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.

Esquire (Philippines) - - THIS WAY IN - by Paul John Caña

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.

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