Experience Germany's Castles, Wine Country and Some of the Cutest Towns in Europe!
When I visited Munich nearly 10 years ago, my time was spent bopping around town sight-seeing during the day and hopping from beer garden to beer garden sampling local brews each evening. Suffice to say, I had a ton of fun in Munich (perhaps a bit too much fun), but since that trip I’ve found myself (incorrectly) associating the whole country with Munich’s beer gardens, tubed meat and oompah bands. With so many places I’m dying to see around the globe, Germany didn’t top my list of places I needed to return to in the near future. However, with age comes wisdom (or so they say), and in the last year or so I found myself (wander)lusting to explore Germany’s picturesque countrysides, castles and culture.
Did I mention I have a slight obsession with castles?
My recent road trip around Germany with Auto Europe was the trip of a lifetime. Germany has a ton of destinations I’d love to visit, but the country is large and it would take much longer than 10 days to hit all the highlights, so this road trip itinerary focuses on an area that is chock-full of castles, wine country and some of the cutest towns in Europe.
My road trip loop route begins and ends in Frankfurt, dips into Bavaria, weaves through the Black Forest, and explores the Moselle Valley and Rhine River Valley. This itinerary is brimming with small towns that seem as though they’re torn straight from the pages of a storybook, sweeping vistas, some of the finest wine regions in the world, and of course, lots of castles. Each destination is less than a three hour drive, so you won’t spend your precious vacation time stuck in the car (but when you are, you won’t mind it one bit since the German countryside is so lovely)! I chose to hit the road with my girlfriends, but this itinerary would also make a great romantic getaway or solo adventure.
You can re-create my trip by following my 10 day Germany road trip itinerary:
DAY 1 & 2: ROTHENBURG OB TAUBER
Drive Time: 2 hours
After your flight lands in Frankfurt and you pick up your car from Auto Europe, decide whether you will spend time in the city or immediately hit the road to Rothenburg ob Tauber. This medieval walled town is picturesque and packs a lot of punch for travelers with its climbable city walls, wood-adorned buildings, peaceful valley views and plenty of restaurants and shops catering to tourists who flock to the city to experience its charm. Spend your day wandering the streets and sampling the local specialties: homemade fruit-flavored schnapps and schneeballen, a round pastry made of fried dough.
FWTG Tip: Rothenburg ob Tauber is popular with day-trippers, so stay the night to experience the more peaceful and less hectic side of the town.
DAY 3 & 4: BLACK FOREST
Drive Time: 2 hours
I would recommend that you use Tübingen, a cute river-side college town, as your base to explore the Black Forest rather than Stuttgart, which many travelers consider too sterile and industrial. Tübingen is close to both Hohenzollern Castle (a 30 minute drive) and Lichtenstein Castle (a 35 minute drive), two highlights of the Black Forest region.
I literally felt like I was stepping into a real-life fairy tale while exploring this region. The Black Forest is magical. As if the awe-inspiring castles weren’t enough, the lush forest is dotted with quaint and charming villages. Take your time exploring as you drive to visit Lichtenstein Castle.
You’re also going to want to see the ultra-impressive Hohenzollerheim Castle. I decided to hike to the Zeller Horn overlook to view the castle from afar rather than touring it, since it is sometimes described as less interesting and contrived-looking up close.
FWTG Tip: You should experience the above view. (Period). We were given some bad directions and ended up hiking around for a couple hours before finding the viewpoint. This wasn’t ideal, although the area is very pretty and would have made for some pleasant day hikes had we been dressed appropriately, especially considering the 85 degree weather (and yes, I hiked in a maxi-dress and flip flops… again).
The viewpoint is actually easy to find if you’re steered in the right direction. Park in the parking lot next to this hotel and check the signs near the exit of the lot which will point you in the direction of Zeller Horn. Start down the straight gravel path and be sure to stay right when it forks. The path is an easy flat walk for the first 1 km. You will then come to a steep incline where you’ll hike up for about 0.3 km before reaching the view point. I promise the view will be well worth your effort!
DAY 5: BADEN-BADEN
Drive Time: 1.5 hours
If you’re looking for some relaxation and are ready to bare it all, you won’t want to miss the spa epicenter of Baden-Baden. Historically, the area’s natural mineral springs have been fabled to cure whatever ails you, but today the city is touted as a luxurious spa retreat. Try a traditional bathhouse like the upscale Friedrichsbad Bathousef if you’re ready to truly immerse yourself in both mineral water and European culture. When the Friedrichsbad opened in 1877, it was regarded as the most elegant bath house in Europe.
Oh, and you may want to know that it’s a nude co-ed bathhouse.
Yup, that’s right… your 17-step three to four hour spa treatment takes place naked and among strangers. If you’re not quite ready to take the co-ed plunge, other bathhouses are separated by sex. If you left your sense of adventure at home, you can also find modern spas offering all the normal pampering treatments you’d expect. The city of Baden-Baden itself is quite lovely too — shaded pedestrian walkways, boutique shops and a ritzy casino — you’ll find plenty to occupy your time after your spa treatment.
FWTG Tip: Don’t wimp out – indulge in a coed naked spa day. It was my first time, and although I was slightly mortified at the beginning, by the end I was completely relaxed and glad to have experienced such a uniquely European indulgence. It was quite a memorable experience! 🙂
DAY 6 & 7: MOSELLE VALLEY
Drive Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Your Moselle Valley base will be Cochem, the largest of the Moselle towns. The Moselle Valley is renowned for its wines and is the birthplace of the best Rieslings in the world. Although many visitors flock to Moselle for its wine, the area is also brimming with castles and is less touristy than the neighboring Rhine Valley.
Gorgeous Cochem is bordered by the river and steep vineyards. Partake in a wine-tasting or two, hike through the vineyards or bike along the river valley. You’ll also want to visit Beilstein, a quaint town nick-named “the sleeping beauty of the Moselle.”
The highlight of the area for many travelers is exploring Eltz Castle, which is picturesquely located atop a peak hidden within the Eltz Forest. Forget Neuschwanstein, this dream-like castle tops my list!
FWTG Tip: You can hike to Eltz Castle or take the shuttle up, but regardless of which option you choose, make sure you plan your arrival to coincide with the super-interesting guided tour (given in English upon request).
DAY 8, 9 & 10: RHINE RIVER VALLEY
Drive Time: 1 hour
The Rhine River Valley is what fairy tales are made of! Although the Rhine can be packed with throngs of retiree-aged tourists during peak season, the area is a must-see for any castle enthusiast. The Upper Middle Rhine area from Koblenz to Bingen is a UNESCO World Heritage Site boasting more than 40 castles and fortresses jutting out from the river valley. I would recommend that you base yourself out of Bacharach or Boppard for the best array of accommodation and restaurants. The most enjoyable way to see the Rhine in its full glory is from the river itself – hop on a boat, enjoy a glass of wine and take in the breathtaking castle-filled views.
Make sure to explore these must-see Rhine towns during your stay:
- Boppard: Take the sesselbahn (chairlift) 20 minutes up the steep hillside for an impressive view of the river’s horseshoe bend.
- Bacharach: A front-runner for the area’s most beautiful town, you’ll feel as though you’re wandering through a movie set. I could have easily spent the whole day getting lost in the town’s narrow alleyways, hiking through the steep vineyards and admiring the castle views.
- Brabach: The imposing Marksburg Castle towers above town. To add to its intrigue, this fortress was the only one along the Rhine which was never destroyed.
- St. Goar: St. Goar is home to the ruins of Rheinfels Castle. You could easily spend hours climbing atop the ruins and exploring the castle’s underground tunnels.
FWTG Tip: Check the weather forecast before heading up the sesselbahn in Boppard – you don’t want to be stuck on the chairlift when it begins to thunderstorm. Unfortunately, I’m speaking from personal experience. We weren’t even halfway there when the wind picked up, the chairlift started to sway from side to side and the rain began to pelt down on us. We arrived at the top soaked and a bit terrified. Luckily, there’s a restaurant on the mountain where we could dry off, get warm and call a taxi to take us back down to town.
After a few days exploring the Rhine it’s time to drive back to Frankfurt (1 hour), return your Auto Europe rental car and catch your flight. I always hate to head back home, but the memories from this trip will last a lifetime!
What do you think of my Germany road trip itinerary? Which destination would you be most excited to see?
Thank you to FWTG partner, Auto Europe, for helping me make this road trip possible! As always, all opinions are my own. CC photos from Flickr: Baden-Baden – Trinkhalle Panorama by digital cat and Stahleck Castle, Bacharach, Germany by Gwendolyn Stanbury.
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