Where to stay, where to eat, and what to see in one of the most scenic regions of Germany: The Romantic Road stretches a little over 200 miles from Würzburg to Füssen. Starting from the north and ending at Neuschwanstein Castle and views of the alps is the popular route. For that very reason, this North-to-South path can get congested on the two lane road.
To avoid traffic, we suggest touring in the opposite direction, starting in Füssen.
Fly to …
And spend a night at Louis Hotel to overcome jet lag. While there, enjoy the rooftop terrace (and restaurant) that overlooks the famous 1807 Viktualienmarkt. Then, rent your vehicle of choice and begin your adventure! (Click here to read the travel essay “Bavaria for Lovers” from the January/February 2015 issue.)
Where to Stay
- Hotel Hirsch
Run by the same family for four generations, this art nouveau-style hotel located on the edge of Füssen’s old town combines modern comfort with comfy Bavarian ambience. The roof garden offers a panoramic view of Füssen’s picturesque old town.
- Hotel Fantasia
Budget-friendly art nouveau villa situated right in the heart of town is minutes from the shuttle to the castles, train, and taxi station. Expansive garden offers perfect views of the Alps and High Castle.
Just a few minutes’ walk from the old town, this hotel features good food and an Ayurveda and beauty studio.
Where to Eat
- Altstadthotel Zum Hechten
Regional organic specialties from local recipes of the alpine region, such as breaded pork schnitzel and Swabian roast with crispy onions.
- Herzl am Rathaus
Classic Bavarian delicacies, tap beer, and country breads. Don’t miss the Flammkuchen (similar to pizza).
- Hotel Schlosskrone Coffee House and Pastry Shop Kurcafé
100-year-old coffeehouse, located in the Hotel Schlosskrone old town. Famous for “Sissi-Torte,” cakes, gateaux, and truffles. Try the luncheon all-you-can-eat buffet.
- Medieval Old Town
Füssen’s medieval town center is ideal for strolling, shopping and exploring the winding streets with Gothic gabled roofs, the remains of the old city walls, and Baroque churches.
- The Füssen Heritage Museum (Museum der Stadt Füssen)
Located in the former Benedictine Monastery of St. Mang, this museum has one of the finest European collections of historical lutes and violins.
- Neuschwanstein Castle
Near Füssen, in Schwangau, this fairy-tale castle was built from 1869 to 1886 by King Ludwig II, is said to be the model for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle. Best to book tickets in advance.
- Hohenschwangau Castle
Opposite Neuschwanstein Castle, King Ludwig II’s father built this castle as a summer residence for the royal family. Book ahead and online.
- Boat trips on Lake Forggensee
For the best panoramic views of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles, take a cruise around Lake Forggensee.
Worth a Half-Day Visit: Nördlingen
Located in the center of a gigantic meteorite crater, this is the only town in Germany where visitors can walk completely around its walls and battlements. The late Gothic church St. George has a 295-foot tall bell tower which visitors are welcome to climb.
Worth a Half-Day Visit: Dinkelsbühl
Dating back over 400 years, this picturesque town with its patrician and enchanting semi- timbered houses and magnificent churches make it one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval towns.
ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER
The walled town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is straight out of the late Middle Ages and is one of the most stunning towns on the Romantic Road. Brightly painted half-timbered houses with tall gable roofs line every cobblestone alleyway and square.
Where to Stay
- Hotel Reichs-Küchenmeister
Family-friendly hotel offers garden terrace, spa, wine tavern, and restaurant serving up Franconian and international cuisine.
- Hotel Goldener Hirsch
Many rooms offer spectacular views over the Tauber Valley. Centrally located, making it an ideal place from which to explore Rothenburg.
- Bell Winery and Hotel (Glocke Weingut und Hotel)
Cozy comfortable rooms and a Franconian pub-restaurant, serving home-style cuisine, (don’t miss the fish). Nice regional wine selection.
- St. Jacob’s Church
Famous for its altars, particularly the famous Heilig-Blut-Altar (Holy Blood Altar) by Tilman Riemenschneider.
- Medieval Crime Museum (Kriminalmuseum)
Kids will enjoy the instruments of torture.
- German Christmas Museum (Weinachtmuseum)
Store features new and antique Christmas decorations. Wide range of wood and glass ornaments, music boxes, nutcrackers, wintry and heavenly scenes, and more.
- Night Watchman Tour
Actors, dressed as a medieval night watchmen, lead guided tours (in English) at 8 p.m. every night, March through Christmas, in Market Square. Your watchman will also point out the city’s best bars, including one called Zur Holl (To Hell).
Worth a Half-Day Visit: Wieskirche Church, Steingaden
The famous rococo “Church of the Scourged Saviour” or Wieskirche church was built in the mid 18th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Time your visit to a Sunday morning when the men’s choir sings.
Founded by Roman Emperor Augustus more than 2,000 years ago, this is one of Germany’s oldest cities. It’s economic highpoint came in the 15th and 16th centuries under the trading and banking activities of the Fugger and Welser families.
Where to Stay
- Steigenberger Drei Mohren
500-year-old hotel, one of the most traditional in Bavaria. Located near Schaezlerpalais, a magnificent baroque palace housing numerous art collections).
- Hotel am Rathaus
Combing modern comfort with the best of Augsburg’s historic charm, this hotel is located near majestic town hall and other attractions, restaurants, and bars and cafés.
- Dorint Hotel — An der Kongresshalle
Based on Chicago’s Marina Towers, very sleek, equipped with the most modern amenities
Where to Eat
Popular with tourists and locals alike. Choose between traditional Bavarian and Swabian cuisine. Speatzle, anyone?
- Prinz-Karl Restaurant
Located in a renovated 19th century historic barracks complete with historic cross vaults and cozy fireplace. In summer, head for the beer garden.
- Die Ecke
One of the town’s finest. In olden times, Die Ecke hosted kings and their entourages.
- The Fuggerei and the Fugger City Palace
Founded in 1521, this is the world’s oldest social housing: 67 houses and 140 council flats. The annual rent is 1 Rhenish gulden (the equivalent of $1.31). The attractive inner Ladies’ Court was built in the style of the Italian Renaissance.
- Augsburg Puppenkiste (Puppet Theater)
Displays much-loved marionettes and the history of the theater.
- City Hall and Perlach Tower
Built by Elias Holl from 1615 – 1620, this City Hall is one of the most significant secular Renaissance building north of the Alps. Featuring: magnificent portals, a coffered ceiling, and mural paintings everywhere.
Worth a Half-Day Visit: Bad Mergentheim
Known as a health and spa vacation city, this Romantic Road city has an entire wellness park, flowering spa gardens, and an authentic Castle of the Teutonic Order, which includes a church and museum.
Set in the heart of the Franconian wine region on the River Main, this city is dominated by the Marienberg Fortress and surrounded by vineyards. The Residential Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Monument and there is also a magnificent Cathedral, Chapel of St. Mary and romantic Old Bridge over the River Main (complete with a bar in the center of the bridge).
Where to Stay
- Best Western Premier Hotel Rebstock
Behind a striking Rococo façade are 70 stylish newly refurbished rooms. Home to “Kuno 1408” where Michelin-starred chef Benedikt Faust serves up inventive cuisine based on regional produce.
- Ghotel Hotel & Living Würzburg
Würzburg’s tallest building, a striking 17-story high-rise, houses Würzburg’s newest hotel. The higher floors have breathtaking views.
- Mercure Hotel Würzburg am Mainufer
Part of the Accor brand, the Mercure is just a five-minute walk to the Old Town.
Where to Eat
- Würzburger Ratskeller
Hearty and moderately priced dishes in the Franconian tradition. In warm weather, choose the shady inner courtyard.
- Brauerei-Gasthof Alter Kranen
Classic German dishes as well as (surprise!) some good vegetarian options. Dine in the beer garden and try the regi.
- Restaurant Alte Mainmühle
Tables at this former mill located next to Würzburg’s Old Bridge offer spectacular views of the river Main and the Marienberg Fortress. Don’t miss famous specialty, the “Franconian Wedding Dish” (tender boiled beef with noodles, horseradish sauce and cranberries).
The Residence Palace, built by Balthasar Neumann, Europe’s greatest Baroque era architect in 1720, is the city’s prime attraction, one of the most beautiful castles in Germany. Tiepolo designed the grand staircase with the world’s largest ceiling fresco.
- Röntgen Memorial Hall
In 1895, Würzburg University physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered the X-ray. Admire his laboratory and some of the original lab equipment at Röntgen Memorial Hall. (Free admission.)
This award winning museum showcases an outstanding collection of post-1945 European Concrete Art as well as an historical granary and Impressionist and Expressionist artworks.
My hands are gripped around Jamie’s waist as I ride behind him on the back of a brand-new BMW motorcycle we rented in Munich. For the next five nights we will drive Bavaria’s Romantic Road, a 220-mile scenic route considered a German favorite that very few Americans have heard of, much less seen. Our first stop is the extraordinary Neuschwanstein Castle, on which Disney modeled Sleeping Beauty Castle.
I feel exactly like Sleeping Beauty with Jamie Anthony as my Prince Charming. Two years ago, we met unexpectedly at a blues club in New York City. I was wearing my T-shirt from the Blues Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi, a festival that Jamie had also attended, so he introduced himself. I was smitten with his Southern accent (he’s from Atlanta) plus he was charming, smart, and attractive. Like me, he’d been divorced twice, thought Internet dating was a waste of time, and loved the blues.
Then he told me he loved riding his motorcycle, and I imagined black leather, silver studs, and tattoos, even though I saw none on his arms. On our third date, he invited me to join him on a motorcycle ride promising that if I didn’t like it, we’d turn around. Outfitted in protective helmets, ballistic jackets, and leather gloves, we left Manhattan bound for Bear Mountain State Park, a lovely wooded outpost just north of the northern New York City suburbs. I expected to hate riding on a motorcycle and was sure I’d want him to turn around after a couple of blocks, but it was exhilarating looking up at the skyscrapers from an entirely new perspective and, further north, watching the boats sail along the Hudson. It was also very sensual being tucked in against his body.
Since then, we’ve done some day trips by motorcycle, but never a weeklong trip in which everything we’re taking has to fit into three small cases attached to the bike. What’s even crazier is that this trip, traveling by motorcycle in a foreign country, was my idea. When I first mentioned the idea of this scenic drive by motorcycle, Jamie broke into a smile as wide as a four-lane highway, and that was it.
The Romantic Road route was partially based on an old trade route and on the Roman Via Claudia Augusta. During World War II it was called Germany Travel Path No. 1 and used to transport troops and supplies. In 1950, hoping to attract tourists and change its evil reputation, some clever marketing folks considered changing the name to the Romantic Road for Couples Who Fall in Love, then shortened it to the Romantic Road. And that’s exactly what it is, a region of Germany that has existed unchanged for centuries.
On the first day of our ride, a short trip from Füssen to Schwangau, we pass golden hayfields with round bales of hay glittering in the sun and pillowy hillsides laid out like patchwork quilts in every shade of green from emerald to lime. Wildflowers line the roadside, sunlight streams through groves of trees, and we pass herds of sheep and cows and dairies where we inhale the pungent smell of manure — in this context, a fresh and pure odor.
Schwangau is home to King Ludwig II’s 19th-century castle Neuschwanstein, one of the most photographed castles in the world. Ludwig, who was crowned king when he was just 18, was in love with Richard Wagner and created the castle and every room in it to depict the composer’s operas. Unfortunately, Ludwig’s love not only went unrequited, but Wagner married the wife of a famous music conductor, breaking poor Ludwig’s heart.
Our love is anything but unrequited, whether we’re walking hand in hand down crooked cobblestone lanes beneath the Alps in 12th-century Füssen, or sharing steaming plates of sausages, which seem to be the primary local fare. There’s bratwurst (pork sausage), weisswurst (white steamed veal or pork sausage), blutwurst (blood sausage), wiener (hotdog), and short and plump Regensburger wurst (boiled sausage with a pork filling). Every dish in Bavaria is served with potatoes or egg noodles and, always, sauerkraut. At one meal, I request a vegetable substitute for the potatoes and the waitress seems puzzled as she says, “But you have vegetable: sauerkraut!” Jamie and I squeeze each other’s knees under the table and try not to burst out laughing.
As we ride along each day, one of my favorite things is the sight of an onion-domed church in the distance, meaning we’re about to arrive in a medieval village where we’ll spend the night. It also means we didn’t get lost, which happens occasionally. Because voices can’t be heard above the sound of the engine, when I see a sign for the correct destination ahead, I stroke Jamie’s shoulder as if to say, “Nice job, sweetie, we made it.” Mostly I communicate by pointing as if to say, “look over there to that beautiful field full of sunflowers or fir tree forest or field polka-dotted with sheep,” just in case he didn’t see it. We’ve also made up our own signs. When I make a closed fist it means stop (usually for a photo), and when I make two closed fists, it means stop, take off your helmet, and kiss me.
The hotels we have chosen are not posh, but they are comfortable and each offers something special. (For suggested lodgings and restaurants along the route, see
saturdayeveningpost.com/romantic-road.) In Füssen, we sit on our private balcony overlooking the lapis-lazuli-colored lake and watch the sun sink behind the Alps; in Augsburg, our room has a heart-shaped bathtub; and in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, we squeeze into the tiny elevator and remain locked in an embrace all the way up to our floor.
Each morning begins with a huge breakfast buffet of eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausages, cold cuts, cereals, yogurts, fresh fruits, rolls, muffins, and — my favorite — pretzel bread. Afterward, we wander the town, following cobblestoned alleyways past medieval walls and houses, into museums as beautiful as the art within, and inside Gothic churches with dazzling frescoes.
By midday we are loading our stuff into the bike’s cases and setting off toward our next destination, none more than 50 miles away. Before this trip, I always thought of driving as simply a way of getting from point A to point B, but here the drives are like a reset button. I don’t have a care in the world, and can think about nothing except enjoying the magnificent scenery with my man.
It’s also fascinating to learn the love stories of Germany’s most romantic cities such as Augsburg, the birthplace of Bertholt Brecht, Hans Holbein, and Mozart’s father, Leopold. It was in Augsburg that Leopold’s son Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart fell in love with his first cousin, but he lost interest. The young Mozart next fell in love with Aloysia Weber from Mannheim, but she rejected him. Mozart wrote to his father, “I can only weep. I have far too sensitive a heart,” and then courted Aloysia’s sister, Constanze, whom he married. At their wedding, the bride, the groom, the priest, and the entire congregation wept.
That evening, Jamie calls to me from the shower. I figure he’s left the shampoo on the sink, but no, he wants me to join him. I don’t think I’ve taken a shower with a guy since I was 30, but I eagerly step in, and we embrace under the running water, giggling like kids. For a brief moment I wonder what would happen if we slipped on the tub floor and one of us broke a hip. Later, we lie contentedly on the bed, listening to the church bells toll the hour.
In Germany, love is so often associated with music, especially along the Romantic Road. When Beethoven was 20, he played viola in the concert hall at Bad Mergentheim, a 14th-century village with a medieval castle. One legend has it that he was supposed to leave for Vienna to meet Mozart, but Beethoven missed the opportunity because he fell in love with a local girl. Beethoven was nearly always in love; one was a 16-year-old countess, a pupil of his, to whom he dedicated the Moonlight Sonata.
Sharing the moonlight with Jamie on the Main Bridge in Würzburg feels as romantic as any Beethoven sonata. In the middle of the bridge is a small bar where visitors can buy a glass of wine and stand overlooking the river. There, we meet a historian who tells us about Walther von der Vogelweide, a famous 12th- and 13th-century love poet who wandered from court to court, reciting poems in exchange for food and lodging. In 1230 when Von der Vogelweide died, he was buried in Würzburg, leaving instructions that the birds were to be fed daily at his tomb. But instead of birdfeed, lovesick visitors arrive with fresh flowers to leave on his grave. “It is said that when the flowers wilt, lovesick hearts will heal,” the historian tells us and then adds, “In the winter, they bring flowers that last longer.”
Jamie and I look at each other and smile. He squeezes my hand. How lucky I am that I don’t need to leave flowers at the love poet’s grave. And neither does Jamie.
Editor’s Note: Margie and Jamie were engaged in November in Bali and married December 13, 2014.
Margie Goldsmith’s “Bavaria for Lovers” won a 2015 North American Travel Journalists Association Silver Prize.