A Gourmet Pedal Along Germany’s Romantic Road
With visions of sausage, sauerkraut, and artisan beers (in my husband’s case) dancing in our heads we eagerly agreed to cycle the Romantic Road in Germany with some friends. Our drive to the starting point of Würzburg involved an overnight stay and local brew sampling in Colmar, the Alsatian town that flaunts its charm from hundreds of candy-coloured hanging flower baskets.
The next morning, we headed towards Germany passing hillsides covered with flawless rows of grapevines and seemingly endless fields of cabbage awaiting fermentation. Despite a cold, thunder-charged downpour for our welcome to Würzburg the weather was not going to delay lunch. A meal of sauerkraut and bratwurst with mustard served on paper plates was precisely the way the guys in our group wanted to start our tour. Personally, I had a different idea that included a visit to the magnificent, gilded Würzburg Residence a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The rest of our group arrived late that evening, too bad for them as they missed dinner. The Weinstuben Juliusspital exudes wood-panelled warmth and a lively atmosphere it’s an attractive choice for a meal and the place to indulge in Franconian fare in the form of plates of steaming red cabbage and juicy roasted pork. Wines from the 177-hectare Juliusspital vineyards are bottled in short, flattened vessels called bocksbeutels.
Next morning, it was time to start peddling the Romantic Road (Romantischen Strasse) with the knowledge we had some 440 kilometres (km) to cover between the vineyards and the Bavarian Alps. Established for tourism purposes in the 1950s, the Romantic Road officially stretches from Würzburg to Füssen. However, trade routes including the Roman Via Claudia Augusta have existed for centuries in the region.
The Romantic Road was initially created as a driving trip, sign-posted along the way with brown signs. The route is also well established for cyclists, with signage at regular intervals. The biking is relatively flat and easy to follow as a self-guided trip or you can join a tour company.
Our first stop was the spa town of Bad Mergentheim known for its mineral waters. Despite instructions, maps and at least one functional GPS, our collective navigational skills resulted in a late lunch in Tauberbischofsheim still 25 km from our destination. Admittedly, we might have been hungry, but the Bavarian sausages with sauerkraut, lentil soup with cocktail-sized wieners and beef goulash filled the crevasses in our growling stomachs.
The cobbled streets of historical Rothenburg ob der Tauber are teeth-jarring on a bicycle. Our shakedown was quickly eclipsed by the fairy tale setting and peaked red roofs of this hilltop hamlet surrounded by its 1.5 km of ramparts. Meals can be tricky in a tourist town where menus and service compete for barely average. Our hotel suggested the herrnschlösschen for dinner, a boutique hotel in a converted 11th-century residence. The restaurant has a contemporary feel with subdued lighting and crisp linens; our crowd favourite that night was filet of veal with apple horseradish crust and rösti potato.
During our stay in Rothenburg, we had enough time to discover scheneeballs, German for snowballs, the baseball size pastries on display in every bakery window. Made with strips of plain shortcrust pastry that is rolled flat then cut into pieces and alternatively weaved together into a sweet sphere. The baker then uses a schneeballeneisen (unique holder) to deep-fry the dough ball before dusting it with confectioner’s sugar or dipping it in chocolate. Buyer beware: our group determined that scheneeballs were not worth the baker’s effort.
Leaving the hilltop town behind, we headed to Dinkelsbühl a relatively short 60 km ride. On the way, the Romantic Road followed the Tauber River highlighted by views of a pastoral patchwork quilt of yellow mustard seed, late season sunflowers, shimmering green meadows and parcels of dark brown just-tilled soil. The manure-scented air along the route confirmed why everything was so lush.
The charming town of Feuchtwangen was our lunch stop for pumpkin soup, bratwurst and sauerkraut (for consistency) on a sun-drenched terrace. This soup was the best that I sampled on the whole trip, possibly because we had passed so many pumpkin fields, but more likely because of the heavy cream.
Dinkelsbühl is a compact medieval town, a walled city with several watchtowers and beautiful half-timbered buildings in the historical Weinmarkt (wine market). On a mission to rehydrate after biking our male companions discovered Weib’s Brauhaus a microbrewery where we should have stayed to eat. Sadly, our dinner in the hotel that evening was the most disappointing meal of our trip.
Reaching our next destination of Augsburg involved a few wrong turns, some unplanned off-roading and almost nine hours in the saddle after 130 km. Our group arrived at the Hotel Augsburger Hof in dire need of some liquid refreshment and nourishment. I still have foodie visions of their beetroot salad, feta cheese and walnuts followed by filet of char with pumpkin-ricotta-ravioli. Our calorie count notched back to flat.
Augsburg included a rest day where we ogled the cornucopia of rainbow-coloured stalls in the Stadtmarkt (market) while the “boys” sampled beer. Chilled and tired of walking around without a plan, we chose the cozy, vaulted room at the Bayerisches Haus am Dom for lunch where we all gawked as a man at the adjacent table devoured a dinosaur-sized pig’s knuckle.
The next day we were back on our bikes, with a short warm-up loop to Friedberg before continuing along the Romantic Road. It was difficult to pick up the route after Friedberg, and before the end of the day, the bike odometers indicated a trip of 99 km on a short day! Despite the extra distance, we had peddled gorgeous flat roads under a china-blue sky, finally shedding the layers that we had purchased in Würzburg.
Füssen was in almost within our sights as we glided over green rolling hills with the Bavarian Alps as a backdrop. The scenery throughout the trip was gorgeous, but this day was eye-candy. We parked our bikes for the last time in Füssen and ordered up flammkuchen -- cracker thin Germany style pizza – with a few ales for lunch.
On our final tour day, we visited Neuschwanstein, the extravagant castle built under the direction of King Ludwig II. Our rain-soaked castle tour confirmed there would be no cycling that day. Instead, we settled for a traditional lunch of pfannkuchensuppe a clear beef broth served with sliced crepe-like pancakes, and veal sausage served in a “bathwater” with extra orders of sauerkraut.
Our diets started the next day!
Photos courtesy of Carolyne Kauser-Abbott.
The original version of this article was published in City Palate Magazine (May/June 2015).