Cycling along the River Rhine, through Switzerland, Germany, and France (160 miles in 7 days).

The theme of this ride has to be ‘chocolate’; I started the cacao experience in Switzerland and finished it in France. My journey begins in Zürich Switzerland and follows the River ‘Limmat’, and 'Aare', later connecting to the Rhine and into Germany and finishing at ‘Rust’. It was a an absolute delight cycling through the Swiss and German medieval towns. Last year I rode along the river Danube and discovered complications transporting my bike across to Austria. Keeping a touring bike (and bag) under the weight limit for the flight was difficult, but the biggest issue was actually transporting just the bike bag (easy if it were a circular route) from start to finish of the ride. I wanted to ride in Europe again, but without last year’s hassle. So this time, I’m using the ‘Dahon’ folding bike, as it can go as normal luggage (and you carry the bike bag), but even though the trip was meticulously prepared, things didn’t go completely to plan!

Day 1- Newport to Zürich (flying BA)

The bike had gone through the oversize luggage gate at Heathrow, and that is where I expected it to come out at Zürich, but imagine my horror when I saw it come down a steep ramp, where it clonked onto the carousel belt with other luggage thrown on top of it. I picked it off the conveyer belt and headed straight to the information desk to complain (bearing in mind this bag had three ‘Fragile’ labels pinned to it). The lady said “where’s the damage?” I explained to the lady- a cycle is in the bag and it could be damaged. “I can’t possibly do anything until I see any damage”. So I put the bike together in front of her nose, luckily there wasn’t any damage to the bike, but the bag was ripped to shreds. She commented, “the belt could not have done this damage” and suggested it must have been ripped before transit. After some posturing on both sides she agreed to allow me to fill in a damage claim form.

The train from Zürich Flughafen (airport) went straight into Zürich central, and then it was a short ride to the accommodation. Despite the ripped bag, I had a ‘wow’ experience on the train to Zürich. For a brief moment you can see the snow capped Alps, this really perked me up. I was staying in a cut price apartment to keep the price down, with shared toilets and showers. I’ve done this before and wasn’t impressed, so I don’t know why I booked it again (ahh yes, it was the price, hotel prices around Zürich are stupid, but after a hidden ‘service’ charge, I could have stayed in a hotel)?

Day 2- Lake Zürich (20 miles)

Today, I intended to circumnavigate the lake, but didn’t feel well at all; a mystery bug. I tried to sleep it off and awoke midday, I dragged myself out of bed and set off under a cold leaden sky, but still felt rough. Riding through the suburbs, the pleasant perfume of many ‘jasmine trees’ overpowered the olfactory receptors, suddenly the smell of chocolate set my mouth alight with expectation. So what better way to make me feel better than a visit to a chocolate factory? If ever you wondered what ‘Hansel & Gretel’ saw on that enchanted cottage, a visit to the ‘Lindt’ chocolate factory shop will completely satisfy your curiosity and lust for the dark gold. Though, after consuming some choccey treats, I may have added to my feeble disposition.

I continued to ride on the ‘Seestrasse’ (the road surrounding the lake), but it wasn’t as picturess as I imagined, you only catch glimpses of the lake. The best views of the lake were taken up by properties along the bank, so I could have been riding on any road anywhere. I managed to get to ‘Horgen’ before sitting on the quayside feeling thoroughly sick, so I waited to catch the ferry back to Zürich. Along come one of the renowned steam paddle ships; ‘Stadt Zürich’. Stadt Zürich is the older of two remaining steam ships (with an oil fired boiler) running on Lake Zürich. I boarded the ship and sat outside to catch the air as it wobbled ‘to and fro’ progressing along the lake. Normally, I can tolerate the smell of hot steam engine oil, but on this occasion it pushed me over the edge, and I vomited over the side (much to both the disgust and amusement of some passengers). With my head held in shame, I disembarked this one hundred year old paddle steamer at Zürich, and rode back to my overpriced ‘doss-house’ and went straight back to bed. This meant I missed one of the jewels on the shore of Lake Zürich; Rapperswil -Jona, a beautiful medieval area with a castle. Another time, maybe?

Day 3- Zürich to Bad Säckingen (45 miles)

After yesterday, I was dubious about cycling today, but on the contrary, I couldn’t wait to leave Zürich. For the first twelve miles the rain spat at me, as I rode along cycle paths adjacent to industrial roads, not pleasant in the slightest. Towards ‘Wettingen’ it became slightly more interesting when I crossed the river Limmat, to the right was the first of many hydroelectric power stations and to the left was the paradoxical early nineteenth century wooden bridge, built to connect the monastery peninsula of Wettingen with Neuenhof. I crossed over the river Limmat into the spa town of Baden, its hot mineral springs have been famed since at least the Roman era. The medieval buildings were a delight to ride through and the town is full of museums including a ‘Teddybaer’ (teddybear) museum. Progressing through ‘Obersiggenthal’ it’s quite built up and I had to cut some of the river hairpin bends out of the route to keep the overall millage down, this caused loss of sight of the river until ‘Bottstein’, when the river re-emerged it was the river Aare (the river Limmat joined the river Aare a few miles back).

At the confluence of the Aare and Rhine rivers at last I’m in the countryside following the Rhine in westerly direction on the Swiss side. After turning right on a farm road I catch sight of a bunker, then another about a mile on. At about 28 miles from Zürich, I came across the Swiss Military Museum (Schweizerisches Militärmuseum), this place is massive and covers buildings and vehicles used by the Swiss Army, it was CHF 15 (which is about £11) to enter. I spent an hour there, but couldn’t do it justice and had to move on, passing the Leibstadt Nuclear Power Plant and yet another bunker. The cycle path now follows the single railway line until I finally cross the Rhine into Germany at Laufenburg, and then the path turns to parallel the river passing the German equivalent of riverside holiday homes until I reach Bad Säckingen and the Hotel Sankt (St) Fridolin. The hotel was modest in price, but it was great, it had an honesty bar with fantastic local wine from ‘Basel’. Bad Säckingen is located at the southern end of the Black Forest and Switzerland is just a few minutes walk away, crossing the Rhine on a lovely old wooden bridge. I had to eat and walked around the town, but everything wasn’t open until 1730, I did a full circle and ate at my original hotel.

Day 4- Bad Säckingen to Neuenburg am Rhein (46 miles)

I watched the heavy rain thump the windows while having had a great breakfast in this excellent little hotel. The weather man said the rain will stop at 10.00 and give or take five minutes, it did. The air smelt of ozone when I left the place straight onto a main road, most of the main roads had a marked off cycle lane- this one did not. I feel I must have plotted this bit of the route wrong, the road was too busy and dangerous, though in fairness the heavy goods vehicles and cars were considerate and passed wide, but I still felt vulnerable. I diverted off the main road through ‘Schwörstadt’ and was stopped by police to allow the air ambulance to land (I hoped this wasn’t an omen). At ‘Beuggen’ I came off the main road and went through the arch of ‘Schloss Beuggen’, a thirteenth century mansion and estate. The origins of Beuggen estate are unknown, but a Knight called ‘Mangold’ was a documented owner. I rode past another hydroelectric power station; Wasserkraftwerk Rheinfelden, and I wondered since the structure has to span two countries; who owns the rights to the power generated?

I reached the town of ‘Rheinfelden (Baden)’ where there was a medieval bridge crossing into the Gothic Swiss town of ‘Rheinfelden’. The entire old town of Rheinfelden is designated as part of a Swiss heritage site. The river was raging through the multiple buttress bridge as I sat there and had a coffee in the ‘Museum Haus Salmegg’. The present-day Salmegg house was built in 1825 on the foundations of the fortification of the former bridgehead. At ‘Basel’ I rode along the side of the Rhine competing with hundreds of runners (no it wasn’t a race), it just seemed trendy to run along this part of the river. As I rode out the other side of Basel it became industrialised. Basel is where Switzerland, France and Germany's borders meet. I was soon out the other side and following the Rhine again on gravel tracks, monotonous gravel tracks with herds of mosquitoes. More often than not, the track diverted away from the river and around open cast gravel or sand quarries. It was boring and hard work, especially when it began to rain, slowing the progress down by a few mph. I finally arrived in 'Neuenburg am Rhein' and rolled to the hotel, well not strictly a hotel, but a guest house; Gastehaus Ursula Fehrenbach. You can’t go wrong with these places, they’re often family run businesses and give a more value for money stay. I ate at the number one ‘Tripadvisor ©' place; Hotel-Restaurant Gasthof Adler. I had roast chicken and fries, and I have to say it was very nice, but nevertheless, it was the most expensive chicken and chips I’d ever had. I had a walk around the town, it’s an unknown gem of a place, there’s a nice square surrounded by coffee shops spilling out into the centre, and the little town has loads of water features and sculptures. Later that night, I enjoyed a fantastic free show of thunder and lightning.

Day 5- Neuenburg am Rhein to Breisach (train) then to Rust (23 miles)

Unlike yesterday the weather man said it was heavy rain all day. I had hoped that after breakfast a miracle would happen and the rain would stop, but it didn’t, so I made the decision to cut today’s route in half by catching the train. The nearest station to here was Müllheim (Baden), I soggily made my way there and to catch the train to Breisach cutting twenty miles out of my ride. A French man began admiring my bike at the station (he started speaking in French, then English when I replied, and said he was from France, anyway), he asked me where I was going, and I told him- I finish my ride at Rust where I catch the train to Strasburg airport. He said, “you’ll be lucky”, and proceeded to tell me that the French trains are sporadically striking during May. I replied, I should be okay, and then we talked about something else (this isn’t just procrastination it’s relevant, just be patient). We could learn a lot from the German trains, the British railway industry give us a 'potential' eight cycle spaces per train, and they actually believe they’re doing you a favour. In more ways than one, Europe has a different culture and they embrace the bike, I counted twenty bikes on my train to Breisach.

Breisach is now a railway terminus, but the line did cross the Rhine into France prior to the start of the war, the bridge was destroyed in 1945 and never replaced. The first thing that strikes you arriving in the town is the cathedral of ‘St. Stephansmünster’ sitting on a high mound of land (a bit like Lincoln cathedral). I was told the local museum is also worth a visit. Now it’s back on gravel tracks for mile after mile, there were some small marinas or rowing clubs along the way, but on the whole they were shut, the same story as yesterday. After sixteen miles from Breisach, the track came away from the Rhine where I had a coffee at ‘Gasthaus zur Limburg’. Occasionally I passed a walker or another cyclist, but generally this was a secluded and boring trip. The one thing to say is; there are no potholes, none along the whole journey. It began to rain heavily and I could see another marina in the distance, I put in an effort to get there quickly. I had already taken the Garmin off the handlebars because from previous experience it steams up in heavy rain. I made it to shelter and waited for the rain to abate, when it did I put the Garmin back on the bars indicating there was a change of direction just behind me. The bottom line is; if I hadn’t sought shelter where I did- I would have missed the direction change. I headed towards ‘Weisweil’ then ‘Rhienhausen’ on good separate cycle paths when the heavens opened again. When I looked up I could see the massive ‘Blaues Feuer- Timburcoaster’ (blue fire roller coaster) in the ‘Europa park. I rolled into ‘Rust’ soggy and cold.

Day 6- Europark Rust

Europa-Park is the largest theme park in Germany, and the number two most popular theme park resort in Europe, second only to Disneyland Paris. It’s located in the German town of Rust, between Freiburg and Strasbourg. If you’ve been to any of the famous theme parks they are much the same, but this had something missing, I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It was only when I left Rust, I realised what it was; it only sold German food, beer, and wine. Fine, when you’re in Germany, but the themed country areas in Europa park were from all around Europe. For example; I’d expect Spanish beer, and wine, and Tapas in the Spain region. That said, the rides were exceptional and catered for all ages, the roller coasters were death defying. Seriously, I absolutely mean that, some say they’re the nearest thing to flying without wings. Whereas, I say they’re the closest to a near death experience you’ll have, plunging down one hundred metres with gravity dictating the speed. One would never experience these G-forces in nature unless you threw yourself off a cliff. Once the park shuts (1800) everyone runs for their cars in the massive car parks and then it’s quiet. Rust village is probably a quarter of a mile away from Europa park entrance. At 1900 you could stand on the kerb, close your eyes, and randomly walk across the road (though I wouldn’t recommend it) without fear of getting knocked over. The thing is, if it wasn’t on my route, I would’ve never have even known about Europa park or the town of Rust (it’s that unheard of), but it’s as good as any I’ve been to.

Day 7- Rust to Strasbourg airport (25 miles)

Today I was going home, so it was supposed to be the train (a few miles from Rust) from Ringsheim to Offenburg to Strasbourg (France), then to Strasbourg airport to fly home to Cardiff. However, when I rode to Ringsheim the ticket machine said my journey was unavailable. I caught the train to Offenburg then went to the ticket office, to cut the story short; the French were preventing the German train crossing the Rhine into France (due to a strike). So the options- catch the train to Kehl (on the German border) and ride across the border (not feasible as it would too late for airport check-in), or ride from Offenburg to Strasbourg airport (could be done if I start now). I was lucky this was a cycling holiday and I had my fold-up bike with me. It wasn’t long before I was riding along a pleasant forest country road. After a few miles I turned onto a main road with a separate cycle path, it was really quite nice. I crossed the ‘Pierre Pflimlin Bridge’ with views of the hydroelectric power plant (which I can’t find the name of), then onto forest roads again, only now in France. Imagine my frustration when I passed a sign for ‘Les Secrets du chocolat musee’ (a museum devoted to the subject of chocolate), now this was torture. I put up with the French making me cycle to the airport, but putting a chocolate museum on route (that I didn’t have time to visit) was just unbearable. I arrived at the airport at 1230, still in my cycling clothes, sweaty and quite likely very smelly. The checkin desk nearly had a fit when I wheeled the bike to the desk, but then explained I have to take it apart first. Once the bike had gone I made my way to the toilets to change and throw some water on me (the duty free is always useful in these circumstances; for splashing some gratis perfume all over).

The whole point of riding the Rhine was to keep the route flat, well on that point, it was a complete success. However; I really didn’t think it would be as mind numbing, and tedious as it was. There were some great medieval towns along the way and they were incredible, so maybe I should have ridden from town to town. Europa park was fantastic, but many of the massive themes parks are much the same. Despite the diversions, it was kinda was fun, and with the invent of smart phones of today, it’s easy finding alternative directions or substitute transport options, it really was a piece of cake. I thought the mileage would be an issue, but again it was undemanding. The weather was a pain, I got completely soaked on two days, and though I took sun cream with me- I needn’t have bothered, it was overcast all week. The folding bike worked a treat and will almost certainly be centre of some other European trips, the downside of that is it doesn’t have the low gears of my other bike. On the whole it was a good trip, I met some nice people, and the Swiss, Germans, and French, put me to shame by speaking perfect English. Will I go back? Probably not the same route, though I think I’d like to explore Switzerland more.

  • Gallery

    gallery page Why not have a look at the gallery relating to this ride. Click the image or the title.

  • Zürich Skymetro

    Zürich There was a long walk once we’d left the aircraft and then down escalators to an underground station- Skymetro. From here it was about ten minutes to the baggage carousels.

  • Damaged baggage

    Damaged baggage According to a well known travel blog, the airline usualy declines to pay for damage caused by the fragile nature of the contents or inadequate packing, rather than the airline’s rough handling.

  • Lindt chocolate factory

    Lindt chocolate factory Switzerland is famous for its chocolate and legendary Swiss chocolatier ‘Lindt & Sprungli’ have been churning out delicious confections since 1845. Today, visiting the chocolate factory shop is a must for any chocolate lover.

  • Stadt Zürich and the Kaiser

    In September 1912 Stadt Zürich made an evening tour with her most famous guest yet, the German Emperor Wilhelm II, and his blue-blooded retinue and few hand-picked guests toured around the lake on a state visit.

  • Wettingen wooden bridge

    On a small spit of land at Wettingen was a Cistercian monastery, it was founded in 1227 and in 1841 was abolished by the canton of Aargau. The wooden bridge was built to allow the monks passage to the customs house in Neuenhof.

  • Baden town

    Baden has a Roman city, the ruins of castle Stein and is home to a number of other Swiss Heritage Sites. The industrial sites include the ABB Schweiz archive along with the former offices of ‘Brown Boveri’ a World famous electrical equipment (and train) supplier.

  • Schweizerisches Militärmuseum Full

    Unbelievably this incredible museum was created by a single person; founded by 'Thomas Hug' and friends. The sponsorship changed in 2004 and was supported by the Association Military and Fortress Museum Full-Reuenthal (VMFM) opening a new hall with more exhibits.

  • Bad Säckingen bridge

    The bridge was built in 1272 and was destroyed several times. The current bridge was completed in 1700. It connects the German city of Bad Säckingen with the Swiss village of Stein. Notice the boundary line in the image which marks the border of Germany and Switzerland.

  • Schloss Beuggen

    The origins of Beuggen are dark, but its believed to be founded around 1246, it was later completed by the ‘German Order of Knights’. It had many uses; during the Napoleonic Wars, the castle was declared a field hospital of the Austrian army and in the mid 1800’s it was a children’s home. Only renovated in 2017 it is now a hotel.

  • Basel

    Basel is located where the Swiss, French, and German borders meet, known for its many internationally renowned museums. It’s prominent for having one of the highest standards of living in the World.

  • Neuenburg am Rhein water sculptures

    A fountain walk tour of the town centre takes you on a journey of discovery of the town’s history. There are eleven different water features depicting life in the town with people who contributed to its current well being.

  • The new ICE 4 trains

    The brand new UK GWR trains boast- ‘Step on board, and enjoy more space, more comfort, and faster journeys’. Yet Germany’s brand new train; the ICE 4 (Inter City Express) has set the latest standards on high speed services providing carriage of eight assembled bicycles at each end, with two trains joined that’s quadruple the bikes the new UK trains can carry.

  • Breisach

    The town's landmark St. Stephen Cathedral, pastel-hued buildings, and cobbled streets create an old-world charm that belies the fact that the town was almost totally destroyed in WW2 and meticulously rebuilt in the old style.

  • Trulantica is born

    At the beginning, ‘Rust’ was never considered for the site of ‘Europapark’. There was a piece of land by a small artificial lake called ‘Europa- Weiher’ just south of Breisach. The town initially seemed perfect for the plans, but despite the advanced preparations and numerous permits having been put in place, the project fell through because of an objection from the ‘Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration’, which had its own plans for the land.

    By 1915 the ‘Mack Rides.Co’ was already ‘purveyor to the court’ of Circus Krone; in 1921 it created the first rollercoaster. From 1930 onwards the family business specialised in circus trucks, carrousels, ghost trains, and rollercoaster’s. In 1951 the Mack Company built the first bobsleigh run out of wood. Under the leadership of Franz Mack and his sons Europa park was founded in Rust in 1974.

    The park expanded every year, but took a leap forward building themed hotels starting in 2004 with ‘El Andaluz’ (four other 4☆ hotels have been built since). In 2009 the spectacular wooden rollercoaster ‘WODAN – Timburcoaster’ was completed, following in the footsteps of its parent firm. The park is now home to 13 roller coasters and hundreds of other rides. Europa-Park counted just over 5.6 million visitors through its doors in 2017.

  • The History of Chocolate

    The Incas, Mayan, and Aztec civilization is believed to be the birthplace of Chocolate. The Mayans of Central America are believed to be the first to discover cocoa as early as 900 AD. In fact, the word ‘chocolate’ is said to come from the Mayan word ‘xocolatl’ which means ‘bitter water’. They mixed ground cacao seeds with various seasonings to make a spicy, frothy drink.

  • Are the French always on strike?

    It may seem that way, and at least part of the industrial action of our Gallic neighbours is because mass-participation in social action is in their DNA. 'The telegraph ©' points out; French workers won the right to strike in 1864, 20 years before they were actually allowed to unionise. SNCF (French national rail company) warned of ‘severe disruption’ for three months starting in April 2018. Even dustmen, civil servants and public utility workers had planned walkouts. Alarm bells should have rung in the UK; when I tried to buy the Strasbourg ticket on the internet, it said it was unavailable, but I knew the route existed. Oh well, ‘C'est la vie’. It was just a misfortune I got caught in their strike on my last day.

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