Population: 82.4 million
Food: Sausage, Sauerkraut
Drink: Great Beer!
Germany is the perfect country for a first cycle tour.
Its wide network of bike paths mean you barely need to venture onto the road to travel between historic town centres and scenic castles perched on hilltops.
The food is excellent and varied, the beer is the best in the world and there’s accommodation for all budgets. Many people speak English. Some adventurous cyclists think of Germany as boring but we would call it comfortable and relaxed.
We visited Germany twice on our trip, in autumn 2006 and summer 2007. During these visits we covered a decent stretch of the north west and south of the country. Bicycle touring is very popular in Germany and we rarely had a day without meeting another bike tourist to swap stories with.
Rivers are a highlight of any bicycle trip to Germany. We particularly enjoyed pedalling along the Rhine near Koblenz and Rudesheim in the autumn, when we had mostly very good weather. The paths along the Danube and Main rivers were equally beautiful, although if you go in the summer expect to be there with hundreds of other cyclists. Frankfurt was a surprisingly interesting city, bustling with bars and street markets and great waterside bike paths. And of course we have to mention Munich, one of our favourite cities long before we took up this trip. You can ride in and out of the city easily along the Isar river.
ROADS AND MAPS
We rarely cycled on the roads with drivers since good quality paths were almost always available. Often the paths were completely hidden away from drivers, in woodland or located some distance from the road and separated by trees. Tourist bureaus in the northwest of the country and in Bayern were able to give us good guides to the cycle routes, although we did not find the same thing in and around Frankfurt. When we did bike with traffic, car drivers were very considerate and gave us plenty of room.
Our first journey took us from Holland, slightly east towards Recklinghausen and then south along the Rhein river to the spa town of Baden-Baden. From there we crossed into Strasbourg, France. We returned in summer 2007, this time coming via the Danube Cycle Path, from Austria into Passau. We then used a combination of cycling and train travel to get west to Frankfurt and south to Munich. We left by going directly south through Bavaria for Austria, setting a course for Innsbruck and Italy.
On our first trip we had a 1:300 000 scale road map which we’d picked up some years ago. Its scale was fine for touring and campsites were marked. By the time we returned to Germany in 2007 we’d thrown away our map, so we relied on free maps from tourist bureaus. This wasn’t a problem since we mainly followed cycle paths.
There are many German campgrounds to choose from and they are always clean and well taken care of in our experience. They can, however, be rigid with their rules. Make sure you do your washing in the right sink. If you hang your clothes where you shouldn’t or cook in the wrong place, someone will be along quickly to correct your behaviour.
Read about when we unwittingly broke the rules in a Passau campground. Thankfully this behaviour is a bit extreme but the Germans do love their rules.
In the summer, German campsites can be a bit expensive. There are not the cheap municipally run campgrounds that you find in France or Portugal. Costs range between 5-10 euros per person and on some of the high-traffic sites you may be thrown in a field along with several dozen other tents. We prefered to wild camp where possible and had no problems doing this. In the off season, some campsites were closed but if they sold year-round RV spots then usually someone was around and willing to accept a few euros and open up the toilet block for us.
Germany is a medium-budget European country. Outside of big cities you should be able to get a double hotel room for around 50 euros, possibly less in a guest house or B&B accomodation. German hotels, no matter their star classification, always seem to be very clean and come with a hearty breakfast. When it comes to grocery shopping, the many discount chains like Lidl, Aldi, Penny Markt and Norma offer plenty of food bargains.
Almost all stores, aside from bakeries, are closed on Sunday so stock up on food for the weekend.
Also, while the train system is excellent and will accept bikes on most most routes (not on the ICE highspeed trains), you may have to lift them up and into high, narrow carriages. Some of the newer trains offer a flat access ramp but these are still relatively rare. Enlist some help before the train arrives if you are alone! Don’t forget to buy a pass for your bike at the ticket counter and ask where to stand on the platform so the bike carriage arrives in front of you.