BAVARIA, Germany, Aug. 1, 2015 – This Bavarian treasure was once more or less an a medieval trade route, but in reality the Romantic Road was created by German tour operators in the 1950s to promote quaint towns and historic castles that link central Germany with the south.
The German name is Romantische Strasse, but whatever you call it, this 200-mile road between Wurzburg, Germany and Fussen, near the Austrian border, is pure magic.
Some observers say the Romantic Road represents quintessential Germany or Germany the way we imagine it to be. Take time to stop and revel in its tantalizing allure. This is not a destination to be rushed.
Here arched gateways beckon beneath beguiling watch-towered walls, fairytale castles and bewitching half-timbered houses. Ooh and aah at majestic Gothic cathedrals or stroll along Pied Piper-like streets.
Time stands still along the Romantic Road. Slow down and absorb its cultural, architectural, historical and culinary riches.
Originally the concept was an effort to rebuild Germany following World War II. Most of the earliest visitors were families and friends of American soldiers who had been stationed in the region during the war. As word of mouth spread, the route quickly became a popular travel destination.
There are far too many places along the way to list them all, but each features clean, comfortable and, best of all, storybook accommodations.
Here are some of the more popular sites, but be warned, take advantage of some of the lesser known towns or you will miss much of the magic.
Wurzburg: The northern gateway to the Romantic Road is Wurzburg. Tour both sides of the river or you will miss half of the city. Begin at the Baroque palace known as the Residenz, which was commissioned in 1720 when opulent wealth merged with the architectural genius of Balthasar Neumann. The entranceway alone will take your breath away with its vaulted staircase, the largest in the country.
Cross the picturesque Old Main Bridge with its multitude of statues in the foreground beneath Marienburg Fortress. From a hill overlooking the city, the views of the river and the myriad of red rooftops are not to be missed.
Wurzburg is also noted for its numerous churches and museums, as well as the Wurzburger Stein vineyard, one of Germany’s oldest and largest.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber: Rothenburg is arguably the most popular stop en route. Though it is justifiably proud of its reputation as the best preserved medieval town in Germany, it also translates to an abundance of tourists.
Rothenburg was the inspiration for the village in Walt Disney’s animated film “Pinocchio.” With that image in mind, it is difficult not to be captivated by traditional window flower boxes, leaning half-timbered houses, narrow, cobblestone alleyways, more than a mile of ancient city walls, hillside views of the river and the 13th-century town hall.
If the ambiance of Rothenburg’s streets doesn’t meet your expectations, Hotel Eisenhut will. So delightful is this 12th-century patrician’s house you may never leave the lobby. Not a good idea, however, because you will then miss the three-story galleried dining hall.
Dinkelsbuehel: Many travelers favor Dinkelsbuehel over Rothenburg, for it feels like a smaller version of its big sister with fewer visitors. Once a Free Imperial City of the Holy Roman Empire, Dinkelsbuehel is, like Rothenburg, surrounded by ancient walls and towers.
Though not even scratching the surface of Dinkelsbuehel’s many attractions, it was the location for the 1962 film “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm.” Miraculously, the city was untouched by either world war, except for a single broken window in St. George’s Minster.
Nordlingen: This village stands out with Rothenburg and Dinkelsbuehel as the only other completely walled city in Germany. More than 1,100 years old, Nordlingen was the site of two important battles during the Thirty Years War.
Late night visitors should listen for the town crier to shout, “So g’sell” or “All’s well” from the Saint George’s Church steeple, otherwise known as the “Daniel Tower.”
Fussen: Neuschwanstein is undeniably the reason to visit. “Sleeping Beauty’s Castle” has been recognized by people throughout the world since the opening of Disneyland, but the real thing is the perfect place to finish a tour of the Romantic Road.
Commissioned by “Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria, it was Ludwig’s personal retreat as well as a tribute to German composer Richard Wagner. With its theatrical exterior and interiors, the mad king’s influence is evident in every aspect of its design and furnishings.
Not far away is the castle of Ludwig’s father, Hohenschwangau, where the Ludwig grew up and spent time while his own palace was being built.
The Romantic Road may have been created as a marketing concept, but it defines the word “romance” for everyone who loves travel.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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