Reflections On Cycling In Alsace, The Mosel and The Rhine

It’s hard to find superlatives strong enough to describe my last bicycling trip to Alsace, into Germany along the Mosel and back to France along the Romantic Rhine.  Any one of these three trip segments would provide a vacation full of incredible memories, the three together are a bicyclist’s trifecta!  For 3 weeks, I enjoyed great signposted bike paths, picture-perfect towns and villages, good food, incredible wine and lots of history.  My journal is full of lessons learned and new discoveries from this trip.  I’d like to share 10 of them with you today!

Constant reminders of those who traveled before you

Constant reminders of those who traveled before you

Strasbourg is one of the best bicycling cities in Europe

I’m not a big fan of bicycling in urban areas, but Strasbourg makes cyclists feel right at home! Wide bicycle paths, great signage and a positive attitude about cycling makes this city a great destination for cyclotourists. There are close to 600 km of cycle paths in Strasbourg proper and another 2,500 km in the Alsace Region. The new Velostras Network  will enable cyclists to get to the city center from anywhere in the urban area in 30-40 minutes.  The cycle paths are also coordinated with the mass transit system making it easy for commuting to work by bike.

Wide cycle paths provide a safe bicycling environment

Wide cycle paths provide a safe bicycling environment

The city has a bike-sharing service called Velihop with over 4,000 bikes available for short or long-term use.  There are 18,000 bike racks and safe parking areas throughout the area.

Literally everyone bicycles in Strasbourg!

Literally everyone bicycles in Strasbourg!

Whether you are a tourist, a commuter, a policeman, a mom taking kids to school, a flower delivery service, or just a casual cyclist, Strasbourg is a city where you’ll feel welcome and safe to be traveling by bike.

Even the hot dog vendor travels by bike in Strasbourg!

Even the hot dog vendor travels by bike in Strasbourg!

Bicycling along the Mosel River is one fantastic, jaw-dropping adventure

Trier is the oldest city in Germany and is surrounded by great bicycling paths

Trier is the oldest city in Germany and is surrounded by great bicycling paths

From the 2,000 year-old town of Trier to the beautiful town of Koblenz, the journey along the Mosel is one of the most fantastic bicycling adventures you could ever take. If you’ve never considered bicycling this route, I suggest you move it to the top of your to-do list!  With a total distance of under 200 km, you can bicycle the distance in 4-5 days. To do so in less time would be a mistake.

The Bremmer Calmont Vineyards, the steepest in Germany with an incline of 65%!

The Bremmer Calmont Vineyards, the steepest in Germany with an incline of 65%!

My suggestion:  spend several days enjoying the bike routes in and around Trier and at least 4 days bicycling to Koblenz.  A week isn’t even close to enough to enjoy the many, many Riesling wines of the region!

You can never drink enough Riesling from the Mosel

Be advised, the Rieslings that you will come to love along the Mosel are nothing like the Rieslings generally sold in the USA. No matter what your taste preference, there is a Riesling that is perfect for you. There are dry Rieslings, called “troken”, semi-sweet Rieslings, called “halbtroken” and sweet Rieslings, those that most Americans are familiar with. The vineyards along the Mosel are some of the most labor intensive in the world, requiring 7 times more manpower because mechanical harvesting is largely impossible, due to the steep slopes. Despite this, you can still buy a bottle of incredible local Mosel Riesling for under 10€ at dinner in a restaurant.  One of the most fun wine towns along the Mosel is the town of Zell, home to the Schwartze Katz Vineyards.

Schwattze Katz sculpture at the entrance to the town of Zell

The Black Cat welcomes you to the town of Zell on the Mosel

The Romantic Rhine is as great of a bicycling experience as you could ever ask for

You may never consider bicycling the full 1230 km of EuroVelo 15 from Andermatt in the Swiss Alps to the North Sea, but you definitely want to add the Romantic Rhine to the top of your bicycling to-do list!

There are beautiful river front cafes

There are beautiful river front cafes

The most famous stretch of the Rhine is slightly under 70 km in length, but it is packed with enough attractions for an entire vacation.  To experience this UNESCO World Heritage site by bike is an adventure of a lifetime.  You can travel the route from Bingen to Koblenz in 2 days, but you would miss so much of what the area has to offer:  40 castles and palaces, beautiful medieval towns, the famous Loreley and the Deutches Eck in Koblenz, the spot where the Rhine and the Mosel Rivers meet.

Miles of incredible scenery

Miles of incredible scenery

Great bike paths

Great bike paths

This is an area that you’ll want to savor slowly, perhaps even adding a hiking element to an overnight stay.  There really isn’t anything quite like the Romantic Rhine.

And lots of breathtaking castles

And lots of breathtaking castles

Traveling by train with a bike between France and Germany often on Eurocity trains, requires 24 hour advance reservations

If you’re planning to travel by train with your bike between Strasbourg and a major town on the Mosel or Rhine, be advised that one segment of the trip or more may be on a Eurocity (EC) train requiring a bike reservation at least 24 hours in advance of departure. There are limited bike spaces on the EC trains and once they’re full, that’s it till the next train.  Your bike ticket will specify the train car where your space is and you must prominently display your ticket on your bike.  Panniers must be removed from the bike for placement in the rack.

Bike reservation and ticket for Eurocity train from Mainz to Strasbourg

Bike reservation and ticket for Eurocity train from Mainz to Strasbourg

Bikes are placed in numbered racks, panniers removed

Bikes are placed in numbered racks, panniers removed

The growth in the use of e-bikes in Germany is amazing

Germans love e-bikes!  There were days along the Mosel and Rhine where 25% or more of the bikes I saw were e-bikes.  There were signs along both rivers for cafes where you could recharge your battery while enjoying lunch, something I had never seen before in France. At an average cost of between $2,000 and $3,000, it’s amazing to think that 11% of all bikes in Germany are now e-bikes!

A battery charging station at a cafe along the Mosel

A battery charging station at a cafe along the Mosel

It’s still challenging to find a good Wi-Fi connection on the road

Your hotel or B&B in Europe may advertise that they offer free Wi-Fi, but whether or not that Wi-Fi actually works is another matter.  All the places I stayed during my 3 week trip offered complimentary Wi-Fi, about half of them through the same free Wi-Fi service.  This service was bizarre because every time you changed websites, you were disconnected from the service!  Most nights, it was impossible to maintain an internet connection for more than 10 minutes at a time.  Several nights I spent an hour or two blogging about the day, only to click the “publish” button and have the entire post disappear into cyberspace because the connection was lost!  Lesson learned:  be prepared to be challenged with connectivity issues!

Spending the night in a castle along the Rhine is a once-in-a-lifetime splurge 

I plan one overnight splurge every bicycling trip.  The splurge this trip was Castle Auf Schonburg overlooking the Rhine in the lovely town of Oberwesel.

Auf Schonburg from the Rhine bike path

Auf Schonburg from the Rhine bike path

Despite the 8 km uphill ride (and walk) from the Rhine and despite the cost, this overnight stay was definitely a highlight of the trip and is a memory that I’ll remember forever. After all, how many chances do you have in a lifetime to stay in a real medieval castle?!

Spectacular view of the Rhine from the castle

Spectacular view of the Rhine from the castle

It’s very easy to get spoiled bicycling on well signposted roads

Bicycling on long distance paths signposted in both directions is a fantastic luxury, one that definitely raises your level of expectation for all bike paths.

Bicycling in the Alsace Wine Region

Bicycling in the Alsace Wine Region

From our first day bicycling in Strasbourg, through the Alsace wine region, from Trier to Koblenz along the Mosel, from Koblenz to Remagen and down to Mainz along the Rhine, there was hardly a need to look at a map, the signage was so good.

Signage along the Rhine

Signage along the Rhine

That doesn’t mean that we never got lost or missed an important sign, but the prospects of getting hopelessly lost in any of these areas was pretty slim.  Following signage into and out of larger towns was always the most challenging and confusing, like this sign as you approach the town of Mainz.  If you were not from the area, which way would you go?

Tough decision to make at the end of the day when you're tired and don't want to make a mistake!

Tough decision to make at the end of the day when you’re tired and don’t want to make a mistake!

Bicycling wouldn’t be an adventure if it wasn’t for challenges like this, but generally speaking, I would definitely rate the signage in each of these areas an A+.  Overall, the high quality of signage on this trip definitely raised my level of expectation for all routes that I evaluate in the future.

You can easily bicycle in Alsace, along the Mosel and the Rhine Rivers for less than $100 a day

The wide range of lodging possibilities along all of these routes make each very affordable.  Accommodations during my trip ranged in price from 48€/night to my night-in-a-castle splurge for 175€, including a 4-course dinner, a fantastic breakfast and a carafe of local sherry.  While there definitely are many expensive places to stay, there are many budget options in charming, owner-run establishments on or close to the bicycle route.

Each route has charming places to stay

Each route has charming places to stay

Food options are are simple or extravagant as you want.

There's always a line to buy bratwurst!

There’s always a line to buy bratwurst!

One of my favorite splurges after a day of cycling was a mid-afternoon ice cream cone, average price, about 1.30€ versus almost 5€ for a sundae.

You can choose a sundae for 5€

You can choose a sundae for 5€

Or an ice cream cone for 1.50€

Or an ice cream cone for 1.50€

For campers, each of these routes has affordable camping in prime locations.  One of my favorites is the campground with an incredible view of the Loreley!

That’s it for my top 10 things I learned while bicycling in Alsace and along the Rhine and Mosel.  I hope that you will consider each of these areas for a future bicycling trip. If you’d like to read more about these areas, stay tuned for future blog posts!

Posted by Maggie LaCoste

I love the adventure and unpredictability of experiencing France by bike. Cycling in France is the ultimate slow travel adventure, an opportunity to see it through the back door in a way few tourists experience. One week on a bike in France and life takes on a different meaning! I created Experience France By Bike to inspire recreational cyclists to visit France the slow way....by bike, and to be the best source of information for planning the perfect bicycling adventure. I encourage readers to embrace the uncertainty of the road ahead and to take the path less traveled, exploring roads, towns and villages that you would never experience traveling by car.