First off, Romantic Road is something of a misnomer. It is indeed a road. And at times, it is a beautiful one. And at other times, it’s just a road. But there’s very little romantic about it. No hearts or cupids hanging from the trees. And after yet another “turn left…no turn right…get in that lane…where the %*¡$ is… [insert name of town/hotel]” it becomes clear that the Romantic Road could indeed be where a number of divorces have started.
Our journey starts at Stuttgart Airport, where we meet the Opel Astra that will be our Fletchemobile for the next five days. Mr Fletche is soon confident behind the wheel, and I don’t even need to scream at him about keeping to the right. We’ve made good time on the flight and we’ve picked up the car earlier then planned so we decide to make the 90 minute detour to Wurzburg, at the very northern tip of the Romantic Road.
Driving into a new town is always a challenge, and the first test of a driver and navigators relationship. We follow Blue P Signs however and eventually park up a 10 minute walk from the old town. Is it a nice little town, with a pretty river and bridge? Yes. Does it have a bustling market place which delivers us our first Bratwurst of the trip? Yes. Was it worth the 90 minute detour? Probably not. Wurzburg could easily have been missed from the itinerary.
So it’s back on the road. The Romantic Road. Is it? We’re not quite sure. Sometimes there’s are brown signs announcing that we are indeed on the Romantic Road. Other times, these signs seem to point on completely the opposite direction to the town we are looking for. More tests of the driver navigator relationship. Especially when the navigators phone is eking out the last of its battery. It’s a nice drive nevertheless, and we are struck by the vastness of the rural landscapes we’re driving through.
We finally follow the signs for our first overnight stop, Rothenburg ob de Tauber. I’ve booked us into a medieval guesthouse right in the centre of town. Which brings it’s own problems. Tight corners, narrow streets, meandering pedestrians, no entry signs where our GPS is telling us to go… We are driving in ever decreasing circles, and Mr Fletche has an ever increasing blood pressure. Eventually I persuade him to pull over whilst I get out and try and find the guesthouse on foot. I easily locate the guesthouse. I cannot easily locate Mr Fletche. It’s a comedy of errors whilst I roam the streets. Eventually we are reunited and I am successfully able to navigate us to the guesthouse. Potential divorce avoided. For now.
Mr Fletche proclaims that he deserves a beer and I’m not one to disagree. We partake in a beer in the biergarten of our guesthouse. I mistakenly order Mr Fletche a small beer. He gives me that look, the one that says never mess with a man’s beer order. Still, we can’t linger over beer, we have exploring to do! It’s up on the city walls first for a bird’s eye view of the town. Except the walls seem to be lower than the buildings, and we lose the wall in several places (just like in York, when we managed to lose the walls altogether). So we start to weave our way into the town itself. It’s a truly beautiful town, although slightly spoiled by the fact that cars are allowed within the old town walls. The half timbered houses, the traditional old town square, and that view of the house at Plonlein corner, which has adorned many a Pinterest board.
We’re getting hungry, having not eaten since our bratwurst in Wurzburg, and we decide to go back, freshen up and then eat in the restaurant at our guesthouse. This turns out to be a great choice. Mr Fletche has the traditional pork knuckle with red cabbage and dumplings; I have the pork liver with boiled potatoes. Both meals are wonderful. Mr Fletche finally has a beer of his own choosing. We head back out into town after dinner and straight away it strikes us how quiet everything is. Bars and restaurants are already closed for the night, and it’s not even 9pm. There are only a handful of people wandering about. We’ve been up for about 16 hours by now so we decide to call it a night with a last drink back at the hotel. They’re happy to serve us, but make it clear that this is the last one by locking the outside doors and turning off all the lights around us.
Day 2: Rothenburg to Augsberg
We’re up bright and early for breakfast and we have plenty of time for another walk around the town before we have to pack up and find our way out of this maze. I find myself wandering around the quite amazing Christmas shop, mentally planning this year’s colour scheme but I have to put back the handful of baubles when I realize that Mr Fletche has not followed me into the store and I don’t have any money. I look like the world’s most festive shoplifter.
I do however manage to find a suitably tacky Christmas decoration and fridge magnet in a nearby gift shop. My shopping is not complete however until I’ve purchased the Rothenburg speciality – the schneeballen. I’m still not entirely sure what they’re made of, or how many calories they contain, but it’s all part of the Rothenburg experience.
We check out and wave goodbye to the traditionally attired staff at our guesthouse. They also kindly guide Mr Fletche out of the car parking space when they realise that he is doing some sort of 300-point turn manoeuvre. We have that driver-navigator challenge once more when the Romantic Road signs point left, and the Dinklesbuhl signs point right. Eventually though we are on the right road (romantic or otherwise) and we’re parking up outside the walls of our second medieval town of the day. We get to use our blue parking dial for the first time, which is exciting.
There’s no doubt that Dinklesbuhl is beautiful, with its cobbled streets and half-timbered buildings in an array of pastel colours, but surprisingly it’s busier that its more well-known neighbour Rothenburg, and it’s spoiled by the amount of cars – we’ve clearly arrived at Dinkelsbuhl’s rush hour. It’s actually more dramatic from the outside, with towers peering above the old city walls, and the parkland outside is a lovely spot to sit and eat lunch. Despite the medieval slant-roofed and turreted buildings, the town felt newer and more “landscaped” than Rothenburg – almost like a movie set – so I was surprised to find that most of the building exteriors are in fact original 15th & 16th century as the town was thankfully spared from destruction during World War II.
It’s a 30 minute drive south from Dinkelsbuhl to Nordlingen. More city walls, cobbled streets and half-timbered buildings but this one is slightly different by virtue of its location in the Ries crater, created by a meteorite impact 15 million years ago. I’m assured this isn’t likely to happen again any time soon. We wind our way through the town, and join the locals in the main square and eat a gelato in the shadow of St Georgeskirche. Interesting fact…the patron saint of Bavaria is a familiar-sounding dragon-slaying St George.
It’s mid -afternoon now, so we continue south to Augsburg, via a quick detour through Harburg when we are briefly distracted by the imposing Schloss Harburg on the hill, but can find nowhere to park up in town to get a good view. Another navigational fail from me as I directed us to the town, rather than the castle that was in the opposite direction. We find our way quite easily into Augsburg – it seems to be easier to drive into larger cities than into tiny towns. It helps that our hotel is right next to the Augsburg Cathedral, giving us a handy focal point on the GPS. I leave Mr Fletche with the car whilst I check in and find out about our reserved parking space behind the hotel. I am entrusted with a garage fob and vague instructions about platforms that go up and down. It’s an easy peasy parking procedure and we’re soon unloading our suitcase and bags once more.
I’m not going to lie…I didn’t have many high expectations of Augsburg. It broke up the long drive between Rothenburg & Fussen, but I wasn’t looking forward to heading back into a city after visiting beautiful medieval towns and heading towards mountains and lakes. But I’m happy to say – I was very wrong. We were both charmed by the city, which despite being the third largest city in Bavaria has a small and walkable old town, a tram system which provided Mr Fletche with plenty of photograph opportunities, and a vibrant population due to it being a university city, and a commercial and industrial hub. We step over the hordes of people sitting on the cobbles in the afternoon sunshine in Rathausplatz, opting for the relative comfort of a table and chairs in one of the outdoor cafe bars. It’s time to test the quality of the German Aperol Spritz. I pronounce it to be sehr gut. We continue to explore the city, heading down the lovely Maximilianstrasse towards the magnificent 15th century St Ulrich’s & St. Afra’s Abbey.
Its getting a bit chilly now the sun’s gone down so we swing back to the hotel to freshen up and to pick up a jacket. We’re surprised when we venture back out later that there don’t seem to be more eating and drinking establishments around; it is a Thursday night in March but on the main streets and squares many of the cafes and restaurants are closing up, although there are bars open along Maximilianstrasse. There are a handful of restaurants near the Merkerbrunnen fountain so we opt for Pizzeria Allegra in the absence of anything more authentically Bavarian. It’s just about warm enough to still eat outside now I’m bundled up in a coat and hat. The food is simple (there is more than just pizza on the menu; I opt for schnitzel whilst Mr Fletche has the calamari) and there’s lots of it. A little too much in fact judging by the piles of calamari and half a schnitzel still piled up on our plate long after our hunger has been sated.
Mr Fletche then gives me a lesson in long exposure photography – which mainly ends up with me shouting “Press it now!!!” whenever a car or tram is approaching. This is much more entertaining than it may seem, and we move from Maximilianstrasse to Königsplatz for a better vantage point for trams and buses. It’s been another long day so we finally head back to the hotel to dream of tomorrow’s mountains.