Romantic Road & Neckar Valley

 

A Printable, Downloadable, PDF version of this itinerary is available for purchase.  Includes Places to Stay in proximity.

ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:

The Romantic Road (or Romantische Strasse) is one of Germany’s most famous tourist routes-a road that travels between the towns of Würzburg in Franconia and Füssen in the Bavarian Alps. Every bend along the way between Würzburg and Rothenburg is spectacular. However, the beauty of the scenery wanes after leaving Rothenburg, so this itinerary deviates from the traditional route. Rather than traveling the entire 340-kilometer stretch of the Romantic Road, this itinerary samples the northern highlights of Germany’s most traveled route and then detours west at Rothenberg to incorporate the attractive city of Schwäbisch Hall and the picturesque university city of Heidelberg. (The southernmost portion of the Romantic Road is included in the Bavarian itinerary.)

Suggested Pacing: A full day’s sightseeing takes you from Würzburg to Rothenburg-we suggest an early start after spending the night in one of our recommended hotels in the area (Mainbernheim, Amorbach, Volkach, or Iphofen). Stay two nights in Rothenburg, taking an afternoon drive to Dinkelsbühl. Make an early-morning start from Rothenburg to arrive at Schloss Guttenberg in time for the 3 pm eagles’ flight before driving on to Heidelberg (if you are not a fast-paced traveler, you could overnight in Friedrichsruhe en route). One night in Heidelberg is ample, yet if your pace is leisurely, you might opt for two.

The 12th-century diplomat, Gottfried von Viterbo, described Würzburg as “lovely, like a rose set in deep-green foliage-sculpted into the valley like an earthly paradise.” It no longer seems like a paradise but it certainly is a lovely city with two outstanding sightseeing venues: the Episcopal princes’ Residenz and the Marienberg Fortress. Try to secure a parking place in the vast forecourt of the well-signposted *Residenz, one of the finest Baroquepalaces in Europe, constructed between 1720 and 1744. It was built as the very grandest of homes for the prince-bishop who decided that his home in the nearby Marienberg Fortress simply wasn’t grand enough. Admire its architecture from the landscaped gardens and peep into the colorful Hofkirche (to the right near the garden) before entering the palace. If your arrival does not coincide with a tour in English, purchase the English guidebook so that you can follow along. Climb the magnificent grand staircase (it appeared on the DM 50 bill) and admire the splendid oval Imperial Hall with its magnificent frescoes, where several characters have slipped out of the frescoes to become statues. From here you join an escorted tour of the Imperial Apartments, following along in your English guidebook as you move from one lavishly decorated room to another. (Tour in English 11 am and 2 pm; open 9 am-5 pm, April to September; 10 am-4 pm, October to March; closed Mondays.)

Vineyards climb up to the Festung Marienberg (Marienberg Fortress), overlooking the town from the other bank of the River Main. The fortress has evolved over the years and now contains the Mainnfränkisches Museum of regional art and folklore including some old winemaking implements. The most beloved exhibits are the sculptures of Tilman Riemenschneider who lived in Würzburg from 1483 to 1531-you will see another of his masterpieces later in the day. (9 am-5 pm, April to October; 10 am-4 pm, November to March, closed Mondays.)

Leave Würzburg on the autobahn traveling south towards Stuttgart (allow four hours for the 100-kilometer journey from Würzburg to Rothenburg). Exit at Tauberbischofsheim and travel 2 kilometers to this appealing, small medieval town. The local history museum in the castle (Schloss) is well-signposted. (2:30-4:30 pm, Easter to October, closed Mondays.)

Follow the Tauber river valley and the Romantic Road for the short drive to Bad Mergentheim. The old order of the Teutonic Knights left Prussia to reside here in the castle in 1525, and remained until they were disbanded in 1809. Their Deutschordensschloss now houses a museum that traces the knights’ history from the battles of the Crusades to becoming a charitable institution (entrance under the archway). (10 am-5 pm, closed Mondays.)

Detour into the village of Weikersheim. From the ample parking lot it’s just a few steps to the attractive Marktplatz and the castle. The Dorfmuseum(on the market place) is well-worth the entrance fee. On the first floor are several rooms set up to show how the locals lived in years gone by with displays of country-simple antiques, among them some lovely examples of painted beds, chests, and cupboards. The second floor is full of farm implements and the floor under the eaves covers winemaking in the area. (9 am-6 pm, April to October; 10 am-noon and 2-4 pm November to March.) The adjacent 18th-century Schloss Weikersheim is filled with its original furniture, tapestries, porcelain, and gloomy family portraits. Once you are on the hour-long tour (German only), it’s hard to escape as you are locked into each floor of the castle as you enter it. Skip the tour, and go instead to admire the statues in the formal garden and the view of the Tauber valley. (9 am-6 pm, April to October; 10 am-noon and 2-4 pm, November to March.)

Your road follows the Tauber as it weaves south, passing under the clock-tower building in Schaffersheim and narrowing as it goes down the main street of Rottingen. Leave the Romantic Road to travel through the narrow streets of Creglingen, a mixture of old and new houses, and follow signposts in the village for Herrgottskirche, a squat little church on the edge of town. Your entrance ticket includes a pompous English brochure, which requires detailed study to glean useful information. Of the five altars in the church, the masterpiece, the Assumption of Mary (1505-1510) by Tilman Riemenschneider, is the reason for visiting. Study the different expressions on the faces of the disciples surrounding Mary. On the altar base Riemenschneider carved himself as the second of the three scribes. (8 am-6 pm, April to October.) Across the road you find a little Fingerhut, thimble museum. (8 am-6 pm, April to October.)

Leaving the church, the country road leads you up a narrow valley, across peaceful farmland, and through quiet rural villages to enter through the old city gates into Rothenburg. This is truly one of Europe’s most enchanting towns (you can drive and park your car within the walls only if you are staying at a hotel-they provide you with a parking permit). Walking down the cobblestoned streets of Rothenburg is rather like taking a stroll through an open-air museum: there is history in every stone.

Rothenburg’s old houses, towers, and gateways that have withstood the ravages of the centuries are there for you to explore. Tourists throng the streets, but somehow the town has the ability to absorb them and not let their numbers spoil its special magic. Being such a popular tourist destination, Rothenburg has a rich choice of places to stay: our selections are covered in the Hotel Descriptions section.

Rothenburg has narrowly escaped destruction on several occasions. In 1945, the Allies ordered Rothenburg destroyed as part of the war reprisals but an American general, remembering the picture of Rothenburg that hung on his mother’s wall, tried to spare the town. His efforts were successful and although Rothenburg was somewhat damaged, the town remained intact. During the Thirty Years’ War, General Tilly’s army laid siege to the town and, despite spirited resistance, breached the walls. Tilly demanded that the town be destroyed and its councilors put to death. He assembled the town councilors to pass sentence on the town and was offered a drink from the town’s ceremonial tankard filled with 3½ liters of the best Franconian wine. After having drunk and passed the cup among his subordinates, Tilly then, with a touch of humor, offered to spare the town and the lives of the councilors if one of its representatives could empty the tankard in one go. Nusch, a former mayor, who seems to have been good at drinking, agreed to try. He succeeded and saved the town. Apparently he slept for three days after the feat. Several times a day (11 am, noon, 1 pm, 2 pm, 3 pm, 6 pm, 7 pm, 8 pm, 9 pm) in the marketplace the doors on either side of the clock open and the figures of Tilly and Nusch reenact the historic drinking feat.

For an entertaining and informative insight into the history of the town join, the nightwatchman on his nightly rounds. (April to end of December, meet under the clocktower in the market square.) The English tour begins after the 8 pm drinking feat and it arrives back at the square just in time for the 9 pm event. (The German tour departs at 9:30 pm.)

The brochure Rothenburg Worth Seeing, Worth Knowing is carried by all hotels and the tourist office-with this and map in hand set off to explore. Be sure to include a section of the city walls: climb the stairs to the walkway and follow the covered ramparts, which almost encircle the town (the stones with names are placed in honor of people from around the world who have donated money for the walls’ restoration). If you have in tow adolescents whose delights gravitate toward the gruesome, be sure to include a stop at the Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum (Museum of Medieval Justice). Here you will find various instruments of torture such as the headpiece for women who gossiped too much and the dunking chair for bakers who did not make their loaves the correct size. (9 am-6 pm, April to October; 2-4 pm, November to March.) The Reichsstadt Museum in the Dominican Convent offers an English sheet that guides you through rooms full of furniture (including the convent kitchen and chemist’s shop), past lots of paintings of Rothenburg, and encourages you to find the Meistertrunk (Kürfurstenhumpen), the cup that is claimed to be the one used at the drinking feat. (10 am-5 pm, April to October.)    Wander down Herrengasse, where the merchants and patricians lived in their elegant mansions, through the old gate with its little after-curfew entrance, and glance back to see the scary mask mouth where defenders of the town poured hot tar down on their attackers. The pretty castle garden offers lovely countryside views. Rothenburg has many lovely shops and boutiques, one of the most enchanting being Kathe Wohlfahrt’s Christkindlmarkt. Claiming to offer the world’s largest selection of Christmas items, a tiny storefront near the market square opens up to a vast fairyland of decorated Christmas trees and animated Stieff animals. The town’s culinary specialty is Schneeballen, a dessert looking like snowballs, made up of layers of thin strips of pastry rolled up, deep-fried, and then dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

Consider escaping the daytime crowds that flock to Rothenburg by taking a half-day outing just a little farther down the Romantic Road to Dinkelsbühl. En route is Feuchtwangen, a small town whose market square is referred to as “Franconia’s Festival Hall.” Of interest are the Romanesque Cloisters and the Heimatmuseum (Franconian Folklore Museum), which traces furnishing styles through the ages from country farms to Baroqueand Biedermeier.

South of Feuchtwangen is the historic, old town of Dinkelsbühl, a town that prospered in the 15th and 16th centuries at the junction of trade routes. Its narrow streets filled with historic houses lie behind the walls with their towers and four gateways. The most handsome houses are found on the main street, Dr Martin Luther Strasse, particularly the Deutsches Haus with its overhanging balconies. The Heimatmuseum (Folklore Museum) in the Spitalhof traces the town’s history with furniture, kitchen utensils, torture instruments, and a portrait of King Adolphus of Sweden. The town’s siege by Adolphus’s army is reenacted every year in mid-July to commemorate the town’s salvation by the village’s brave children in the Thirty Years’ War.

With sightseeing it will take you a full day to follow our route from Rothenburg to Heidelberg. Get a fast start on the day by taking the autobahn (about an hour’s drive) to Schwäbisch Hall, a town that stands out by the fact that it is not very heavily visited by tourists. Built on a steep hillside sloping down to the River Kocher, the town contains many well-preserved medieval houses. The Marktplatz is one of the prettiest in Germany and always teeming with activity-a real town center with women carefully selecting their produce for the evening meal from small stalls in the square (market days Saturday and Wednesday) and children neatly dressed in uniforms chatting gaily on their way to school. The monumental Fischbrunen fountain with its statues of Samson, St. Michael, and St. George sits at the base of the 53 steps that lead up to St. Michael’s Church. A statue of the archangel is found in the church’s porch. Inside the church admire the high altar with its painted and sculpted scenes by unknown Dutch artists. Opposite the church sits the Rathaus (town hall), an elegant, baroque-style building. Follow the cobbles down to Obere and Untere Herrengasse with their fine, half-timbered houses.

Leave on the 14 in the direction of Stuttgart, then after 6 kilometers turn right for Waldenburg. A 12-kilometer drive through pretty countryside brings you to the town, which you enter along the defense wall with a sheer drop on either side. Meander beneath the castle ramparts down to the plain. Another 12-kilometer drive brings you to Neuenstein where, amidst the town’s narrow streets, you find Schloss Neuenstein, which we were unable to tour because the owner’s daughter was getting married that day. (9-11 am and 1:30-5 pm, mid-March to mid-November, closed Mondays.)

Now we drive on to Öhringen (6 kilometers), an industrial, workaday town, Neuenstadt (13 kilometers, follow signposts for the autobahn then Neuenstadt), and Bad Friedrichsal (8 kilometers). Cross the River Kocher and turn left to Bad Wimpfen. Leave the broad river valley and climb up to park near the town walls. Walk to the Marktplatz (it’s a little town so you will not get lost) and obtain a town map from the tourist office in the Rathaus (town hall). Walk beside the town hall to the Blauer Turm (blue tower), whose turreted top was the home to the nightwatchman in years gone by. It is not worth the entrance fee to climb the tower (more dramatic towers await). Continuing along the wall, you have a panoramic view of the valley from the viewpoint adjacent to the Kaiserpfalz, which now houses the town’s museum with its displays of Roman remains. (10 am-noon and 2-4 pm, April to mid-October, Wednesdays to Mondays.) On to the Roter Turm (red tower) where you can climb a small section of wall before continuing through the little cobbled streets and looping back to the market place. Leaving the town, the road zigzags down to the broad river valley, weaving through the village of Hensheim towards Gudshem. Do not turn over the river to Gudshem, but left to Schloss Guttenberg, which you see perched atop the hillside in front of you.

Schloss Guttenberg is particularly fun to visit because not only does it have an interesting museum (displays on three floors of the tower and the opportunity to walk along the ramparts and climb the tower), but it also has the Deutsche Greifenwarte Claus Fentzloff (German Raptor Research Center). The aviary has some magnificent eagles, vultures, and owls from around the world. Try to time your arrival to coincide with the 3 pm flight demonstration. Claus Fentzloff, his wife Bettina, and their assistants demonstrate eagles and vultures skimming just over your head across the ramparts, then swooping beyond the castle walls to ride the updrafts. The explanation is in German but if you indicate to Claus that you do not understand German, he also offers a short explanation in English. (9 am-6 pm, March to November, raptor flight demonstration     11 am and 3 pm.)

Continuing along the quiet river road, you will pass the Schloss Hornburg on the opposite bank. Cross the river onto the 37 (signposted Heidelberg) and Schloss Zwinger comes into view.

For another castle experience deviate into Hirschhorn and visit Schloss Hirschhorn where all of the intact building now comprises a castle hotel. There are lovely views of the Neckar river valley from the hotel’s terrace. Three little castles decorate the skyline of Neckar Steinach and from here a few more river bends bring you to Heidelberg.

Heidelberg receives an overrated review in most guidebooks-there are just too many tourists. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the crowds make this a particularly dynamic city (there are lots of young people). Surprisingly, it was the romantic operetta, The Student Prince, that put Heidelberg on the tourist map. Unlike so many less fortunate German cities, Heidelberg has been spared the ravages of recent wars. The streets of its old town are a maze of cozy restaurants and lively student taverns-we enjoyed our visits to Schnookeloch (Haspelgasse 8) and Roter Ochsen (Hauptstrasse 215). Above the town looms the ruin of its picture-postcard, pink-sandstone castle: you can walk up to the castle, but it is easier and more fun to take the Bergbahn (mountain railway) from the Kornmarkt. The Heidelberg Schloss (castle) is now mostly a ruin, but still great fun to explore, and offers spectacular views of the town and the river from the terrace. The Ottheinrichsbau (1559) with its decorative façade is a particularly lovely building. Beneath the Ottheinrichsbau lies the Deutsches Apotheken Museum (Apothecary Museum), tracing the history of pharmacy and displaying balances and herbal boxes. (10 am-5 pm, daily.) The best views of the castle and the town are from the Philosophenweg (Philosophers’ Walk) on the northern bank of the Neckar river. Cross the Alte Brucke or Old Bridge spanning the Neckar-the Philosophers’ Walk is clearly indicated by signs (lit at night).

City life centers on the pedestrian Hauptstrasse, where you find the town’s most impressive building, the 16th-century Hotel Zum Ritter St. Georg.

Enjoy your sightseeing in the old-world city of Heidelberg, then when it is time to continue your journey, you have many convenient options: you can easily take the autobahn south to the Black Forest or north to the Rhine and Mosel; or, if your holidays must end, it is only an hour and a half’s drive to the Frankfurt airport.

 

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