BIKING THE ROMANTIC ROAD IN GERMANY
2013 OCTOBER WÜRZBURG TO FÜSSEN
The Romantic Road is based loosely on an old Roman route and runs approximately 400km from Würzburg to the bottom of the Alps in Füssen. Post WWII Germany was desperate to rebuild a tourism industry and decided to make route this into a destination. It’s not hard to see the reason for the popularity - it combines historic cities, medieval walled towns, rolling countryside, forests and ends at the foothills of the Alps with the famous Neuschwanstein Castle. There is a bike path along the whole route that meanders away from the main highways through fields, forests, country roads, and pathways.
Bonn to Rothenburg ob de Tauber
To start our journey, it’s up bright and early on Sat. 19 Oct to begin the 5 train day! A 5 minute ride into Bonn starts the journey where we then make our way across Germany to start our ride on the Romantic Road. All train connections were made (whew!) and we disembark at the small town of Uffenhein to ride into Rothenburg Ab De Tauber (Red Fort on the River Tauber). We pass some GIGANTICwind turbines where Billy travels down the road and takes a photo back where Ann appears as a small, barely able to see blip next to the immense turbine. About 3 hours later we arrive at our hotel which is just outside the city wall. Rothenburg is a Medieval walled town with narrow lanes and timbered houses. A climb up the Clock Tower in the town square offers an unobstructed view of the red rooftops and countryside. We are tired (after a night of dreams about missing trains!), grab a quick dinner and go to bed early.
Rothenburg ob de Tauber to Dinklesbühl
Sunday, 20 Oct is our first full day of biking. Leaving Rothenburg we exit via another gate and get caught taking photos for at least 20 minutes - the light, Fall colors, arches, ancient walls, towers, etc. are a photographer’s dream - even with the cloudy sky. The rain starts shortly after as we continue the journey. One nice thing about riding in the rain is that when you stop for tea and snack in a cafe it’s lovely to dry off and warm up! Our rain gear does a good job keeping us dry on the inside - now if I could just find some way to keep my glasses dry! We arrive in Dinkelsbülh, another walled town in a former Free Imperial City, in the late afternoon. Our hotel is an older hotel on a cobbled street and surprises us with a suite - a small room with sofa, chair, TV separate from the bedroom. I could stay here for a couple of days! We walk around town a bit and return to the hotel for dinner and again are pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food. We are the only ones in the dining room (the attendant says that it is like this on Sunday this time of year) but the food is excellent - Billy has pasta with chili while Ann has a rice dish with some kind of cream sauce and veggies - the dark local beer accompanying dinner was one of the best we’ve had.
Dinkelsbühl to Donauwörth
Monday, 21 Oct promises to be a much better day for weather. The rain and clouds have moved out and we’re off for another full day of riding. The morning sees us riding through forests and farmers’ fields. The rain has made for some muddy sections, but the day is warm and sunny. We come out of the forest onto a hill overlooking a valley of fields and stop for lunch. A host of ladybugs decide to join us for lunch - we’ve never seen such varied colors from green to orange to red for our small friends. We ride into the town of Nördligen which is built in a crater caused by an asteroid impact. The town is famous for its watch tower and walled defenses but, unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of time to wander around. We stop by a McDonalds for salad, french fries, and coke - fat and sugar to keep us going for awhile. It’s a really long biking day - every hill seems to get higher and longer as the day goes on! We ride by Harburg which has an impressive castle perched on a hill. It drizzles a bit, but we end the day riding along a lovely path next to the Wornitz River (Yay, flat riding!) and arrive at a hostel in Donauwörth. The hostel is at the top of a hill and we push our bikes up the steep road. The staff at the hostel are very friendly and the hostel is very clean and luckily for us, not crowded. Down the hill into town we stop for Chinese food and enjoy talking with the owners about their path from Hong Kong to Germany.
Donauwörth to Friedberg
Tuesday, 22 Oct is another full day of biking. There is lots of blue sky and sunshine as we ride up and down hills into the city of Rain. From Rain we approach the river and have to carry our bikes up some stairs and ride across a metal grating over a levee. This is definitely a bike path, but it seems to be routing us through muddy and bumpy paths in and out of a forest. (We didn’t realize that we weren’t on the designated Romantic Road for bicyclists - we were following bike signs - there are thousands of miles of bike routes in Germany) We leave the forest and find a lovely, uncrowded country road and are much happier riding there. We stop outside of a kindergarten for lunch and are in shirt sleeves as the weather is unseasonably warm. We continue along lovely, country roads and marvel at the amount of farming that is in this area. In Friedburg we have a hard time finding the hotel as it is off the main road in a secluded area, but it’s a gem! A private residence that has been renovated into a 10 room hotel, very modern and clean. We are housed in the ‘green room’ which overlooks the garden. Again, I wish we had more time to stay! We walk about 20 minutes into town looking for dinner, but end up buying some things from a grocery store and eat them in the room. Breakfast is wonderful with all the choices of German breakfast.
Friedberg to Füssen
Wednesday, 23 Oct We have been riding full out for 3 1/2 days and are tired! The number of hours of riding and amount of hills was underestimated during our planning! Ann has 2 panniers, Billy has 2 panniers and an additional strap on luggage piece so the added weight definitely showed when we were struggling up some of the hills. We decide to train down to Füssen and stay 2 nights there - a great decision, instead of biking straight there with no sight seeing. We ride the 10K from Friedberg to the Augsberg railway station and remark about the ease of biking safely in Germany with fantastic bike paths through the city. It’s a crisp and cloudy morning and we have no trouble finding the train station. This is the best train ride of the trip - quiet, uncrowded, no changes. The train winds through undulating green hills with grazing cows, meandering streams and bike paths everywhere. The narrow one lane paved roads for farm equipment double as bike paths. There is some elevation gain as the train goes into the foothills of the Alps. Our hotel is about a 10 minute bike ride from the train station and we again are pleasantly surprised with our hotel - it’s an older hotel but the location is awesome. Our room, with balcony, overlooks a green meadow with trees of orange, yellow, red which run right up to the Alps. There is a winter ski jump next to the hotel. The rain has started again and we walk into town and explore a bit. We cross a footpath over the Lech river and waterfall - the river is a turquoise color that must be caused by some mineral in the water. Our dinner at the hotel is enjoyable and love the commute back to the room!
Thursday, 24 Oct. Renewed from a day of rest on Wednesday we plan a full day of biking in the morning followed by walking up to the famous castles in the afternoon. We make a small bike loop following random pathways to the Lake Hopfensee - a small, crystal clear Alpine lake. There is no wind and the reflections in the water of the mountains and trees are beautiful. We ride through fields and fields of cows grazing with their bells ringing as they walk. Seems like Switzerland! We bike down to the Weissensee and back to Füssen. After lunch we start a 1.5 hour walk through the forest to the bottom of the mountain where the 2 famous castles rise up. The forest path is uncrowded, through brightly colored leaves, meadows, by streams and all the while the castles beckon in the distance. There are the Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein castles. The Neuschwanstein castle is one that we’ve all seen as the Disney icon copied this castle and it’s also been in movies including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. We walk up a steep forest trail to the Neuschwanstein castle and see this immense structure rising out of the mountain - a marvel of engineering with towers, turrets, stone pillars... You can just see Cinderella riding up to the front door in her pumpkin coach! The view from the castle over the countryside is breathtaking. It’s interesting to see the way the Alps rise abruptly from the meadows with no gradual incline. We walk back into town, dinner in town and back to the hotel.
Füssen to Würzburg
Friday, 25 Oct is a train day from Füssen to Würzburg. The first 30 kilometers we see rolling hills and meadows, meandering streams, and small villages. We change trains twice and just make our last connection as Billy keeps the door open and Ann runs along the platform. Coming into Würzburg we see a large city (larger than the rural towns we’ve been riding through) on the Main river and surrounded by vineyards. The hotel is about a 45 minute ride from the train station, but it is in a lovely location and there is an convenient tram that we can catch to go back and explore the city. We walk over the old bridge (Alte Mainbrucke) that crosses the river and see that it is THE place to buy a glass of wine and sit with friends along the bridge. The bridge leads to the bottom of a hill upon which sits the Marienberg Fortress - a huge fort overlooking the city. The site was occupied as early as 1000BC! then went through different occupiers to become the walls, within walls, within walls structure that it is today. We tram back to the hotel to eat in the Italian restaurant next to the hotel and have great lasagne and salad, but the minestrone soup was a funny story. I mentioned to the waiter that the soup was not what I would consider Minestrone soup - no tomatoes, no beans, no pasta... just some veggies in a bland broth. The waiter said that this is what minestrone soup is to German people! Oh well...
Würzburg to Bonn
Saturday, 26 Oct and it’s back to Bonn. The ride back to the train station from our hotel along the river is lovely in the cool morning. We arrive early to the station only to find out that the train will be 50 minutes late... which turns to 60 to 70 to 80... It’s a mad rush to board the train as the bike car is the very first car and we’re way back on the platform. So it’s run the bikes along the platform and make it to the right car just in time. This train is one where the bikes are limited - you have to have a reservation and there are actual holding stands where you place your bike. It’s an express train (not a local train) and it’s really fast and comfortable. The train goes along the Main river to Frankfurt, then over to Mainz and up the Rhine river to Bonn. The 20 minute ride back to Bad Godesburg from Bonn gets us home in the early afternoon.
Overall, a great vacation. We would recommend the Romantic Road to all travelers, not just bikers, and we especially enjoyed Füssen in the Bavaria area.