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 kuchen (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 kuchen (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)

Categories: France, Germany | Tags: , , , , , , | 27 Comments

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27 thoughts on “Cycle Touring in Germany and France: The 10 Things I Enjoyed Most

  1. Pingback: Trier: The Oldest City in Germany is an Underrated Gem | Writes of Passage

  2. josypheen

    Wow. What an amazing adventure and what gorgeous photos! It looked like you had a blast!

    Also, you pedalled 1100 km!? That is a brilliant achievement. You needed more wine and cake to make up all the calories that you pedalled away!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! We did have a blast. Even though we were cycling at a leisurely pace and a good chunk of our route was quite flat, it’s amazing how many calories you burn if you’re on a bike for 4ish hours every day.We didn’t worry about indulging in all that good stuff.

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  3. Pingback: Cycling Germany’s Rhine Bike Route: Bingen to Koblenz | Writes of Passage

  4. Incredible photos! This looks like an amazing bike tour. Do you think it would be possible to pull a kid cart along with one of the bikes?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Drew! Absolutely, I think a kid cart would be totally doable. Most of the paths are in great condition and plenty wide. As I mentioned, most of what we traveled on is car-free, making it even more enjoyable. Even the bit of time on roads, getting in and out of towns, we found that German drivers are super courteous when it comes to cyclists. The Rhine, Mosel and Saar paths are basically flat (easy). The Deutsche Weinstrasse (Pfalz/Palatinate) and the Alsace Wine Route are somewhat hilly but you guys are so fit it would be no problem. You’ll get a better sense of the regions as I do specific posts on each. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you want more info.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for all the great info! We’re starting to plan for our annual trip next summer and this looks like it could be a great option. I’m looking forward to seeing your regional posts!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, I’m so excited for your future posts. I love the idea that you both choose to let each day unfold and do as much or as little as you pleased. Biking must have been a fantastic way to see this part of the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Biking was the perfect kind of slow travel to really get a good sense of this region. I’m a planner by nature and free flow travel doesn’t always come easy for me. It was good to get a little out of my comfort zone. The regions we visited made it easy to be flexible with well-developed visitor infrastructure, lots of places to stay and very helpful locals and visitor information centres.

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  6. Mike Hohmann

    Looks like a wonderful trip, Caroline. The cycling infrastructure is definitely enticing. I look forward to reading/seeing more in your future posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Uncool Cycling Club

    Wow! Some gorgeous photos. Sounds like a wonderful trip. I’m looking forward to reading about some of the sections in more detail.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What an epic adventure, Caroline! I’m absolutely terrible on a bike (haven’t ridden one for more than 10 years now) so this is not something I’d be able to do anytime soon. The jaw-dropping scenery dotted with fairytale castles and towns is alluring on its own, but I also love the idea of stopping every now and again for a glass of Riesling, some sausages, and local cakes. One thing that amazes me even more is this – how did you and Mike manage to fit everything in those panniers? It seems like the ultimate challenge for packing lightly, especially for 29 days.

    And it’s so wonderful that you have a personal connection to the area. My sister used to live in Mannheim – I visited Strasbourg on a day trip with her back in 2011 and I fondly remember the cool autumn weather and those exact half-timbered houses on the canal. Did you get to try the local flammkuchen/tarte flambée?

    Liked by 1 person

    • James, I’m sure you’d have absolutely no problem on a bike, especially the type of riding along the Mosel and Rhine, which is dead flat. You could even use an e-bike, which are crazy popular in Europe. I was quite proud of myself for getting everything into my panniers. It turns out I didn’t even need it all. It’s amazing how little you actually need. We did get a bit tired of looking at each other wearing the same clothes all the time (but no one else knew)! I will probably do a post about gear and bikes, etc.

      Isn’t Strasbourg lovely? And oh my…flammkuchen/tart flambée! I love it and it was coming out of my ears we ate it so much. It’s such a simple tasty dish. I’m sure you’ll see it in an upcoming post. I’m making it for a dinner party this weekend.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s so kind to say, Caroline – thanks for the encouragement. After a traumatic experience riding in Montreal’s Old Port with multiple bystanders laughing at my lack of balance, I pretty much swore myself off biking altogether. I’ll have to give a try eventually.

        I adored Strasbourg. Everything there seemed to glow in the autumn sunshine and there was nothing better than having a freshly baked flammkuchen/tart flambée served hot while sitting outside! Had I known how beautiful it was, I would likely have spent the night there.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Caroline, 1100Km, wow!!! Dedicated bike paths, wine festivals, kaffee und kucken, fairy-tale towns and castles, beer gardens along the way… life doesn’t get much better! Good to know that you were also able to be with Family and friends. I firmly believe that your Posts should be mandatory reading in school: as one reads your articles one learns history, geography, current affairs and most importantly a love for life. I have taken the liberty of posting your article to FitandFunNow.com. Kind regards, Tony

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tony, your comment is so heart-warming, thank you! It was a pretty idyllic trip and really sweet learning history, current affairs etc. while exploring castles and engaging with locals over a glass of wine. As a kid, I think I took our visits to Germany for granted…kind of boring being schlepped from one great aunt’s house to another. Now I’ve really come to appreciate this lovely and fascinating part of the world. Cheers,Caroline

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  10. Pingback: Cycle Touring in Germany and France: The 10 Things I Enjoyed Most – FitandFunNow.com

  11. Reading posts like this always makes me want to plan a cycling trip with my parents who both enjoy it so much. Since my dad retired he gets to cycle farther and more often, so I think he wouldn’t find it hard to follow your path. My mom, on the other hand, is more of a casual cyclist; she loves exploring her city on two wheels with her high school friends. Can’t wait to read your stories and see more photos of those incredibly beautiful towns!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely, this would make a great trip with your parents. The cycling infrastructure is fantastic, especially in Germany. It’s a really easy trip to do and like I mentioned to Lexie below, you can also select a small segment like the Mosel. We brought our own bikes but rental shops are plentiful. Many people there ride electronic bikes, making it even easier. I’ll have lots more info, but if you ever need any specific recommendation or advice please let me know.

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  12. This post is now sitting in my husband’s inbox with the hope that he will be entranced by the idea of doing a similar trip! The whole thing looks amazing – the biking, the food, the scenery … How did you feel about the overall length of your trip? Was a month(ish) necessary to really get into a groove; did it ever seem too long, do you wish you’d had even more time, etc? (Not sure we could take this much time off work at this point, but maybe someday!)

    The photos are so enticing; I could have done with even more charming cities and villages, so thanks for the smorgasbord!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great questions Lexie. This really was slow travel, which we enjoyed (but it’s not for everyone). I was surprised how quickly we got into the groove and as I mentioned in the post, we both loved getting up in the morning knowing we’d be back on our bikes. It never felt onerous. I’m sure the awesome cycling infrastructure played a role as did the amazing weather and the fact that we weren’t over taxing our bodies. However, you absolutely don’t need a month to enjoy this experience if you don’t have the time. While all the regions have some distinct features, they also share lots of similarities in scenery, architecture, food, wine culture…With less time, a 10-14 day cycling holiday concentrating on just one region, say Rhine/Mosel or Alsace would be a great trip. I would have been happy to keep cycling, but after a month would move to a completely different region. The only thing I got a little tired of by the end was eating out every night. Huge breakfast was mostly included in our little B&Bs, and picnic lunches were fun and easy, but making dinner was either impossible or impractical without having the staples and moving on the next day. If we had continued we might have booked a longer stay at an Air B&B and used it as a cycling base.
      Lots more photos of charming villages coming in next posts! And, I might do a post that covers questions like yours about independent cycle touring.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Wow, that is a lot of miles cycled!!! No doubt that glorious scenery and those divine cakes were huge motivators, but still, that is a lot of distance covered. I have not been to Germany before, but I have been castle hopping in France and it is something that I really really enjoy doing. The castle pictured here is just glorious, and I love also all the architectural details on the houses such as the step like formations on the sides of the roof and the wooden inlays on the buildings.

    SUCH gorgeous scenery and it looks so lush and perfect. Definitely the stuff of fairy tales. Look forward to seeing more….

    Peta

    Liked by 1 person

    • It sounds like a lot of distance, but we never felt rushed. Luckily, a good portion was flat and easy. Castles are fascinating things and we loved seeing lots of them from a distance as we cycled along the paths, and a few of them up close. I’ll be doing more castle posts. The step formation of the house fascinates me too. It’s apparently both a decorative feature and a convenient way to access the roof.The half-timbered houses are everywhere and so beautiful.

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  14. Great photos Caroline. Each town looks like it is out of a fairytale.

    Liked by 1 person

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