The one and only 2014 Castles and Breweries tour is over. On the way across Germany, France, Belgium and Luxembourg we enjoyed the roads, food, drinks and scenery.
What happened so far? Fifteen eager riders and passengers gathered in Frankfurt last Saturday. After the welcome briefing and the handover of the bikes the first beers were tasted over dinner. Ideal riding weather awaited the group on Sunday as we headed south into the Odenwald with its winding roads: Sunshine, a few clouds and moderate temperatures. An initial stretch of Autobahn was followed by a sample of German back roads. Their width made some first time visitors wonder whether they are one-way streets, but they soon learned how to pass oncoming vehicles.
Hirschhorn castle was our first stop and having coffee high above the Neckar valley was worth the short moments of fear driving up through the dark forest. After climbing the medieval lookout tower we mounted the bikes again and followed the Neckar valley upstream. Turning east along the winding Jagst river we soon reached the monastery of Schöntal ("Beautiful valley"). Its baroque style church and the adjacent cafe with its shady terrace provided an ideal spot for a break before we headed for Rotheburg ob der Tauber. The timely arrival left time to explore the city before dinner. Those who choose to accompany George the nightwatchman on its rounds learned a lot about the city's history. Those who didn't learned about the local brews.
Day two started with a grey sky but the water stayed in the clouds and roads remained dry. We headed south, stopping at Schwäbisch Hall for a coffee and to admire its old town centre, which is witness to the former wealth of the city, based on the salt trade. After the break we followed the Kocher river upstream until we reached the escarpment of the Schwäbische Alb. Overlooking the town of Heidenheim we had lunch next to castle Hellenstein. A short detour took us to the home of the Teddy bear - the Steiff factory in Giengen. On our final leg to Ehingen we got caught up in a bit of rush hour traffic, but we made it in good time for the tour of the Schwanen brewery. This micro-brewery is situated right next to the hotel and its restaurant, so after learning how the beer is made, it was just a short way to the tap.
Antonio, Greg and Sue at Hellenstein castle
Day three and the weather looks perfect. Along the Lautertal we swing towards Zwiefalten, yet another former monastery with an impressive baroque church and an adjacent bakery. We notice the brewery, formerly run and owned by the monks, but continue on our ride through fields and forest. We reach Sigmaringen, home of the Hohenzollern family of which the last Emperor of Germany, Wilhelm II, was a member. After a guided tour of the castle and some food for lunch the valley of the Danube awaits us. Limestone cliffs line the slopes of the valley, in which the river meanders through green meadows.
As we climb out of the valley, the scenery changes. Rolling hills and the volcanoes of the Hegau in the distance, before we enter the Black Forest. We reach the guest-house of the Rothaus brewery early enough to be able to enjoy a couple of drinks in the sun-drenched beer garden before it is time for dinner.
Ideal bike parking at Zwiefalten
A short stop along the way to the Black Forest
Day four is the first rest day of the tour. Resting for this group seems to be riding, as everybody follows Björn for a trip to Schaffhausen and the Rheinfall, the largest waterfall in Europe. On return it is time for a tour of the Rothaus brewery. Quite a contrast to the small operation at Ehingen.
Björn briefing the group before heading off for the rest-day ride
Day five and after a lot more twists and turns through the Black Forest we finally leave Germany and enter France. First stop in France is the locks at Marckolsheim, where we observe ships being lifted and lowered. In the meantime Björn prepares a picknick lunch on the banks of the Rhine. Well fed we take the road to Haute Koenigsbourg, where we encounter lots of tourist traffic, all driving up there for the castle and the view of the Rhine valley. One more pass before we take the highway to reach Nancy, our stop for the night.
Hexenlochmühle - a good place for Black Forest cake
Kandel lookout - great roads, great views from the top
Enjoying the view
Picknick at Rhine
Another view from the top - looking over the Rhine valley from Haute Koenigsbourg
After a quiet night in Nancy, the majority of the group heads for the WW I battlefields in the vicinity of Verdun on the sixth day. Wes, Mary, Frank and Katherine decide to venture off on their own and are having a wonderful day visiting Toul and Bar-le-Duc. All meet up in Reims to share the stories of the day.
The bone house in Verdun
Bob, Ted and Greg assessing French crops
The following rest day is used by some to take the fast train to Paris, while others spend the day resting, touring Reims and sipping Champagne in the local cellars. After all, Reims is the home of this delicious drink.
Day eight took us north towards the Ardennes and into Belgium. But first came another stretch of wide open French farmland, then the rolling hills of the Argonnes before we reached Sedan. Once the town was a major fortress on the northeastern border of France and witness to many battles. The remains of the castle now house a museum, a cafe and a hotel.
Castle Bouillon above the Semoise. Its former owner Gottfried became the first Crusader King of Jerusalem in 1099. Whether he also invented the soup - who knows...
A short ride through the forest and over the ridge got us into Belgium, where town and castle of Bouillon greeted us. After lunch we were ready for the twists and turns of the roads that lead through the Ardennes. Following the Semoise and the Maas (or Meuse in French) downstream, we finally reach Dinant. After the ride a first chance to taste Belgian beer at its source.
Mary, Chris, Debbie and Allison - happy
Katherine and Frank enjoying a drink. Empty mugs as proof that Belgian beer can't be too bad...
The ninth riding day has the group turn south-east, across Belgium and into Luxembourg, one of the smaller European countries, but one with a lot of beautiful roads to ride on. On the way we stop at La Roche en Ardenne, a small town with an old castle. Once in the Middle Ages a rich wool trading town, it became the focus of a fierce battle in December 1944, when German and Allied troops fought for control over the bridge across the river. Heavy bombing destroyed most of the town. A museum now tells the story of these events.
The castle dominating La Roche en Ardenne
A Goldwing from another era. Frank, Chris, Bob and Bill listen to the explanation of its builder and owner. Yes, the sidecar is on the left side, as it is a bike registered in the UK
How many engineers and farmers does it take to fix a screw on a helmet visor? Bill and Ted hard at work, Greg sceptical and Pierre thinks it's funny - it was!
After a stop for a late lunch, we just beat the rain on the last leg to our hotel in Erpeldange, a small town outside Diekirch. At the bar they serve delicious beer of the same name, brewed just around the corner.
The rain has passed during the night, so day ten starts with wet roads, but no water falling out of the sky. We ride the road through the famous Mullertal and reach the Sauer river which guides us to the Moselle and on to Trier, our first stop for the day. Germany's oldest city was once the capital of the Roman Empire and the Porta Nigra, one of its gates still stands as a witness to its former glory. Now a busy town, we spend some time to admire the churches, have coffee and do some souvenir shopping.
After battling with city traffic and a scenic ride along the Moselle river with its vineyards, we reach the spot high above the valley at Piesport, where Björn has prepared our picnic lunch. Well fed we ride north, into the volcanic part of the Eifel and stop at castle Niedermanderscheid.
Niedermanderscheid, a view from above
Where once the knights parked their horses, we now park ours
Some more twists and turns and a rain shower later we arrive at Cochem, our overnight town. Situated on the Moselle, there is lots of wine to taste. But they sell beer, too.
The Reichsburg at Cochem
The last day we follow the Moselle again. More vineyards line the valley slopes until we reach Koblenz, where the Moselle meets the Rhine. An important strategic place since Roman times, Koblenz has been turned into a fortified town over the centuries. What remains of it today is the fortress of Ehrenbreitstein, which sits high above the town. Easily reachable by a cablecar across the Rhine, the view from the top is magnificent - the Rhine and Moselle valley, the hills of the Eifel and the city below.
On the ferry across the Rhine at St.Goar
On we head along the Rhine. It is upstream now, back towards Frankfurt, our destination toady. We stop at the famous Loreley lookout high above the Rhine valley, before we take on the last stretch of winding road on this tour along the Wispertal. Then it is back into busy Frankfurt on the Autobahn, before the trip comes to an end at the same place it started.