Medieval Countryside, Restorative Wines, and a Gracious Inn
The Romantic Road (Romantische Strasse), stretching for 180 miles from Wurzburg southward to Fitssen, on the border with Austria, is more aptly named for the dozens of medieval towns, villages, and castles that line its way than for the scenery in between.
Pity the people on the jam-packed tour buses who see it fleetingly in a day. They’ve missed the essence of what makes this road trip unique— the handful of towns forming a romantic chain of pearls must be appreciated slowly. Before you even set off, a visit to Wurzburg and its glorious Baroque palace, the Residenz, sets the tone for the rest of your trip.
Created when great wealth came together with the genius of architect Balthasar Neumann, the Residenz was commissioned in 1720 by the powerful and pleasure-loving prince-bishops who would make this their home and who apparently saw little conflict between religious service and flagrant ostentation. As you enter the Residenz, a monumental vaulted staircase, the largest in the country, is a not so subtle reminder that you are in one of Europe’s most sumptuous buildings.
To gild the lily, Giovanni Tiepolo was called in from Venice to cover the staircase ceilings—and others—with his colorful frescoes. The artist outdid himself in the already elaborate Throne Room, a profusion of delicate stucco and grandiose architecture enhanced further by his work, creating a space that is airy, opulent, and magical.
If your head is swimming, restore yourself with a sampling of the local white wines in the cozy tavern in the cellar of the Residenz, then move along to Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Red Castle on the Tauber), which is in love with its own image as the best-preserved medieval town in Europe. A tourist trap, yes, but a gorgeous one, with flowers spilling from window- boxes. Leaning half-timbered houses, cobblestone alleyways, city walls more than a mile long, and a 13th-century Rathaus.
The beauty, history, and charm of Rothenburg are echoed in the world-renowned Hotel Eisenhut—you may never want to leave the front lobby, where remnants of a 12th-century chapel can be found. The inn is maintained by the great-grandson of the original owner who first offered rooms to travelers in 1876, joining four 16th-century patrician homes on the ancient marketplace.
The three- story, galleried dining hall is one of the best tickets in town—at least until the warm weather arrives and everyone heads out to the hotel’s flagstone terrace on the Tauber River. It’s just the place to stay on the Romantic Road, and many call it the best boutique hotel in Germany.
The next day head to Dinkelsbtihl, a less touristy version of Rothenburg. Be in Nordlingen in time to hear its town crier from high in the church tower, and visit Germany’s best example of rococo architecture, the gemlike Wieskirche, which stands alone in its own alpine meadow. Begin and end your experience with a bang, touring Mad King Ludwigs two royal castles, Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein, which cap the southern end of the Romantic Road.