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Bike – Along Lake Constance and the Rhine (Part 1)

    Bike Bodensee Rhein - Eglisau

    Photo: Eglisau.

    I spent much of last year going back and forth between my home in Switzerland and the Black Forest, trying to take a different route every time through the Jura. So this year I set out to cover some newer routes. I would have preferred to do this a bit later in the Spring (even just a few weeks later) when it would be warmer with green trees. But then I always say that and never get around to doing it.

    I visited Schaffhausen, Rheinfalls, and Stein am Rhein early on in my time in Switzerland, but I haven’t been back to any of them in 5+ years, and I don’t think I have ever properly set foot in canton Thurgau before. There are also a series of villages along the Rhine (Diessenhofen, Rheinau, Elgisau) that are apparently amongst the most beautiful in Switzerland which I was curious to check out.

    Future plans in the region are a 2 night your going counter-clockwise tour of the rest of the lake then following the opposite bank of the Rhine (the Part 2 of this tour), and another cutting up from Winterthur through the top of Schaffhausen (including the northernmost point in Switzerland just for the novelty of it) to Donauschlinge and then south via the Titisee.

    Day 1: Rorschach to Diessenhoffen

    Key Information

    Route: Rorschach – Constance (DE) – Stein am Rhein – Diessenhofen – Gailingen (DE)

    Length: 80km, +450, – 420

    Date: 2024-March-28

    Border crossings: 5

    The starting point might seem a bit of an unlikely choice but was simply decided by the transport. A direct train connection opened up from Solothurn to Rorschach Lake Constance a year or two ago so it was a simple case of getting on and sitting tight for a few hours.

    My plans were slightly thrown into array by a cold storm which brought heavy rain and snow across much of the country at the start of the day. Luckily it dried up just as I arrived in Rorschach to start riding. However the wind remained and I spent the entire day riding into a very strong headwind that made it a challenge to even maintain 20 km/hr on flat ground.

    This was at least generally a flat route (with a few little bumps), and regional trains run the whole way along it so it would be easy to shortcut in case of really bad weather or other problems (there are even boats running most of the way in season).

    I assume the lake front at Rorschach must be quite nice in summer. I have however only seen it on cold wet days out of season. Hopefully my next visit will be in a better light.

    The ride along the lake is a bit mixed (as is the traditional way with Swiss cycling routes). Sometimes it was an absolute car-free dream right on the waterfront, sometimes a field or two back with only a hint of the lake, and sometimes I was stuck behind expensive looking houses with big hedges. It is car-free or very low-car all the way until Kreuzlingen at least. It is clearly a very popular route; I have never seen so many farm-shop stalls offering ice cream.

    Bike Bodensee Rhein - Rorschach.
    Getting off to a grey start on Lake Constance near Rorschach.

    There were no doubt some nice places to stop and enjoy the lake along the way (or would be if it isn’t a cool grey day in March) but I simply powered on through to the end of the upper lake (Obersee) where the Rhine reppears and squeezes through a narrow gap by Constance..

    I had been meaning to visit Constance (Konstanz) for years. Having survived modern history better than most German cities and being sat on the lake it is meant to be one of the nicest and most beautiful German cities. I had a little wander around the old town and lake front but I didn’t really warm to the place. I am willing to put this down to the fact that a grey Thursday morning in March (with my mood rather dampened already by the incessant headwind) might not have been the best way to experience it, so I will try again sometime in better conditions. Mandatory Rewboss Youtube video on the city for more information.

    Once past Constance it is a different world. The already distant view of the Alps at the far end of the lake disappears and the landscape changes to the Rhine or (much smaller) lower part of the lake snaking through relatively gentle hills. The villages along here are half timbered wooden houses rather than anything like cliche Swiss chalets.

    Riding along the lower lake (Untersee) the bike route is sometimes on the main road but is otherwise very pleasant riding hopping from village to village (or would have been anyway without the headwind). One thing to watch out for is that the signed bike route seems to actively avoid the nicer parts of some villages. It turns off into fields just before the gorgeous little village of Gottlieben and avoids the beautiful historic waterfront at Ermatingen in favour of sticking to modern housing.

    Stein am Rhein marks the point where the extreme end of the lake turns back into the Rhine. It is a beautiful little village and easily the most famous and touristy spot along the route (the only place where I saw advertising in English that day). I had thought about taking the short but steep climb up to the impressive looking castle, Schloss Hohenklingen, which sits 200m above the village. But having worn myself out with 65km of headwinds I couldn’t find the enthusiasm to do so.

    From Stein I followed the north side of the river into Germany before switching over country and side at the final stop. I had been looking forward to Dissenhoffen but was a bit disappointed. It is handsome enough (especially seen from across the river), but it suffers from constant through-traffic in the old town area (and across the wooden bridge) and it didn’t really seem to have much character to compensate for that with. Again maybe it is better in the summer months.

    Back across the river into Germany a short climb brought me up to Gailingen am Hochrhein where I was staying at the Hotel Rheingold (perfectly good, especially for the price). Gailingen is inoffensive but instantly forgettable, which for a cheap place to spend the night was fine. The only interesting thing was the surprisingly big Jewish cemetery on the hillside above the village.

    Bike Bodensee Rhein - Diessenhofen
    Dissenhoffen seen from across the river Rhine in Germany.

    Day 2: Along the Rhine and up to the Black Forest

    Key Information

    Route: Gailingen – Schaffhausen – Rheinau – Eglisau – Bad Zurzach – Koblenz

    Length: 66km, +600m, -680m. I then carried on another 30km and +600m up into the Black Forest.

    Date: 2024-March-29

    Border crossings: 6

    The second day brought much more pleasant weather, most importantly there was next to no wind.

    Dropping down to the river I stayed on the north bank. Initially through fields and forest then back on paved road into the German enclave of Büsingen am Hochrhein. A pleasant enough little town but with nothing remarkable about it. I thought they might have made a bit more about the novelty of their situation. Mandatory Tim Traveller video on the enclave and its history.

    Leaving Büsingen and back into Switzerland the approach to Schaffhausen along the river was rather lovely with the castle looming overhead. This was early on Good Friday so it was very quiet and the approach road might not be so nice on a normal weekday morning. Schaffhausen itself often seems to be forgotten about but it has a lovely old town which is well worth an explore.

    I stayed on the right bank with the plan to end up across from the falls. Climbing a little bit up to the modern and dull Neuhausen am Rheinfall then dropping down to the Rhine fall (Rheinfall) themselves. This was only my second visit to the falls after almost 9 years. I can’t say I regretted not having visited again sooner. Seeing the river suddenly drop 20m is certainly more interesting than a standard river bend, but I don’t understand how it often ends up in the must-do list of sights in Switzerland.

    Bike Bodensee Rhein - Rhine fall
    The Rhine Falls.

    The next section along from the Rhine falls to Eglisau was my favourite part of the entire ride. The river valley becomes much narrower and steeper (almost like a small gorge at times) and the surrounding landscape is hillier with only a few scattered villages and smaller roads.

    Climbing up from the river I briefly reentered Germany to pass through the village of Altenburg and an expansive view to the south, before returning to Switzerland a few km later over a covered bridge and entering the pretty village of Rheinau. The village is almost surrounded by the river which makes some tight turns here and is most notable for the Klosterinsel which I took a little detour to admire.

    After Rheinau the bike route seems to fall off the edge of civilisation going through lonely forests and stretches of the river (with mandatory bunkers pointing at Germany).

    The old town of Eglisau sitting on the river surrounded by vineyards was possibly the most picturesque sight of the trip (it would probably be even better without the giant construction crane). If you just stuck to the bike route which stays in the newer part of town you might not even see it. Going down to the bridge does mean having to regain a few metres of height, but it is well worth it.

    At Zweideln the cycling route turned briefly away from the Rhine and onto a separated path by the main road. From here to Bad Zurzach was mostly fairly far back from the river with the noise of cars zooming past. Not bad, but one of the less enjoyable parts of the trip.

    Bad Zurzach is (as the name would suggest) a spa town. The bike route goes right past the front door of the Therme Zurzach which is impossible to miss thanks to the strange air traffic control tower style object sticking out of it.

    From there it was a quiet section of path around the corner to the forgettable little town of Koblenz where the Aare flows into the Rhine. From here there is the option to head up the Aare back into the heart of Switzerland or carry on along the Rhine. I stayed on the Swiss side until the power plant at Liebstadt then crossed over the Rhine into Germany via the barrage (there are numerous pedestrian/cyclist only crossings over these between Switzerland and Germany) and started the climb up into the Black Forest.

    Bike Bodensee Rhein - Rheinau
    The Klosterinsel at Rheinau.

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