Riding the train here is half the fun, as trees and farms whiz by, with the clatter of bikes, luggage and chatter in English, German, French and more the soundtrack as you approach Rothenberg ob der Tauber. When a whole slew of folks get off at this one-track town, you’re left wondering where they’re all going. But you’ve all entered a time portal of sorts, everyone lured to the medieval mystique of a family-friendly stop that can please all the people all the time.
Nestled in the Franconia region of Bavaria on the so-called Romantic Road, there’s truly something for everyone. Whether your penchant is for delicious local wines or beers, regional culinary specialties, a medieval punishment museum that rivals anything your kids have experienced in “Assassin’s Creed” or teddy bears — the town’s unofficial mascot — there’s something for everyone and two days is more than enough time to relax, refresh and recharge, if you’re brave enough to take the kids on a European road trip.
Start by dropping the bags at your hotel. There are several smack-dab in the center of town, including Gotisches Haus, where many of the 11 spacious rooms have windows that open out onto the cobbled streetfront and the babbling fountain just below. You can leave the windows open for a view of the wooden-hewn beams of neighboring homes, let the breeze in at night or get a glimpse of an 8-foot-tall bear — stuffed, that is — at the toy store across the street. With a king-sized bed and sleeping couch (along with bathrooms bigger than most New York apartments), there’s plenty of room for a family.
Get the lay of the land with a walk around town. At the end of your hotel’s street is a large public park, along with several benches and a viewing promenade of the valley below, vineyard terraces and the 13th-century historic city walls. No afternoon is complete without a coffee break and sweet, so head over to Café Einzigartig for one of Rothenburg’s most iconic treats: the snowball. Cannoli-like dough is fried crisp, then dunked in chocolate, nuts or powdered sugar. The latter is the most popular, and seems especially befitting since Rothenberg is famous for Käthe Wohlfahrt. All that glitters, jingles and has red and green hues is on display, as the family company has sold ornaments, nutcrackers, incense smokers and more (most of which is handmade locally) for over five decades. You’ll smile when pulling out a souvenir in December from a summer holiday — but if seasonal gear is more your style, then there’s plenty of Birkenstocks at about a third of the price as the States (among other fashionable treasures).
It’s no Christmas dinner, but an evening at Zur Holl is a nice prelude for what’s to come later in the evening. The historic house has just a few tables and they joke “a warm welcome awaits you” since it translates to “to Hell.” Dating to 900, the menu changes seasonally depending on what’s fresh in Franconia. Early September brings tasty chanterelles in cream sauce with your choice of meats; and a refreshingly zesty local white varietal only available at the beginning of the local wine harvest.
The sun will just begin to set as you set off for an entertaining tour of Rothenburg’s medieval magic and mystique — adding to the intrigue. Armed with a scythe and period garb, the theatrical night watchman tours are a much more entertaining take on a local guided history walk and, at an hour long, are perfect for kids. Learn about the history of the fortification walls here and 46 surviving towers dating back to the Middle Ages — along with the personalities who guarded them — as a glimpse for what awaits the next morning when doing a scenic (and easy) 2.5-mile stroll to explore them.
You’ll work up an appetite before heading to Hotel Reichskuechenmeister for lunch. Like Gotisches Haus, this one is family owned (all hotels are here, adding to the charm); you’ll often see the owners checking in on diners at indoor and outdoor tables, feasting on flatbread pizzas and homemade sausages. Although this property doesn’t have a pool, there is a relaxing spa area with a sauna. Each room in the historic property is recently renovated with cozy furnishings and cushy blankets fun to snuggle up in even in August.
If you’re into the warm and fuzzies, the Medieval Crime and Justice Museum may not be your first choice of where to spend an afternoon, but any kids who like Halloween will be fascinated by the section on witchcraft in Bavaria, along with the woodcuts of famous criminal trials. Mom and Dad will likely be more into Glocke Winery and Hotel, where the dinner menu features the local varietals for which Franconia is renowned. All of it is produced in the valley below that you’ve already admired if you’ve taken the tower stroll — and these delicious mouthfuls are a way to celebrate your achievements finding a vacation destination with something that suits the whole family!