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Southwestern Germany has long inspired legends, soothed romantic sensibilities, and delighted travelers, and little wonder. Ancient castle ruins in the midst of thick woodlands, lovely and atmospheric towns and cities, valleys carpeted with vineyards, dark forests and shimmering lakes—it’s all here. Aside from an overload of scenery, these landscapes also offer the heavy-on-atmopshere ambiance of an old university town (Heidelberg); soothing thermal baths (in sophisticated Baden-Baden); cozy Black Forest town ambiance (on the cobbled lanes of Freiburg); even shiny vintage cars (in Stuutgart’s Mercedes-Benz and Porsche museums).

Heidelberg

89km (55 miles) S of Frankfurt

This ancient university town on the Neckar River enjoys a reputation as an enchanted purveyor of wine and romance, song and student life, fun and frivolity. It drew 19th-century German Romantics, who praised and painted it; Mark Twain, who cavorted in its lively streets and made cynical observations in “A Tramp Abroad”; and fans of the 1924 operetta “Student Prince,” set in Heidelberg (and with a rousing chorus, “Drink, drink, drink” that is still an anthem for many young residents and their visitors). A little less poetically, this attractive city of 135,000 inhabits also housed a U.S. army base for many decades after World War II, helping ensure its popularity with Americans. Heidelberg was ravaged by French invaders during the 30 Years War in the 17th century yet was relatively unscathed in World War II, and the Altstadt (Old Town) looks much as it did a century or two ago, with a lot of architectural landmarks from the later Middle Ages and early Renaissance still standing. Historically, though, Heidelberg is young at heart; the oldest university in Germany is based here, dating to 1386. Some 28,000 students impart a palpable energy to the narrow lanes and lively inns of the Altstadt. While great mouments and museums are thin on the ground in Heidelberg, this youthful aura and romantically historic ambiance will no doubt make your time here memorable.