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The Main River Cycle Path

The Main River winds from Bayreuth near the border of the Czech Republic past beautiful towns and cities to flow into the Rhine at Mainz. The path goes through the Franken region, now part of Bavaria but in days of old, the home of the Franks. This region is famous for beer and wine.

Tour Overview: Map of MainGuntram, Ulla, and TimJune 2003. This is a 9-day, 325-mile, 524-kilometer tour along the Main River from Bayreuth to Mainz. Americans will try to pronounce the name of this river in a way that rhymes with “train” but the Germans treat their vowels differently you know. They pronounce it to rhyme with “line”). The first day we stopped for lunch at a Gasthaus near the confluence of the Weisser Main and the Roter Main (White Main and Red Main) and our host teased us by telling us that the really smart people always ride the Main upriver because of the prevailing west winds. We did experience some headwind along the way and I made a note that if I do this river again, I will ride upriver. Since the path is fairly flat, the hills are not too difficult to climb anyway. In addition to Maxa and me, we are accompanied by Maxa’s brother Guntram and his friend Ulla both of Kassel, Germany.Path Sign R-3Cycle Path Signs

Signage: Cyclepath SignsRed Main Cycle Path SignCycle Path SignPath signageThe entire route is well signed but the signs do change as it makes its way through different governmental jurisdictions. We get lost a couple times when the path sort of spreads out in the densely populated area near Frankfurt. Nevertheless, the river is easy to find and thus so is the bike path. The R-3 sign, for example, is only from Hanau to Frankfurt.

Accommodations: There are plenty of Zimmer or Privat Zimmer along the way. We did stay in a couple Pensionen too. As a choice, we like Zimmer (advertised as Zimmer Frei) but there are also Gasthäuser (Guest Houses), Pensionen (pensions or bed and breakfasts), Jugendherbergen (Youth Hostels), and hotels. For a complete discussion of the different types of accommodations and tips on reservations, see my Overnight Accommodations page.

Stops: Think of this tour as an opportunity to sample the beer and wines of a region in Germany where these two beverages abound in quantity and quality. Beginning with Bayreuth, where brewers like Maisel, Bayreuther, Becher Bräu, and others are located. Much of the Main is in Franconia (“Frankenland” in German), home of some of the best of the beers of Germany. Franconia is also famous in Germany for its wines, which are advertised to be dryer and more complex than those of the rest of the country.

One-thousand-year-old and one time capital of the Holy Roman Empire, Bamberg is not only a center for breweries but it is historically significant as well. Würzburg too is historic and picturesque. Of course, if you have not seen Frankfurt, you can briefly stop there. Finally, Mainz, which is actually on the Rhine, is the last stop on this tour.Main Cycle Path Guidebook by bikeline

Maps and Guidebooks: On this tour, we used bikeline’s Main-Radweg, von Bayreuth nach Mainz, 1:75,000 published in 2000. I wish we could have purchased a more recent book because this one differed slightly in a couple of places from the signed route.

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Day 1: Bayreuth to Michelau

Day Overview: Today is mostly paved except for a short section of gravel through some woods close to Michelau. Hills? Well, the answer is yes and unfortunately, they are not all down either. If I were to describe today’s path, I would say undulating but beautiful. There were a couple that we had to push up though.BayreuthBayreuth

Mile 0 (0.0 km): We start at the bike path along the river near the Bayreuth Bahnhof. Between here and Unterwaiz at mile 3.8 (6.1 km), we simply ride the bike path along the Roter Main (Roter Main means Red Main as contrasted with the Weisser Main or White Main). This means we miss a couple hills but there are still plenty today.Sign to Beer to the left, bike path to the right

Mile 16.3 (26.3 km): Just outside of Kulmbach (home of Kulmbacher Bier) we find the confluence of the Weisser and Roter Main into the Main River.BurgkunstadtBurgkunstadt

Mile 36.9 (59.4 km): We stop for the night in Michelau at Hotel-Gasthof In der Au. It is easy to recommend this hotel because the rooms are nice and the food is good. The photographs on the left are of Burgkunstadt, between Kulmbach and Michelau.Closter Vierzehnheiligen

Day 2: Michelau to Bamberg

Day Overview: Short day today because of the heat. Temperatures are in the 90's. There are a few hills and a little gravel but mostly paved bike path.

Mile 0 (0.0 km): Michelau.

Mile 30.6 (49.3 km): Bamberg. We stay at Hotel Hospiz, an in-city accommodation that is nice except they do not have a place to lock up the bikes. That is OK; at least they are out of sight from the street.

Day 3: Bamberg to Schweinfurt-BergrheinfeldBamburg Rathaus

Day Overview: Flat until Limbach then some rolling hills. With no gravel, the path is as good as it gets.

Mile 0 (0.0 km): The photograph to the right is of the famous Rathaus in Bamberg.

Mile 6.5 (10.5 km): As we ride through Trunstadt, we hear a loud sustained noise like a jet engine running at full throttle. We are at a loss to explain it because there is no airport near here. Finally, we notice some emergency vehicles and by asking a native, we learn that a natural gas pipeline (probably a large one) has burst and the noise is the rushing gas. Luckily, there is no spark or the fire would have been a little too impressive.Maria Limbach Wallfahrtskirche

Mile 14.6 (23.5 km): We stop to check out the Maria Limbach Wallfartskirche. This kind of church is a church that people make pilgrimages to.

Mile 17.3 (27.8 km): This is Zeil am Main. You can tell by the dates over the doors that many of the houses in this picturesque little city were build during and just after the end of the 30 Years War (1618 – 1648). A war over what religion should be practiced, Catholic or Protestant. It was particularly bloody in Germany.

Mile 39.0 (62.7 km): We stop for the day just past Schweinfurt at Hotel-Restaurant Astoria in Bergrheinfeld. This is a nice place to stay.

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Day 4: Schweinfurt-Bergrheinfeld to Marktsteft

Day Overview: The path is mostly paved and flat today. It’s sunny too. Just another day in paradise I press last used in 1728 in Dettelbach a walled cityVinyard near Dettelbach

Mile 0 (0 km): Today starts at the bridge between Bergrheinfeld and Grafenrheinfeld. Big names for little towns.Kloster St. Ludwig, I think

Mile 6.9 (11.1 km): Kloster St. Ludwig is now a Benedictine cloister but originally it was a monastery. The nuns purchased it many years ago from the monks.

Mile 7.9 (12.7 km): We ride past a museum just outside of Stammheim and notice it because of the saber jet mounted along the bike path at the entrance. It’s a cool museum for those of you into military stuff, and Guntram and I are. Maxa and Ulla indulge us.Ferry at Mainstockheim

Mile 26.2 (42.1 km): We cross the Main with the ferry at Mainstockheim. Not because we have to cross the river but just because we want to ride the ferry. We could have just taken the free bridge at Etwashausen.Zimmer Frei Sign

Mile 32.4 (52.2 km): In Marktsteft, we stop for the night. What a wonderful experience we have tonight at the home of Herr & Frau Wendel, 13 Spargelstrasse, Marktsteft (they have a Zimmer Frei sign). Our host and hostess invite us to share a glass of wine and told us all about their little village. It is not that this type of hospitality has not happened before but it is not the norm and is frequently special.

Another interesting thing in this town is it has the northernmost harbor in Bavaria. We saw signs pointing toward the historical harbor as we rode through town. By today’s standards, the “Historical Harbor” looks a little like a good place to launch a canoe. It is narrow and silted, but you can see the ancient pavement and anchor rings. Anyway, from this harbor in 1777, troops were loaded onto boats and sent to America as mercenaries to fight for the British against the revolting Americans in the War of Independence. These troops, combined with the Hessians were actually sold to the British King George III probably as a favor because the good king (later called the crazy king) was born and raised in Hanover, Germany. At the time, many of the European leaders were sort of related. By the way, it was the Hessians that George Washington surprised and defeated by crossing the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776. If this is just too much information for a bicycle website please indulge me; I like history.

Day 5: Marktsteft to Mühlbach

Day Overview: Relatively flat and all paved. Have a blast.

Mile 0 (0.0 km): Starting on the bike path in front of the Wendel home. The Wendels did not include breakfast because they both go to work early, so they suggested the local bakery in the village. The bakery is the typical Stehcafe where there are no chairs and one just stands at a small table or counter with their coffee and pastry. Not a problem, we have done that many times before. This time though, the owner took pity on us and invited us to sit at a table in their employee break area and eat our breakfast. Again, it does not get much better than hot, fresh bakery goods, real butter, good and strong German coffee, in a cute but unusual setting. We also bought lunch here too. A typical Brötchen mit Fleisch oder Käse. Like a sandwich, a roll with either meat or Feste Marienbergcheese.Staatsbucheri in WürzburgWürzburgWürzburgWrzburg

Mile 15.8 (25.5 km): Würzburg. Here is another bit of history for you. Remember the Black Plague? The disease started in the Orient and made its way following trade routes and shipping lanes to Europe first erupting in Italian seaports in the year 1347. By 1348, the Black Plague had ravaged Europe killing a third of the 80 million population. Many communities experienced much higher devastation as a few were left relatively untouched. As was the convention, first to be blamed was the sins of mankind because it was thought that God was extracting punishment for their sinful ways. Next was to find a scapegoat. Lepers, Jews, and members of non-conforming Christian sects were “the usual suspects” – as always. From Italy, came the idea that the Jews were poisoning Christian’s water supply. This idea caught on among Christians who had no idea about bacteria and viruses or anything smaller than the human eye could perceive. Though in a few communities such as Worms on the Rhine, Catholic ecclesiastics preached tolerance, such was not the case in Würzburg however. The community gathered together for the defense of their very lives and put all of the Jews in their midst to death. Then, perhaps to make sure they had not missed anyone, the synagogue in the center of town was burned down. Now the town planners had a big vacant area in the middle of their downtown. What a nice place for an open square and another Christian church. They named the new church, the Marienkirche (or Mary’s Church – interesting irony because Mary was a Jew you know – but then so was Jesus).

Not that you care, but the plague probably visited Europe several times over several millennia but the disease was called by different names. Perhaps it was not so devastating because it may have been confined to a smaller area. In the Middle Ages, people traveled more, spreading the disease as they went.

Built on the site of the former synagogue the church survives to this day. It is impressive, actually. We enjoy visiting and even burn a candle for my ailing sister-in-law. Interestingly, I note that they have a saint whose body is entombed here. This saint was “famous” for preaching abstinence from alcohol and is credited with a miracle of actually being able to turn wine into water. Hmmm …, it is no wonder why few people have ever heard of this guy but everyone knows Jesus who miraculously turned water into wine. (For the record, he was St. Makarius. I think he was the Abbot of an Irish or Scottish monastery near here from 1139-1153. Dang it, the Internet still leaves much to be desired.)Burg ruin of Mühlbach

Mile 34.3 (55.2 km): We stop for the night in Mühlbach which is across the river from Karlstadt. We are at Weinstube Schwalbenest operated by Bruno Kohlmann and Elizabeth Steinhof, Am Mühlbach 197753 Karlstadt/Mühlbach, Telephone 09353/9090100, Fax 9090195 website then select Zimmer and then select Karlstadt.

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Day 6: Mühlbach to Homburg a. Main

Day Overview: Some undulation of 10 to 20 feet before and just after Lohr at mile 17. Beyond Hofstetten (Lohr) it is mostly flat and mostly paved.

Mile 0 (0.0 km): Atop the bridge in Mühlbach, I reset the odometer.

Mile 8.5 (13.6 km): Gemünden is at the confluence of the Fränkische Saale River, a river on my agenda to ride someday. (Or, is it the Schwarze Saale in Thüringen that I want to ride? I get easily confused.) Anyway, we cross the bridge to the left bank here. A bit further on at Hofstetten, you find first a bit of a steep hill followed by a nice drop.Altstadt in  Lohr

Mile 17.0 (27.3 km): We stop for a break and some picture taking here in Steinbach and Lohr am Main.A village before HomburgSchloss Homburg

Mile 35.7 (57.5 km): We stop for the night at Homburg am Main. Here we climb 160 feet to the Privat Zimmer of Karl Baunach, Am Wolpenberg 5, 97855 Fredenstein, Homburg, telephone 09395/1507. This family offers a clean apartment and a nice breakfast in a quiet neighborhood.

Day 7: Homburg a. Main to Laudenbach

Day Overview: Today is pretty because of the towns and villages we ride through and the path is flat and paved.

Mile 0 (0.0 km): At the bike path on the river at Homburg am Main I reset my odometer.Blue House in Wertheim

Mile 8.6 (13.8 km): Wertheim. The Tauber River joins the Main River here. Again, the Tauber is on my list of rides to make in the future. From Wertheim, one can ride up the Tauber to Creglingen and Rothenburg. In 1989, while on a driving vacation to Rothenburg, Maxa and I saw a group of bicyclists and idly wondered how much fun it might be to ride our bikes downriver valleys in Germany. At this point, almost 15 years later, we have ridden over 10,000 kilometers in Germany doing just that. By the way, we now know; it is a blast. The photo of the blue house here in Wertheim is interesting because when it was painted, it denoted the wealth of the owner because the only way to make blue paint was to grind blue glass ultra fine and mix it with white paint. This house was built in 1593. The next photograph is of what is billed as the narrowest half-timbered house in Germany and it was built in 1620 by a knight named Von Zobel.Prison at Miltenberg a Tor built between 1379 or 1400

Mile 30.3 (48.7 km): In Miltenberg, where we thoroughly enjoy the Altstadt because of the half-timbered old buildings we take pictures of a former gate for the town wall that was the prison for the community and was built between 1379 and 1400. Here too, we check out the ruins of a Roman fortress. It was occupied by as many as 480 Roman soldiers from 160BC to 260AD. This was part of the Roman Limes or wall that demarked the northern limit of the Roman Empire and thus represented the border of Roman “civilization.” North and east of here lived uncivilized barbarians (according to the Romans) and south and west of here lived the "good" civilized tribes of Gaul who eventually turned on the Romans too. Hey, I guess when you lose your popularity with the locals, everyone hates you, just ask George W. Bush.

Mile 33.6 (54.0 km): Right on the bike path we find Elke’s Landgasthof Zum Anker and decide to spend the night here. The telephone number is 09372-99900. double occupancy (the cost for two people to spend one night) is €50.

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Day 8: Laudenbach to Mühlheim

Day Overview: While most of the path is paved, there are several kilometers of gravel and even a little dirt path between Steinheim and Offenbach.

Mile 0 (0.0 km): Elke’s Landgasthof Zum Anker.Schloss Johanisburg Walkway in Stiftkirche St. Peter and AlexanderStiftkirche 1200 Roman Gothic and Baroque St. Peter and Alexander Church

Mile 4.5 (7.3 km): At the bridge to Erlenbach am Main, we opt for the alternate path marked on the map that leaves us on the left bank into Obernburg.

Mile 19.4 (31.2 km): In Aschaffenburg, Guntram and Ulla decide they have had enough exercise in the hot sun and take a train home to Kassel. Maxa and I continue.

Mile 31.8 (51.2 km): We stop for a sightseeing break in Seligenstadt. We have taken the ferry across which gives one a nice sense of arrival in this romantic, half-timbered town.

Mile 46.2 (74.3 km): A steep pitch along the wayWe decide to stop for the night just past Steinheim. We stop to consult our map and another bike rider stops to ask us if we need directions. We explain our situation and he tells us that today is his 60th birthday and he has been on a 100-kilometer, 4-hour, bike ride by himself to celebrate. (Let me tell you, he is in better shape that we are.) He is an hour late getting home and his wife will probably be worrying but he forgot his Handy (cell phone) so he cannot let her know that he is almost home. However, since the directions to the hotel he recommends are complicated, he just says, “follow me” and he leads us through town to not just one but several hotels. The first is closed, the second he does not recommend and seems a little dirty, the third closed too but he knows the owner of the fourth, which is Hotel Adam. Here he operates the intercom on the door and announces us to the owner of the hotel. The hotel is closed but the intercom calls the owner’s cell phone. Since the owner lives just down the street, he appears after a couple of minutes and rents us a room. Breakfast in the morning was lonely because we are the only guest but they do serve us. What a wonderful experience. Hotel Albert, 7-11 Albertstrasse, 63165 Mühlheim, Telephone 06108/60911, Fax 06108/67665.

Day 9: Mühlheim to Mainz

Day Overview: In spite of being lost (well, not lost – we knew where we were – but the trail was lost, you see) about three times today, it really is a simple ride into Mainz. There are 4 to 6 kilometers of gravel path but it is in good condition. We found a couple of hills too but if one were really on the correct path, you would not encounter the hills. We know this because we did ride the correct trail in 2004.Ice cream and beer, breakfast of champions

Mile 0 (0 km): I start the odometer at the bike path where we left off yesterday. The photograph on the right is, "Ice cream and beer, the breakfast of champions."Guntram is soaking up some vitamin D

Mile 6.6 (10.7 km): Just for orientation, we are under the A-661 Autobahn bridge and looking across the Main to Frankfurt. The "chamber of commerce" calls Frankfurt the “Manhattan on the Main” but there are about 300 high-rise buildings short of a full New York. Nevertheless, Frankfurt is a major business hub and there are plenty of world-class high-rise buildings and interesting, modern architecture here. Maxa and I have been sightseeing in Frankfurt before and do not feel the need to cross the river and see it again today. Nevertheless, here are a couple recent pictures of the Römerplatz where the modern German nation was born in 1876, shortly after the Franco-Prussian War. There are several other interesting sights too, such as Johann Goethe’s birthplace, the Goethe-Haus Museum, and the Paulskirche. All are mentioned in the bikeline guidebook.

Mile 22.5 (36.2 km): At the power plant, we cross the river into Eddersheim.Path sign near confluence of Main and RhineConfluence of Main and Rhine

Mile 33.2 (53.4 km): This is the confluence of the Main and the Rhine rivers.

Mile 35.2 (56.7 km): We enter Mainz on the Theodore-Heuss-Bridge. This ends our tour of the Main River.

Mainz is one of those historical cities like Trier, Speyer, and Worms. Founded by the Romans in 12 BCE, Mainz was sacked and rebuilt many times in the centuries since the founding. The French have a long history in Mainz. Not only was Mainz actually in France for a time, but it was occupied by French troops after both World War I and II. Since St. Boniface, 680-755 AD, whoever is the Archbishop of Mainz has been extremely prestigious. During the Middle Ages, the Archbishop of Mainz was second only to the Pope as the most powerful Roman Catholic in all of Europe. Mainz is the home of the hapless inventor of movable metal type, Johann Gutenberg, 1398-1468. Although most of the pressing was actually done in Strasbourg, then German but now French. More on Mainz at

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