Have you ever heard about the Germanic heroic poem The Song of the Nibelungs? It tells the story of a hero (Siegfried) who tricks a mighty queen into marrying his brother-in-law and successively gets entangled in a web of jealousy, backstabbing and revenge. But that’s not what actually fascinated me about these stories. I was much more intrigued by Siegfried’s hoard, that was supposedly dumped in the river Rhine which flows through six countries – wouldn’t it be nice to go for a little treasure hunt?

Last summer, a friend invited me to visit her in Mainz and cycle part of the Rhine route, which is one of Europe’s most famous long distance bicycle trails. It runs along the river all the way from Andermatt in Switzerland to the Dutch North Sea coast close to Rotterdam. One of the most beautiful sections is the ~100km long trail between Mainz and Coblenz in Germany. We decided to cycle this stretch and spend a day kayaking in Coblenz before returning. I was already picturing myself on an easy river trail, armed with a bottle of local wine in my saddle bag and a treasure map in my pocket.

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So much for the plan… of course we had not considered the possibility of rain. Not that it was raining when we started our tour; the rain arrived one week earlier and with such force that most of the envisioned river-side cycle route was under water. So were all the camping spots we wanted to stay at. Over night we suddenly had to find an alternative route, navigating around the industrial patches of the Ruhr area.

The Rhine wasn’t the only river hit by extensive floodings, so we had to completely drop the idea of biking by the water and chose an inland route instead. Our trail took us through the Rhine Hessian Toscana covered in vineyards and sun, from Mainz to Guldental near Bad Kreuznach. One way is about 60-70 km. Soon the idea of the easy-peasy flat river trail gave way to the much ‘hillier’ reality. Luckily every Up (we referred to that as “Uh-Oh”) is followed by a Down (respectively called “Yippie!”) and we made it to our camping ground in Guldental. Don’t worry, I’m exaggerating – we’re talking hills in the eyes of a lazy Berlin-spoilt Travelette, not real hills or mountains!

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After a short night in our tent – the bottle of local wine was on our bucket list after all – we started our way back. To get at least a glimpse of the Rhine we decided to take a detour to Bingen and continue inland again from there.

Once in Bingen we realised how high the Rhine had actually risen. Bridges looked as if they floated on the river’s surface, bike trails and main roads were cut off by the flood, ducks had reclaimed children’s playgrounds and swam by the tips of what seemed to be a swing. However, oncoming bicyclists told us that the river trail to Mainz was almost free so we gave it a try. We followed a trail on a dam for a little while, but eventually the water to the left and right of us made us nervous, so we left the river again for the final part of our trip.

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Even though nature didn’t entirely play along, the Rhine-Ruhr area presented itself from its sunny side. The trail along the river might be the more popular choice, but the inland route reveals the secret beauty of the Western German countryside. Highlights along the way are the beautiful and incredibly well-maintained historic city center of Ingelheim, the scarlet red poppy fields around Bingen and the delicious local food and wine. When around try Spundekäs (cream cheese with red pepper) with little salt pretzels as snack or Zwiwwlekuche (onion tart) for dinner!

Mainz is a great city to use as your home base, as it is within easy reach of the mentioned towns and villages, but also connected to the national rail system and very close to Frankfurt/Main airport. If you have had enough nature and bicycling, Mainz makes for a great city trip. Make sure to explore the farmer’s markets in the Old Town (they are held in various locations nearly every day), spend a lazy day in the sun in Volkspark and enjoy a glass of wine beneath Theodor-Heuss-bridge (if the river promenade isn’t flooded).

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If you happen to be around Germany in spring or summer and want to add to the typical city tours through Berlin, Hamburg or Munich, a cycling tour in the Rhine-Ruhr area will give you the possibility to explore Germany from a different side. If you can’t bring your own bike, rent one with CDJ Mainz. A mountain bike costs about €20 for two days. Radwanderland provides a detailed map over all bike baths of the region and plenty of suggestions for thematic cycle routes.

You might not find Siegfried’s mythical Rhine Gold, but idyllic poppy fields, local delicacies and exhilerating downhill races through lush vineyards aren’t too bad either!

All images by Kathi Kamleitner, unless first (source) & Spundekäs (source).