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Five Rivers Bicycle Path

The Five Rivers Tour or in German the Fünf-Flüsse, is one of our more memorable rides because we ride along an old unused canal for several miles, even crossing over the European Continental Divide. We enjoyed sightseeing in many Middle Age cities and we enjoyed the experience of five different rivers. The tour has hills but nevertheless is not what I would call hilly. Ok, sure, it rained a lot too but that is not what makes this tour special.

Map of Five RiversTour Overview: July 2000. This is a 5-day, 193-mile or 310-kilometer circular bike trip beginning and ending in Nuremberg (Nürnberg). As the name implies, the route follows five different rivers. The route follows the Pegnitz upriver until we can climb out of the Pegnitz watershed and into the Vils watershed. We will ride down the Vils River to the Naab River and continue following the Naab to the Danube River (Donau in German), then up the Altmhl River, to where the King Ludwig Canal joins the Altmühl. From there, we will ride back to Nuremberg along that antiquated canal. We complete this ride in 5 days but strong riders with less of an appetite for sightseeing can accomplish it in fewer. We average only 39 miles per day but as it turns out, that feels comfortable because the weather has turned to cold and damp.

A week ago, we were riding the Neckar in the hottest weather of the summer. Today the weather is cool and cloudy with rain threatening. Even though we ride up a couple of rivers cross the European Continental Divide twice, the ride is quite flat and suitable for all ages. The first day we ride up the highest and longest hill of the ride and that is easy because the slope is genital.

FreystadtRegular readers of this website know that Maxa and I belong to the non-existent “Over-Fifty-With-Bad-Knees Club” (in which you are automatically enrolled as soon as you qualify). I can advise other unfortunate members that these hills are definitely doable. Eckhard and Vivi-Anne, friends from Seattle, accompany us on this ride. This is the first of several rides we will take together. We find each other good biking partners. We have similar interests so we easily agree on sightseeing opportunities. Eckhard is a native German speaker as is Maxa. Vivi-Anne and I are the only foreigners here. My mother tongue is English; hers is Swedish. However, we both speak a smattering of German out of self-defense. We wouldn’t want our German-speaking spouses to take advantage of us. Another thing that makes us compatible is Eckhard’s sweet tooth. With him along, we are guaranteed to stop at a few bakeries along the way.

Path SignsPath SignsSignage: The 5-Rivers Tour bike path is signed with several different bike signs that change as one ride along. However, two main signs are shown in the photograph. The “Fünf-Flüsse Radweg” (Five Rivers Bike Path) has a distinctive blue wave/logo graphic. The “Tour de Baroque – Donau Radweg” (Baroque Route – Danube Bike Path) has a graphic of a yellow village set upon a blue wave under a green sky and with the name “Donau” written below. Both signs frequently have directional arrows as shown in the photographs but there are also stickers placed upon all matter of objects that do not have directional arrows. (The Fünf-Flüsse Radweg follows the Tour de Baroque Radweg between Regensburg and Beilngries.) Frequently, the signs are just stickers applied to other directional signs, such as shown here.

Accommodations: We found adequate bed and breakfast type establishments along the way. As a choice, we like Zimmer (advertised as Zimmer Frei) but there are also Gasthäuser (Guest Houses), Pensionen (pensions or bed and breakfasts), Jugendherbergen (Youth Hostels), and hotels. For a complete discussion of the different types of accommodations and tips on reservations, see my Overnight Accommodations page.

Stops: There are many interesting sights to see. First of all, Nuremberg is an ancient walled city with much of it’s wall still intact. Nuremberg has many museums, churches filled with art, and much more. Along the way, we recommend Amberg, Regensburg, Kelheim, and Essing but that is just a start.

Bikeline GuidebookGalli Verlag GuidebookMaps and Guidebooks: The detailed map and guidebook we use is the Fünf Flüsse Radweg, Radwanderführer, scale 1:50,000. Galli Verlag, publishes the guidebook. On other tours, we have used bikeline’s guidebooks. They also have a guidebook for the Fünf Flüsse. One can find the books in bookstores in Nuremberg and many other cities. You can order them both directly through the website of http://www.amazon.de/. If you do not speak German, click on "Helfe" and then on "Information for English speaking customers". If you want to, you can send an email to bikeline's publisher Esterbauer Verlag and include your credit card number and address, I understand that they will send you your guidebook. Note, however, mailing guidebooks outside of Germany/Austria can be expensive.

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Day 1: Nuremberg to Amberg

Schwaig RestaurantDay Overview: We arrive in Nuremberg late in the afternoon so the first thing on our list is to find a place to stay the night. We spend the night in Schwaig, just outside of Nuremberg. We do so because we believe that accommodations are cheaper outside of large metropolitan areas. Mind you, we have no proof of that; it is a type of religious belief. Even if facts change from city to city, we will continue to believe and we will continue to favor smaller communities. Besides, it’s more fun in the dorfs. The people are friendlier than and not as jaded as big city folk. We follow the Pegnitz most of the day. While not too large here, it is one of the few remaining wild rivers in Germany. Historically, this region has always been important and has been settled for hundreds of thousand of years. There are many places to spend the night along the way. The route climbs gently until mile 30, and then we encounter a series of hills, none of them too steep not too high until you cross the Continental Divide and drop into the Vils River Valley. Fear not! Just because it is the Continental Divide, it really isn’t anything like the one in Colorado USA.

Mile 0 (0 km): We start at the Nuremberg Bahnhof. First, out the front door of the Hauptbahnhof and with the train station behind you, turn right or east. Follow Bahnhof Strasse to the first major intersection. It will have either of two names, Dürrenhof Strasse or you might see a Wöhrder Talübergan sign. Turn left at that intersection, cross over the small lake and proceed generally eastward along the bike path, through the Wöhrdersee Park. The bike path is not signed with the “Fünf Flüsse” bike path signs until we get out of Nuremberg and into Schwaig.

LaufMile 5.5 (10.1 km): We ride into a small walled area that at first seems like a fancy farm building or perhaps an old palace. It is Hammersiedlung, a former Jewish settlement and factory dating back to 1372. Perhaps the inhabitants were cleared out during the 30's. (Enough said; most Germans are not proud of that part of their history.) A little further on, we enter Malmsbach, a part of Schwaig, where we spend our first night. We arrived in Nuremberg around 5:30 PM. However, since the ride starts in Nuremberg, we will continue on without resetting our cyclometers in the morning. This night in the local restaurant, we met a recently retired high school teacher. He discovered we lacked a good map so he drove back to his home in Nuremberg and brought back his own map, which he insisted we keep and use on our tour. Another example of how nice the locals can be to bikers. We spent the night in Pension Hardeman, which cost about €35.00.

Hersburg BridgeHersbruck Poppyseed CakeMile 20.3 (32.7 km): Crossing a small cement footbridge, we leave the path to check out Hersbruck. The photo to the left is of a Schloss that used to be surrounded by a moat. It was built in the year 1000 CE. We stop here for our morning coffee break. Eckhard, one of our riding companions, is a nut for Mohnkuchen (poppy seed cakes). Until now, he has been riding fourth in our procession. We mention that we might find Mohnkuchen in Hersbruck and suddenly he volunteers to take the lead. Sure enough, three blocks down the road he finds a perfect little outdoor pastry shop specializing in Mohnkuchen.

Mile 32.7 (52.6 km): This is Neukirchen. Until a couple miles ago, the ride has been an almost unnoticeable gentle climb, but now we are into some hills. They are not steep but a couple of them are long enough to slow us down. I think Vivi-Anne and Eckhard, who rented 3-speed and 7-speed bikes are wishing they had more gears to ease the pressure on their knees. In another mile, we cross the European Continental Divide as we drop down into the Vils River watershed.

Mile 38.6 (62.1 km): Sulzbach-Rosenberg. We have been climbing up and coasting down hills for 8 or 9 miles. We plan to ride to Amberg before we stop for the night. It is advertised as one of the quaint Middle-Ages power centers in Germany.

Mile 47.0 (75.6 km): In the center of Amberg Altstad (old town), we find a tourist information office and check on hotels and Privat Zimmer. The town is full of tourists today and the choices are limited but we opt for a hotel that promises to be in a quite part of town. Perhaps we would have been more comfortable in Sulzbach-Rosenberg but, as advertised, Amberg is beautiful. The hotel we stayed at was quiet and nice but the owners gave us a little bit of a hassle. First, after we learned at the tourist office that the room rate was €60 they tried to increase the rate by €5.00 for the slightly larger room. We said we would look at other accommodations and they changed their tune. Then they announced that they would not accept our credit cards. Even though the tourist office told us that they take cards and even though there is a Euro-card sign on the door, they said that they could not honor the price they quoted and take a credit card. (The owner said they pay 10% for each transaction. That was an exaggeration that we just did not believe.) However, we argued and finally prevailed. All is well that ends well but the experience was not pleasant. And to beat it all, the television in our room did not function. Therefore, this hotel does not get a mention in this travelogue.

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Day 2: Amberg to Etterzhausen

Day Overview: Today the path is quite level – mostly downhill in fact. It slopes gently down to where the Vils confluences with the Naab and then from there to the Donau. As it leaves Amberg, the path follows a railroad grade for 12 miles to Markt Schmidmühlen. From there it is mostly paved the rest of the way. We stop just short of Regensburg because of our belief that rooms are cheaper in the smaller towns. As it turns out, it might be a mistake today. Today is rainy and many of the paths are unpaved gravel. So, by the time we get to Etterzhausen, we have had enough.

Mile 0 (0 km): We start the day at the large church in the center of Amberg.

Mile 1.9 (3.1 km): At Haselmühl, we start the long gravel railroad grade. The gravel is in excellent shape however, and we can ride as fast as we want to without discomfort.

Mile 14.3 (23.0 km): At Markt Schmidtmühlen, we leave the railroad grade for paved streets. These are shared with autos but the traffic is light and we have little problem. If it were not raining, it would be a great ride. Well, let me rephrase that. It is a great ride in spite of the rain.

Mile 23.7 (38.1 km): Markt Kallmünz is where the Vils confluences with the Naab.

Mile 35.6 (57.3 km): We cross the Naab into Etterzhausen. We are hungry because we didn’t stop long for lunch. We are wet from the rain and from our own sweat inside our raingear. And we are gritty from the dirt bike paths we have navigated today. We decide to hole up for the evening after a short day of riding. However, when we check for accommodations in Etterzhausen, they are already booked. How can that be? It is only 3:00 PM. Anyway, just 2 miles back, on the other side of the river that we have just ridden along, is Penk. “In Penk,” We are told, “There is a large Gasthaus that surely has rooms.” And they are correct. Actually, Gasthaus Spitzauer is a nice place, worth the extra couple of miles. The rate for two people is just €31.00. And, the food they serve is excellent too. Or is it just because we are famished?

Day 3: Etterzhausen to Meihern

Day Overview: After riding back to Etterzhausen, we continue the short distance to the Danube. The terrain is flat and the weather is great for bike riding. We bypass Regensburg but if you want my impressions of the giant cathedral in town, look at the travelogue of our Danube Tour.

Mile 0 (0 km): We reset our odometer at the bridge in Etterzhausen. Of course, we had ridden here from Penk but most people will either not stop here or at least not ride back to Penk for a hotel room.

Mile 2.5 (4.0 km): We stop and look into the Wallfahrtskirche (Pilgrimage church). It is at the confluence of the Naab and the Danube. As we leave here, we decide not to climb the hill and cross the Danube on the railroad bridge. Instead, we see what looks like a nice bike path on the north (left) bank of the Danube going in our direction. We are right. We turn right under the bridge and ride towards Kleinprüfening. We find another railroad bridge, or perhaps the same bridge but without the hill approaching it. Cross the river and follow the signs towards Kelheim.

Mile 11.7 (18.8 km): We cross the suspension footbridge in the direction of Poikam. This is one of many architecturally interesting bridges in Germany. Many of the most interesting bridges are footbridges as opposed to bridges for automotive traffic.

Essing Footbridge of woodMile 25.2 (40.6 km): This is Essing, the site of the longest wooden suspension bridge in Europe. At almost 190 meters long with the longest span of 73 meters, this is one of several engineering marvels along the modern Main-Donau Canal.

Mile 31.4 (50.5 km): Shelter at Riedenburg. It is raining hard and we took shelter from the shower here, with many other bikers and walkers. Interestingly, one can catch the bike path to Ingolstadt on the Danube from here in Riedenburg.

Mile 38.8 (62.4 km): After slogging through more heavy rain, we pull up in Meihern and two of us stay with Family Brettmoser, Sandstrasse, Haus 5 (€35 double) and the other two at Gasthof-Pension Schmid, Haus 30, at the same price. Gasthof Zur Post seemed unhelpful to injured bikers trying to find shelter from the rain. They might be nice people but I’ll bet most folks don’t think so. Did I say injured? The background for that comment is that weeks earlier, I split my knee open in a fall caused by riding too fast for the conditions. (Yes, Virginia, even experienced bikers do stupid things.) As we approached Meihern, I touched the scab with my front tire and had to start the healing process all over again. It was a bit of a mess and required big Band-Aids. Fortunately, we have them with us – always.

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Day 4: Meihern to Neumarkt

Day Overview: Today is 39 miles (64 km). While much of the path is paved and flat along the Altmühl, when we leave that river and ride along the new canal at Beilngries we ride several miles on hard gravel. The path is in good condition and the riding is not dangerous at all. We ride through rolling hills after we leave the ship canal and head toward Neumarkt. Outside of Thunndorf, we stop and take photographs of a deer farm.Canal

Mile 1.5 (2.4 km): Just outside of Maihern, we stop at a tourist information sign explaining the Ludwig-Donau-Main Kanal (Danube-Main Canal built by King Ludwig I). The idea for the canal was first proposed in 793 during the time of Charlemagne (Karl der Grosse) but King Ludwig of Bavaria constructed the canal between 1836 and 1845. The original canal was 178 km from Bamberg to Kelheim. It was one of the largest engineering projects in its day. They modernized the canal beginning in 1922 and finally completing the new canal in 1992. The modernization was controversial. People argued that canal transportation was obsolete but today the canal is an active vibrant waterway with tons of freight traffic. It connects the North Sea with the Black Sea.Path signs near Kottingwörth

Mile 1.8 (2.9 km): This is the branch in the trails. The guidebooks suggest you take the left turn and ride into Mühlbach but we have been here before and know that that way involves one steep hill. Instead, we decide to explore the path along the river into Dietfurt. It works great, although there are no signs until we get into Dietfurt. Just three tenths of a mile further, we find a self-operated ferry crossing one of the small tributaries to the Altmühl. The path on the other side of the little creek joins this one in three fourths of a mile. I make a mental note that the next time we ride through here; we will use the ferry, just for the fun of it.

Mile 11.2 (18.0 km): Enter Beilngries. We lost the path a couple of times riding through this town. There seems to be a shortage of stickers that they used to mark the way. However, we just observed the topography and know that we need to take the valley to the left and navigated our way along the streets until we found the bike path next to the ship canal heading in the direction of Berching. We did note that some of the bike path was new and not marked in our guidebook so it is probably just as well that we couldn’t find the stickers.

Mile 15.3 (24.6 km): We ride through Eglasmühle, a walled city with many gates and towers.

Mile 17.7 (km): The beautiful, 1,100-year-old, walled city of Berching. Berching’s town wall can be walked around. The wall has 13 towers and 4 gates. We explore this little city and stop for a picnic lunch outside a butcher shop that also sells tasty cheese. The sun feels great after a windy, somewhat chilly morning. Leaving Berching after lunch, we opt to stay on the east side of the canal and avoid the hills indicated on the west bank. However, we will be riding on a gravel path and we’ll also miss riding through the villages of Sollngriesbach, Erasbach, and Bachhausen. Oh, well, life is full of choices. We are just happy to have chosen bicycles as a means of transportation. What a wonderful way to see Germany.

Mile 18.1 (29.1 km): Now here is an interesting thing. We are threading our way through a spring-loaded gate in a wire fence. The sign on this temporary fence says that sheep are free ranging inside. We don’t see any sheep but on the ground, we see plenty of evidence that they have been here recently. A little further, down the path, we talk to workers at Schleuse Bachhausen (Lock Bachhausen). They tell us that traffic is heavy and yester day, they let a “ship” go through that was 180 meter long. It was actually a tugboat pushing two barges that were arranged end to end.

Deer in fensed field near ThannhausenMile 25.9 (41.7 km): Just over the top of the hill above Thannhausen, we stop at a large fenced area and feed the deer in the enclosure. They must be raised for meat. But they are cute and friendly.Freystadt

Mile 29.0 (48.1 km): Thundorf. For the next few miles, we ride over rolling terrain until be reach Neumarkt.

Mile 39.5 (63.6 km): We end the day at Nürnberger Hof in Neumarkt. It is a nice motel type of establishment with friendly owners. While it is located on a major arterial, it nevertheless is quite because the restaurant and common areas of the hotel are next to the road while the rooms are in the back, sheltered from the noise of the street. The cost of the hotel is about €35. Another advantage, it is next to a grocery store where we purchase our nightly ration of wine and h’ors d’ouvres prior to riding into town for dinner.

Day 5: Neumarkt to Nuremberg

Day Overview: We follow the old King Ludwig’s Donau-Main Kanal most of the day today as we ride into Nürnberg and complete the circle of our bike tour. Old King Ludwig built the canal in 11 years. And they dug it by hand. It took modern engineers over 60 years of digging to build the replacement canal. OK, so the new one is much wider and much deeper. Nevertheless, the old canal is exceedingly interesting. We find many “safety” gates in the canal. They don’t change the level of the water but instead are to control flooding and loss of water should one of the several dams break. Along the way, notice the tollhouses, built in almost identical style. Each toll collector was the ruler of his section of the canal and could say which boats pass and which have to wait or pay more in taxes. These toll collectors were life appointments. They lived in the houses and probably worked hard keeping the water and the traffic flowing. They opened all locks and gates by hand. That is still true today on many of Europe’s canals. King Ludwig Canal The distance today is only 29 miles (47 kilometers). We simply complete our circle back to Nuremberg. The path is almost entirely graveled until we leave the canal at mile 22. From that point, we are sharing the asphalt road with cars for much of the ride into Nuremberg.

Mile 0 (0 km): We start our cyclometers when we get back to where we left the path last night in search of the Nürnberger Hof.

King Ludwig CanalMile 8.8 (14.2 km): Over 9,000 workers hand dug the canal through the Dörlbach mountain. The cut is 870 meter long and 14.5 meters deep.

Mile 10.3 (16.6 km): We cross the European Continental Divide just after the Dörlbach cut. The divide is between the North Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. The altitude here is 417 meters above sea level. From here, the canal drops to 230 meters at Bamberg, the north end, and to 338 meters at Kelheim on the south end. The ride has seemed to be dead flat since Neumarkt but obviously, it must have been climbing a little.

Mile 16.7 (26.9 km): We stop for coffee at Brückkanal Gasthof. A large place offers us a respite from the rather cold ride. Just past this Gasthof, is a spot in the canal where the whole canal bridges a deep ravine - fascinating architecture. It must have been an engineering fete to construct this at the end of the 17th Century.

Mile 29.0 (46.7 km): We end our tour at the Nuremberg Hauptbahnhof.

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