Southern Germany’s Romantic Road, which links several historic towns and villages, gets its name from an old Roman route rather than anything to do with hearts and flowers. But don’t tell the couples roaming its cobbled streets and squares, having cozy dinners in its taverns, or strolling its hillside vineyards. These towns are romantic, all right, and perfect for a long weekend with your Schatzi.
Start your weekend in this walled medieval town, still enclosed by 14th and 15th century fortifications topped with a covered sentry’s walk. Nördlingen occupies the site of a large meteorite crater, known as the Ries, which gives the old town its circular shape. In the center of town, the Marktplatz is flanked by antique half-timbered houses and dominated by St. Georgskirche, with its famous 300-foot bell tower, named the “Daniel.” The town watchman still calls out “So G’sell so” (essentially, “all is well”) from the tower each night, as his predecessors have done since the Middle Ages.
You won’t find hordes of tourists here, which helps complete the illusion that you’ve stepped back in time. After strolling through the streets and climbing the Daniel for a magnificent view of the town, stop for a drink at the charming Gasthof zum Fuchs. Try a local Ankerbräu, made right in the old town – the brewery’s motto, “Geneiss das Reis!” translates to “Enjoy the Reis!” Then, find a quiet corner in the rambling but homey Sixenbraü-Stüble and enjoy a dinner of roast pork and spätzle. Because you’re here for a romantic getaway, splash out with a night at the NH Klösterle Nördlingen, a four-star hotel located in a landmark, 13th-century monastery.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Your next stop is one of the Romantic Road’s top attractions, and no wonder – it’s considered Europe’s best-preserved medieval city. It’s also the only city I know of that owes its existence to a drinking contest. In 1631, during the Thirty Years’ War, Rothenburg was threatened with destruction by the Catholic League’s General Tilly. According to legend, Tilly agreed to spare the town if the mayor could consume a giant, 3.5-liter tankard of wine in a single gulp. The mayor was successful, and the town was saved. This event is commemorated with a play, called Der Meistertrunk (the Master Draught), several times each year: during the Meistertrunk Festival on Whitsun weekend, the Imperial City Festival in early September, and the first weekend in October. We happened to be there for the October event, which also features musicians in period costume parading through the city.
Like Nördlingen, Rothenburg’s storybook-pretty old town is completely encircled by medieval ramparts, and its Marktplatz is surrounded by impressive buildings. Though the center is very compact, why not stay right in the heart of it? The Gasthof Goldener Greifen is steps away from the Marktplatz, and offers cozy rooms in a house dating from 1374. The beer garden in the back is a gathering place for local historic societies (who may serenade you with a traditional song before they go).
The Marktplatz is the logical place to start your tour of the city. Along the sides of the square are the Rathaus (Town Hall), with its intricately gabled Renaissance façade, and the City Councilor’s Tavern, which now houses the tourist information center. Every hour between 11am-3pm and 8-10pm, two windows in this building open to display mechanical figures performing the events of Der Meistertrunk.
The Marktplatz is the site of one of Germany’s most famous Christmas markets, and holds craft and farmers’ markets at weekends other times of the year. After a leisurely browse through the market stalls, head down Herrengasse, stopping in at the 13th-century Franciscan Church to see its famous altarpiece before continuing to the Castle Gate, all that’s left of the 12th-century Hohenstaufen Castle. The gate has a mask-like face with a “mouth,” through which the castle’s defenders used to pour tar on attackers. Beyond the gate, an opening in the garden wall leads to a footpath, which will take you down to a covered bridge over the Tauber River, or through the vineyards that cover the sloping hillsides below the town.
Back in the old town, take a walk on the ramparts, which offer fantastic views over the steep, red-tiled roofs of the city. If you want to learn more about the town’s history, you can visit the Imperial City Museum (which has the actual Meistertrunk tankard on display), but maybe pass on the Criminal Museum (shame masks and chastity belts – not so romantic). Then unwind with a glass of wine or beer at Reichs-Küchenmeister. Their leafy beer garden opens as early as February, and overlooks the nave of the Gothic St. Jakobskirche.
For dinner, try the Baumeisterhaus, right next to the Goldener Griefen. Dating from 1596, this building has a very distinctive façade, with statues on the gables depicting the seven vices and virtues. The dining room walls are impressive too, covered with murals and more antlers than I’ve ever seen in one place. If you’re maxing out on pork, order the local style of ravioli, made with spinach and meatloaf.
The next day is up to you. Maybe you want to linger over lunch at one of Rothenburg’s many sidewalk cafes. If you want to pick up some mementos, check out Käthe Wohlfahrt’s Christmas Village, an enormous space filled with Christmas ornaments of all varieties – there’s even a Christmas museum featuring antique decorations.
But if you want your romantic weekend to have a true fairy-tale ending, head two hours south to Füssen and visit Neuschwantstein Castle, the iconic, multi-turreted fantasy that was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland.
Ellen is a Bay Area-based freelance writer. Currently, she writes for MyLittleSwans.com, a website and travel club focusing on luxury travel. She loves wildlife and nature, art, food and wine, and light (very light) adventure.