Belgium to France with a Rhine interlude

Previous post: Belgium | Brugge

This part of our journey didn’t go to plan… we were hoping to cycle from Bonn to Basel up the Rhine river, but the rain forecast was so dire that we decided to abandon this plan and head south to France. Carl was bitterly disappointed to give up on this route and we  hope to return here to complete it – either this trip or the next one. The section of the Rhine from Bonn to Mainz is known as the ‘Romantic Rhine’ with cliffs, steep vineyards and a sprinkling of hilltop castles. Carl was particularly keen to visit the small town of Speyer in this region – as far as he knows, his family originated from there in the late 1600’s, and he was keen to try and confirm this.

We travelled from Brugge to Bonn by train, crossing the border back into Germany at Aachen. It rained most of the time we were in Brugge, and within a few minutes of us getting on the train, the heavens opened and it bucketed down for most of the day. We arrived in Bonn, rather unstrategically at rush-hour and after a rather traumatic exit from the train, we cycled out of the madness and found a hotel for the night. The next morning was gloriously sunny and we took it fairly easy, having a leisurely breakfast and buying a few provisions and maps prior to heading off.

DAY ONE: Bonn to Bad Breisig | 44km

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As with our north-bound Rhine cycle trip we road along beautiful bike paths next to the Rhine. Being Saturday as well as being a renowned ‘tourist’ cycle-path, it was rather busy and the cycling was slow.

We had beautiful weather with blue skies stretching across the horizon, which felt quite unusual after the days of rain in Belgium and Holland. We cycled into the town of Remagen with its large promenade next to the river and a mosaic of cafe chairs and tables basking in the sunshine. The setting was perfect with the warm afternoon sun beating down and we couldn’t resist stopping for beers and pizza – the perfect antidote to what felt like an eternity of rain.

True to style, as we continued on we couldn’t find the campsite listed on our map (we found the place where it should have been, which was a building site), so headed off the beaten track, up one of the tributaries of the Rhine into a beautiful valley, where we camped the night.

CAMPSITE: Rheineck
  • Secluded campsite in a valley, so can get quite cold
  • Average facilities with no toilet paper
  • Separate area for tents

DAY TWO: Bad Breisig to Koblenz | 42km

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After a super cold night, we woke up in the morning to a beautiful misty valley. We met and chatted to another cycle tourist from the UK who was travelling to Austria alone. He was there the night before, but other than a polite head-nod we didn’t speak. Greeting people is always interesting, as we usually use the language of the country we are in, however that then rules out getting to chat to English speaking people when we come across them!

We headed off in beautiful weather again, the going was good – but slow again with a lot of cyclists and walkers on the route. At Andernach, we came across a sign advertising a cold water geyser, the tallest in the world. (Apparently these are quite rare – caused by carbon dioxide, similar to shaking a fizzy drink) Unfortunately, it was only accessible by an organized tour by boat at a time that really didn’t suit us, so we cycled on…

Further along the path we came across at a ‘Wild West’ themed fundraising event in the village of Sankt Sebastian – the smell of the BBQ was mouth-watering and irresistable. We stopped and had some form of ‘wurst’ on a roll – really good! American country music was playing, beer was flowing, the sun was shining and everyone was smiling. When I went to take a photo of the BBQ area – I was told by the proud chef that this was “Typical Germany”!

Although we hadn’t ridden too far, we stopped in Koblenz as a large storm system was threatening. We had to wait two hours for the campsite reception to open and took a seat at the bar, to watch the storm clouds surround us, all the while praying the rain would hold off until we had put up our tent!

Thankfully, the rain stayed away for another few hours; we had just pitched the tent and eaten dinner when the heavens opened. We had a night of torrential rain and wind, mercifully our tent was fairly sheltered, so we missed the brunt of the wind.

CAMPSITE: RHEIN-MOSEL
  • Good views of the river from some caravan pitches and restaurant.
  • Large campsite, with very few decent spots for tents.
  • Site managers were rude and unpleasant to deal with.
  • You can order fresh rolls for the following morning.
  • Expensive: Our pitch cost us €23 – and it was behind the facilities building! Other tent campers were complaining it was the most expensive they had stayed in.
  • Large facilities, with washing machines and dryers.
  • Restaurant/bar on-site.

DAY THREE and FOUR: Koblenz to Bordeaux

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The following morning, the heavy rain continued unabated. We started packing up our tent around 10ish, lying low and hoping the rain would stop. Finally around 11am it held off long enough for us to pack quickly and head into the town. It was a public holiday in Germany (I think the 4th one since we have been there!), and no shops or restaurants appeared open. We finally found a little café that was open and had wi-fi and we set about planning what to do next.

We decided to end our cycle journey in Koblenz for the time being as the weather was showing no signs of improving according to the forecasts. We felt it was better to spend the coming rainy days travelling by train to our next destination, rather than struggling in the rain on our bikes each day for no reward. It was a hard decision, but we decided to leave the Rhine and head to France, rather than waiting it out.

We took a train to Saarbrücken, which was the closest place to France we could travel by regional train from Koblenz, then caught another train to Metz in France. We hadn’t done a lot of research on France as yet, and figured we would work out where to go the following day!

Our hotel in Metz was a lot seedier than advertised, so we slept in our sleeping bags rather than braving the sheets! The room looked a sight; as soon as we arrived, we strung rope from corner to corner and hung out our various camping bits and pieces, trying to dry them all off.

To our amusement, although perhaps nothing unusual in France, we had to park our bikes up a flight of stairs on the first floor, through a window and onto the neighbours roof!

The next day we turned up at the railway station in Metz, hoping that someone could help us formulate a plan to get to the Bordeaux region, which is in the opposite corner of France from Metz. France, like Germany, has high speed trains (TGV), and the slower regional trains that operate in their own regions. To our knowledge, it was not possible to take bikes on the TGV, so we set about researching the regional train network, trying to work out how to get to Bordeaux from Metz. We couldn’t make any sense of the various websites as there didn’t seem to be a single coherent point of information like the fantastic DB Bahn website in Germany. So it was off to the station to hopefully find someone who could speak some English. To cut a long story short, we ended up on the TGV, of which some services can take bikes. It was a very simple process to load the bikes and secure them, with the luggage stored in racks alongside.

As we flew through the countryside, the landscape was breathtaking.  Low hanging clouds over the fields made it feel like we were watching a 3D movie, through fields of yellow canola, fields of green.

We had to change trains at Paris and we had a two hour gap to cycle the 7 or 8km from Paris Est Station to Montparnasse Station in rush hour, to take the train to Bordeaux. It was fairly daunting as neither of us had been to Paris before and knew next to nothing about the roads, except that the traffic was mayhem. Cycling through Paris was a little surreal: traffic was crazy, but everyone seemed really respectful and we made it okay – I think the image of Carl cycling ahead of me in the traffic on that busy Paris evening will stay in my mind for the rest of my life!  I am sure people are wondering why we didn’t just stay in Paris, well… the weather hadn’t been that great and the forecast was for more rain, so we didn’t want to use up our ‘Paris’ time in bad weather! (make sense?)

We arrived at 11pm in Bordeaux, without making a hotel booking (figuring there would be somewhere around…!), we found one easily and before we knew it, were fast asleep.  We knew we really were in France when we looked out of our hotel window in the morning and saw the limestone houses with the red roofs, postcard perfect…

Following post: Cycling the Bordeaux wine region