Altmühl Bicycle Tour
The bicycle path along Altmühl River Valley of south central Germany
is family friendly (mostly flat).
August 2000: This tour will take you from Gunzenhausen to Passau. This 5-day ride
230-mile (371 km) is mostly flat but there are a few small hills. The tour is suitable
for family bicycle holidays. It follows the Altmühl River Valley from Gunzenhausen
to Kelheim and then follows the Danube from Kelheim to Passau. We went on from Passau
to Vienna but that ride is described in The Austrian
Danube from Passau to Vienna.
The Altmühl River Valley of south central Germany is beautiful. The river meanders
slowly through farmland with its fields of wheat, corn, barley and oats that ripen
in the sunshine. There are many forested hillsides along the wide shallow valley.
In the early spring, you will find huge fields of bright yellow flowers of canola
plants. In German, this crop is referred to as Raps. You may find yourself
trying to describe the beauty of the patchwork of brilliant yellow fields mixed
with that of intense green of the new corn and the lighter green of cereal grain
crops. Massive willow trees overhang the river dappling the green water with sunlight.
In late summer, you’ll see the fog rise off the fields in the morning and settle
in the low places just before dark. One of the remarkable features of the Altmühl
River Valley are the nearly white sandstone cliffs that frame the river. They are
dramatically beautiful set against the perpetual green of the forest and fields.
The upper Altmühl is a popular place to rent canoes and begin a several day canoe
trip. Canoe travelers can frequently be heard laughing and splashing water on each
other on hot days.
We are taking this tour with two friends from the Seattle area. They are Daghild
and Erhard, Austrian and German born Americans respectively. Daghild is a retired
professional pastry chef, trained in Austria. Her guidance is guaranteed to add
inches to our hips. We will just have to peddle harder to make room for everything
and not gain too much weight.
Gunzenhausen is easy to get to by train or car. On the Altmühl, they even have
a bus that will facilitate bus rides between many of the small towns for €5.00 without
a bike and €7.50 with a bike. The slow (or injured?) riders can sag onto the bus
and meet the bike riders at the next bus stop. How cool is that?
Now most guidebooks start the Altmühl tour in Rothenburg ab der Tauber. Of course
it is a longer ride to start there. The bikeline guidebook from
says it is 243 km in length.
Canoeing the Altmühl is an alternate activity that one can do as a break from
will tell you about that and give you specifics.
In this part of Germany, the exterior of the church steeples frequently have
a design created by different colored slate roof tiles. It looks almost like a mosaic.
We were impressed by the many different designs of steeple, some gothic, some squat
and onion shaped, but others are just tall and have a normal pitch to the roof.
Frequently, there will be two towers on the churches; sometimes both towers will
have clocks. Redundancy is good when it comes to mechanical clocks, I guess. I know
the priest would not want you to miss service just because one of the clocks stopped.
Altmühl River Valley is beautiful. The river meanders slowly through farmland with
its fields of wheat, corn, barley and oats that ripen in the sunshine. There are
many forested hillsides along the wide shallow valley. In the early spring, you
will find huge fields of bright yellow flowers from the canola plants grown for
their oil here. Huge willow trees overhang the river dappling the green water with
sunlight. In late summer, you’ll see the fog rise off the fields in the morning
and settle in the low places just before dark. One of the remarkable features of
the Altmühl River Valley are the sandstone cliffs along the river. They are dramatically
beautiful set against the perpetual green of the forest and fields. The upper Altmühl
is a popular place to rent canoes and begin a several day canoe trip. Canoe travelers
can frequently be heard laughing and splashing water on each other on hot days.
The path signs look like this: Others have a snail symbol on the sign. This photograph
is by permission from Tara Alan and Tyler Kellen of GoingSlowly.com
There is no shortage
of overnight accommodations on this tour. Because of the popularity of this bike
route, nearly every small village will have at least one “Zimmer Frei”
or rooms for rent in private homes. See my
Overnight Accommodations page for a
full description of different accommodations.
The most interesting stops we made along
the trip was the Roman ruins at Pfünz, the Willibald Cathedral in Eichstätt, the
Cathedral, the city of Straubing, and of course Passau.
the Altmühl we used Map 22, Fränkische Alb / Altmühl, a Bielefelder Rad Karten,
scale 1:150,000, published by Bielefelder Verlagsanstalt. We prefer a smaller scale
map but this is all we could find in Gunzenhausen on a Sunday. It worked well enough.
If the stores would have been open, we could have also purchased bikeline's
Altmühl-Radweg, Von Rothenburg o.d. Tauber nach Kelheim a.d. Donau, 1:50,000, from
Verlag Esterbauer GmbH (http://esterbauer.com).
Once we got to the Danube, we used the bikeline Donau-Radweg, Tile 1, Radtourenbuch
und Kartespan>, 1:50,000, published by Verlag Esterbauer, GmbH. The first guidebook/map
took us as far as Passau at the Austrian/German border, the second all the way to
Back to the top
Day 1: Gunzenhausen to Pfünz
This day’s ride is 50 miles (80
km). The ride is mostly flat but there is one 60-foot hill at mile 3. The path is
mostly paved but there are short sections of gravel that add up to almost 15 miles.
Of interest today, besides the great scenery along the Altmühl River Valley, is
the Cathedral at Eichstätt and the Roman Kastill (castle) above Pfünz.
We start the day in a small village just two miles west of Gunzenhausen. Today they
have some sort of convention in Gunzenhausen. We found accommodations in a Zimmer
Frei or a private home with rooms to rent. It is raining hard when we awake.
The forecast is not good. This summer has been the wettest on record in Germany
for the last 100 years. We decide that we will just go out and endure, but by the
time we finish breakfast, the rain has stopped and the sun is trying to break through
the overcast sky.
From the Gunzenhausen Bahnhof.
Ride south into town and then toward the village of Unterrourmbach. You will see
the first snail symbol sign for the Altmühl bike path just after you cross the river.
The signs have a snail graphic (actually the symbol is for the fossilized snails
that are found along the river in various places) and the name of a town down stream.
You want to go toward Treuchtlingen.
Enter Treuchtlingen. We
ride a little side tour here to get the feel of the town. It’s quaint. As we leave,
we follow signs toward Pappenheim.
Enter Pappenheim and notice
the castle, Burg Pappenheim, on the hill to the right.
Here is the cute community
of Dollnstein. It is a walled city and we break here for Kaffee and Kuchen. The
picture shows a family of swans crossing the bike path in front of Dollnstein.
Enter Rebdorf, and in a
short distance, you will pass Kloster Rebdorf, an Augustinian monastery first established
in 1156 by Bishop Konrad von Moorsbach. Kaiser Fredrick Barbarossa (one of the Holy
Roman Emperors) gave the land around the monastery to this bishop as a gift. Today,
the former monastery is a Real Schule or a technical high school.
Leave the trail to explore
the Altstadt of Eichstätt, a Baroque city. The market square is picturesque
and Willibald’s Cathedral is just off the town square. This Cathedral is a “must
see,” it’s beautiful. There are several altars and triptychs. Some are extremely
ornate. The stained glass windows are beautiful and artistic. The gold leaf statutes
of the saints overlooking the sanctuary are also remarkable.
At Pfünz we get off the
trail to look for a Zimmer for the night. Gasthof Schert is right on the
trail and looks good but is full for the evening. We find another Zimmer Frei
in town but cannot recommend it to others. Although, after we are already situated,
we walk up the street and find a nice looking building with a Ferienwohnung
sign that we will list in the Hotel Page for
this trip. The photograph is of Schloss Marienstein near Eichstatt.
For dinner, we walked back to Gasthof Schert. Afterwards, we explore the Roman
Kastell (castle like fortification) built about 300 AD. It is in the process
of being restored and is just a short walk up to the top of the hill above Pfünz.
You can see wonderful sunsets from the Kastell.
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Day 2: Pfünz to Essing
This day’s 48 miles (77.2 km) is
a little longer than normal but the terrain is mostly flat. There are only a few
hills; the largest of which is only 90 feet into the town of Muhlbach at mile 31
(50 km). That hill can be avoided if you wish. Most of the day will be on gravel
path with short sections of pavement. We’ll be following a couple different signs,
one a 6 inch square yellow, square signs with an “A” and the other a brown sign
with a symbol of a walker and the words, "Nationalpark Altmühltal." Mostly
we follow the brown signs that will have the name of the next large town.
After climbing over a 50-foot
hill, enter Böhming where across the river another old Roman Kastell has
been converted into a Gasthaus.
Enter Kipfenberg. As you
enter the town, you will find an information sign telling of the many overnight
accommodations available here. There is a Wanderweg, or hiking trail, leads to a
Roman defensive facility called a Schanzen. It is a sort of a small castle
used for defense. There is another Roman ruin in Denkendorf also.
Here you will find two divergent
bike paths one paved and the other gravel. The paved one climbs a gradual 50-foot
hill while the gravel one follows the road. But both paths come together again in
about a mile. I bet that the signs will be changed soon to favor the gravel bike
Beilngries. Here the Altmühl
joins the canal system called Main-Donau Kanal. Also two different long-distance
bicycle routes converge in Beilngries. For the next several days, you will also
be able to follow signs for the “Tour de Baroque” or bike tour of Baroque cities
and villages. This route goes almost all the way to Vienna.
Töging. We stop at the
Hausgebackene Kuchen (Homemade cakes) sign for lunch . We note that there
is a castle above us, we think it is Schloss Prunn, but we don’t investigate.
Dietfurt. The signage is
not good through Dietfurt. There is a sign at mile 30.3 showing some of the many
overnight accommodations available in Dietfurt. Follow the path signs towards Kelheim
and Riedenburg. If you stay on the marked trail, you will climb a 90-foot hill just
before you enter the next small town of Mühlbach. To skirt the hill, follow the
Weisse Laaber River south from Dietfurt and turn left where it meets the Altmühl.
The picture is of Schloss Prunn, a famous sight along the Altmühl.
Enter Mühlbach. I am convinced
that the route we take from Dietfurt to here is bought and paid for by the Muhlbach
Chamber of Commerce. Given that there is a much easier (but unsigned) bike path
along the river valley, the only reason to make us poor dumb sign followers climb
the last 90-foot hill is to make us ride past their pastry shops and restaurants
in hopes we’ll stop and buy something. It works.
We enter Essing, a town
famous for its modern wooden suspension bridge that seems to bend with age but is
actually a new bridge designed to look that way. We cross that bridge to the west
side and stay at the first house you come to on the right almost underneath the
auto bridge or about 6/10th of a mile past the wooden suspension bridge. Look for
the small “Zimmer Frei” sign on the front fence. Family Engelbrecht owns
the home they charge €30 for double room with shower. Frau Engelbrecht is exceedingly
pleasant. After changing clothes, we walk into town to sample the local food and
ambiance. The pictures are of Essing, the world longest wooden suspension bridge
and the Altmühl with a castle (Burg Randeck) on the hill in the background. For
those interested in bridges and bridge construction, click a website devoted to
bridges around the world here.
Day 3: Essing to Frengkofen
We reach Kelheim, the end of the
Altmühl River, this morning after only 3.5 miles. Then we will ride east along the
Danube. Today we ride 42 miles (67.6 km); the path is flat and paved. We follow
signs that say “Tour de Baroque” for most of the rest of the trip to Passau.
In Kelheim, we start using a different more detailed, map book, i.e., bikeline’s
Donau-Radweg, Teil 1, published by Verlag Esterbauer
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We leave the Zimmer and
climb up to the auto bridge to cross the river and connect with the trail on the
east side of the river. From there, we continue south toward Kelheim. We are advised
by a local to cross the small wooden bridge over the irrigation canal and take the
gravel path as it is better than the marked bike path, I think he is right.
The Kelheim Lock, probably
the first lock on the Main-Donau-Altmühl Kanal. Above the lock to the right is
the Befreiungshalle or “Liberation Hall.” Built by King Ludwig I of Bavaria in
1863, it commemorates the “Great Battle of Nations” near Leipzig when the 34
German states defeated Emperor Napoleon. The round building is divided into 18
sections, each with a statue of a feminine member of one of the 18 (or so)
we cross an interesting counterbalanced
footbridge over the Altmühl and follow the signs into the Altstadt (Old Town). Here
we break from bicycling for an hour-long boat trip up the Danube. We consider taking
our bikes aboard. There is a small fee for this if you opt to do so. There are two
reasons doing so, security (the bike bags have all our belongings and bikes are
stolen sometimes) and/or because we want to ride them back from the Benedictine
Monastery (about 4 miles with two hills and traffic). In the end, we chose to lock
our bikes to bike stands and just carry our bags aboard with us. If we were not
confirmed members of the Over-Fifty-with-Bad-Knees Club, we might have tried it.
As we leave Kelheim,
we cross to the south bank of the Danube on a large automobile bridge. We avoid
several miles of automobile traffic by taking the bridge but we stray from the Tour
de Baroque route for a short distance. We follow signs toward Saal and Bad Abbach
but we stay on the bike path (which skirts Saal) and avoid much of the traffic.
We cross under an Autobahn
bridge on the outskirts of Regensburg. We are following signs that say “Donau Radweg
nach Passau.” It will take a couple days to get to Passau, the border between Germany
After noting that the Naab
River conflates with the Danube just prior to Regensburg we continue toward the
old center of the city. We leave the path briefly to ride though the Altstadt of
Regensburg. The people of Regensburg are church builders. The first cathedral was
started in the 8th Century but in 1255, they stopped work on that and began building
the current gothic cathedral. It was finally finished in the 19th Century. It is
currently being restored. From the inside, the structure and the stained glass windows
are truly amazing.
The bike path crosses the
river on the Nibelungenbrücke, the bridge just east of the Steinernebrücke (Stone
Bridge). The Steinernebrücke is the oldest bridge in all of Europe. There is a directional
sign for a Jugendherberge (Youth Hostel) here. It is on the island between the river
channels. By the way, in Bavaria, you must be under 27 years of age to stay in a
Jugendherberge. That is not the case other German states.
If you need the train station, the Hauptbahnhof is at the intersection of Maximillian
Strasse and (what else) Bahnhof Strasse, just south of the Altstadt. The Bahnhof
is always a good place to find out about overnight accommodations and other tourist
information. You can catch a train there too. And usually someone is available to
pick your pocket, if your pocket needs picking.
The photograph is of the Walhalla that we ride past. Finally
completed in 1842 by Bavarian King Ludwig I (grandfather of Mad King Ludwig famous
for building five castles in Bavaria) after decades of planning and construction,
Walhalla was to honor exemplary German personages like Friedrich the Great, Queen
Maria Theresa, the poets Goethe and Schiller, etc. It is built of marble in Doric
style with 52 columns and 358 steps after the Acropolis in Athens. When Ludwig originally
conceived of the temple, it was to be a remembrance of the country’s tie to German
people and things in part to offset the influences of Napoleonic rule before 1813
(Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig). Ludwig had first planned to show of busts of 60
famous people but by the time it opened, the number had grown to 162 busts. There
must have been a sudden proliferation of famous people, I guess. (Unabated over-appreciation
of cultural edifices is not one of my weaknesses.)
We end the day at the
Gasthaus in Frengkofen. Not a place I would recommend, but a welcome bed
and dinner on this day. We have been looking for overnight accommodations in every
village since leaving Regensburg. Due to a medical convention in a nearby community,
all of the usually available accommodations were completely booked. Oh well, what
difference do a few more miles on a nice sunny day make anyway? Normally, there
are many Zimmer and Gasthäuser in the area so our experience is
an unusual one.
We liberally imbibe of the local brew and hammer down too many homemade bratwursts
that are served on a bed of sauerkraut. They are fixed in the Bavarian style with
caraway seeds (Kummel). The bread is flavored with caraway too. Our two
traveling companions, Americans by nationality but German and Austrian by birth
both abhor the caraway taste. They choose Leberkäse the traditional Bavarian
meatloaf of finely ground veal instead.
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Day 4: Frengkofen to Metten
It is 45.3 miles (73 km) to Metten.
Most of the path is paved except for several short stretches of gravel in the morning.
There will not be much elevation change again today – typical of the Danube bike
path. We ride on the path depicted in the map book (bikeline, Donau-Radweg,
Teil 1, Esterbauer). However, both sides of the river frequently have bike paths
or acceptable bike routes. Of interest today will be the city of Straubing, a Baroque
city with many buildings using the stufengiebel (step gabled) style of
architecture typical of Baroque architecture.
We choose to eat our bountiful
and tasty breakfast outside in the cool morning sunshine rather than inside where
stale cigarette smoke permeates everything (typical of European restaurants until
about 2009 when smoking in public places started to be frowned upon). Then we leave
Frengkofen and ride east toward Passau. The water of the blue Danube sparkles like
diamonds in the morning sun; I hum the famous waltz (Johan Strauss, Blue Danube)
as we ride.
On the hillside to the left
is the Baroque castle, Schloss Wörth. You can take a 1.5 km detour and check it
out but we ride past it.
We stop at Pondorf for a
coffee break at a cute outdoor place called Fahrradwandereroase or “bicycle
rider oasis.” We figure with a name like that, they must be friendly to bikers like
ourselves – and they are.
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This is the center of Straubing,
a classical Baroque city. As a settlement, Straubing has been around since the time
of Christ. Actually there have been people living in this area for the last 52,000
years. (Now that goes back a bit for soup, don’t you think?) There were several
Roman forts or “Kastelle” built in this area. This city is currently the site of
the second largest Oktoberfest-type festival (the local people call it a “Gäubodenvolksfest”)
in Germany and it is held in mid-August. We are too early to celebrate, darn it!
To get here we turned right in Sassau and crossed the bridge. The path here shows
as an alternate or variant of the main bike path but it is well marked and quite
safe. We climbed a 50-foot hill to get into the city but it is well worth the effort.
Straubing is definitely one of the cities that are “a must see” on the Danube. After
we lunch and walk the town a little, we depart from the northeast corner of the
main town square and cross over the small island in the Danube on the Schloßbrücke.
We turn hard right just over the bridge onto the main path.
After riding around looking
for the right bridge out of Straubing (and throwing a monkey wrench into otherwise
accurate mileage record) we enter Reibersdorf. The map says it is only 6 kilometers
from Straubing but we rode over 10 kilometers to get here – we must have been really
lost. But we did find the fairgrounds, where they hold the large Gäubodenvolksfest
Bogan is the destination
of many faithful pilgrims, some of whom are probably experiencing problem pregnancies.
The story goes that after a shipwreck in 1104 a statue of the Madonna washed up
to the base of the Boganberg. The Count (Graf) salvaged it and placed it
in a niche of the castle’s chapel. Years later, when the castle had become a Benedictine
Monastery, the Pater allegedly “scientifically undressed” the statue and found that
the Madonna appeared to be pregnant. The guidebook suggests that the statue was
thrown over the cliff and into the Danube by the Swedes during the 30-years war
(17th Century) but was in fact recovered from the brambles of the cliff and restored
to its current place of honor just left of the choir loft in the Marienkirche.
We end the day here in Metten
and enjoy a gemütlich (comfortable) evening at Haus Christa (in the center
of town). We had a tasty evening meal; the owner also runs a family style restaurant
for her guests as well as the locals. The conversation can be lively and interesting.
We spoke of the statue of the pregnant Madonna at Bogen and the owner told us that
a group of people from Metten makes an annual walking pilgrimage carrying a 15-meter
tall candle. Once they reach the base of the hill at Bogen, they hold the candle
upright and walk up the hill.
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Day 5: Metten to Passau
The path is flat all the way to
Passau. There is not much gravel or traffic today. Of interest today is a tiny Rococo
style church in the small village of Thundorf.
After saying our goodbyes, we
leave Haus Christa and ride back to the Danube bike path. I ride down a steep path
and catch my front tire in a rut. I fly over the handlebars and come to rest on
my stomach just ahead of the bike. The injury looks minor and we cover it with one
large Band-Aid. I don’t realize it now but my rotator cuff is damaged and I will
remember this experience not for months but for years. Oh well, I can still ride
so we press on. I am reminded of the downside to taking unnecessary risks; next
time I’ll get off and walk down these steep pitches – if there is a next time. At
least I am wearing my helmet and gloves so the “road rash” damage was minimized.
We take the ferry across
the Danube at Niederalteich. It costs €1.30 per person. I enjoy these small ferries.
There are paths on both sides of the river here but the one on the right bank has
less traffic and less gravel. Besides, we want to cross the river to stay on the
main bike path and to check out the Rococo church we have read about in the guidebook.
We stop in Thundorf and check
out the tiny Rococo church. It is small but amazingly beautiful. We had to admire
it through the security gate but we are still glad for the opportunity. We envy
the local congregation that they have such an ornate church.
There is a ruin of an old
Roman Castle and bath here in Lanakünzing but we chose not to visit it. Instead,
my riding companion, Erhard, and I take a nap on the grass after our lunch. He needs
the nap because he has a touch of the flu; I need it because I had two beers with
lunch. Both beer and the flu will slow down your bike, I have just discovered.
Loop over the railroad,
despite what the map shows, and ride through Pleinting with the railroad to your
right. Whenever you are unsure where the bike path directional signs are pointing,
look at the signs as if coming from the other direction. Hopefully your confusion
will be reduced.
We discover that the town
of Vilshofen is cute and interesting. We cross the Danube here to the left bank.
The guidebook tells us that the view on the left bank is better than that on the
From Windorf, we ride down
the shoulder of a major road for about 4.5 miles (7 km). I hate shoulder riding,
even if it is demarked by paint or a concrete barrier. I love bicycle only bike
Here is the Passau Bahnhof.
From the list of accommodations here, we choose one that is a mile away and near
the top of a steep hill – if I had it to do over again, I would have stayed in one
of the hotels next to the Bahnhof. Passau is at the confluence of three rivers,
the Danube, the Inn, and the Ilz. From the Veste Oberhaus, which is open to tours
and sightseeing, one can look down upon the Danube at the point where both the Ilz
River and the Inn River conflate with the Danube. The three distinct colors of the
river water do not immediately blend with each other. The photo below shows the
view. Photograph by Daghild Rick.
Passau is historic. People have lived in these river valleys since the Stone Age
about 120,000 years ago. In the beginning they were hunters and gatherers but due
to the fertile river valleys, they began to till the soil and raise cattle as early
as 5,000 year BCE. The Celtic tribes settled in this area at one time. In 15 BCE,
Roman troops established military strongholds in the area, where they remained for
over 300 years, fostering growth of civilization and protecting the local agrarian
settlers from the wandering tribes. In the 3rd Century, Germanic tribes defeated
the Romans and they fell back into present day Italy.
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