This is Germany! – Four days of hiking on the Romantic Road

20201024 Markelsheim_Weikersheim N P1840176

The “Romantic Road” sounds familiar in German, but few Germans know what and where it is. And certainly those down-to-earth Germans have not spent much time walking (or driving, or hiking) on the Romantic Road.

Autumn leaves and Franconian wine were the highlights of this trip

Actually, the term does not refer to your relationship status, but to a 460 km themed holiday route between Würzburg and Füssen in Southern Germany. City officials developed it in the 1950s in order to make the region popular with foreign tourists and bring some much-needed foreign currency into the war-torn German economy. In the 1970s, the route became especially popular in Japan and today a visit to Rothenburg ob der Tauber is for Japanese an indispensable feature of a trip to Germany. Many of our Japanese friends react quite puzzled on learning that we have never been there.

But in 2020 we went about to change that. While the original route was intended for cars and busses, a hiking route along the same “romantic” places has been developed since 2006. During four days in autumn, we walked a part of it, roughly 90 km from Tauberbischofsheim near Würzburg to the famous mediaeval town, Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Day 1 Tauberbischofsheim to Lauda, 15 km

20201023 Tauberbischofsheim Marktplatz P1840035

Tauberbischofsheim, our starting point for hiking the Romantic Road, lives up to the German cliché: Geraniums in flower boxes in front of the windows, cobbled lanes and small votive altars high on the walls of some houses. Behind the town, our hiking path leads up on some hills and into the woods. You could almost forget that the area is densely populated, but for the faint rumbling of the federal highway. As it is autumn, apples and pears are ripe and we pick up some windfall over the day.

In the afternoon it starts raining and to make matters worse the route is closed at some point due to forest operations. This means a boring detour and more kilometres added to the already long next day.

Before we finally check into our pension we take a brief glimpse at Germany’s biggest overshot mill wheel in Oberlauda. In spite of its 8 meters in diameter, it looks disappointingly small and unspectacular (particularly since the flume bringing water from above is missing). Perhaps it was just “the region’s biggest …”, after all.

Day 2 Lauda to Weikersheim, 32.5 km

20201024 Lauda_Beckstein N P1840096

First thing the next morning we hike up to the wine village of Beckstein, famous for its red wines (otherwise, the area is more known for white wines). By now we are used to the tiny waymarks of the Romantic Road hiking trail – delicate blue lettering on white background, mostly recognizable because it has no recognizable logo.

Around lunchtime we reach Bad Mergentheim, one of the “romantic” sightseeing spots. The town was home to the 19th century Romantic poet Eduard Mörike, and earlier, headquarters of the German Teutonic Knights. Their huge castle still dominates the town and would certainly merit a visit. The fortified gates and towers clearly fit the “romantic” bill. Alas, we have to hurry on in order to reach Weikersheim, our goal for today, before it gets dark.

Day 3  Weikersheim to Creglingen, 21 km

20201025 Weikersheim Schloss Barockgarten Zwergengalerie P1840218

The next morning, shortly before the opening at nine o’clock, we approach the baroque Castle of Weikersheim, only to find that it opens at ten in winter (or due to Corona, whatever). Luckily, a friendly cashier takes pity and lets us into the garden early; so we have the garden all to ourselves for almost an hour. From the castle, we enter the garden through the unusual, so-called Dwarves’ Gallery: 16 dwarf-sized comical figures standing on the balustrade. They are traditionally identified as caricatures of Weikersheim’s royal household. One of the castle buildings is now housing a conservatoire where all windows are open for a rehearsal, and our stroll is accompanied by scraps of jazz.

After such a good start we walk effortlessly until lunch break in Röttingen, where we find a wine tavern with tasting opportunities. The afternoon is sunny and crisp and with some alcohol in the system we bounce forward through the hilly landscape until Creglingen.

Day 4 Creglingen to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, 23 km

20201025 Creglingen Marktplatz P1840346

The hearty breakfast makes up a bit for an old-fashioned and slightly musty room. During the night a steady drizzle has set in and by the time we start for the last leg of our Romantic Road hike it is raining hard. Grumpily we trudge forward and reach Rothenburg ob der Tauber in the early afternoon. Just in time the sky clears up and we are ready for a city tour.

20201026 Rothenburg P1840460

Rothenburg is considered the epitome of Romantic Germany, along with Neuschwanstein Castle. We walk the cobbled streets between timbered houses and ancient town gates and marvel at the gothic altar carved by the mediaeval artist Tilman Riemenschneider in the church of St. Jakobus. It’s not Rothenburg’s most famous attraction, however. We know from our Japanese friends that this is the Käthe Wohlfahrt shop: an enormous shop selling Christmas decoration all year round, where we promptly get lost in the maze of glittering show rooms normally filled with visitors from around the world.

And in the evening we are in for another wine tasting!

20201025 Weikersheim Schloss Barockgarten P1840235


Practicalities of Hiking the Romantic Road

20201023 Tauberbischofsheim Wegweiser P1840045

The whole of the “Romantic Road” hiking trail is 500 km long and leads as far as Füssen with its fairytale castles. For us, the stage ending in Rothenburg made for a good shorter version.

There is plenty of accommodation and restaurants/bars along the way. We pre-booked rooms via online portals for around 50 Euro per night, some with and some without breakfast.  

Autumn was a perfect time to hike in the region and we loved the colorful vineyards and the opportunity to collect windfall apples and pears. Although it was a bit late in the year we had sunny weather most of the time and could sit outside for lunch on most days.

In Würzburg the barouqe Residence of the Prince Bishop of Würzburg is worth a visit.

15 Comments

  1. Thanks for another of your well described trips – always glad to glimpse parts of the world which I will never visit.

  2. It does sound like autumn would be a great time to travel the Romantic Road in Germany. How odd that most Germans don’t know about this nor have travelled it. I am not sure I am up to hiking the whole route although we might pick a few sections with great sights. But it would be great to book a base or two along the route and not miss the charming look of the villages at night. That would let us do even more wine tasting!

    1. Doing it by car and fitting in some hikes is the classical way to do it anyway. And yes, you should do some wine tasting along the route!

  3. What a great journey encompassing beautiful German towns and woodlands. I love walking but I think the distance may be a little too much for me. Rothenburg and the wine tasting sounds like fun.

  4. I’ve walked a portion of the Camiño de Santiago, so this Romantic Road is definitely something up my alley. It’s my first time hearing about it though. I hope it’s as well signposted as the Camiño though, as I’m directionally challenged 😆

    1. Most of the time it is well signposted – although the logo is not easily recognizable. We got lost a little bit one or two times. You should be fine!

  5. I haven’t heard of Romantic Road in Germany before, and it’s a perfect place for a multi-day trip. The walking sections, divided into 15 to 30 kilometers, make it an ideal trek with lots to do. Tauberbischofsheim, with Geraniums in flower boxes in front of the windows, seems to look very romantic. I would love to see Bad Mergentheim as headquarters of the German Teutonic Knights.
    But I’m impressed that the whole of the “Romantic Road” hiking trail is 500 km long and leads as far as Füssen with its fairytale castles.

    1. Originally it was a car route – only later the hiking route has been developed by the tourism authority. We walked only five days but my guess is, there are parts of the Romantic road, where you are better off driving. Near Füssen there is another good multiday hike – the King Ludwig trail.

  6. I visited Germany twice but haven’t heard about this Romantic Road. I’m not surprised to know that the route is popular for Japanese, as it looks amazing. Exploring lovely town and having some wine tasting opportunities sound like a great idea. Love your photos too!

  7. I hardly had two days in Germany when I travelled and managed to explore only Munich and Rothenburg ob der Tauber. I fell in love! I know I must return someday for more time, and its likely going to be a road trip for 2 weeks. I’d love to visit in the autumn to see those gorgeous colors. The romantic road it what I plan to explore, wine villages along the way sound amazing. I won’t hike though, it will all be a road trip!

    1. A road trip along the Romantic Road is a great idea – you can cover much more than by hiking. Although some parts of the hiking trail are not that charming!

  8. Wait what? There is something called as a Romantic Road? I had never heard of it till now but looking at your pictures and description I can understand why they named it as Romantic Road. It looks so beautiful and the villages on the way are so pretty and cute. I will definitely add this to my list and will one day make it to the Romantic Road and hike on that path.

  9. Wow never heard of Romantic Road in Germany. The trails look so quaint and picturesque, can imagine how beautiful the journey must have been. I would love to pick apple and pears, and of course a little wine ain’t hurting no one! Rothenburg looks dreamy!

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