his palace!).
The next leg of the Romantic Road will lead you into the Frankenhöhe Nature Park and the impossibly quaint fortified town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Suffice to say that the 11,000 residents of Rothenburg make a comfortable living from the 2.5 million annual visitors who arrive here after falling under the spell of the Romantic Road!
With a history which includes being saved from destruction after the Thirty Years’ War by a Lord Mayor who drank 3.5 liters on wine in one sitting, Rothenburg will leave you begging for more — Romantic Road, that is! You’ll find it at Augsburg, where you can explore everything from the traces left behind when the Romans left to the house in which the brilliant (but hardly Romantic) playwright Bertolt Brecht was born. Stop for a drink in the shade of the Maximilianstraße, as noble a boulevard as there is in Germany!
As you continue south toward King Ludwig’s Fantasyland, you’ll pass through Landsberg am Lech, where the foothills of the German Alps begin. From here until Füssen, the air will grow cooler and more heavily laced with the fragrance of wood smoke from hillside farmhouses and the spruces of the Alpine forests. You may have to stop and make way for a herd of goats or cattle with tinkling bells, but that will simply make everything more perfect!
When you pass the waters of the Bannwaldsee and the village of Mühlberg (a district of Neustadt an der Waldnaab), look ahead to your left. If the light is right, you’ll swear you’re having a vision of heaven. King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein Castle is often swathed in clouds on its hilltop perch, as if it were not of this world. And that is, is it not, is the entire meaning of Romance? :-)