Novice Rhine trip advice wanted: Disentis-Chur-Lake Konstanz-Rheinfall-Basel
I am a novice biker and have exercise-induced asthma, so there is a limit to how hard I can exert myself (if I build up my endurance it does help, though). Anyway, last summer my daughter and I stored our luggage and spent four days on bikes on the Saar and Mosel. We only biked about 70 miles total, which is fine by me as we weren't trying to set any records, just have a good time. And we did.
We're looking at another Europe trip this summer, with substantially more days spent on bike. We'll probably spend seven days on bike as a entire-family trip, another seven on bike with just my daughter and me, and then seven with my daughter and me without the bikes. We're going to rent bikes.
For one trip, I'm thinking about renting bikes at one of the Swiss train stations as I understand we can return it to any other train station. I realize you serious bikers wouldn't rent a bike, but I'd buy one at Wal-Mart and throw it away if Europe had Wal-Marts. I'm not looking for quality. The Rhine starts around Andermatt, so we're going to perhaps spend the night there but we will not start biking from there, oh, no. We'll take a train or whatever 10 km to Oberalppass to start. From Oberalppass to Illanz is about 50 km with a drop of 1300 meters, all downhill. Much of this drop is in the first 15 km, with a 750 meter drop. Are there any safety issues with this? Are there pretty good guard rails in case one of my idiot kids decides to go too fast?
After Ilanz there is a pretty good hill to climb, so I'm not sure whether will will attempt it or take a train into Chur. After Chur is 100 km of what looks like easy riding to Lake Konstanz; few hills and a 150 meter overall drop. After spending some time biking around Lake Konstanz we plan to go on at least to Rheinfall and maybe as far as Basel. Going to Basel means less time for Lake Konstanz.
1. What's the bike path situation like? I know Lake Konstanz is pretty well surrounded, but what about the first stage coming down from the Alps? Is this on public road or path? Are there good bike paths from Konstanz to Basel? The Saar and Mosel frequently have high-quality paths on both sides of the rivers. is the Rhine the same?
2. Any advice on where to start or where to finish? Where we start or finish has a lot to do with how much time we have for what is in between. When I started planning this trip it was going to be a circle of Lake Konstanz. Then I got to thinking about how fun it would be start by biking down from the Alps. Then I read about Rheinfalls. I'm sure many of you have started planning a trip only to have it morph into something else. Please note that we do not plan to do more than perhaps 25 miles per day on average, and maybe less. There may be a few days when we do more, but I can also see where we might have a few 10-15 mile days as well. Many of you could no doubt start at Andermatt, circle Lake Konstanz and then go to Basel easily in seven days, but that's just not what we're trying to accomplish.
I guess what I'm asking in the above question is if you had to rate and describe the legs, how would you do so?
a. Oberalppass to Disentis
b. Disentis to Chur
c. Chur to Lake Konstanz
d. Konstanz to Rheinfall and Rheinfall area
e. Rheinfall to Basel
3. Any other comments or observations?
Thanks to any of you with experience on this for any advice
I rode parts of the route you are proposing.
I did a loop starting in Schaffhausen (the site of the Rheinfall). I rode to Lake Konstanz, down its eastern side, along the Rhine toward Chur (I turned northwest at Sargens), past the beautiful Wallensee, up and over the impossibly steep Pragelpass, over the equally steep Brunigpass on my way to Interlaken. I wised up after a day of rest and took the train up to Gstaad and then made my way over to Basel and then made my way back to Schaffhausen, mostly on the bike path.
I wrote a detailed journal of my trip, where you can find lots of photos of the fabulous scenery and many of the road conditions. The bike routes in Switzerland are reasonably well marked, once you get the hang of reading the signs. The national bike routes are so well marked that I don't think you'd even need a map to follow them.
It is hard to think of a better place to ride a bike than Switzerland. I found the restaurants to be very pricey but the accommodations to be more reasonably priced. Don't forget to eat the bread delivered fresh every day to the food shops!
As for rating, I found Lake Konstanz to be flat and uninteresting. I'm glad I only did the one side. The Wallensee was beautiful as was Interlaken. From Schaffhausen to Lake Konstanz was not all that exciting, either. I was only in Basel two nights but I did like the part of it I saw. The ride from Basel along the Rhine to Schaffhausen took me a couple days and was along the river, which had some very nice parts. But, it is the mountains that I remember most.
Instead of aiming for flat rides that won't have much uphill, I'd plan to take in higher areas using the train to get up to the top and then riding down. I'd suggest Interlaken as a nice place to spend a rest day.
Here is what the gravel bike path along the Rhine from Basel to Schaffhausen looked like:
Here is a paved part of the same bike path:
The biking infrastructure in Switzerland is fabulous and often I would be riding on separate paths next to the roads. This is especially true on the National Bike Routes.
My wife and I rode about half of the last leg of your proposed route, Rheinfall to Basel. We were coming toward the Rhein from southern Switzerland, and reached it near Waldshut, Germany. We then followed it to The Netherlands.
You might be interested in looking at the Route downstream from Basel. I know going into Germany would complicate the bike rental logistics, but it is a nice section of the river.
Have fun. It sounds like a wonderful trip, especially done as a family.
Thanks Raybo and Doug. Raybo, I don't find flat "uninteresting." That's really what I'm seeking out with the Rhine/Constance route. Your photos are beautiful, although I must say the Rheinfall to Basel route does look like it has a few desolate stretches. I enjoy going village to village. I've enjoyed reading your journal posts that apply to my proposed trip, and it's helpful to see the photos.
Doug, I mentioned in my post that my daughter and I have seven additional days planned. We really didn't do the Mosel ride last year, so I've thought about starting in Trier and going to Koblenz and then going upriver on the Rhine towards Bingen until we run out of time. So I enjoyed your photos as well.
I didn't keep an exhaustive blog of my trip last year, but click here to see a few blog posts on our trip from Saarlouis to Trier and our time on the Mosel.
Any additional advice is appreciated!
Did exactly this route the same year (2014)
We used an operator that took our luggage. By far the hardest leg is Disentis to Chur. (We didn't even try Oberalp to Disentis, which looks worse on the map.) As the first day, with legs that hadn't done a real ride since the previous summer, it was an effort. Starting with the hard day is ironic. It's net downhill but there are several steep climbs, by our standards, and quite a bit is on the shoulder (verge) of a highway. The rest of the route was easy, even for middle-aged me, mostly on bike paths or very quiet roads. One place we deliberately went on a closed trail and carried the bikes over some fallen trees; another we took a significant shortcut on another busy road. But mostly everything was well-signed. My son with allergies to pollen had several difficult days; if you have asthma, this might be a trigger. We also had a vicious heat wave, with temperatures 30-35C for the first half of the trip.
If you are in shape, I recommend the full itinerary. Full of wonderful surprises. Otherwise, start in Chur and skip the Alpine section.
Having rented a handful of tourist/train-station type bikes in Europe, just know they aren't always in the best of shape. Can't speak to Switzerland, but I've done it in Austria, Netherlands, and Spain, and it is really a crapshoot as to what you'll end up with regarding functioning and fitting you.
I am in the middle of planning a European trip, and faced the same question. While I ultimately ended up going the "take our own" route, I did find that there are many companies that offer bike rentals all over Europe for the type of trip you're describing. Even if you do ultimately go with the Swiss Rail bikes, it may be worth poking around a bit online and see if there are any tour bike companies that offer rentals in the areas you are thinking, that are reviewed with happy customers.
I rode most of your route, though I left the Rhine valley to bike through St. Gallen and the gorgeous canton of Appenzell. I biked up the Oberalp pass, and I recall being quite unhappy that after the descent to Disentis (not scary), I had to climb up again from Ilanz to Flims. I think it's about 1,300 feet/400m of climbing in that stretch. After Chur (awful youth hostel; I wonder if it's still there?), you go right past Liechtenstein and I spent a pleasant night there. Good art museum in Liechtenstein. Rheinfall was OK, but I've seen much better, including several falls in Switzerland.
I didn't ride the route you are proposing but just from living in Karlsruhe (close to the rhine) for most of my life and now in Bavaria, I can tell you that even riding on the street (unless its a Bundesstrasse) will be fine.
Try to find the small streets that connects small towns with each other and the traffic will be low to almost non existent. I have ridden around the southern part of Bavaria for the last 3 years and can count the run ins with cars on one hand. When I lived in the US (Indiana) I had run ins with the cagers almost every weekend.
So wether you ride on a bike path or on the open street will provide the same beautiful experience of bike riding in Europe.
I have ridden many times with my kids (12 and 18 yrs old) on the street without any problems or issues.
So, look for a nice route which will use village connecting roads and you are good to go.
It was Long ago I came from Bern >Basel & hugged the east bank levee road headed North,
until a M1 Abrams Battle Tank :mad: blocked my path , 1988.
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