Driving along the Romantic Road.
Your first stop at Rothenburg.
Your next stop is the town of Dinkelsbühl.
The castle that inspired Walt Disney.
Take the most romantic drive through the breathtaking Bavarian countryside of Germany and be swept away.
The Romantic Road, or Romantische Strasse, has been Germany's most successful campaign to lure tourists away from the large cities into the breathtaking Bavarian countryside. Despite the two million tourists it attracts each year, it is still well worth driving the 290km road, which goes through about a dozen cities and towns along the western side of the state, from Würzburg in Franconia to Füssen near the Austrian border.
Würzburg, the Romantic Road's official gateway, straddles the River Main and is surrounded by forests and vineyards. This charming city is a centre of art, architecture and delicate wines. It was a Franconian duchy until 686AD, when three roving Irish missionaries asked Duke Gosbert to consider converting to Christianity. Unfortunately, his wife arranged for the missionaries to be murdered. Decades later, the three were canonised as saints and Würzburg became a pilgrimage city.
Rothenburg, on the Tauber, is the main tourist town along the Road. Even though it was damaged during World War II, this cobble-stoned town from the Middle Ages shows no sign of trauma. Its beautifully preserved Gothic and Renaissance gable houses are enclosed by towered walls, and in the evening, the town is particularly beautiful with soft, yellow lamplight.
Forty kilometres south is another walled, cobble-stoned town. Dinkelsbühl is a few centuries older than Rothenburg and suffered no war damage. It has fewer tourists and buses than Rothenburg, making exploring its streets, fortified walls with 16 towers and four gates most pleasurable.
As you head south towards the official end of the Romantic Road, the scenery changes and becomes more the way you would expect Bavaria to be. The Alps separating Germany from Austria appear very suddenly, and dramatically rise out of the rolling hills. It is where mountains, hills and lakes meet.
Füssen is a town of 17,000, complete with a monastery, castle and palace of wonderful baroque architecture. People flock there because of the nearby castles of Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau and Linderhof, all legacies of mad King Ludwig II.
Neuschwanstein, made from grey-white granite, was started in 1869 but never finished. It was a fantasy of King Ludwig and the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle. It is an assortment of architectural styles put together by a theatre designer, and it soars 200m above the valley floor. The Minstrels' Hall is the centrepiece and was where Ludwig was able to satisfy his obsession with medieval knights and things Wagnerian. Wall frescoes depict scenes from Wagner's "Tannhüuser".
Hohenschwangau was built in the 12th century, but much of it is very 1830s. Less ostentatious but with some areas sharing Neuschwanstein's spookiness, it has a lived-in feeling. Ludwig had stars painted on the bedroom ceiling, which were illuminated by concealed oil lamps.
The Hotel Müller is a family-owned and run hotel with many years of tradition. It sits below the two castles and is surrounded by Ammergau's beautiful countryside of mountains, forests and lakes. It is perfectly situated as a base for taking trips to Munich, Oberammergau scene of the famous passion play, and indulging in sports of all seasons, including mountain-walking, climbing, hiking, tennis, swimming, sailing, surfing, fishing, rowing and hang-gliding in summer, and skiing, skating, sledging, cross country or curling in winter.
Bavaria, in the southeast of Germany
Hotel Müller rooms start at around $210 per night, including breakfast.
Qantas flies daily to Frankfurt. Return economy airfares start at $2190 from Perth, $2272 Brisbane, $2273 from Melbourne and Darwin, $2279 from Adelaide and $2283 from Sydney, per person. Prices include charges/taxes and are current at time of recording but may vary at time of booking. Seasonal surcharges and conditions apply.
German National Tourist Office
Ph: 02 9267 8148 F: 02 9267 firstname.lastname@example.org
Alpseestrasse 16, D-87645 Hohenschwangau
Ph: 0011 49 8362 8199-0
Fax: 0011 49 8362 email@example.com
Qantas: 13 13 13