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
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
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
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
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.
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!
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.