When I went over to the Eurobike exhibition in August, I took the opportunity to do a bit of scouting around to take a look at one of Germany’s most popular long distance bike routes, which follows the Danube (or “Donau” in German) from its source in Donaueschingen to the pretty border town of Passau where the Inn (as in Innsbruck) and Danube come together.
One of the prettiest stretches is on the first leg of the route, from the source to the Hohenzollern town of Sigmaringen, which is just under 90 km with a total of 365m of ascent.
Sigmaringen is well worth a visit.A small town, dominated by the Hohenzollern castle on its outcrop of rock, overlooking both town and river. There’s a real southern German delicacy, which I always enjoy, called Kässpätzle. This literally means “cheese sparrows”; for some inexplicable reason, the local noodles are known as “sparrows”, perhaps because they are about as wide as they are short. This dish sees layers of noodles and cheese with a fried onion topping go into the oven. The reason for mentioning all this is that the Café Bootshaus (or the Boat House café, if you need a translation) served a great version in our evening in the town, washed down by a couple of mugs of the “Zollern” beer.
Finding a good place to stay while cycle touring in Germany is easy if you go online or get hold of a copy of the “Bett + Bike” directory, operated by the German ADFC cycling club. Not surprisingly, one of their recommended stops is the Jägerhof in Sigmaringen. This is a “hotel garni” which signifies that it doesn’t do evening meals – but they made up for it with a great spread of a breakfast, clean and comfortable rooms with en suite, and a balcony. But the “chef” – which in German signifies the manager or more likely the owner, rather than the cook! – was brilliant. He assisted a couple of ladies who had come down by train from the Rhineland and were following the Danube bike route, but had a variety of problems due to an elderly bike not quite being up to the journey, as well as non biking clothes getting caught in a chain, and so on.
He also helped me no end to get hold of my Germanwings boarding card and get it printed. Unlike airlines like Easyjet and Ryanair who allow you to print your boarding pass quite a few days in advance, Germanwings makes you do this inside 3 days before your flight. This was fine for the flight out from Stansted to Stuttgart, but meant that I had to access their system inside 3 days before flying home. Because I was registered as a UK based passenger, their system would not allow me to log in with my surname and ticket reference number, probably because their system detected a German IP address rather than a UK one. If you call their customer service number in Germany from a UK mobile, you get an announcement that the number is not valid, forcing you to call to the UK, with a cheering message that waiting times for an agent are “less than 20 minutes”.
Using a German landline to call the German customer service number gets past the “number not valid” issue, but still gets the waiting times of less than 20 minutes. If only! Nearly 30 minutes later, I got through to an agent – who couldn’t hear me and put the phone down. So, start again. This time the “less than 20 minutes” turned out to be only 23 minutes. I got through and had my boarding pass emailed to my mobile phone. It was when I tried forwarding the email to the hotel, that Germanwings security kicked in again: the email went through but without attachments. The “chef” of the hotel was brilliant and determined to help in everyway possible: my USB charging lead was connected to the office computer, and from there to the printer. What wonderful service from a great “Bike+Bett” stop.
Further on down the Danube, past Ulm – traditionally the first navigable point of the Danube – there is a small town called Höchstädt, which is probably unheard of here in the UK, but it has a small hamlet outside it called Blindheim. The Germans refer to a large battle between the French and Bavarians on oneside (in the war of the Spanish Succession) and the British on the other, as the Battle of Höchstädt. We call in Blenheim. The only thing to be seen now is a small column outside the village church, saying that the French colonel in charge presented his dagger to one General Churchill in surrender on that Church square.
It’s about 620 km from Donaeschingen to Passau and another 375 to Vienna – one of the most popular long distance routes in the German speaking world.
Time to start planning! There are tour and bike hire companies who travel these routes, all of which can be found via a web search – or strike out an do your own thing. There are loads of German bike routes with good signage. The photo below was taken in Blindheim. If following the Danube route, it’s easy to spot the attractive logo with the blue waves of the Danube and the castle above it.