Heidelberg/Neckar: view of the city

The beautiful architecture of Heidelberg.

GHeidelberg/Neckar: panoramic view of the Neckar bridge

Panaramic view of Heidelberg's famous Neckar Bridge.

Heidelberg/Neckar: Romantik-Hotel zum Ritter St. Georg

Strolling the streets of Heidelberg.

Heidelberg/Neckar: Neckar bridge, old quarter and castle

Heidelberg's picturesque old town.

Heidelberg/Neckar: town hall on Marktplatz

Relaxing on Heidelberg's charming Marktplatz.

On the road to romance…

Mark Twain wrote in A Tramp Abroad, "Out of a billowy upheaval of vivid green foliage rises the huge ruin of Heidelberg Castle, with empty window arches, ivy-mailed battlements, moldering towers—the Lear of inanimate nature—deserted, discrowned, beaten by the storms, but royal still, and beautiful."

Heidelberg, along Germany's Castle Road, was relatively spared during World War II. As a result, Heidelberg has retained its baroque charm of narrow streets, picturesque houses and of course the world-famous castle that inspired Twain and other writers and philosophers.

The Heidelberg Castle is among the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps. Castles were originally built to defend towns, and therefore perched at high points near rivers in order to see enemies from any direction. This schloss is no different. Located 260 feet up on the hillside, it dominates the view down on the Alstadt (Old Town.)

The earliest castle structure was built before AD 1214 and later expanded into two castles in 1294. But in 1537, a lightning-bolt destroyed the upper castle. And wouldn't you know it, lightning struck here twice. In 1764, another bolt destroyed some more of this majesty. In the centuries that followed, the Castle was misused as a quarry. This was stopped in 1800 by Count Charles de Graimberg who made any effort he could to preserve the Heidelberg Castle. Today, you can make the steep climb to the top (or take the tram) and take a tour on the relatively cheap.

From the terrace, look down onto the Neckar River to the Old Bridge. With nine red sandstone arches spanning the waterway, it blends harmoniously with the surroundings. On one of the last days of World War II, troops used explosives to render all of Heidelberg's Neckar bridges impassable, including the Old Bridge. But thanks to the town's residents who took up a collection drive, work to rebuild it began as soon after the war ended. In 2001 the Old Bridge was added to the World Monuments Fund.

After the war, the United States Armed Forces built large barracks on the southern end of the city. Between the soldiers and their families, the large student population (thanks to the 14 th century University of Heidelberg), worldly visitors and locals, Heidelberg is truly an internationally and culturally diverse destination, despite its small size.

During the holidays, the tourism floodgates open. Heidelberg is home to one of Germany's best and most beautiful Christmas Markets. With over 120 stalls, you're surrounded by trees glistening with lights, stunning castle views and the Old Quarter. After shopping for holiday gifts, have a glass of Glühwein before skating around the open-air ice rink.

Heidelberg is easy to get to. From Frankfurt, the EuroCity train takes just an hour. Stuttgart, cradle of the automobile and home to the Porsche and Mercedes museums, can be reached in 45 minutes on the 170mph ICE train. Munich takes less than three hours.

Forget the car. With your German Rail Pass, take the train to the Romantic Road – and fall in love faster than you could ever have imagined.

Contributed by: Vida, Development Coach, is 100% Lithuanian and has plans to visit the country soon.

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