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A Bicycle Ride Down the Lahn River

On of the prettiest river valleys in Germany beckons you to see it. The trail is wonderful as it winds from one historic city, such as Marburg, home of the oldest Protestant university in Europe and Bad Ems the site of the Ems Dispatch that had historical importance.

Map of Lahn TourTour Overview: August 2000. This tour of the Lahn River will take you from Feudingen to Lahnstein (close to Koblenz). Feudingen is the closest one can get by train to the source of the Lahn so it makes a good starting place. This is a 4-day 133.5-mile (215 km) ride. The ride is mostly flat, punctuated by a few hills. The only major hilly area begins at mile 16 (25.7 km) on day 4. However, there is a train ride around these ugly hills and the high-traffic roads around the them that we recommend highly.

This is a great ride if you want to see a part of Germany that few people see. This ride is not as well traveled as some of the rides in the south like the Danube but it is fairly easy, beautiful, and just as historic. So, if you want a great experience away from other tourists and you only have four days; this is your ride.

Signage: This route is reasonably well signed. The sign is square, green on white, showing the pictogram of a bicycle with the word “Lahn” beneath it. Several “long distance” bike routes that have names like “R-2” and “R-7” overlay the route. Do not to be confused when these other routes veer off in a direction different from that of the Lahn bike path.

If you get off the path, just check your map and re-find the route or ask anyone, “Wo ist der Lahn Radweg.” and you will be given directions. (Chances are, the person you ask will answer you in English because you pronounced “Wo” like “whoa” instead of “vo” like the Germans do.) Some of our most memorable experiences have come when we were trying to find our way back to the path after taking a wrong turn.

Between Giessen and Limburg, you will be following the R-7 bike route. Thereafter the signs are green with white letters spelling out “Lahntalradweg” (Lahn Valley bike path) and “R-36.” The signage ends in Lahnstein where the Lahn joins the Rhine River. We could have caught a train in Lahnstein but we took this opportunity to do some sightseeing in the city of Koblenz, just a few short miles down the Rhine.

Accommodations: There are enough hotels, Pensionen and Zimmer along the route. 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: The most interesting stops are Marburg, Limburg, Bad Ems, and Lahnstein/Koblenz. There are numerous cities and villages with significant history, that is dating back 800 to 1,200 years. For us, the real pleasure of this ride is the scenery, especially between Weilburg and Obernhof.

Maps and Guidebooks: For a detailed map and guidebook we used the Radwanderweg Lahntal, scale 1:75,000, published by VUD – Verlag und Druck GmbH. There are other maps such as BDR’s Deutsche Rad-Tourenkarte, scale 1:100,000, number 27, 30, and 31. The BDR maps are good but the scale is too small for my liking and they do not give as much information about the towns that your particular bike route is traversing. They do give useful information about the area in general and some of the towns on the map. The BDR maps also include helpful information about biking in general. But we feel the best overall is the Bikeline, Lahn Radweg, Radtourenbuch und Karte, scale 1:50,000, published by Verlag Roland Esterbauer, GmbH. When you visit their website you will see a list of their products. You can order a copy and have it sent to your home at www.amazon.de.

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Day 1: Feudingen to Marburg

Day Overview: Today’s ride will be 35.4 miles (57 km). It is an easy ride to Marburg and most of it is on good bike trails. For all but the slowest riders, there is probably enough time to take an early train to Feudingen and spend the first night in Marburg. However, there are nice places to stay both in Feudingen and Bad Laasphe. Starting the day in Feudingen will enhance your enjoyment of the ride. In short, this is an easy day on the knees for the members of the Over-Fifty-with-Bad-Knees-Club (of which you are automatically a member if you, like us, qualify). Marburg There are a couple 60-foot hills along the way but nothing too steep. There are short stretches of gravel, one of which is somewhat messy to ride on.

Mile 0 (0 km): We start the trip at the Bahnhof in Feudingen. We could just as easily start at the Landhotel Doerr (Telephone 02754-3700), which looks like a great place to stay overnight before the start of the ride. Anyway, from the Bahnhof parking lot turn right onto the street and share the road with cars for the first couple of kilometers. At mile 0.2, I note that the Lahntal bike path from the river source joins the path from the left.

Mile 2.2 (3.5 km): Turn right and climb a 60-foot hill into Bermershausen. As I ride downhill for the next 2.5 miles, I have to keep my speed down because of the loose gravel some (expletive-deleted) non-bike rider put on this trail. This stuff will never work down or settle in. And the last thing I want to do is fall on this sharp, loose gravel.

Mile 5.0 (8.0 km): Enter Bad Laasphe. This is a “Kurort” or a spa town; a place where Germans, with the financial help of the national healthcare system, come for a few weeks of resort-like spa treatments and recovery from some of their ailments. That means there are plenty of hotels, restaurants, shopping opportunities, and other tourist related businesses.

Mile 8.8 (14.2 km): Enter Waleau after climbing another 60-foot hill. On the way down, watch your speed again; there are bumps and other impediments to high speed. I am having a bit of a hard time controlling my bike speed. The long-distance bike route signed as “R-2” joins the Lahnradweg in Waleau.

Mile 10.9 (17.5 km): Enter Luwidgshütte after a long, gentle, downhill on a good path. Riding down this hill, you can push your speed if you want to.

Mile 19.5 (31.4 km): Ride through the edge of Buchenau and stay to the left of the tracks. That is unless you like the hill that the alternative route takes you over. On this side, you will avoid all hills, even the one shown on some maps because the bike path has been rerouted along the river and therefore it stays flat.

Mile 29.3 (47.2 km): Enter the Lahntal community of Sarnau. Just past the Bahnhof, the bike path will cross the train tracks. I ride up to an interesting Schranke (RR crossing barrier). The translation of the sign on the box says, “Please push the call button to request the barrier to be opened.” You can use English with the push-to-talk button but the answer may be in German. In any event, do not try to cross if the barrier does not open, trains come by here at 1,000 miles per hour (or at least it seems so). I am told to wait for a train. I wait about 5 minutes and don’t hear a thing, suddenly a train screams across the path just on the other side of the barrier.

Mile 30.6 (49.2 km): Just outside of Sarnau, is a train trestle that I recommend you walk your bike across. If you think you are God’s gift to bike riders and you can ride across, you might tear the brand new covering off your handlebars and a little skin off your arm too. I bet you wonder how I know this.

Mile 35.4 (57.0 km): The Marburg Bahnhof. We stop for the night.

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Day 2: Marburg to Wetzlar

Day Overview: Today’s ride will be only 26 miles (42 km) because we spend so much time sightseeing in Marburg in the morning. Go to the tourist information office for a map of the walking tour of Marburg.

The path is almost flat and what gravel there is well packed and easy riding. It’s yet another easy day for us members of the Over-Fifty-with-Bad-Knees-Club.

Mile 0 (0 km): We start our day at the Bahnhof in Marburg because we have to start somewhere and that is as easy to find as anything else. We follow the automobile traffic toward Marburg Centrum (City Center) until you get to the first bridge over the Lahn. The bike path is on the left bank (as you look in the direction of flow) so simply find your way down to it and follow the bike path through this beautiful city.

I recommend taking the time to tour the city a little. This means abandoning the bike path and crossing into the Altstadt or old town part of the city. Marburg is the home of one of Germany’s oldest universities and the world’s first Protestant university. In 1529, Martin Luther met here with another Protestant reformer, the Swiss, Ulrich Zwingli, in an attempt to combine two important schools of thought. The Schloss, atop the hill in Marburg was an important political center for the surrounding region until the government was moved to Kassel in the 15th Century. Don’t miss St. Elizabeth’s Church (Elisabeth-Kirche) completed in 1283. This church is named after St. Elizabeth, a princess who devoted her life to helping the poor. There are plenty of bridges to cross back to the left bank when you have finished your sightseeing in the city.

Mile 2.9 (4.7 km): The path along the left bank crosses underneath a low auto bridge. You will notice small sign monuments along the trail telling about the different planets in our solar system. The distance on the trail between the planets and the sun is in scale with that of our actual system. (This model is duplicated between Bad Laasphe and Waleau; the sun is at mile 8.0)

Mile 7.9 (12.7 km): In Roth, the signage changes from signs on posts to stencils on the newly paved bike path. You can probably guess at their meaning but “Gi” stands for the direction to Giessen and “Ma” stands for the direction to Marburg. We want “Gi.”

Mile 18.3 (29.5 km): Enter Giessen. Unfortunately, a flat tire causes us to leave the bike path that follows the right bank of the river through Giessen. We ride into town in search of an air compressor and a coffee break. In Giessen, we pick up the R-7 bike route and follow that through the downtown shopping district towards Wetzlar.

Mile 25.6 (41.2 km): We stop for the night and turn our cyclometer off at the road into Wetzlar/Dudenhofen. We are looking for a Zimmer but we can only find a Landhotel instead in the village of Münchholzhausen. I will start my cyclometer here tomorrow.

Day 3: Wetzlar to Runkel

Day Overview: Today we ride 39 miles (63 km) to Runkel. There are a couple steep hills, one going into Weilburg at mile 24 and one going into Villmar at mile 33. The path is mostly paved and is in good condition.

Mile 0 (0 km): We start the day on the bike path where we left off yesterday.

Mile 6.6 (10.6 km): We leave the trail here and ride into the Altstadt of Wetzlar to check out this historic, walled city. Historically Wetzlar was a major trade route between the well-established cities of Frankfurt and Köln, Wetzlar was the site of a bridge over the Lahn in the beginning of the 13th Century.

Warehouses before WeilburgMile 23.1 (37.2 km): Enter Weilburg. The city center is on top of a 70-foot hill at mile 24. At the top where you see the historic city gate, jog left then right following the R-7 signs. The path for the next several miles is as pretty as the river valleys of Germany get. Nice green rolling hills bowing gently to a slow moving, meandering river bottom.

Villmar Seven Seat BikeMile 33.6 (54.1 km): We leave the railroad track that we have been following for a few miles and climb a hill. As we do, we meet a biker who lives in the area. He tells us that we need not climb the hill that we could stay down next to the track (and the river) all the way into the next village of Villmar. We are purists though and since R-7 and the Lahn bike path are signed to climb this hill, we do so. It turns out to be a 170-foot hill.

Ed. Update: In 2007, we received information from a reader who informs us that the path along the railroad track between Füfurt and Villmar is completed (though I do not know if that means that it is paved). So there is no need to climb the 170 foot hill unless you want to. Turn right at the top, you will ride along a secondary road into Villmar and you will pass a bicycle with 10 seats and sets of pedals on it. I presume it is for one of the town fests or fairs that are common in Germany.

Mile 36.5 (58.7 km): We ride over the Marmorbrücke (Marble Bridge) in Villmar.

Mile 38.9 (62.6 km): We end the day at Fremdenzimmer Thomas in Runkel. It is close to the railroad and the old Lahn Bridge. They serve us an excellent meal and we enjoy a clean, large room. The train is supposed to come by a couple of times but we know that we can survive the noise. The stone bridge was built 552 years ago in 1498. The castle is just as old but it is not open to the public when the owner is staying there and tonight he is in residence so we have to forego the tour. At dinner tonight, we converse with the owner’s son. He works for a high-tech firm in Frankfurt; a short commute by train from Runkel. He tells us a little of the area’s history including the fact that a large group of people from the Braunfels community, between Wetzlar and Weilburg, immigrated to Texas and created the community of New Braunfels, near Austin. I knew there was something familiar about that name. Now I know why. We have friends living in New Braunfels. Friends who have never been to Germany riding bicycles, I might add.

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Day 4: Runkel to Lahnstein

Day Overview: We ride 34 miles (54 km) today. There are five hills today, like the 140-foot hill outside Obernhof up to the Arnstein Monastery. Like the last two days, the path is mostly paved. What little gravel there is will be hard packed.

Mile 0 (0 km): We start the day at the Runkel Bridge. We ride on the right bank of the Lahn in the direction of Limburg.

Mile 4.8 (7.7 km): Climb the 90-foot hill into Dietkirchen. It is worth it (you don’t have a choice anyway) because the view over the river valley from the church courtyard is gorgeous. Too, it’s fun riding the switchback path back down to the river bottom. Undoubtedly, the faithful parishioners have treaded this path from the village below to the church above for centuries. Remember, in addition to the Lahn bike path, you are following R-7. For a short distance coming up, you will see R-8 signs. Ignore them.

Mile 6.4 (10.3 km): We enter Limburg and under the freeway bridge, we pass both a Gästezimmer and a campground. Limburg has a picturesque town straight out of the Middle Ages. It is well worth a couple hours walking around.

Mile 10.6 (17.4 km): Puff-puff, we’re climbing a 120-foot hill and we notice the signage for the Lahn bike path changes to a pale green and white sign marking the Lahntal (Lahn Valley) bike route and R-36. (There is a campground just before the hill starts up.)

Mile 16.0 (25.7 km): Here is a big sign stating “Der Radweg endet hier!” (The bike path ends here!). We are across the river from Balduinstein and have just ridden through a particularly beautiful part of the Lahn Valley. One of the things that make it beautiful is how the steep hills drop into the river bottom. The sign recommends we take the train for the next stretch of the Lahntal bike route to Obernhof. We consider our options. One is to ignore the sign’s advice and ride the river anyway. There is a way, but it is not well signed and involves steep hills and a high traffic road. The other is to have lunch and a bier at the Imbiss (snack stand) next to the Bahnhof and take a short train ride to the next stop. We opt for the easy route since we are members in good standing of the Over-Fifty-with-Bad-Knees Club, don’t you know. So we cross the bridge to the Bahnhof and await the train, they come every hour. The ticket cost €5.00 for two people (bikes are free). The resident stationmaster tells us that during July and August, there can be as many as 100 bikers per day. We are biking in late August and there are only three other bikers on the platform. The ride is 15 minutes to Obernhof and from the Bahnhof ride uphill and turn right at the first R-36, Lahntal sign. Looking up, we see the medieval Kloster Arnstein high on the hill overlooking the village. This structure was originally built as a castle for Graf Arnold in 1050. Arnold’s son gave it to the church in 1139 and it became a monastery, undoubtedly as an “indulgence,” which, at the time, was how one bought one’s way into heaven. The Swedish Army, who fought on the side of the Protestants during the Thirty-Year War, plundered the monastery twice before 1638. The good news is that it makes a great photograph. The bad news is, you have to ride up and see it up close.

Mile 16.8 (27.0 km): We are at Kloster Arnstein; take the signed R-36, Lahntal path over rolling terrain (a few hills) then back down to river level in the direction of Nassau. At mile 17.6, you will notice a small, tombstone-like “Grenzstein.” These stone markers were used to demark boundaries of principalities, petty nobility ownerships in the Middle Ages. At one time, just after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 (the end of the Thirty-Year War), Germany was divided into 1,800 separate, independent states. You can imagine that they needed quite a few of these Grenzsteine. If one were alive then, one would have done well with Grenzstein futures. From the Grenzstein, you drop over 100 feet in elevation quickly. If the pavement were dry today, I would have “let her go” but with slick wet pavement, I kept it under control.

Mile 20.1 (32.3 km): Enter Nassau. Down the road at mile 24, you will have the opportunity to cross some railroad tracks a couple times. As a forewarning, trains travel fast on these tracks. If a signal is flashing, don’t cross, regardless of how far you can see in both directions. In one case, less than two seconds elapsed from the time when we could not see a thing in either direction until the train was roaring past us.

Mile 25.9 (41.7 km): Cross the Lahn to the right bank in Bad Ems. The valley has steep walls along this section. We have climbed up and dropped down several hills of 50-feet or more. We don’t mind, even if it is raining today, we are having a lot more fun that we would have working in an air-conditioned office. Another advantage of this part of the trail, we have passed many castles and other medieval structures perched on the hilltops.

I need to mention a bit of interesting history here. Bad Ems is famous for the "Ems Dispatch". In 1870, Prussian King William I (Wilhelm I) and Chancellor Bismarck were "taking the waters" of Ems. It seems William's cousin, Leopold Hohenzollern had been asked to accept the crown of Spain, which was an ally of Prussia. The French under Napoleon III saw this as dangerous to their national interests. He asked his ambassador to request that William promise that he would prohibit cousin Leopold from taking the crown. Well, it is all very complicated but King William allegedly issued a less than polite reply to the French ambassador. So, I guess the king was curt and France was hurt. France declared war on Prussia a few days later and Germany trounced them in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Germany demanded over a billion dollars in retribution and took most of the Alsace Lorraine to boot. And all that eventually led to WWI in 1914. How the world turns but it happened here folks.

Mile 33.6 (54.1 km): We end our bike tour travelogue at the confluence of the Lahn and the Rhine in Lahnstein. We can see one of the many castles that line the Rhine across the river. In this case, it is Schloss Stolzenfels. It’s easy to find a hotel in Lahnstein. We rode past the Hotel Zum Weissen Ross (translates to “at the white horse”) just before the end of the bike tour. Then while looking for the tourist information office (to inquire about accommodations) we rode past that hotel again. Finally, we found the tourist information office, got a list of local establishments, called one and then set out in that direction. We rode past the same hotel a third time. Now it is raining so hard that the water splashing up from each falling drop is nearly a foot high. We are soaked completely through. But still we push on, up the hill, for two miles. We try to take a short cut to our Zimmer but instead run into a dead end. Disappointed, drenched, and beginning to lose our sense of humor, we decide to look for a hotel closer to downtown. We ride back a mile and check into two other hotels but one is unappealing and the other is closed. We continue back and on the recommendation of a local citizen, we end up at the same hotel that we have twice passed; Hotel Zum Weissen Ross; Johannesstr. 19 Lahnstein, 56112; telephone 02641/8417. The owners are great, Greek immigrants and quite helpful. We clean up and enjoy a great meal at the end of a wet but enjoyable day on the Lahn.

One last anecdote, on the train home the next day, we meet an English traveler who lives and works in Germany. We have a nice conversation about the German language. He shares with us a philosophy about foreigners traveling in Germany. “You only need to know two phrases: ‘Zwei Bier, bitte.’ And, ‘Mein Freund bezahlt.’” ("Two beers, please." And, "My friend will pay.") Hopefully you have a friend or you escape before the owner finds out that you do not.

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