Cycling along the Mosel

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The rivers that flow northwards from Germany and Eastern France are interesting. The Rhine, really a German river (Rhein), flows from Switzerland through Germany as far as Holland where about two thirds of its water volume becomes the Waal, going west where the river splits just before Nijmegen. The other third goes north to Arnhem where it divides again, part going west as the Neder Rhine (Nederrijn) and reaching the sea at Rotterdam (by which time is has become the Lek), and part going north as the IJssel to the IJsselmeer. The Rhine itself never reaches the sea.

Northeastern France, most of Luxembourg, and a small part of Belgium drain to the Rhine via the Moselle – Mosel in German. The Mosel and Rhine come together near Koblenz. The name Moselle comes from Little Meuse. The real Meuse (Maas in Dutch) is another river flowing from France through Belgium to Holland where it becomes the Waal, joining some of the water from the Rhine. Anyway, except for some Rhine water going north to the IJsselmeer, everything ends up in the English Channel at the Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta south of Rotterdam.

All this may be a simplification as the Dutch safeguard their existence with dams, dikes, causeways and the rest of it. They mess with the rivers. We've seen this on cycle tours of the Netherlands and cycled across some of these massive dams and seen ocean liners parked in Amsterdam (which is nowhere near the sea). To try to make sense of it all, this May we went to the Mosel, a region of natural beauty where the river flows through a steep-sided valley and you can cycle along the river on both sides. Sandra likes it fairly flat and as a bonus, this is wine-growing country, and warm.

By contrast our first night's camp was 3 degrees centigrade but this was in Belgium at Tournai. The daytime temperature on the M6 in England had been 5 degrees with hailstone but we guessed it would be summer in Germany. Overnight at Rochefort was getting warmer but in the Belgian Ardennes the weather is famously strange. In the coolness we cycled the RAVeL route Jemelle – Houyet which passes through Rochefort then moved on towards the Mosel via a stunning national park in Luxembourg and the historic town of Vianden.

RAVeL cycle route: Jemelle - Houyet (via Rochefort)

RAVeL cycle route: Jemelle – Houyet (via Rochefort)

We came to a place called Schweich on the river near the German city of Trier and decided to camp there for a couple of days. To clarify: we were driving from place to place and cycling when we got there, not actually cycle touring. Schweich seems to be the start of the steep-sided valley part of the Mosel – the scenic part – and the camp site was nice enough. We cycled down river as it winds back and forth between the hilly sides, maybe 40 miles round trip. Near Detzem we watched a river barge pass through a lock with a wier at the side. At these locks you realize the Mosel river consists of a series of reservoirs to maintain the water level. Without them the Mosel would be much narrower with rocky sections that would be unnavigable except by canoe, but the river is wide with freight and cruises going up and down.

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Early morning river (photo by Sandra)

You also notice the motorhomes parked along the banks, mostly on camp sites but also in designated parking areas with no services. Together with caravans there are surely more people living in fibreglass boxes than actual buildings – thousands of retired people come to enjoy the warmth, the scenery, and the wine (but not the food unless you cook it yourself). Perhaps it's good. It saves pretty little towns becoming over-developed and means that out of season the natural character of the region is restored.

The plan was to work our way downriver as far as Koblenz where the Mosel valley ends, stopping along the way to cycle up and down the cycle paths along the river banks. Then we'd drive to Düsseldorf to stay with some friends before travelling back via Bruges in Belgium. From Schweich we drove down the river and found a small camp site at Zell. The German holiday weekend was now over and the site was almost empty. Idyllic in fact, with the tent just a few feet from the water and a lovely view of the town on the opposite bank. Added enjoyment was swans, geese, and ducks quacking around the tent.

Camping at Zell

Riverside camping at Zell (1)

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Riverside camping at Zell (2)

Zell on the Mosel

Zell on the Mosel

Zell seemed the nicest place along the whole of the river. We booked for three days then came back for another two after driving further up towards Koblenz and passing a number of camp sites we didn't fancy as much. It's strange how foreign places soon seem like home. Perhaps it was the shower block straight from the Porsche factory, or the nice lady at reception, or the German couple who invited us out for a meal, or the town band... but most likely because we'd got to know the ducks and liked how quiet it was.

Over the next few days we cycled up and down the river, either from Zell or after a short drive further along. Cochem is nice. Other places are nice – Trarbach and villages whose names I've forgotten. The cycling was gentle and lovely. You go up one side, cross over a bridge or ferry, then cycle back along the other side, which seems like a different place altogether. Weather: sunny. Temperature upper 20s to 30 degrees. Flask of tea, sandwiches, Schoko Butterkeks – great!

You need a bicycle on the Mosel. From the valley there appears to be no walking. The steep valley sides are either heavily wooded or sloping vineyards and the bike allows you to move easily along the river winding from village to village. Everyone does it. The cycle paths are mostly flat but sometimes rise up then down again a few miles later. The landscape is gorgeous, spoiled only by clumps of motorhomes at frequent intervals. There may be some history to visit but this was essentially a relaxing cycling holiday in fine weather. Plus I have a slightly better appreciation of the river system that ends up passing through Holland.

Cochem

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We returned past the Nürburgring in the Eifel hills, cycled and walked with our friends for a couple of days, and spent a night and day in Bruges. As usual, the traffic driving home up England was blocked around Dartford, blocked around Rugby, and blocked around Birmingham. We contributed to it of course.

The drive'n ride approach went well. Touring with bicycles is not a substitute for real cycle touring. But living in the North of England you have somehow to get to the south coast to reach most of Europe, or pay for an overnight crossing from the east coast. And then to get to the real destination, in this case a distance from the channel ports. And Düsseldorf afterwards. Not easy just with bicycles. Drive to Dover, short crossing by boat, and away you go. We slept in the van three nights (when it was cold or noisy) and the rest in the tent using the van as a store/kitchen/reading room – will repeat this formula in France later in the year.

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On the way: I am gazing in awe at the famous white cliffs

The only blip on this pleasant trip was Rochefort in Belgium. It seems a nice little town but when I asked the camp site lady: "C'est calme?" – it was a Friday – she apologised for a festival going on in the centre and said the noise would stop at 11 pm. The festival of laughs, or something. The noise began at 11 pm and went on until 3 am, with music played so loud it shook the ground. I reckon it's best when planning a trip to mainland Europe to check the dates of public holiday (long) weekends. In France do not attempt to camp on the night of 14th July.

Apparently (according to our friends) this sort of thing is illegal in Germany. Camp in Germany. Anywhere else, watch out for the weekends! I've forgiven Rochefort now, but only because Belgium was my mother's native land.

9 comments on “Cycling along the Mosel”

  1. Hilary wrote:

    Looks like a lovely area, somehow I never seem to think of Germany as a holiday destination.
    Your big van seems like a great idea. I can just about get my bike in the back of the car and then everything else has to packed in very carefully around her. Once taken out there is no way she can be put back in again without a great deal of effort so you lose any possible advantages to having a vehicle for avoiding busy areas etc.

    Those campervan parks were everywhere in France too – it looked like being crammed like sardines into a carpark for your holiday, no thanks!
    The French campsites were all very quiet despite being quite busy for the holiday weekends, no music at all. There was a group of fishermen who talked loudly all one night but they were actually on the other side of the fence, more interested in drinking than fishing I think!

  2. Kern wrote:

    We found Germany great for cycling. Our very first bike tour was from Arnhem through Germany to Colmar. The route along the Rhine is magnificent, particularly between Koblenz and Mainz (fairy tale castles, etc). We did not venture up the Mosel valley though.

    Germans take their cycling seriously. We saw a cycling path under repair – they had excavated and were rebuilding the path from the foundations. In Canada we are lucky to get a layer of asphalt laid over dirt.

    The volume of club music that is tolerated in Europe defies comprehension. I don’t understand why nightclubs are allowed to shake the foundations of surrounding neighbourhoods until all hours of the morning.

  3. Patrick wrote:

    Germany is a great holiday destination but doesn't seem too popular with the British. You don't see many (a good thing in some ways). Perhaps 'we' look for coasts and that is one thing Germany hasn't much of, but it's warm, friendly, and wonderfully scenic in parts. English travellers tend to go further south apparently: Austria, Switzerland, Italy.

    Noise-wise, the British are as bad as anyone IMO (except perhaps for Australians in Australia). A few years ago I vowed I'd never camp again in the UK, and I won't. Barbequeing Brits will wake you up in the remotest places. As Hilary says, French camp sites are generally peaceful with gates shut at 10.30 pm. The German ones we went to this time were silent at 10.

  4. Chris wrote:

    That all looks very idyllic. Your foreign holiday photographs have a relaxing, calming effect I find. Well, except for that last one.

    Hilary wrote: somehow I never seem to think of Germany as a holiday destination.

    Me neither, but we're booked to go there in the summer so I'll have to have another think. And to find out about cycling there – hiring bikes etc.

    My last night of camping was at Rosedale in North Yorkshire. The evening was inevitably spoiled by drunken young – and not so young – people being inconsiderate late in to the night. Mrs Bailey will never camp, here or abroad.

  5. Mary wrote:

    Oooh, its beautiful out there Patrick, what a great trip.

    Positively fairy tale like with the castle perched high on a hill top, all medieval like.

    I agree with Hilary, that van is worth its weight in gold.

    I see it didnt rain in Germany either.... lucky both of you :) (But in France it seems it does)
    Germany I must admit doesnt come up first to me in the list of great cycle places either, but according to this, its a first class place by bike. Again the Europeans seem to have it right.

    Great blog and some super pictures again Patrick

  6. Patrick wrote:

    Thanks Mary. Any wine growing region is usually a pretty good bet weather-wise.

  7. Sue wrote:

    Great Blog read with interest, we have been to Germany the last couple of years for a cycling/relaxing hol the Mosel is such a beautiful place going back next year have got some nice ideas from you, thankyou

  8. trina wrote:

    I'm wondering if anyone has an idea of the camping rate charged for a tent; I understand it might be cheaper than camping with a motorized camper.

  9. Patrick wrote:

    Camping Zell (where we camped) charges these prices but it's all in German so either phone them up or use Google Translate. With electricity costs more as I remember.

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