The first leg of our cycling trip is on the Rhine Cycle Route from Bingen to Koblenz. Known as the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, this 65 km (40 mile) stretch is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It would be easy to knock off this short, flat distance in a day, but with dozens of hilltop castles, pretty towns and scenic views, it invites slow travel. The well-maintained bike path hugs the Rhine River and is car-free. At every bend there’s another castle towering over the endless vineyards. Little towns, dating back to Roman times, are directly along the route; they’re filled with gorgeous architecture, historic sites, tasty treats and wine and beer. If you missed my introduction to our Germany/France cycle tour, you can find it here.
We spend our first few days in Bingen, visiting with friends and adjusting to the nine hour time change. It’s my parents’ home town—often overlooked by tourists who flock to Rüdesheim, directly across the river. If you haven’t been to this part of the world, it’s worth taking the short boat trip to fun, kitschy, busy Rüdesheim. From there, you can take a gondola to the Niederwalddenkmal, a monument built in the 1870s to commemorate the unification of Germany. The sweeping views of the Rhine and vineyards are magnificent.
One of the many great things about the Upper Middle Rhine Valley is that no matter where you decide to spend the night, towns and attractions on both sides of the Rhine are easily accessible by bike, local train, scenic boat rides or a combination. Many trains and boats allow bikes.
It’s blast off; our first day of biking. The weather cooperates beautifully as we head onto the bike path at Bingen’s waterfront. The 65 km segment to Koblenz, which we do over two days along the river’s left (west) bank, is just a small part of the long-distance Rhine Cycle Route, also known as EuroVelo 15 that stretches 1230 km from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea.
We only cycle 15 km before we make our first stop in Bacharach. The town is cute as can be, perhaps my favourite in this region. Its narrow streets are lined with beautifully preserved half-timbered houses adorned with geranium flower boxes, and there’s a plethora of inviting spots to eat and drink.
It’s not quite lunchtime and we haven’t broken a sweat, but I’m lured by a sign for zwiebelkucken (onion cake). It’s a fall season specialty—a yeast crust that’s filled with crème fraîche, eggs, onions and bacon (a bit like quiche but so much better). It’s typically served with a cloudy, sweet young wine called federweisser. It’s not my thing, but locals swear by it.
A must-do in Bacharach is taking a short, steep walk to Burg Stahleck, a 12th century castle that’s now a youth hostel (you don’t have to be young to stay there). The footpath starts from the main street in Bacharach, up a set of old rock stairs, and through the vineyard. The views are stunning, and like all walks to the top of things in Germany, there’s wine, beer, coffee, cake…waiting for you at the top.
Had I not been to Bacharach several times before, we probably would have stayed the night (or more) but we push on. We soon see Burg Pfalzgrafenstein sitting smack in the middle of the Rhine. Built in 1326, it was used as a tolling station for river traffic. Next comes the lovely town of Oberwesel, with its imposing gothic church, Liebfrauenkirche, and the best-preserved medieval city walls and towers in the region.
There are over 40 castles and fortresses from the Middle Ages between Bingen and Koblenz. You see many of them from the cycle path, but actually getting to them requires more effort. Schönburg is a wonderful castle above Oberwesel. Its hotel and restaurant would make a really romantic getaway, but even a short visit for a glass of wine and the view is worth the steep hike (we did this as part of a day trip while we were based in Bingen).
As we approach the picturesque town of Sankt Goar, the Rhine narrows at the famous Lorelei (Loreley) cliffs. There are many versions of the Lorelei legend but they all involve a beautiful young woman whose cascading blonde locks and beautiful voice enchanted sailors and caused countless boats to crash into the rocks. It’s big business now with boat cruises who play the cheesy but endearing Lorelei song as they cruise past the cliff.
Sankt Goar is a popular stop on Rhine cruises both for its lively pedestrian zone and the Rheinfels castle ruins, which are about a 20 minute walk from the city centre. We don’t visit the castle this time, but reminisce about a trip years ago when our young son was thrilled by its labyrinth of creepy tunnels. Sister city Sankt Goarshausen sits on the other side of the Rhine where yet more castles —Burg Katz and Burg Maus—are on display along the bike path.
We decide to spend the night in Boppard. We’ve only cycled 45 km but with all our pit stops it has taken us the whole day. The town was one of the most important Roman settlements on the Middle Rhine and today it’s another popular tourist hub. By the time we get there, it’s relatively peaceful with the day-trippers gone. Boppard has one of the prettiest waterfront promenades and we celebrate our first cycle day with an al fresco dinner on the banks of the Rhine.
The next morning we take an uphill detour to a viewpoint that showcases the largest of the Rhine’s many loops. There’s a rickety old chairlift in Boppard but anticipating more hearty German fare we decide that the bike ride is good for us. At this point in our trip I haven’t figured out how to use the pano feature on my camera so you’ll have to trust me that the loop is spectacular.
We enjoy the ride down and continue on toward Koblenz. The cycle path affords us great views of Marksburg, the only hilltop castle along the Rhine that has never been destroyed. It’s a good one to visit and easily accessible via transit from Koblenz (another big hit with our son on a previous trip). An unexpected highlight is our short detour into the tiny, quiet town of Rhens. Entering through its old town walls feels like we’re traveling back in time.
Koblenz (pop: 114,000) is the largest city in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley yet it feels serene and manageable as we cycle through beautiful riverside parkland before arriving at the famous Deutsches Ecke (German Corner) where the Rhine and Mosel rivers meet. We take the gondola across the Rhine to Ehrenbreitstein, an enormous Prussian fortress built between 1817-1828. It’s not old for this part of the world but the town’s history goes way back to 9 BC when Julius Caesar erected a military post there. The unseasonal hot weather and jet lag have zapped my energy and I find it difficult to concentrate on the detailed audio guide information about the fortress. We seek shade and are content to gaze over the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel rivers. I get a second wind later in the day as we stroll through Koblenz’s attractive old town pedestrian zone.
Despite many earlier trips to this part of the Rhine, I’m still awed by its beauty and history. It was nice traveling familiar territory in a new way. Tomorrow, our bikes will start their journey along the Mosel toward Trier. This will all be new for me and I’m excited for what’s ahead.
Our first few days were based in Bingen as we have family and friends there and we were travelling with our own bikes. Without these connections, it would probably be easier to visit this region by starting in Koblenz, which is accessible via train from Frankfurt airport and has good infrastructure and numerous bike rental options. After a few days there, you could cycle south and spend a night or two in each of Boppard and Bacharach/Oberwesel. The return trip to Koblenz could be via bike, train or boat. The trip could be extended by continuing from Koblenz along the Mosel Bike Path (next post).