Vine-covered hills form the backdrop to WÜRZBURG, a visible reminder that you’re no longer in beer country. The city marks the start of the Romantic Road, which leads south to the Alps from here, and with its picturesque setting, artistic and architectural treasures and fine wines, Würzburg makes a fitting start to Germany’s most famous road trip. Most of the sights are concentrated in the compact, walkable area between the Residenz and River Main, but you’ll need to cross the Alte Mainbrücke to get the classic view of the Altstadt’s pinnacled skyline. Also not to be missed is the Marienberg fortress, rising above vineyards on the opposite side of the river.
The centre of the Franconian wine industry was for centuries dominated by the bishopric founded by the English missionary St Boniface in 742 AD and, as in Bamberg, its prince-bishops wielded both spiritual and temporal power. In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries the city nurtured the talent – whilst ultimately spurning the revolutionary politics – of the master woodcarver Tilman Riemenschneider. In the eighteenth century two prince-bishops of the luxury-loving Schörnborn dynasty were responsible for commissioning the city’s greatest monument – and Bavaria’s most magnificent palace – the Residenz, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Horrendous damage was visited on Würzburg by Britain’s Royal Air Force on March 16, 1945, when the city was subjected to an ordeal by firestorm that consumed the Altstadt and killed five thousand people; destruction was so severe the city was afterwards dubbed “The Grave on the Main”. Justification for the raid derived supposedly from the city’s rail junction, though it had long been on a list of cities earmarked for attack for no specific reason other than their size. After the war, Würzburg recovered with remarkable success, and its war-damaged monuments were slowly and painstakingly restored or rebuilt.