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Cycling from Strasbourg to Basel - Part 1

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Arriving into the European Parliament city...


Strasbourg is located in eastern France and part of Alsace approximately two hours from Paris by TGV train. The city is famous for being home to a European Parliament and is one of the most important cities in the European Union. Along with the Parliament, there are other important institutions in Strasbourg with a permanent home such as the European Court of Human Rights.

 

Every month, the European Parliament alternates between Brussels and Strasbourg and the city becomes a place with real political power and buzz.

 

Another bargain Ryanair flight...

 

Strasbourg is also popular for tourists and is also in one of the France’s most cycle-friendly regions. I have been to Strasbourg before, but never rode around. Amazingly despite the school holidays, I found a bargain £4.99 flight with Ryanair from London Stansted, booked a bike locally and decided to go on a cycle tour that went through some of Alsace’s most picturesque areas. I would end the tour in the Swiss city of Basel approximately 250 km away.
 

Alsace is located in eastern France and historically has been part of both France and Germany. What is interesting about the region is that the architectural styles and food have strong German influences with the German border largely following the course of the nearby river Rhine.

 

Following the Canal du Rhone au Rhin...

 

After arriving in Strasbourg city centre from the airport by train, I picked up my bike from a hotel close to the strikingly impressive train station and started riding along the ‘Canal du Rhone au Rhin’ with an aim of getting to Breisach am Rhein in Germany. A distance of about 80 km away from Strasbourg.

When I was planning the tour, I was a bit apprehensive about riding along a canal route for such a long period of time. In England, towpaths along waterways are generally of a mixed standard and riding long distances can be a time consuming and bumpy affair. Not in France though...
 

As soon as I left the city centre, I was guided onto a well signposted, smooth, pan-flat cycle route that ran parallel to the picturesque canal. Compared to riding along canals in Britain, this was a dream and there was even decent pedestrian / cyclist segregation too.

 

When will this amazing cycle path come to an end...

 

This is a first class cycle route and one that went on for dozens of kilometres. In fact, it didn’t seem that the route was ever going to end.

Whilst I am not moaning here, having super smooth tarmac and a wonderful cycling experience cannot mask over the fact that sometimes canal towpath riding can be quite monotonous.

 

The scenery doesn’t change much and the sun is often blocked by a canopy of trees. What didn’t help matters was that I was doing this on Sunday afternoon, in the middle of a heatwave and through a very rural part of France with not one shop open to get a drink.

 

Thirsty, hot, hungry and tired...
 

Having slept in the airport direct from working at the RideLondon 2017 Cycle Show, caught an early flight, picked up a bike, got changed in a toilet and hit the road from the city centre, stocking up on supplies before setting off foolishly didn’t come into my mind.

 

Britain may not have the cycling infrastructure to compete with mainland Europe, but at least there is always a Co-Op or Tesco Express nearby!
 

Having rode along the towpath for fifty hot long kilometres, I finally reached a small café and sank a litre of Coke Zero in about a minute. Interestingly despite being in France, the background music in the cafe was very German with cheesy 'Schlager’ party classics playing out.

 

As a reminder of former times and the regions chequered past, along the canal towpath all of the way to the German/Swiss border, there are concrete machine gun posts pointing directly at the German side approximately every 15 km.

This was part of the ill-fated Maginot Line that was designed to protect France from German invasion during World War II. In the end. the system was flawed as the Nazis simply went around the defensive line by invading Belgium, however today they are relics of a past Europe and one of military barriers, hard borders and war.

I continued riding along the canal until my turn-off at the small village of Marckolsheim before crossing over the Rhine via a massive hydroelectric power plant into south west Germany and the state of Baden-Wurttemberg.

 

Crossing the border into Germany via a dam...
 

I always think it is strange when crossing over land borders in Europe how quickly one country can look so different to another despite only covering less than five kilometres from the border sign. France and Germany are no exception. Whilst France was very quiet with dormant villages and virtually no one around, Germany was awake with swimmers in the Rhine, dozens of people cycling alongside the river path and lively cafes.

I continued along the gravel path alongside the Rhine following Eurovelo 15 as the temperature rose even further. At 1600, the heat was approaching 32 degrees and my hybrid bike couldn’t seem to get over 25 km/h not matter how hard I pedalled.

 

Arriving into Breisach am Rhein...

 

The last hour didn’t seem to end, but as I turned the bend on the riverside cycle path, I saw the steeple of Breisach Church and knew that this long and hot day was over. I had been on the go for nearly 24 hours and for the first time, actually felt tired.

 

My youth hostel was located directly on the Rhine and after a quick shower, power nap and change into ‘civilian clothes’, I went for a stroll around the town with the sole aim of getting my favourite German food – a Wiener schnitzel with spätzle (pasta).

 

Schnitzel success...

 

Ever since my first visit to Germany and Austria, I always buy a schnitzel as a tradition. I love the combination of flavours and the simplicity of chicken, pork or veal in breadcrumbs!

This one was well made and an excellent finish to the day. Luckily, I didn’t even have to share a dorm in the hostel as the guy on Reception gave me a room to myself because he was impressed with my efforts. This was a definite result especially after a tougher than expected first day through Alsace. 

 

Onwards to Mulhouse, Weil am Rhein and Basel with an unplanned detour to Colmar...

 

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If you are looking for a new route, someone to try something out for a future leisure cycling tour, please get in-touch.

 

You can contact Steven using the contact form or email directly at info@leisurecyclist.com

 

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