By Maggie LaCoste
“The Rhine combines every quality a river can exhibit. The rapidity of the Rhone, the breadth of the Loire, the rocks of the Meuse, the sinuosity of the Seine, the translucency of the Somme, the historical reminiscences of the Tiber, the regal dignity of the Danube, the mysterious influence of the Nile, the golden sands of the glittering streams of the New World, the phantoms of some Asiatic stream.” Victor Hugo
Wow, what more could you possibly say about a river? For years, cyclists have experienced parts of this famous river but were always challenged by segments of the route that were basically not possible to cycle due to poor signage, paths that abruptly ended, limited access in places to food and support services. Thanks to the growth of the Eurovelo network and the recognition of the economic value of cyclotourism, the viability of this river as a long distance cycling route is improving dramatically. Part of this evolution is the debut of a wonderful new website on the Rhine River Route. This website is graphically appealing, easy to use and packed with information for any cyclist interested in learning more about this route.
The Rhine Cycle Route is for cyclists of all capabilities, but beware of several sections in Switzerland and France with ambitious elevations. The route covers 1230 kms along one of Europe’s longest and most famous rivers, from the Alps to the North Sea, through Amsterdam, the heart of Germany, the Alsace Region of France, ending in Switzerland. Eurovelo 15 is packed with history, culture, gastronomic delights, great wine and 46 sites listed as World Heritage Sites by Unesco.
Whether you want to ride the entire route from Rotterdam to Switzerland, or spend a week exploring just the French and German sections, Eurovelo 15 has something for everyone. The route is divided into seven stages, making it very easy for cyclists to choose the parts of the route they want to explore. Here is a quick rundown of the stages:
From the source of the Rhine in Switzerland to Lake Constance (230 km): This part of the Rhine Route is definitely the most challenging for recreational cyclists, beginning with a climb up the Oberalp pass! I know if I were to do this part of the route, it would definitely be with the assistance of an electric bike. 230 km in length, this stage travels through the “Swiss Grand Canyon”, past Chur, the oldest town in Switzerland, the wine-growing region of Bundner Herrschaft, and a gorgeous ride along Lake Constance, the largest freshwater lake in Europe. If you complete this stage, you definitely need to spend some time in the lively town of Constance.
Lake Constance to Basel (160 km): The mountains and hills of Switzerland are left behind, and cyclists are hopefully rested up from a fun stay in the town of Constance. This shorter stage is 160 km, and features rolling countryside with architecture, food and culture that are a blend of Switzerland, Germany and France. Major attractions along the way include the Munot Fortress in Schaffhausen, the Benedictine Abbey at Rheinau on the Rhine, one of the most sacred buildings in Switzerland, the medieval town of Stein-am-Rhein, the twin towns of Waldshut-Tiengen, located at the foot of the Black Forest, and the charming city of Basel and its many museums.
Basel to Karlsruhe, through Alsace and German vineyards (200 km): This is definitely one of my favorite stages of the Rhine Route, and will probably be one of the favorites of many who travel Eurovelo 15. This is the stage that goes through France, but most of this is through the gorgeous countryside of the Alsace region. Cyclists actually have the opportunity to ride along the French or German side of the river, each offering a wonderful taste of the countryside in this region. If you ride the French side of this stage, you want to be sure not to miss the deviations from the main route that go to Mulhouse and Colmar and the small roads through the wine areas. This area is perfect for a week long cycle trip on its own.
Until Strasbourg, which is definitely a highlight of the stage, cyclists are treated to a series of locks along the river. For those cyclists interested in hydroelectricity, there are 10 structures located on this stage, producing more than 12% of French renewable energy. You will definitely want to spend at least one day in Strasbourg, if not more, exploring its cobbled streets, historical monuments and enjoying the incredible food.
If you cycle the German side of this stage, you will pass through the famous wine region of Markgrafler Land, and a deviation to the charming town of Freiburg, one of my favorite towns in southern Germany and a detour well worth it. With 300 days of sun a year, this area is regarded as one of the sunniest in Germany, so your chances of encountering good weather here are good. The Baden region is the home to internationally-renowned vineyards so there is a lot of opportunity for wine tasting and great food. Whether you choose the French or the German side of this stage, you could easily spend a week enjoying the many attractions and vineyards along this part of the Rhine Route and its many deviations.
Karlsruhe to Bingen with lots of vineyards along the way (160 km): This stage also features bike paths on both sides of the river, enabling cyclists to pick and choose whatever attractions they want to see. Highlights of this stage include the famous wine growing region of the Rheingau with its castles and monestaries, Biebrich castle in Wiesbaden, the Cathedral of St. Peter of Worms, the wine town of Eltville, the Reiss-Engelhorn Museum of Mannheim, the Speyer Cathedral, the largest Romanesque cathedral in the world, the town of Rudesheim and the famous pedestrian street, the Drosselgasse. And then who could forget the many weinstubbes where you can taste the best wines of the region. This stage is literally oozing with historical, cultural and gastronomic attractions to make each day of cycling better than the last.
Bingen to Cologne, the Romantic Rhine (190 km): This stage is certain to be a hit with every cyclist who loves German history. This is the land of the Lorelei, an area where kings, princes, counts and bishops all sought to build their castles on the Rhine. There are an incredible 29 castles along the river between Bingen and Koblenz alone. This stage features so many attractions you may find it hard to keep your eyes on the trail. From the many castles along the route, to the medieval city of Braubach to Dragon’s Mountain, the Heisterbach Monestary built in 1199 and the incredible city of Cologne, this Rhine River stage would definitely be great for a long weekend cycling adventure.
Cologne to Arnhem (220 km): This stage is definitely more industrial than most of the other stages of the route, primarily because of the large cities of Cologne, Dusseldorf and Duisburg and the amount of shipping traffic going to and from the sea. Duisberg is in fact the biggest river port in Europe, providing cyclists with a first-hand view of the amount of trade occurring on the Rhine. Despite the fact that this area is not as quiet and peaceful as previous stages, it is still full of wonderful attractions like the Roman town of Xanten. North of Xanten is the German-Dutch border and the town of Arnhem.
Arnhem to the North Sea on the Rhine Delta (160 km): This last stage of the Rhine Cycle Route travels through the Netherlands. The Rhine separates into many different waterways, rivers and canals and you will see the Rhine Cycle Route referred to as the Rhine Delta Cycle Path. Traveling this section of the Rhine is interesting because of all the deviations that are possible along the route, each revealing a different aspect of the Netherlands countryside. There are deviations that are busier and more industrial and there are deviations that are dotted with historical landmarks and parks. Some of the best attractions on this segment of the Rhine are WW II attractions such as the Airborne Museum which retraces the Green Market military operation, the town of Dordrecht, the oldest town in Holland, Loevestein Castle, built in 1368, the windmills of Kinderdijk which have been operating since the 15th century, the town of Rhenan and the city of Rotterdam and the Biesboch National Park.
At the current time, the website does not have any listing for support services such as lodging, bike rentals or restaurants, but it is anticipated that these will be added within a short time.
If you have ridden this route during the last year and can provide any feedback on the condition of the route and the signage along the route, please do so. I will be happy to include it in a new section that will debut in late September called, Reader Reports from France.