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Neckar River Bicycle Tour

This page describes the Neckar River Bike Path. The Neckar River flows from the Black Forest to the Central Rhine near Mannheim. The river flows through many historic communities like Tübingen and Heidelberg, to name only two. There are many reminders of the Middle Ages as you bike along this picturesque cycle route.

Tour Overview: Map of NeckarAugust 2001. This is a 6-day 232 or 373-kilometer bike tour from the source of the Neckar to the Bahnhof in Mannheim. Sure, we could ride this tour in 5 days. But, that last day will be a long one, almost 60 miles. Anyway, we want to spend the night in beautiful Heidelberg. We lose about 1,400 feet in altitude during the ride but most of that is the on the first day, leaving the rest of the trip mostly flat. Not to say there are not a sprinkling of hills over the entire trip. Only the last day (15 miles) had no hills at all. The path is in great shape; it is almost entirely paved but there are some short distances of gravel path.

On this trip, Pete and Kelly Burleigh, my brother and sister-in-law from Great Falls, Montana, accompany us. This is their first trip to Germany and they are a little tentative about the whole thing. Riding bikes borrowed from family, they bravely face the wild frontier where only a few hundred million Germans have gone before – so to speak. Actually, it is great fun to have them along. Neither Pete nor Kelly speaks a word of German so I get away with impressing them in my halting German. What do they know anyway? Perhaps, people from Montana are easier than most to fool. Or, perhaps, they are not as fooled as I think.Path SignsPath SignsPath Signs

Signage: The bicycle path signs have a white background with a green, left-facing, bicycle graphic. The front wheel has red and white spokes. The words, where there are words, say Neckartal-Radweg. I am told that the new path sign graphic is the blue sign on the left. As usual, the older path signs will remain for several years – probably including a new logo sticker. As you ride, be careful not to confuse the intersecting and sometimes contemporary path signs of other routes.

Accommodations: We found adequate bed and breakfast establishments as well as hotels along the way. The guides to accommodations in both the bikeline guidebook as well as the BVA map were good. They are never 100% because things change between gathering the information and the time we use the guidebooks, but nevertheless, they are useful. Only once were we unable to find a room in the village we picked to stop in. But, like always, there was another village just down the road. 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 our page on Overnight Accommodations.

Stops: We passed a couple different Roman ruins. They are almost as “old hat” as castles (of which there are plenty) but we frequently stop anyway because they are usually free and its fun to imagine life 2,000 years ago. There are several important historical cities to stop in. The most famous to Americans is Heidelberg but the ancient university of Tübingen is another. We did not bother with Stuttgart because it is so big – we just wanted to get on down the road. However, the guidebooks have a lot to say about Stuttgart as well.bikeline Neckar-Radweg

Maps and Guidebooks: BVA GuidebookThe detailed map and guidebook we use is the bikeline Neckar-Radweg, (Von der Quelle nach Mannheim), Radtourenbuch und Karte, and scale 1:50,000, published by Verlag Roland Esterbauer, GmbH. We also use the BVA Radwanderkarte Neckartal-Radweg, scale 1:75,000, published by BVA Bielefelder Verlagsanstalt GmbH & Co. KG.

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Day 1: Schwenningen to Glatt

Day Overview: You should start the tour at the Schwenningen Bahnhof, a few meters from the Neckarquelle. Actually, we spent the night before our start at Hotel-Gasthof Linde, Strassburger Strasse 2, 78052 VS-Marbach. Telephone 07721-88530 and fax 07721-885315, 47 Euro per double room. On the way to Schwenningen from Marbach, we are lost already and end up in Dürrheim, the next community to the south. We then rode the main roads back into Schwenningen, picked up the trail and we decided to make the actual mileage start of the ride at the Schwenningen Bahnhof. This is not an illogical starting place since it is next to the park in which the Neckarquelle (spring of the Neckar) spews forth its river – tiny at first, but soon to be a major waterway. Today’s ride is 38.6 miles (62.0 km) from the spring in Schwenningen to the quiet village of Glatt. Today is a little hilly – especially the hill at mile 14 (22.5 km) where the uphill is about 180 feet in gain. The downhill following is almost 400 feet and great fun too. The path follows the river closely but we do manage to ride over several small hills, the highest of which is 50 feet.

Mile 0 (0 km): Maxa, Kelly, & Pete at the BahnhofWhile our hotel for the night is actually in Marbach we zero our cyclometer at the Bahnhof in Schwenningen. The spring, one of the sources of the Neckar is in the public park next to the Bahnhof. I would presume that most people will find accommodations in either Villingen or in Schwenningen. (We chose a place in Marbach because we liked the way the hostess sounded on the phone and the first few places we called in Villingen/Schwenningen were full for the night.)

Mile 2.0 (3.2 km): We are next to a small airport. There is a museum of flight at the small airport we are riding along. It is called the Internationales Luftfahrtmuseum and I can see at least one Soviet MIG aircraft and several other military and civilian aircraft but we do not stop.

Mile 6.3 (10.1 km): Three of us trying to help with the sculpture of the bullIn Deißlingen we found a life-sized sculpture of a bull in a chute and some farmers trying to convince the bull to do something he does not want to do. Although we try to help as the photograph to the left shows, we are unsuccessful. The sign explaining the sculpture tells us the bull actually died during the contest. Having grown up on a farm and been guilty of my share of mistakes, I am sure that the farmhands involved with the event depicted would not have wanted their mistake to be immortalized as this sculpture does. In Deißlingen, we join a busy road and follow it for almost 5 miles.

Mile 8.7 (14.0 km): After a 70-foot climb up and down a hill we ride into Bühlingen.

Mile 10.7 (17.2 km): Roman ruins in RottweilIn Rottweil, we ride past a partially restored Roman bath. It is interesting in that it depicts what must have been a luxurious facility with both hot and cold running water and several different large baths, the size of small swimming pools.

Mile 15.1 (24.3 km): After gradually climbing a hill of well over 100 feet, we are rewarded by a wonderful drop to this spot where we cross the tracks. One guidebook shows the location of the ruin near here but we do not notice it and keep going.Wasserschloss at Glatt\

Mile 36.5 (58.7 km): Turn off the cycle path and follow the signs toward Glatt. We have been riding a mixed bag of mostly small rolling hills with occasional short stretches of gravel bike path. The village of Glatt takes its name from the small river that flows through it. We find a nice, quiet accommodation owned by a couple who work in the Schloss Hof café in town. Glatt is 2 km off the trail but it is nice.

Day 2: Glatt to Neckartenzlingen

Day Overview: Another beautiful day in this drop-dead gorgeous part of Germany. The path is almost entirely paved today but there are a few hills. For instance, we have to climb into Horb and then there is another 40-foot hill just beyond Horb. Fortunately, we bypass one of the hills just outside of Tübingen. According to the guidebook, the path we take around that hill is an alternate route but we are following signs and the signs indicate it was the only route. Anyway, we feel it is the best way because we are over fifty with bad knees, you know.

Mile 0 (0 km): We reset our cyclometer to zero as we rejoin the Neckar bike path.HorbHorb

Mile 4.4 (7.1 km): Built in the Middle Ages, the community of Horb is picturesque and historic.

Mile 14.5 (23.3 km): View of Weitenburg on top of the hill. From Sulzau to Obernau, about 4 miles, you share a road with automobiles. Typical of European roads, there is no shoulder, there also is not much traffic and everyone gives us plenty of room.Rottenburg

Mile 21.3 (34.3 km): Enter Rottenburg am Neckar. This town was here when the Romans occupied this part of Gaul. That means the community is at least 2,000 years old. As a Roman community, they enjoyed a 7-kilometer long water pipe, probably made from logs.

Mile 30.5 (49.1 km): We make a big mistake by riding through Tübingen, an ancient university town and center of learning since the Middle Ages. We enjoy the park along the Neckar – or the Neckar Front, as they call it here. Perhaps the beauty of this park-like riverfront makes us fail to realize that the town itself also offers much in the way of history, culture, and adventure. Someday, we will have to come back and check it out.

Mile 34.3 (55.2 km): Just past Tübingen is the community of Kirchentellinsfurt (that is a mouthful). Both guidebooks show a steep hill here but glory of glories, we find they have changed the bike route and we cross the river to the left bank instead of climbing the hill in the town.

Mile 46.0 (74.0 km): We stop for the night in Neckartenzlingen at Hotel zum Flösser on Stuttgarterstrasse 31 (07127-21708 or 92611) it is on the main Bundestrasse through the valley so there is some road noise but the rooms are nice and the food is great. The cost was €60 per room for two people.

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Day 3: Neckartenzlingen to Marbach

Day Overview: The path is all paved except three short sections of tightly packed gravel. The good news is there are no major hills today. About the only hill we climbed was into Marbach, the birthplace of the poet Schiller, at the end of the day. We spent the night in this picturesque walled city. The only downside today is the heavy traffic through Stuttgart. On the Tim's Tips page in this website, I suggest taking public transportation through big cities but when we get there, we find it is easier to ride than to figure out the bus system. Besides, there are four of us and that is just too many bikes for one bus.

Mile 0 (0 km): Leaving the hotel in Neckartenzlingen, we set our cyclometers to zero as we reconnect with the bike path. Fat lot of good that does us because we think we are following the bike path but forget that the bike path has changed since the guidebook was printed. The real path is on the left bank; we are on the right bank. Not only are there no bike path signs here, but also we find a couple small hills to boot. Darn! Assuming the mileage is about the same on either side, we continue following the old path into Nürtingen. We go shopping for a new guidebook in Nürtingen.NürtingenBike path along the Neckar

Mile 4.3 (6.9 km): We enter Nürtingen and this is about where the new path joins the old path. So, as always when we get off the mapped path, a little patience and some luck and we find our way back. Seldom have we backtracked to find the path we are supposed to have taken. However, we will backtrack if we face a steep hill.

Mile 7.1 (11.4 km): We cross the Stadtbrücke in Nürtingen and pick up the trail again on the left bank of the Neckar.

Mile 11.2 (18.0 km): We cross the river on an old bridge built in the 15th Century. However, once over, a man in Lederhosen suggests to us that there are paths (both gravel) on either side but the one on the left is slightly better. We ignore him and continue only to eventually realize that he is correct and we would have been better off on the other side (the left bank).

Mile 20.7 (33.3 km): We have steps to negotiate. We are in Obersslingen where the path dips under the railroad to reappear on the river. In a couple of miles, we will ride next to the Mercedes Benz factory outside of Stuttgart. Follow the signs through Stuttgart. It a little confusing, noisy and smelly because of the exhaust fumes. There is no easy way to ride through cities.Marbach on the Neckar

Mile 46.4 (74.7 km): We leave the path here and ride up into the center of Marbach in search of a room. We find one over the butcher shop in an old hotel. This place was probably built in the Middle Ages although it is nice, clean, and modern. Because the city center is a pedestrian zone, after the people go home, this will be a very quiet spot. The owner sells us some beer from his private stock and Pete and I walk the town looking for Hors d’ouvres and wine to consume before we seek a restaurant for dinner. Marbach is the birthplace of Schiller, one of the world’s great poets and perhaps Germany’s most beloved literary character.

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Day 4: Marbach to Haßmersheim

Day Overview: There are two major hills today, the first one at mile 7 is the largest and the drop is the most fun too. The second at mile 20 is only a 110-foot hill. We find more gravel today but it is in good condition – assuming dry weather.

Mile 0 (0 km): The forecast for today is warm. The Neckar valley is beautiful in the morning sun. There is a slight morning mist in the air giving a surreal look to the sunlit vineyards covering the hills that cascade into the distance, each slightly less clear than the one before. I start my cyclometer on the bike path on the left bank just past the footbridge into Marbach and just before crossing under the railroad tracks.

Mile 7.0 (11.3 km): This is the bottom of a monster hill (340 feet in elevation). It just goes and goes. Just when you think you are at the top, it goes up some more. Fortunately, from about mile 8.0, the slope is less steep and easily ridden. At the top, we find fields of sunflowers that are huge and just turning from flower to seed head. Bikers before us had traced smiley faces into the blooms making the field seem like an army of green soldiers smiling their approval for the hard work we have just completed by climbing the hill.Neckar sunflowers with smiley faces

Mile 11.8 (19.0 km): We are inside Besigheim after a GREAT drop off the sunflower plateau. Part of the drop was a little winding and we had to hold back, the bottom part allowed a clear field of vision ahead and we could coast as fast as gravity wanted to take us. Great fun!Neckar Grapes

Mile 20.2 (32.5 km): Leaving Luffen, we climb another hill (120 feet) into the vineyards. The view from the top is nearly a 360° of the villages, the river valley, and the surrounding hills. The purple grapes on the vines taste a little bitter. You are not supposed to pick them but Pete did not know that and tried one. I told him I would not put that part into the travelogue. I lied – it is what you do to get even with your big brother.Neckar Grapes

Mile 40.8 (65.7 km): We stop in Gundelsheim hoping to find overnight accommodations. However, it is Saturday and all the places in the guidebook are either full or do not answer their phone. I suspect those who do not answer are on vacation. Even people who rent out rooms take vacations now and then. We continue down the path but we are hot, sweaty and tired from climbing those last two huge hills in the noonday heat.Vineyards of the Neckar

Mile 43.3 (69.7 km): Riding along the trail, Maxa spots a sign advertising Gasthof Adler in Haßmersheim. We dip down into the town and shortly we find a Gasthaus. It is brand new. The rooms cost €60 each but they are large and sparkling clean. We arrive during one of the community’s festivals and so after we shower off the trail dust, we walk down to the river and walk through the tents and booths, listening to the music and watching people – just like natives. This is a treat for Pete and Kelly because while they are used to the county fairs in Montana, they have not experienced a street fest in Germany until today. As it turns out, we are fortunate. The town we thought we had to ride to in order to get a room for the night is actually over an hour away by bike. We are tired and our own sense of humor is starting to wane. Today was a little too hot for all the hill climbing we did.

Day 5: Haßmersheim to Heidelberg

Day Overview: This just has to be the prettiest section of the Neckar. I know I have said that before but this time, I mean it. Really. The river winds between steep hills, some forested some covered with vineyards. We are enjoying warm sunshine. However, later in the afternoon, it will become hot and we will actually wish for a cloud or two to cool us off. The path is not too well signed today but it is hard to get too lost because of how narrow the valley is. There are three hills today but they are easy compared to what you have already completed.Stairs near Haßmersheim

Mile 1.5 (2.4 km): The photograph shows three of us hauling our bikes up 25 stairs to cross a dam over the river. We could avoid these stairs by taking the alternate path shown on the bikeline guidebook. However, on the alternate path there are both hills and traffic. So, we choose the steps.

Mile 14.8 (23.8 km): We cross the river on the ferry here at Zwingenberg. On the ferry, we talk to a guy with no panniers, tight spandex, and a well-worn racing bike. As we depart, he fiddles with his bike on the shore while we ride off. 10 minutes later he passes us on the trail. I stepped off my bike to see if maybe I had a flat tire or my brakes were stuck on. He really blows our doors off" - if, that is, if bikes had doors. He said he would be covering over 200 km today.

Mile 25.3 (40.7 km): Enter Ersheim, across the river from Hirschhorn. The photographs here are of the Ersheimer Kapelle, built in 1345 it is the oldest church (chapel) in the Neckar Valley, and Burg Hirschhorn, one of the many castles along the way.Ersheimer KapelleErsheimer KapelleMaxa, Kelly, and Pete with Hornberg in background

Mile 32.1 (51.7 km): We choose not to cross the dam into Neckarsteinach because this is the city with four castles overlooking the river. The view of the castles is better from the left bank so we follow the alternate path and take the pictures shown here.NeckarsteinachNeckarsteinach

Mile 35 (56.3 km): We rejoin the main bike path by crossing a footbridge slung underneath a railroad bridge in Neckargemünd. Once on the other side, we follow a bike path next to the main road into Heidelberg.Heidelberg Old Gate from Alter Bruecke

Mile 40.2 (64.7 km): We cross the Old Bridge (Alten Brücke) into Heidelberg, an old university city. The famous Heidelberg Castle is on our left and the Main Gate of the old town is ahead of us. We stop for the night here and walk through the Old Town to enjoy one of Germany’s most picturesque cities. After checking with the tourist information office, we find a reasonably priced hotel just outside of the Old Town. We stay at Pension Elite, 15 Bunsenstr. 06221-25734. I have to say, they have a great breakfast.

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Day 6: Heidelberg to Mannheim

Day Overview: Today is flat and paved. It is only 15 miles (26 km) to the Mannheim Bahnhof. Unfortunately, once you cross the bridge into Edingen-Neckarhausen, the signs are few and far between. Additionally, when you do find them in Mannheim, they have a good chance of taking you on a circuitous route around Mannheim instead of directly to the Bahnhof. See the travelogue for specific direction.Heidelberg Castle in DaylightHeidelberg Castle at night

Mile 0 (0 km): We pick up the trail on the right bank of the river at the bridge (Ernst-Walz Brücke) about a mile downriver from the famous Alten Brücke.600 - 800 year-old graves near Heildelberg

Mile 5.4 (8.7 km): We ride past several old graves being excavated by archeological students. They are shallow, maybe 3 feet deep and they have been unearthed by construction equipment involved in burying an electrical cable. The students tell us that they are between 600 to 800 years old. That means these people lived in the Middle Ages before Columbus discovered America. (Why do we say that Columbus discovered America when we do not say that Pocahontas discovered Europe? Besides, Columbus was not even the first European to set foot on the North American Continent.)

Mile 7.3 (11.7 km): Just past the ferry, cross the river on the railroad bridge. Once on the other side, there are few signs so try to follow the map.

Mile 14.0 (22.5 km): This is the approximate mileage of the Friedrich-Ebert-Brücke, which is the east end of the Luisenpark you have been riding through. Turn right on Renz Strasse and ride south past the Wasserturm (water tower). You will be on a bike lane on the left side of this busy street that turns a little bit to the right. Past the Wasserturm, take Tattersakkstrasse south to Bismarckplatz then jog right and left to Hauptbahnhof. We did not ride to the confluence of the Neckar and the Rhine. And we did not take the path recommended above. Instead, we turned left a block before the Friedrich-Ebert-Brücke and followed the bike path signs through Luisen Park. When we finally get to the Bahnhof, there is a train departing for our home base in Kassel in 6 minutes so we jump on it instead of waiting 2 hours for the next logical connection. Not to say anything bad about Mannheim, but this is just the first time we get lost following signs that I will swear have been altered by little kids who derive devilish joy from confusing English speaking tourist. The second time will be a year from now when we follow the Rhine through Mannheim. We would probably be there today if it were not for a friendly bicycle commuter who saw us studying our maps with confused looks and finding out we wanted to get to the Bahnhof, suggests that we follow him because he is riding right past it.

Mile 15.0 (24.1 km): This is the approximate mileage of the Bahnhof if you follow the recommended path described first above.

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