Cycling the Romantic Road
During medieval times The Romantic Road was a trade route, connecting the center of Germany with civilizations to the south. Today this region continues to display the essence of German scenery and culture, passing through a land of walled towns complete with towers and gates, rustic villages, ornate pilgrimage churches, dramatically sited castles and splendid palaces. Along the way, a fascinating historical tapestry unfolds. Almost the entire route lies within Bavaria, the largest of the sixteen provinces which make up the modern German federal state. However, the towns along its length have histories extending far into the centuries prior to the Napoleonic Wars, when literally hundreds of tiny autonomous states covered Germany. The walled towns of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Dinkelsbuhl and Nordlingen each functioned for centuries as city states. Augsburg, Donauworth and Feuchtwangen were founded as small principalities. The large castles looming over Harburg, Wallerstein, Schillingsfurst and Weikersheim testify to their history of statehood. Wurzburg was the capital of a powerful prince-bishopric and Bad Mergentheim was for three centuries the headquarters of the Teutonic Knights, the premier order of German chivalry.
The Romantic Road starts in Wurzburg below the hilltop Marienberg Fortress. The ride begins with a long gradual uphill and then, with gentle ups and downs, wanders through the lovely and mysterious Tauber Valley. It weaves its way through red tile roofed houses on quiet streets of picturesque towns, past fertile farms and charming gardens and then hugs the tranquil banks of the river Wornitz. It leads through Rothenburg ob der Tauber, along the cobblestone streets of Germany’s best-preserved medieval walled town. It continues over the moat through medieval Dinkelsbuhl, another walled town and then on to Nordlingen, the third walled town. From there the route runs through the fascinating Nordling Ries meteorite crater, through Harburg with its majestic castle to Donauworth, along cycle paths and auto roads with low traffic volumes. Donauworth reveals a glimpse of the Danube River and then well-developed paths lead the way through the expansive alluvial forest covering the plain of the Lech River and downhill into charming Landsberg am Lech. With spectacular views of the Alps in the distance, the route passes right by the door of dazzling Wieskirche, a UNESCO Heritage site. Nearing the foothills of the Alps the fairytale castles, Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau make their breathtaking presences known. The Romantic Road cycle route finishes with a cycle along a lake and river into Fussen, located near the Austrian border.
German hospitality is among the finest in the world. Distances between villages are short and most towns offer a variety of mouth-watering bakeries, inexpensive sandwich shops, quaint outdoor cafes, traditional beergardens and full-menued restaurants. Overnight accommodations offer the cyclist extremely comfortable rooms in buildings steeped in history. Breakfasts are of a hearty traditional German fare and include varieties of fresh breads and pastries, honey, jams and jellies, meat, cheese, eggs, fruit, cereals, yogurt, juices, milk, tea and coffee. Germany is famous for its beer and fine wines with each region offering its own unique varieties to be enjoyed.
Cycling the Romantic Road does not require the well-trained leg muscles of a professional cyclist – there are no mountains to cross and no extremely long, perspiration-inducing ascents to overcome. The hills that are encountered are sometimes steep, but relatively short and can be readily climbed by a person of average fitness. Weather in this region of Germany is very similar to that of Southern Ontario with July and August typically very warm and dry. For your communication convenience, most libraries and many hotels offer internet service for a nominal cost.
The route planners for the Romantic Road have done an excellent job of providing very enjoyable, mostly paved off-road cycling paths combined with some low traffic volume roads when necessary. Approximately one-quarter of the route is on unpaved, gravel cycle paths leading through forests and farmlands. All this makes for a very relaxed, carefree and varied sightseeing bicycle experience.
THE TAUBER RIVER IS OUR GUIDE FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS…
47 KM TODAY WE WEND OUR WAY ALONG ITS BANKS TO BAD MERGENTHEIM
Maps needed: Map # 3,4,5,6,7; Town map of Bad Mergentheim
(3) From the Tauberhotel Kette, ride north to the Tauberbrücke, the main bridge over the Tauber River, and cross the river. Turn left onto the bike trail beside Hammelsgasse and stay alongside the railway.
At “7” on the map cross over the train tracks and take Rudenholzweg towards the town of Waldenhausen.
3.2 km – Enter Waldenhausen. Continue on Kirchackerstrasse. At the next intersection, turn slightly right onto the Talweg (valley path) out of town.
Take Strasse zum Ottersberg into the town of Reicholzheim.
6 km - At the main road (Alte Heerstrasse) turn left then, before you reach the Tauber, turn right onto Waldenbergweg.
Keep to the left of the train tracks. Pass under the Schonertsbach underpass. The cycle path continues to the right of the railway. Continue along the Tauber.
8.8 km – Pass the bridge to the town of Bronnbach on the other side of the Tauber.
(4) At “8” on the map, before the town of Gamburg, there is the possibility to turn left to visit Eulschirbenmühl, a water mill along the Tauber.
The legend of Eulschirbenmühl: Way back in the past a beautiful maiden named Melusine worked in the Gamburg Mill. Every Thursday evening she would mysteriously disappear and reappear again on Saturday morning. The duke, taken with her beauty, followed her one Thursday night and watched her remove all her clothes and disappear into the Tauber River. He realized that she was a Flusnixxe (water nymph) and, in spite of being married, fell in love with her. He proceeded to build for her a castle in the Tauber that had as many rooms above water as it had below into which she was happy to move. The miller was not pleased and sought advice from the monks at the monastery in Bronnbach. They presented him with a piece of paper covered with magical symbols and incantations. On a Saturday morning, the miller placed this paper on the stairs that led up from the underwater portion of the castle. When Melusine encountered the enchanted paper, she fell back into the water, never to be seen again. The duke died of grief and, as often happens, the duke’s wife moved into the water castle and spent the rest of her days there in prayer and contemplation. When she in turn passed away, the waters of the Tauber mysteriously rose, covering all but the very top of the castle. The nuns of Bronnbach, determined to calm the situation, gave the remains of the castle back to the miller who turned it into the mill that can still be seen today standing on the shores of the Tauber River near Gamburg.
16.3 km – Arrive in the town of Gamburg.
Continue along the path on the shore of the Tauber River to Niklashausen, then Werbach, then Hochhausen.
(5) 22.8 km – Ride through the village of Hochhausen. The route runs parallel to the K2815 with signs to Tauberbischofsheim.
Entering into Tauberbischofsheim, continue along Pestalozziallee. At the roundabout go straight on and continue to the pedestrian crossing located opposite to a large parking lot (and Rewe grocery store).
27.5 km - At “9” on the map cross straight ahead via the pedestrian crossing and follow Blumenstrasse across Schmiederstrasse. Go straight past the town hall (Rathaus) to the Marktplatz (Market Square).
28.5 km – reach the Marktplatz in Tauberbischofsheim. Look for the Sternapothecke (Star Pharmacy) on the Marktplatz that was built in 1670.
Tauberbischofsheim was settled before 3000 BC but the roots of the modern town were planted when a convent was established here in 735 AD by St. Boniface, a Benedictine monk born in Devon, England. This was the very first convent in all of Germany. St. Boniface appointed his sister, Lioba, as the first abbess. St. Lioba was an abbess ahead of her time who allowed women to enter the cloisters to study without becoming nuns. St. Boniface became the Archbishop of Mainz thus causing the name of the town to become Tauberbischofscheim (Bishop’s Home on the Tauber). Around 1280 a small castle, Kurmainz, was built here by the Prince Bishops of Mainz and the town was fortified with surrounding walls and 22 towers. Kurmainz Castle with its Turmersturm tower still stands and is the home of the local history museum. Today Tauberbischofsheim is noted as a training center for the sport of fencing
From here to the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the Romantische Strasse follows the same route as the Liebliches Taubertal (Tauber Valley Cycleway). If you don’t see a Romantische Strasse sign you can safely follow the Liebliches Taubertal signs. The simple signs with a bicycle and arrows in green also point out the correct route. Our route follows the Tauber River valley with quiet routes and gentle gradients. It is said that many historic buildings in towns along the Tauber were saved from damage during the war by the frequent fog that blankets them and hides them from view.
This is the only part of the Romantic Road that strays out of the province of Bavaria. The route from Tauberbischofsheim to Creglingen travels mainly through the province of Baden-Wurttemberg.
From the Marktplatz in Tauberbischofsheim turn right into the pedestrian zone onto Hauptstrasse and then take Schlossplatz to the Kurmainz Castle. Behind the Turmersturm (tower) take the small staircase down to the Dittigheimer Weg (pathway) to pick up the bike path. Go through the underpass and on to the village of Dittigheim.
In the village you’ll pass an inn and a church. Head straight at the intersection and continue on toward Distelhausen.
(6) 31.5 km - The main village of Distelhausen lies on the other side of the Tauber River but stay on this side of the river. Pass St. Wolfgang Chapel (built in 1442) with its many fruit trees then head straight on to Lauda-Königshofen.
There is a right bend over the railway bridge then follow the road to the left to arrive in Lauda.
At the intersection where sits the Gasthaus Zum Goldenen Stern go straight on Pfarrstrasse.
35.5 km – Arrive in the center of Lauda. Continue straight on Marienstrasse, turn left onto Bachgasse then right onto Josef-Schmitt-Straße and leave Lauda.
At the end of this street, at “10” on the map, turn left and go under the train tracks then turn right.
The settlement of Lauda-Konigshofen dates back to Celtic times. It developed out of the planting of vines for wine in early medieval times. As the area became an important trading point for wine during the 1500s, prosperous merchants and vintners built massive half-timbered houses, many of which still survive today. As was common during these centuries the town’s fortunes were in constant flux as ownership of Lauda-Konighofen transferred amongst the various Prince-Bishops numerous times. There are some towers here still standing from medieval times. The Pulverturm (Powder Tower) dates from the 13th century and the Oberes Tor (Upper Tower) is a rare surviving part of medieval town walls dating from the 14th century.
39.3 km - Once in the Königshöfen district the route follows Eisenbahnstraße. At the end of the village, cross the B292 and turn left onto the cycle path. At the next street (with the children’s playground) go right on a bike path towards Unterbalbach.
(7) At “11” on the map go left over the Tauber on the Tauberbrücke (Tauber Bridge) into Unterbalbach.
At the second intersection in town turn right onto Erlenweg. Follow the signs and after many turns you will find yourself back in among open fields. Continue towards Edelfingen
43.5 km - In Edelfingen turn right onto Tauberstraße then left onto Theobaldstraße. Shortly after turn right again then left onto Alte Frankenstraße to the Hauptstraße (Main Street) then right onto the left-side bike path that leads away from the B290 idyllically along the Tauber toward Bad Mergentheim.
46.7 km - In Bad Mergentheim, at “12” on the map turn right onto Wolfgangstraße and go over the bridge.
Continue on Wolfgangstraße. Go straight through the roundabout and then left onto Johann-Hammer-Straße. At the end of the parking lot turn left onto the small path under the train tracks. Continue straight on until you reach the first crossroads and turn left into Morikstraße. At the large crossroad turn left onto Untere Mauergaße. At the first opportunity turn right onto Torkelgaße. At the end of the street turn right onto Gansmarktstraße and ride past the monastery to the Marktplatz (Market Square).
Continue straight through the Marktplatz and pass to the left of the Tourist Information building, cross Ochsengaße/Funkengaße onto Hanz-Heinrich-Ehrler-Platz. Cross Wettgaße.
Our hotel for tonight is (Trip Depending).
Bad Mergentheim is the only spa town along the Romantic Road. Archaeological excavations reveal that the springs located here were known by its first settlers, the Celts, but this knowledge was lost in upheaval as the town was taken over by the arrival of three of the most prominent German chivalric orders, the Knights of St John, created at the end of the first Crusade (12th century), the Teutonic Order, from the Third Crusade (1191) and then the Dominican Order. The Crusades themselves were undertaken to attempt to take back Jerusalem from the controlling Turks and the Crusade orders were formed as idealistic groups of honest warriors, sworn to poverty, chastity and obedience with one of their objectives being to protect innocent citizens, especially pilgrims, on the road to Jerusalem. The truth of their actions was quite different, however, and murder, rape, sacking and many other horrors were bestowed upon many European cities by the Crusaders long before they ever reached “the Holy Land”.
In 1525 Bad Mergentheim became the headquarters of the Teutonic Knights who had received the blessings of various popes and emperors to continue their crusading activities. They used their tremendous wealth to build their homebase, the Castle of the Teutonic Knights (Deutschordenschloss) in Bad Mergentheim. They also constructed sturdy and beautiful half-timbered houses and town offices with intricate facades, soaring roof lines, gables and chimneys. Their activities continued until 1809 when Napoleon put a stop to the power of the Teutonic Knights. Today their castle now houses the Deutschordensmuseum (Museum of the Teutonic Order). Bad Mergentheim, like Wurzburg, conducted witch hunts with mass execution of victims clearly selected for their wealth and prominence in local society. There is documentary evidence linking proceeds from the sale of executed witches’ property to building programs in the local church. Bad Mergentheim’s development changed direction in 1826, when a shepherd discovered his sheep avidly drinking from the rich mineral springs in the area and the springs were rediscovered. The waters here turned out to be the strongest sodium-sulfate water in all of Europe and were reputed to be especially effective for the treatment of digestive disorders. Today Bad Mergentheim is the largest spa resort in the state of Baden-Württemberg.