Paris is to lovers as almost anywhere in Europe is to bikers. For example, consider Germany’s Mosel Valley. Here bicycle-specific signage, racks and lanes, and, best of all, a population that’s inherently friendly toward cyclists, combine with a paved, mostly flat and winding cycle path paralleling the Mosel River (think wine) in western Germany. This combination also allows you to take the guess work out of an upcoming vacation.
Imagine cycling for a week past vineyards that stretch up steep mountainsides on both banks of this clean, slow-moving river. Picture yourself pedaling through summer sun-drenched medieval towns of half-timbered houses, past the intricacies of Romanesque churches, glancing up from your handlebars to see a castle perched high overhead and, as you turn the corner, the resonance of townspeople and tourists enjoying local wine or beer and sausages at outdoor tables around the fountain in the town’s main square.
The Mosel in the western region of Germany is near this country’s border with Luxembourg. The river begins in a mountain range in France (where it’s called the Moselle) and runs umbilically northward, eventually flowing into the larger Rhine. As it flows in Germany between Trier and Coblence, its course resembles a patient’s fever chart, spiking up and down and up and down, each shift promising visual and gustatory delights.
More than two centuries ago ancient Rome sent its armies north over the Alps to this lovely forested and watered region and tried to push beyond. The “Vandals” kept them from settling for long north of the Mosel, and thus its beautiful river towns became Roman frontier encampments, then settlements, and finally the largest of them true Roman towns with public baths, villas, roads, bridges, theaters, and, of course, the ubiquitous Roman vineyards – the descendents of which prosper on its banks today.
A weeklong cycling trip may begin in Trier that has the foot print from 6 BC of Emperor Augustus and is Germany’s oldest city. Pedal or walk in one direction in this safe and fascinating town and you’ll come upon an amphitheater where 25,000 sandaled Romans and whoever was then considered “German” watched bloody gladiatorial contests. Make a U-turn and you’ll pass the huge 11th century Cathedral, then enter a Renaissance market area full of bustle and bratwursts; then turn down a street where Karl Marx was born 800 years later!
It may require all of your two days in Trier to wrap your mind around such history and most certainly your taste buds around local delicacies. Then comes the enjoyable river ride flanked by some reconstructed Roman villas while passing through picturesque Trittenheim en route to the small town of Neumagen with its fascinating Roman history.
At the height of the Roman Empire a massive fortification of two enormous gates and fourteen towers existed here overlooking quiet streets of flower-potted shops. This is still the ancient Roman Road but today reflects a tranquil passage compared to all the wars it has witnessed between then and now.
Continuing the riverside course along the Mosel leads from the Romans to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in calendar-pretty Bernkastel with its gabled and half-timbered houses, bustling 400-year-old market square and Landshut Castle high above the vineyards scrambling up the steep hills. This path provides close-up views of the vineyards and glimpses of people above working in the fields. Other small towns are across the water where ferries and pleasure boats come and go.
After Bernkastel’s visual delights and perhaps sipping the local wine, Bernkasteler Doktor, so named because of its purportedly curative qualities, comes Cochem sporting a lofty castle, fountain-flocked market area and a history that includes its founding in 1332, completion of town hall in 1620 and a sacking and burning by the French in 1689. Today its Reichsburg Castle is still visible for miles and illuminated at night. A hike of a mile or so through a valley resplendent with trees reveals the medieval wonder of multiple tall, slender turrets called the Burg Eltz Castle.
This trip that begins in Trier ends in Coblence where the Mosel meets the Rhine. Although a burg of 100,000, it’s still bike-friendly. Here’s where folks may ponder if they should pedal back to Trier so they can sample the Mosel’s fortifications, beauty and wines all over again.
All touring arrangements including bicycles, hotel accommodations, most meals and the services of knowledgeable guides who share the lore and history of the region and keep folks going in the right direction are available through Austin-Lehman Adventures (www.austinlehman.com). This company also accommodates other cycling itineraries in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. For information please call (800) 575-1540.