Nowhere cries "quintessential German" quite as loudly as the Romantische Strasse, or Romantic Road, a 355-km (220-mile) drive through the south-central countryside. With 28 traditional red-roofed villages, some still brimming with medieval architecture, rising out of the pastoral scenery, the route is also memorable for the castles, abbeys, and churches tucked away beyond low hills, their spires and towers just visible through the greenery.
The Romantic Road began in 1950 as a bus tour through this corner of West Germany, then occupied by the American forces, as a way to promote this historic route through Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. Don't let the name fool you—this isn't a road for lovebirds; rather the word romantic is used to mean an adventurous look at the past, especially the Middle Ages.
Rich in history, the Romantic Road was traveled by the Romans 2,000 years ago. Its path criss-crosses centuries-old battlefields, most especially those of the Thirty Years' War, which destroyed the region's economic base in the 17th century. The depletion of resources prevented improvements that would have modernized the area—thereby assuring that these towns would become the quaint tourist destinations they are today.