Cycling from Koblenz - Mosel and Lahn valleys - July 2006

In 2002 we had cycled along the route of the Rhine from Basle to Ijmuiden and had passed through Koblenz on the way.  While we had enjoyed the trip, for one reason or another it did not figure as one of our all time great holidays. First it rained most days, then the scenery along the Rhine is very variable, with some stretches heavily industrialised, while, to be honest, most of the larger German towns that we passed through were prosperous and clean, but not particularly inspiring. Having discussed this with other cyclists we were told that a better ride  was along the course of the Mosel, (German spelling!) with nicer scenery, more interesting towns etc. This turned out to be the case, the Mosel cycle ride is most enjoyable with wall to wall vineyards and a series of attractive little settlements and small towns that are a delight to explore.

Koblenz is situated on the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel rivers, the Mosel being a tributary of the Rhine that flows in from the west. A few miles south of Koblenz the Lahn also joins the Rhine, this time flowing from the east.  On this holiday we cycled up the Mosel valley from Koblenz to Trier and then back again. We then cycled from Koblenz to Nassau and back, this time using the valley of the Lahn. In addition to this we also spent some time cycling around Amsterdam.

I estimate that the distance from Koblenz  to Trier is about 120 miles while the return trip from Koblenz to Nassau was only 34 miles. The furthest we cycled in any one day was just under 60 miles, and that was a round trip based on Amsterdam, in Germany we averaged about 40 miles a day.

Getting There

For our Rhine trip we made use of the European Bike Express which  featured a handy drop off point just outside Basle.  In this case we had to get to Koblenz. The DFDS ferry crossing from North Shields to Ijmuiden provided a relatively painless, if relatively expensive, crossing of the North Sea with the bikes and then there is an excellent network of  cycle tracks to take you to Amsterdam. We had arranged economical overnight accommodation in Amsterdam via the Dutch Cycling organisation "Vrienden op de Fiets" - The friends of the bikes.

I had tried to book train tickets from Amsterdam to Koblenz over the Internet and could have done so for the two persons involved, but the Net based booking system does not allow you to book bikes. It does allow you to check which trains take bikes, and has stern warnings that bike places have to be reserved, but you can't actually reserve them! All of this meant that we had to buy our tickets at Amsterdam railway station.

Along with a string of other foreigners I queued at the ticket office in the station concourse only to be told that you had to buy international tickets at the International Ticket Office on platform 2. This time you queue in order to obtain a numbered ticket, rather like those you get at your supermarket's deli counter, and are advised that it will take about an hour before your number will be displayed. It took rather more than an hour, but the system is fair and there is no queue jumping. All of the ticket clerks appeared to speak excellent English and the lady who sold me my tickets was both helpful and patient. Getting bike reservations proved to be a long winded affair, as the bike carriages are well subscribed and we ended up having to get an earlier set of trains than we had ideally wanted. You can't take bikes on the fast ICE trains incidentally.

The tickets were not cheap. The ticket clerk observed that I could have bought a bike for the price and also told me that, had I booked a week in advance, I would have been eligible for a sizeable discount. I did tell her that I had tried to buy tickets over the Internet;  she said that the bikes were the problem!

The total bill for the two return tickets came to 354 Euros, of which 66 Euros were for bike booking fees. I reflected that our family of four were all flying from the UK to Geneva for less later in the year! We noted that quite a few people were travelling with folding bikes (which can be carried like ordinary luggage and don't need special booking), and with fares like this I can understand why.

Going there we had two scheduled changes of train, at Enschede and Munster. However in addition to the humping of the bikes and luggage at those places, we also had to change from one train to another at a different station, while, due to the late running of the Munster to Koblenz train it was diverted to a different platform and we had to move our kit over (down the stairs, through the underpass and up another set of stairs), all rather hard work and a tad stressful!  If you are young and fit this kind of thing is no problem, but when you are getting on it becomes a problem. Coming back was not too bad, with only one change, at Rheine.

German railway stations normally show a diagram of the trains indicating where the different carriages are and their positions relative to marked zones on the platforms. Thus it is possible to position yourself and bike in the region where the bike carriage will be arriving.

Accommodation In Germany

Travelling during the first and second weeks of July we had no difficulty in finding suitable accommodation. Apparently the high season occurs later in the year when the grapes are picked and there are wine festivals along the valley. We chose to stay in places describing themselves as a "GastHaus" which ranged from a bed and breakfast arrangement in someone's home to a small hotel with a restaurant. It might have been coincidental, but the two places we booked through the Tourist Information offices were the most expensive on the trip. Otherwise accommodation was obtained by knocking on the door of  buildings displaying a Gasthaus sign.. None that we tried were full. Prices were very reasonable compared to British hotels and B&B accommodation. The most we paid to stay in someone's home was 28 Euros per person, while the least was 35 Euros for the two of us. The one small hotel we stayed in, located in Koblenz, was more expensive at 70 Euros for the room. All were spotless and with good ensuite facilities.

The typical breakfast comprised a semi hard boiled egg with some ham and cheese and a selection of breads, all washed down with black coffee - not my first choice but perfectly acceptable. One lady provided us with chilled sparking water on our arrival, followed by a bowl of fresh strawberries once we were settled in. For breakfast there was, in addition to the normal fare, fresh raspberries - very nice. The characteristic host was a plump late middle aged jovial lady, who could not speak English. The hotel that we stayed in provided a wider choice for breakfast including cereals, fruit juice and croissants.


Eating and Drinking

Following a generous breakfast  you can get by with fruit at lunchtime possibly reinforced by a ration of coffee and delicious cake in mid afternoon (Kaffee und Kuchen) which can be had from about 3.5 Euros.

Evening meals we took in small bars/restaurants where the prices were very reasonable. Every time we ate we were served with a salad before the main course arrived. Generally the main course appeared before you had a chance to eat the salad, so I was never sure as to whether they were intended to be eaten simultaneously or consecutively!  We found the meals to be too salty for our tastes (ours is a salt free house) and generally over seasoned. The first few mouthfuls are delicious, but then the condiments kick in and you begin to struggle. Portions are generous and normally include roast potatoes or chips. On one occasion such was the amount served that we saved half of our meat for the following day.

One of the joys of travelling through this region is the chance to sample the local wines. The principal grape variety is Riesling and the wines are full bodied. The dry (trocken) wine is not dry by the standards of say Muscadet, but lightly chilled it is truly nectar. If you are feeling indulgent you might sample the semi dry (
halb trocken); indeed sample them all!  The local beer (Bitburger) is also very good - "Bitte ein Bit" - we saw more Germans drinking beer than wine. On a couple of occasions we encountered local festivals with live music being played and stalls selling food, wine and beer. Despite being over fed the previous evening it was very hard to resist the food on offer and we found it completely impossible to resist a single glass of that beautiful chilled wine. Having been introduced to wine many moons ago by some very debatable brews such as Blue Nun, I had a rather negative view of the German product, but this trip has been a most enjoyable education. Had we not been cycling we would have brought back a case or two, and we have taken to scouring the supermarket shelves for some good German wines.

While on the subject of drink I should observe that the day time temperature throughout our visit hovered in the mid thirties and with heat like that you have to take on board a lot of liquid when cycling. Fizzy water is perhaps the most refreshing, but we also got through substantial quantities of orange or apple juice which is both cheap and very palatable. I would recommend against keeping fruit juice in your water bottles however, it starts to ferment and it is very difficult to clean the bottles - a sure fire route to an upset  stomach.

The converse of all of this drinking is that you do need to find toilets on your travels. I don't think that many of the small towns that we passed through had a free public bog, and only the larger places had a staffed toilet that charged between 30 and 50 cents. You are therefore driven to patronising small cafes or hiding behind trees whilst on the road.


Cycling

You are not allowed to cycle on the main roads in Germany, but there is generally a safer alternative provided. This can be a separate path some distance from the road, or a clearly marked path along the side of the road. The path surfaces are of a variable quality but are generally OK, certainly acceptable for a touring bike. Tree roots are sometimes a problem, as are uneven sets of block paving. There must be a motorway that by-passes the valley as the on-road sections that we encountered were not busy, although we preferred the off road paths that were completely devoid of motorised traffic.

Signage is good along the Mosel valley, but we noticed that while distances were displayed at the Koblenz end of the route they were not as we approached Trier. Uniquely on the German part of this holiday we did not get lost!

The Mosel is a navigable waterway, a river that has been tamed and turned into a canal. There is a distinct flow to the Rhine, but at this time of year the Mosel seeps down via a series of locks and there is no perceptible current. The cycle path is therefore largely flat with only local  perturbations where locks are encountered or where it uncharacteristically climbs the side of the valley away from the river. It is therefore easy cycling country, but despite this we found it markedly easier cycling down the valley rather than up. Perhaps the wind was also a  factor. There are many cyclists making this journey, but the majority start at Trier and come down the slope. We went both ways!

There are companies offering package deals including the carriage of your luggage between stops, a ferry trip on the Mosel, all accommodation, wine tasting and one evening meal, and they typically start in Trier and end in Koblenz. We found that independent booking was a good deal cheaper, but if we could have hired bikes as a part of the deal and flown in, rather than having to use trains and the North Sea ferry, the overall cost of the package solution might have been less.


Images From The Trip

For this holiday I decided to go photographically retro and I used my aged Pentax SLR along with a collection of manual focus lenses. The film used was consumer grade Fuji Sensia, chosen because it is relatively insensitive to extremes of temperature, even if it is not the best Fuji film in terms of image quality.  I have tried using a point and shoot digital camera when cycling but have been frustrated by the lack of control, particularly with regard to focusing, while my digital SLR and one modern professional quality zoom lens weighs more and takes up more space than all of my Pentax kit, a major consideration while cycling. I enjoyed the photography, and, overall, am pleased with the outcome, but the results are not as technically good as those that could have been had using more modern equipment or better quality film.  For the technically minded the lenses used were a 28 mm f3.5 SMC M, a 50 mm f1.4 SMC M and a 75-150 f4 SMC M zoom.

We start with a view of Koblenz across the Rhine, the major part of the city is on the other bank. Koblenz is a typical large German Rhine city, affluent, a good shopping centre, and with some nice buildings but not particularly beautiful, in my opinion.

Koblenz

However as you travel up the Mosel valley things take a turn for the better, here is a view of Cochen castle.

Cochem castles

followed by a shot in the town square

Cochem square

travelling up the valley you are left in no doubt that this is wine producing country, as this shot near Winninger demonstrates. How do they cultivate those vines??

Winninger Rottgen

Supporters of Sunderland AFC will be heartened to see that there is a branch of their supporters' association based in these parts!!

Zelller black cat

While at Punderich there is this attractive small group of buildings dating abck to 1621.

Punderich House

We were treated to a performance of a song by an elderly local gent who came out and gave a solo performance, not the sort of thing that you encounter on the UK coast to coast route! The next shot shows a detail from the house above.

Punderich 1621

Several of the vineyards have installed large sun dials, such as this one near to Krov

Krove Sundial

There are hardly any hills on the route but we did encounter this one gentle climb

Carol Hill

Bernkastel is one of the larger towns on the route

Bernkastel

and I could not resist a close up of those window boxes

Window boxes

Some villages appear perched on hillsides, as in this shot of Kesten

kesten

while some nestle down in the valley, for example Enkirch

Enkirch

Beilstein is a gem of a little town with plenty of photographic opportunities

Beilstein Hatch

Beilstein Square

We stayed overnight at the little town of Mehring, with its simple but attractive white painted church

Mehring

before pushing on to the ancient Roman city of Trier where we were entertained by this splendid band

Trier band

I am fascinated by doors in photography and Trier has a beauty

Door Trier

while this darker image shows the door knocker from the Dom or cathedral
Door Knocker


Thus endeth the jaunt to Trier and the Mosel Valley.

The next expedition was from Koblenz heading east to Nassau.  The first large settlement to be encountered is Bad Ems, a long established spa town whose visitors' book boasts the names of many famous heads of state, composers and writers. One such person was the Russian Czar Alexander II who oversaw the construction of the Russian church in the latter years of the 19th century.

Russian Church

While there is also a very attractive alternative place of worship. The oval window is not due to perspective correction, it was made that way!

Bad Ems Church

I believe that this used to be the casino but is now a restaurant and concert hall

Concert Hall

You can continue further up the Lahn, but we terminated our journey in Nassau where we enjoyed a Kaffee und Kuchen. The final photo shows the Rathaus or town hall.

Nassau Rathaus


All images (c) B. Attewell 2006

For details of more cycle tours that I have documented, please look here

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