Nestled at the foot of the Alps, tourist-busy Füssen is the southern climax of the Romantic Road, with the nearby castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau the highlight of many a southern Germany trip. But having 'done' the country's most popular tourist route and seen Ludwig II's fantasy palaces, there are other reasons to linger longer in the area.
Most foreign visitors arrive at the shores of the Bavarian Sea – as Chiemsee is affectionately known – in search of King Ludwig II’s Schloss Herrenchiemsee. The lake’s natural beauty and water sports make the area popular with de-stressing city dwellers, and many affluent Müncheners own weekend retreats by its shimmering waters.
Altmühltal Nature Park
The Altmühltal Nature Park is one of Germany’s largest nature parks and covers some of Bavaria’s most eye-pleasing terrain. The Altmühl River gently meanders through a region of little valleys and hills before joining the Rhine-Main Canal and eventually emptying into the Danube.
Spectacularly situated in the western Alps, the Allgäu region feels a long, long way from the rest of Bavaria, both in its cuisine (more Spätzle than dumplings) and the dialect, which is closer to the Swabian of Baden-Württemberg. The Allgäu’s chief draw is the car-free resort of Oberstdorf, a major skiing centre a short hop from Austria.
If marriage is diplomacy by another means, Coburg’s rulers were surely masters of the art. Over four centuries, the princes and princesses of the house of Saxe-Coburg intrigued, romanced and ultimately wed themselves into the dynasties of Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Portugal, Russia, Sweden and, most prominently, Great Britain.
Situated some 40km south of central Munich, Bad Tölz is a pretty spa town straddling the Isar River. The town’s gentle inclines provide a delightful spot for its attractive, frescoed houses and the quaint shops of the old town. At weekends thousands flock here from Munich to enjoy the ultramodern swimming complex, Alpine slide and hiking trips down the river.
Charmingly medieval, Nördlingen sees fewer tourists than its better known neighbours and manages to retain an air of authenticity, which is a relief after some of the Romantic Road’s kitschy extremes. The town lies within the Ries Basin, a massive impact crater gouged out by a meteorite more than 15 million years ago.
Some 40km south of Rothenburg, immaculately preserved Dinkelsbühl proudly traces its roots to a royal residence founded by Carolingian kings in the 8th century. Saved from destruction in the Thirty Years War and ignored by WWII bombers, this is arguably the Romantic Road’s quaintest and most authentically medieval halt.
Landsberg am Lech
Lovely Landsberg am Lech is often overlooked by Romantic Road trippers on their town-hopping way between Füssen to the south and Augsburg to the north. But it's for this very absence of tourists and a less commercial ambience that this walled town on the River Lech is worth a halt, if only a brief one.
A worthwhile halfway halt between Munich and Regensburg, or a place to kill half a day before a flight from nearby Munich Airport, Landshut (pronounced 'lants-hoot') was the hereditary seat of the Wittelsbach family in the early 13th century, and capital of the Dukedom of Bavaria-Landshut for over a century.
Quietly quaint Oberammergau occupies a wide valley surrounded by the dark forests and snow-dusted peaks of the Ammergauer Alps. The centre is packed with traditional painted houses, woodcarving shops and awestruck tourists who come here to learn about the town’s world-famous Passion Play.