The Romantic Road was mentioned merely as a footnote in my Lonely Planet guide of Europe. It is a road that connects Frankfurt to the south of Germany, covering 350km by passing through many traditional and picturesque German towns along the way, and would also provide my transport to Munich. To my surprise though nobody seemed to know that much about this road, the receptionist in my hostel in Frankfurt simply shrugged his shoulders at the mention of it and nobody else I spoke to had heard of it either. I did manage to find a very dated website of a coach company who would take tourists along the route, and went ahead and booked my ticket.
The booking experience had reminded me of buying a CD on a 1998 version of Amazon, so it was with a little trepidation that I made my way to the directed bus stop ready for the 8am departure. Still stood there at 8.30am I was wondering whether the tours had also stopped running in 1998, and it was only the presence of a Japanese family trying to take me under their wing, who had also booked the trip that kept me there. I later found out the trip is so popular with the Japanese that all the road signs on the route are in Japanese as well as German.
Once the coach had finally arrived, we set off on the trip, which for me would last 2 days with a one night stopover in the town of Rothernburg. My first days experience was decidedly unromantic. Not only in the literal sense with me sharing the 50 seater coach with just the 4 Japanese, but also the so called Romantic Road appeared to be a rather normal looking motorway. And although we made some stops of at some picturesque villages and towns such as Würzburg and Weikersheim, the road was still as dreary as the next road. I was already thinking I could copy this cunning business plan by driving unsuspected tourists from London down the M5 all day to finally arrive at some Devonshire towns. One quick look back to the empty coach however reminded me that perhaps the demand would not be there.
Even the visits we made to the towns were decidedly unromantic, the process lacked the personal touch -we would be dropped off and given anywhere between 10-45 minutes to have a wander around. We were encouraged to download an app that gave us a little bit of information on the places we were in, but I found walking around, checking my phone again and again seemed to detract from the allure of the visits. In addition, having broken the zip of my rucksack earlier in the morning, I didn’t add to the romance of the first few stops by walking around hugging my bag desperately trying to stop my belongings falling out!
However, over time, romance did start to breathe life into the trip when we reached my overnight stop of Rothenburg. I was impressed with its medieval charm and beauty as I walked through the town centre to my hostel. Although the cobbled walkways were swarmed with camera happy visitors from The East. Wherever you looked there was a picture postcard shot, although invariably if you tried to take a picture it could be ruined by the hordes of others trying to get their picture taken at the same spot.
It was in Rothenburg however that the most bizarre moment happened on the Romantic Road. The town, I discovered, is famed for its Christmas markets. Not being satisfied with being a perfect location for them during November and December, the town has decided to embrace the theme throughout the year with Christmas themed shops selling intricate decorations as well as hosting the German Christmas Museum. I’ve spent Christmas in hot countries before, which is strange in itself, but walking around in August to the sounds of Silent Night playing perhaps takes it to the next level!
As early evening arrived, and full of Christmas cheer, I headed back into town to discover all the day-trippers had moved on, and Rothenburg was transformed, the hustle and bustle had disappeared which breathed further beauty into the town. I felt like I had been transported back in time and could wander the streets almost alone and at peace. The old town walls not only provided a picturesque casing for the buildings inside but also a stunning vantage point towards the river and vineyards that lay beneath and provided the perfect spot for a drink as the sun went down. I really started to get the feel of what the town would have been like 100’s of years ago before tourists had taken over, although the irony of these thoughts was not lost on this particular tourist.
Come the second day, I returned to the coach ready to continue on my trip down the Romantic Road. Admittedly the scenery on the roads was far better, gazing through the coach window at rustic looking fields and buildings, but I was still being deposited at each little town every hour or so. Although they continued to be picturesque, without any other input they started to all merge into one and become quite samey and by the last few stops it had simply become a case of get out of the bus, take a few pictures and then wait to get back on the bus again. This was a shame as the places were stunning in some cases but the tour was just crying out for a bit of energy to be instilled into each stop.
So, the argument as to whether the Romantic Road is romantic is debatable. Certainly, I would not recommend it as a place to find romance! The towns were charming and well worth a visit, but I only truly started to enjoy them when I spent any meaningful time there rather than when I was ushered out at each stop for a quick photo and walk around. Perhaps the limited time my schedule allowed did not lend itself to “doing” the road properly. Certainly the idea of driving myself along this road holds much more appeal, so I could have a far more relaxed attitude to each town. And who knows with a bit more time and a good looking car, perhaps a different kind of romance might have blossomed!