The Romantic Road is known all around the world. It was the first “official tourist route” created in Germany way back in 1900, and today receives over 24 million day visits per year. The cycling variant takes in historic fairytale towns and cities scattered between Würzburg in the North and Füssen nestled at the foot of the Alps. In between lies mile after mile of green rolling countryside and well-marked cycle trails or back roads.
In this post you can read about the first day of cycling on the Romantic Road. To continue the journey on day two from Rothenburg, click here
Getting properly integrated!
I knew that if I was to become properly integrated in Germany, I would have to start doing the same as millions do every weekend: Attach some panniers to my Trekking Bike, and set course for the great German countryside. The route needed to be planned with special consideration given to Biergärten (beer gardens), where a large amount of Radler and meat could be consumed en-route. Getting to the start or going home by train was normal, since most German trains are well served with cycle storage.
Planning the route
Touring is a serious pastime – many people plan a holiday of a week or more around a long distance route – you can read all about the planning process and some tips from me in a separate article. I wanted something I could do in a weekend for my first attempt though, and so after studying the Bayernnetz route planning tool, I settled on the Northern half of the Romantic Road. Splitting the 280km with an overnight stop would make it manageable, and I was looking forward to seeing more of Germany and at a slower pace
Not the best start…….
I was at the “Klassik Open Air” concert in Nuremberg the night before leaving. This is an evening event where everyone gets together to picnic in a park while listening to an orchestra. The wine and beer flowed rather too freely and I woke up at 9AM with a throbbing head and the vague taste of Sauvignon-Blanc still with me. But I had places to go, so commanding my legs into action rather earlier than they had planned I set off for the main station on a blazing sunny August Sunday.
Everyone had the same idea as me – at least that’s what it looked like at the station, where crowds of cyclists were waiting to alight on the train to Würzburg. As the twin-carriage train pulled in, everyone could see it was already full and the groans were palpable. At one of the busiest times of the year, and on the busiest day of the week for cycle touring, Deutsche Bahn had dug-deep to find us the least suitable train possible. Still, in scenes that would do a world record-attempt proud we all managed to squeeze in, bikes and people filling every possible nook and cranny. This isn’t allowed of course – the gangway should always be clear. But with the heat and amount of sweating men in lycra it seemed the train guard was hiding somewhere and left us alone thankfully.
Würzburg – the start of the Romantic Road cycle route
After I’d untangled myself from the train, I was pleased to get some fresh air and finally start pedalling. Würzburg like Nuremberg was heavily bombed at the end of WWII, hence the centre is something of a mixture of restored and modern buildings. Nevertheless, the most valuable historic buildings remain and were fully restored after the war, including the most famous building of all – the Würzburg Residence. This is now a world heritage site, containing several masterpieces of Baroque and neoclassical interior art including the restored Mirror Cabinet, and (which survived due to the strength of construction) the Staircase with ceiling frescoes by Tiepolo. The palace is well worth a visit as is Würzburg itself, although since I had been before I limited my stop to a few photos in the residence court and gardens
Setting off to cycle the Romantic Road
The bike trail proper started at the foot of the Marienberg Fortress, on the far side of the river to the centre. Würzburg is the heart of the Franconian wine region, and the steep hillsides of the fortress are covered in vines. I was pleased to find a route map on the side of the road indicating the start of the tour proper, and indicating I had about 125km until my overnight stop. As it was now already 11AM I got going, and immediately had to tackle a hill leading me out of town. This road led me for the first few km through the Western suburbs of Würzburg, and then onto agricultural roads and tracks as I headed towards Wertheim on the Main.
I had decided to take a shortcut since I was running a little later than planned. This turned into a disaster when I discovered my shortcut included a 16% gradient hill. Bad move, and for a short while the throbbing in my head reappeared…stick to the route next time Matt…
Approaching Wertheim, I passed the Wertheim Village outlet centre. Definitely not an option for a weight conscious cyclist sadly….
Into the Taubertal
A couple of hours in and after a short burst on the banks of the River Main, I turned left and joined the Taubertal Radweg. This was to take me all the way to my overnight stop in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. The going was now easy following the meandering river Tauber on tarmac and hard gravel paths. There were many more cyclists around now – and nearly all the small settlements I passed through had signposts to bike friendly B&B’s or Guesthouses
Lunch in Tauberbischofsheim on the Romantic Road
I’d now been cycling for a few hours, and was starting not just to get hungry but to run out of fluids also. The heat (and earlier hangover) meant I’d been drinking a lot, and although I had about 2-3 litres of assorted drinks with me, it was all nearly empty. When you’re cycling in Germany on a Sunday this can become problematic – all shops are closed. Since cycle routes avoid main roads you don’t tend to find garages too. I was glad therefore to come to a large town where I could replenish supplies.
Tauberbischofsheim had several cafe’s and Ice Cream shops that were open, so I grabbed a sandwich to go along with several bottles of isotonic drinks and water. I ate this in the courtyard by the Schloß (seemed interesting, but I had no time to look around), and then wandered through the town for an ice-cream at Eiscafe Dolomiti. The town centre within the medieval walls was pleasant with windy streets and many historic buildings, but like many small German towns there were many empty shops. The council has clearly tried to spruce things up by adding displays in the windows, but online shopping and out of town superstores with parking have clearly had an impact here.
Onwards to Bad Mergentheim on the Romantic Road
I pressed on as soon as I could, and followed a path between the railway line and river south for several kilometres. It was still flat as a pancake and this helped me to make good progress with my energy reserves refreshed after lunch. After an hour I came to the spa town of Bad Mergentheim. The route passed through the Kurpark (literally “Spa Park”) directly on the river, neighbouring which was the Deutschordensschloss. This is a large complex formerly home to the Teutonic Order. The Kurpark was lovely, with many large shady trees, and the river here was a popular Kayaking spot – it was shallow and full of little islets to picnic on.
World’s Cheapest Beer
A little after Bad Mergentheim I was approaching the village of Markelsheim when I noticed a sandwich board propped outside what seemed to be a crazy golf business. It stated “Radlermaß 4€”. That meant a litre of Radler for four euros – the Romantic Road had more offer than just great scenery! As I was somewhat over halfway now and it was a baking hot afternoon, the prospect of a cold beer drew me in like a vortex. The Radler didn’t stay long in the glass….
Pressing on into the evening on the Romantic Road
Further on and never learning from my mistakes, I took a shortcut to avoid the meandering curves of the Tauber. I thought as ever it would save me a few km’s and maybe a few minutes. It did save me a couple of kilometres, but made up for that by adding a couple of hundred metres of hill. I’ll never learn. Still, it did give a wonderful downhill spurt back to the river at pretty Creglingen.
It was now early evening, and the quiet, sweeping and undulating cycle paths by the river were wonderful to ride on. I was down to the last few km’s of the Romantic Road for today, and this gave me a second wind!
Through the gates of the city on the Romantic Road
Rothenburg ob der Tauber (literally “Red Fortress above the Tauber”) is world renowned and a tourist hotspot. For good reason – the medieval heart of the city is staggeringly well-preserved, and suffered little damage during WWII. This gives it an atmosphere almost unique – you can wander for hundreds of metres without seeing a single modern building. I can’t do it justice here, so I’ll be writing more about this fabulous town in a separate post.
I arrived at dusk, and the glowing lamps were already lighting up the ancient city walls. Passing under the 30m high and 500 year old Klingentor I cycled into the city to find my hotel for the night – the zum Schwarzen Adler right in the heart of the old town.
Dinner, a walk, and then bed
My room was old-school, but for the price was OK. I quickly showered, and then headed out to find somewhere for dinner. There’s no shortage of restaurants in Rothenburg, especially if you’re looking for hearty German cuisine (as I definitely was). I enjoyed a large plate of meat and dumplings at the Reichsküchenmeister Hotel washed down with several beers and a slab of cake to finish with.
To finish the day I wandered through the town to the Burggarten, taking some pictures of the city at night as I walked. This garden right on the edge of the Escarpment overlooking the river valley was beautifully peaceful at night, and there were fantastic views of the floodlit southern portion of the old town.
After a dose of fresh air I returned to my hotel and lay happily in bed, tired but also satisfied. Other than a self-inflicted headache to start the day, I’d seen some stunning countryside and experienced some wonderful cycling on the Romantic Road. And now I was falling asleep in a town barely changed in 500 years.
Read all about my adventures on day two of my cycle journey along the Romantic Road!