"I want lots of castles!" said Samantha. A drive on Germany's Castle Road
This 365-mile castle-hopping trip combines what's best in two of Germany's most scenic routes: the less-touristed, pastoral east-west Burgenstrasse and the much more trodden north-south Romantische Strasse. The drive takes in several medieval jewels, including the towns of Heidelberg and Rothenburg, as well as Neuschwanstein, the outlandish inspiration for Cinderella's castle at Walt Disney World.
Perfect age group: Four- to 12-year-olds, especially those in the castle/dungeon/frog prince phase. (Our Samantha, 3 and 1/2, loved every turreted mile.)
How long: At least seven days.
DAY 1. FRANKFURT TO HEIDELBERG, 44 MILES
Drive your rental car south from the airport on A-5 into the heart of Heidelberg's Altstadt (Old Town). Check into the Romantik Hotel zum Ritter St. Georg (178 Hauptstrasse, Heidelberg; 49-6221/1350; doubles from $135, plus $25 per child); it's in an ornate Renaissance-era building right on the Marktplatz, the town square.
Take the cable car up the mountain to see Heidelberg castle, with its 18th-century Grosses Fass (one of the world's largest wine barrels, with a dance floor on top) and the pharmacy museum. Back in town, stroll along the Hauptstrasse, the major shopping street, stopping to watch the mimes. End the day by crossing the Neckar River on the Alte Brücke and walking up the narrow Schlangenweg (Snake Path) to the Philosophen Weg (Philosopher's Way) for a spectacular sunset cityscape.
DAY 2. HEIDELBERG TO HEILBRONN, 51 MILES
Drive east through the Neckar River valley on Route B-37 for 31 miles to Obrigheim, and then head south on B-27 another 13 miles to Bad Wimpfen. Visit the sweet Puppen & Spielzeugmuseum (a doll and toy museum) and the Schweine-Museum (devoted to pigs), with its amusing pig-themed gift shop. Pick up B-27 again and follow it for seven miles into Heilbronn. Check into the Insel Hotel (Friedrich-Ebert-Brücke, Heilbronn; 49-7131/6300; doubles from $116, plus $25 per child), perched on an island in the Neckar River right in the town center.
Walk a few blocks to the Altstadt and the Rathaus (town hall) to see the incredibly detailed mechanical clock: it shows the day of the week, the month, the position of the moon, and the current zodiac sign-not to mention the time.