The Romantic Road
The best way to see Bavaria’s old and charming small towns is through an old-fashioned road trip in the new AUDI A4.
Cruising through the Romantic Road with the new Audi A4.
Germany may be eclipsed by other European “superstars” like France, Spain, and Italy—but it’s certainly not lacking in interesting things to see. Outside of its most famous attractions: Brandenburg gate in Berlin, Oktoberfest in Munich, and the majestic Gothic cathedral in Cologne—the country has much more to offer even for repeat visitors.
One thing I discovered were the scenic routes that connect cities and towns based on theme, outlined for land travelers. History buffs might want to check out the German Limes Route, named after the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes, or the former boundary of the Roman Empire. Fans of architecture can trace the Romanesque Road, which highlights medieval churches, monasteries and castles built in that style. There are routes for handcrafted products like porcelain, clocks and glass; and even ones for wine, cheese, and asparagus.
But the route I was interested in traversing the most was the so-called Romantische Strasse or the Romantic Road. The name itself, I would find out later, is a marketing gimmick meant to promote tourism in the area after World War II, which seems to have worked. This 400 km route goes through charming small towns and covers stunning landscapes, eyepopping architecture and unique cultural treasures. It is in the National Tourist Board’s Top 10 list of visitors’ favorite destinations in the country.
Luckily, the good folks at Audi handed me the keys to their all-new A4—the newest version of the brand’s compact executive sedan, and one of their bestselling models.
Time and resources were limited, so I chose only three towns along the route to check out. The first was Würzburg—the traditional starting point of the Romantic Road, known for the Marienberg Fortress and for the Alte Mainbrucke, a stone bridge over the River Main built over a period of 70 years in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Second on the route was Rothenburg ob der Tauber, perhaps the most famous small town in Germany. Scores of tourists are a familiar sight in this town that has a history stretching back almost 2,000 years. Well-preserved half-timbered houses, as well as towering 500-year-old buildings create a sense of stepping back in time. It’s no wonder that scenes from films like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were shot here. I grabbed a schneeball (a traditional pastry with sugar dusting) and continued walking around toward the town square, where centuries-old buildings heightened the extraordinary feeling of time travel.
The last stop on my mini Romantic Road tour was Dinkelsbühl. If Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a tourist favorite, this even smaller town is a bit off the beaten path. Hardly anyone was walking along its quiet, cobblestone streets.
Dinkelsbühl escaped damage from from both World Wars, and the 500-year-old St. George’s Minster remained in the center of the old town to tower over a few restaurants and shophouses. Facing the church was Rothenburg Gate, a former prison cell and torture chamber, while behind me led to Segringer Strasse, where a row of old houses led to another gate to the old town.
I was with a good friend who is based in Europe for some sections of this trip, but for the most part, my only companion was the Audi A4. I started to call it Ace (think Tom Hanks naming his volleyball Wilson in Castaway), especially since I would drive it two or three hours at a time. It proved to be a worthy road trip buddy.
“The A4 is really the car for everybody,” said Jens Dietrich Kotnik, Global Product Manager of the A4. “It’s everybody’s darling. We’ve created an entirely new design language for the car,” he said, referring to the ninth generation of the A4 whose design he was responsible for. “You have a flatter, wider grille in front, a sharp tornado line in the side, and a sophisticated finished line in the bonnet.”
Depending on the engine, the car boasts of up to 25 percent more power and 21 percent less fuel emissions. There’s also a virtual cockpit located just behind the steering wheel with a full digital display of information in the retractable dashboard. The A4 is the first vehicle in Audi’s B segment to have it, after it was first introduced in the sports cars R8 and the TT, and the Q7 SUV.
Two other noteworthy tech features of the A4 are the Adaptive Cruise Control, which, when engaged, allows the car to steer, accelerate and brake by itself, and Predictive Efficiency Assistance, which uses the car’s built-in navigation system to survey the landscape and alert the driver.
Although getting to visit a few towns on the Romantic Road was a dream, the real thrill came when I got the chance to drive the A4 with Mr. Kotnik, the guy who literally helped create the car, riding shotgun.
For a few days in Germany, I certainly got a lot done, but if there’s any opportunity to go back, there’s no doubt I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
The ninth generation Audi A4 is equipped with adaptive cruise control that its chief designer says represents the next step in autonomous driving.
Plönein in Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of Germany’s most photographed spots.