Beloved by Germans as one of their favourite holiday routes, the Romantic Road starts by the River Main at the Prince-Bishopric fortress town of Wurzburg. Picking its way through rural backwaters of stunning beauty, it seeks out some of Germany’s least-famous but most magnificent castles, palaces, old towns and topographical curiosities; crosses the Danube at Donauworth, and follows the bubbling torrent of the alpine Lech River all the way to King Ludwig II’s 19th century fairytale extravaganzas of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. Finally, it crosses the Alps in a flourish of jagged peaks to the Austrian Tyrolean city of Innsbruck. It’s a route that is archetypically German, a visual poem of misty, chivalrous romance.
Across Francony, Swabia and western Bavaria you pass through the topography of feudalism in all its degrees. Commanding each valley, river junction, or broad plain, a huge castle-palace proclaims the regional duke of yore; a cathedral lends him spiritual authority; in nearby towns, lesser towers and imposing manors announce his fiefs; and his borders are marked and guarded by gigantic fortresses. In each city, town and village, this hierarchy is repeated on a half-timbered domestic scale of wonderful subtlety, their buildings and services ranked according to the medieval or Renaissance priorities when they were built.
The discovery makes the journey entrancing. The system may repeat
itself, but even within short, distances, the landscapes and styles change completely. Vagaries of history mean you encounter Baroque, medieval, Renaissance and Gothic styles at random, just as you cross ranges of hills, river gorges, and meadow plains before the journey’s dramatic finale among Alpine peaks. Tranquil, vivacious, and tempestuous by turn, the Romantic Road generates both cause and effect.
By bike or car
WHEN TO GO:
TIME IT TAKES:
12-14 days (by bike, 576 km/360 mi)
Making the rounds with the night watchman in the walled Gothic town of Rothenburg.
The oddity of Nordlingen, an ancient town with the only completely preserved medieval walls in Germany, sitting in the middle of a huge, 15- million year old meteorite crater.
The medieval city centre of Landsberg, set romantically in the wild river bed of the Lech.
The magnificent mountain landscapes on the Austrian side, near Imst.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
if you take your time, this journey can be just as romantic by car