Cycling the Mosel River
The Mosel river runs from south of Trier in a northeasterly direction to join the Rhine at Koblenz. It is not a large river, and there are many bridges connecting the many vineyards along the banks. The hills on which the grapes grow are often very steep, and on a least one occasion I spied what looked like a home made chairlift through a vineyard. There is an off-road cycle route for the entire length between Trier and Koblenz, often, if not always, on both sides of the river. The route is pretty much flat, scenic, and full of wineries and cafes, which I think is why it is also overrun with retirees. Many have electric bikes while the rest chug along as I did on leg power alone. The other half crowd into the ferries and cruise ships that use the river, getting out at towns that have been deemed especially picturesque and filling the streets, bakeries, and ice cream shops.
Along the way I followed my newly purchased map and took a detour to see a Roman Villa. It turned out to be in the middle of a vineyard and was remarkably intact. While it wasn't open, it wasn't fenced off from the public, so I walked up and took a look around. It was great to see an almost complete building.
I stopped the first night in a town called Neumagen-Dhron at a campsite by the river that had a bizarre bar where the staff and patrons puffed away on cigarettes so that the room was a little hazy and the smell of stale smoke leaked through to the ablutions block above. This was amply compensated for though by the incredibly cheap local wine. 80c a glass for some excellent local Riesling, I could have downed several more than I did! However I had to cycle onwards the next day. While there I me a father and son who were also cycle touring as I was, but doing is fast and sleek. They planned to get to Koblenz in a day or two less than I did and were aiming for 80-120 km/day. So we had a few drinks and retired.
After leaving Neumagen (which the cyclists had informed me meant ‘new stomach’) I continued on my way, stopping at a town called Bernkastel-Keus. Both the cyclist I had met in Trier and the father and son duo had said it was worth stopping here, so I did. It didn’t look very interesting from the main road, but once you ventured up the valley a little way you entered a village of narrow cobbled streets and half timber houses. It was very beautiful, but this was somewhat spoiled by the huge number of retiree tourists. Further on down the river I found out that this is a destination for many of the ferries on the Mosel and a very popular destination for a day trip. Nevertheless I dragged my bike through the crowds and duly admired the town before heading onwards.
That night I stopped in a little town called Punderich at a campsite that looked like it had sprung up temporarily on the bank of the river, but the very permanent concrete block of a building housing the toilets and showers put paid to that idea. It didn’t have an office that I could find, but after getting directions from four different sets of people I finally got a key from a guy sitting at a table under an awning. Obviously. I set up camp on the riverside, trying to avoid the ever present swan poop, and settled down for the night.
The next morning the rain held off until about thirty seconds after I began pedalling. I put on my wet weather gear and carried on. It didn’t rain long, and I cycled on through more vineyards and cafes. Some looked very inviting in the morning sunshine as people relaxed over a glass of wine, but it was far too early for me to be drinking! I decided to stop at the first winery I saw in the sun in the afternoon, but unfortunately I didn’t find one before it got too cold and wet again. I cycled on to Cochem, my final destination for the day, and arrived early enough to check out both of the campsites in town and go to the supermarket. The campsites I have come across here have all been something out of the ordinary from my experience. They are huge (the ‘small’ one I was directed to had over 150 pitches), often have a restaurant or café, and are almost invariably filled with campervans lined up next to each other. Some people with season pitches add gazebos and tents and garden ornaments. I swear I even saw one guy moving his piece of lawn. Again mostly retirees, so given that everyone goes inside in the evenings and that many of the older generation are not confident with English (though they speak it far better than mangle German!) I didn’t often talk to anybody.
That night it rained heavily, and continued non-stop all morning. I gave up waiting for a chance to pack down in dry weather and just piled the soaking tent on the back of the bike. Fortunately I was going to stay with a couchsurfing host in Koblenz that night. I abandoned my plan to poke around Cochem (I only realised I had been there before and toured the castle when I arrived), and caught a train to Koblenz. The train cost about 13 Euro for me and my bike for a 40 minute journey – not bad compared to the UK. I arrived in Koblenz and cycled to meet my host, Alexia, who had come to meet me on her bike. She took me to her place in Immendorf which was just outside the city and up quite a long steep hill. Steep enough that we walked it. Her flatmate later pointed out there was a bus we could have caught… We spent a pleasant evening talking and watching a cheesy movie on You Tube, and eating a delicious vege soup and some stewed plums that tasted like edible Christmas!