Cycle Touring in Germany and France: The 10 Things I Enjoyed Most

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Sampling the wine along the way

Mike and I just returned from a cycling trip in Germany’s Rhine, Mosel, Saar and Pfalz regions and in neighbouring Alsace, France. We dub the experience The Tour du Vin und Kuchen. My odometer says that we pedalled 1100 km (684miles). Please save the oohs and ahhs. It works out to an average of about 50 km (31 miles) per day, cycling 21 out of our 29 days. We had a planned route, but our itinerary was fluid and we booked on the fly, giving us lots of flexibility to take part in wine festivals, eat kucken (cake) and explore the fairy-tale towns and castles. Over the next months, I’ll be writing posts about each of the regions we visited.  For now, here’s a summary of what I most enjoyed.

Awesome bike paths

Over 90% of our cycle time was on dedicated bike paths. Many, like the photo below, are completely removed from road traffic, others travel alongside roads with a barrier separating cyclists from motorists, and still others are on rural roads used only by farm vehicles. I’m a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to cycling in traffic and it was so nice not to stress about cars.

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Mike looking happy along the bucolic Saar River cycle path

Biking through a fairy tale

I feel like I’m pedalling through a fairy tale says Mike as we cycle beside lazy rivers filled with graceful swans. Castles are perched above impossibly cute towns and endless vineyards cling to steep slopes. This fairy-tale scenery is a constant theme throughout our trip, perhaps at its most intense along the Mosel River between Koblenz and Trier.

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Cycling along the Mosel bike path in Cochem, Germany

Bike path imbibing

We told ourselves there’d be no drinking until the end of the day when our cycling was done. Well, that resolution didn’t last long. With so many temptations along the way, like the bike path pit stop below, we couldn’t resist sipping on a lovely German Riesling or sparkling Alsatian Crémant.

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Taking a break alongside the Mosel bike path in Riol.

My perfect castle

So many exquisite castles to choose from, which is the fairest of them all? My vote goes to Burg Eltz, nestled in the forest above the sleepy town of Moselkern. I don’t usually pose in front of monuments, but I make an exception here. I just wish I was dressed in a flowing gown and pointy medieval princess hat instead of my biking attire.

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Burg Eltz near Moselkern, Germany

Grape harvest and wine festivals

September and October are great months to be in this part of the world—places that have been making wine since Roman times. Every little town holds a wine festival complete with wine princesses, music, copious quantities of sausage and sauerkraut and a dizzying assortment of wine. We happened upon several festivals and had a fun time partying with the friendly locals.

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Wine princesses usher in the festival in Neumagen-Dhron, Germany

Afternoon kaffee und kuchen

This is a ritual I could get used to. Those Germans and French…they love their coffee and cake. Even the smallest villages have multiple cafes with mouthwatering displays of sweet treats. One of my favourites is the seasonal quetsche kucken (plum cake) but the photo of the chocolate and nut concoctions is the prettiest.

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Cafe 1900 in Trier, Germany—one of our favourites

Now that’s a flower box

So, I think there must be public shaming in these parts if your flower boxes don’t meet the perfect standard. I’m sure I’d be flogged . How do these people do it? Even with the hottest, driest summer on record, the flower displays both at private homes and public buildings are over the top beautiful. It’s serious stuff in Alsace, France where villages are rated by flowers. I believe the one below is  4-flower village (4 is tops and then there are select gold medal winners).

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Itterswiller in Alsace, France

Impossibly charming cities and villages

I was trying to select just one photo, but I couldn’t do it. There are just too many gorgeous towns in every region we visited. It’s more than just their beauty and charm, it’s also their vibrancy. Pedestrian zones make strolling a pleasure and the prominent town squares invite socializing. If forced to select one, I’d go with Strasbourg…but then, there’s Trier, Colmar, Bacharach, Neustadt…I’ll have many more photos in upcoming posts.

Another bend in the river 

I couldn’t get enough of the scenic bends on the Mosel and Saar rivers—there are lots of them. In the photo below, the Saar River makes a 300-degree-U-turn. We got some sense of this geography while cycling along the river path, but I was keen to see the whole picture, which usually meant a steep cycle or hike up to the panoramic lookout. Thank goodness there was often a beer garden or cafe at the top, otherwise Mike would have boycotted these excursions.

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Amazing bend in the Saar River near Mettlach, Germany

Back to my roots

My parents are both from the small town of Bingen am Rhein. As I get older I feel more drawn to my heritage. I visited my godmother, the woman who never forgets a birthday or name day. I shared memories and old photos and many glasses of wine with family friends. I spoke German (poorly) with abandon—something I shied away from when I was younger. We started and ended our trip in Bingen. It felt good to be there. It felt like part of me.

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My mom, top left. My godmother 3rd from left. Bingen 1951.

Feeling free and unencumbered

Doing an independent, lengthy, no pre-booked accommodations bike trip was a first for us. I was a tad nervous. What would the cycle conditions be like? Did I pack the right stuff in my tiny panniers? Would we find places to stay? Sure there were a few stresses, but it turned out to be incredibly enjoyable, easy and great value. We especially loved the feeling of getting on our bikes in the morning, unencumbered by lots of luggage, and letting the day unfold as it may.

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Enjoying a break along the Deutsche Weinstraße, Pfalz region

I’ll show more detailed maps in upcoming posts. The one below provides an overview of the entire area we visited. The blue lines show our bike routes and the red ones are segments that we did via train. I need a remedial Google My Maps course; I can’t get rid of the A and B labels and the default view isn’t working. Happy for any advice.

Upcoming posts:

Rhine cycle path from Bingen to Koblenz

Mosel cycle path from Koblenz to Trier

Saar cycle path from Trier to Saarbrücken

Deutsche Weinstraße (German Wine Road) bike path

La route des Vin d’Alsace (Strasbourg to Mulhouse)

 

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