Last week, I was joined by Thomais, whom I met in Rotterdam and is cycling with me for a few days. I wasn’t sure of a good route south to Switzerland, but with some advice from the guys of “Planet Velo” (thanks) a small bicycle shop I stumbled across in Karlsruhe, Germany, we set off in search of Forbach, a small, isolated town in the middle of the Black Forest (a forest over 150km long, and incidentally, is where “black forest” cake gets its name from…mmmh cake).
The sun was beaming in Karlsruhe, making a nice change from the rain, as we pedalled beside the Rhine along the EuroVelo 15, a cycle route running the full length of the river, from Andermatt in the mountains of Switzerland to Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Sadly for us it wasn’t anything special, in fact, it’s not even beside the Rhine at this point, so you can’t see the river. We made our way to just before Rastaat, camped up in an unused field, made a feast for dinner and ate some sour apples from the trees as darkness fell.
The following day was another amazingly sunny day. We packed up and began heading into the forest, leaving the bumpy EuroVelo for the smooth surface of the German cycle network. A quick stop to the tourist office in Rastaat proved helpful as they supplied us with a cycle map of the area for free, showing a nice route (mainly traffic free) to Forbach, along the river Murg. It didn’t take us long to get lost, as the signs for the “Rue de Murg” cycle route are pretty small, but luckily an old guy on a bike, that couldn’t speak a word of English, opted to guide us some of the way until we got bored of following him, and then we got lost again.
The cycle path gradually followed the shallow river upstream, through small villages, meandering between the hills covered in green forest. Finally, after a midday nap, some ice-coffee and more hills, the river narrowed and the valley became more defined as we approached Forbach, perched high on the slopes and overlooking the river below.
It was time to find somewhere to camp. We found a spot over a small footbridge next to the river, with perfectly cut grass and places to make fires. We would later learn that it’s legal to camp here.
After a while, a Volkswagen van pulled up containing six people with an assortment of dreadlocks, camping gear and a generator. I wondered. Soon it would become apparent as a few more cars turned up, one carrying four massive speakers on a trailer and a boot full of cables and electrical equipment. There was a mad party coming to the river tonight. We went for a swim and a wash, made some dinner and sat next to our fire, wondering when chaos would come.
It never did. When we went around to check the party it was positively lame and hardly anyone had turned up. At least a good night’s sleep was to be had.
The following day the sun beamed down on us once again, helping dry our clothes that we had washed in the river earlier. We packed up our things just in time, as an army of campers subsequently descended on the area for the weekend. We went back up the hill to Forbach for a coffee, stocked up on some super-tasty water and cycled off further up the valley.
Despite travelling uphill the whole way, the cyclepath did provide some downhill moments too, offering a nice break. We stopped only to try and fix Thomais’ bike a bit, which even resulted in using lip balm as grease (her idea – worked pretty well actually). That night after stocking up in Lidl (everything’s closed on Sunday) we camped up next to a quiet lake before Freudenstadt. The next day within the first couple of kilometres of cycling was the steepest hill I’ve encountered since leaving Scotland a couple of months ago. It led straight up to Freudenstadt, situated at around 750m, and was supposedly the cycle path. We almost had to get off and walk. Then the rain started…
We continued uphill for another few kilometres before finally, we passed a big sign saying 10% and the road slipped away below. We changed into our high gears for the first time in a few days and bombed it down and down through a spectacular valley for the next hour in the pouring rain, flying through the low lying clouds surrounded by thick forest. Even with all our bags we covered over 40km in little over an hour.
Eventually, after some more steep hills and valleys, and trees, we wound up at Freiburg, a city lying at the other end of the Black Forest, where we would stay for a couple of days. There, we met up with Phil, whom I had met in Karlsruhe only a few days ago, and he was kind enough to offer us a place in the city with his friend Julian and his crazy flatmates (who said on arriving, “Would you like some tea? You look like the type of guy that likes machete fights”, and then proceeded to show me his machete).
Cycling in the Black Forest has been really fun. If you don’t mind a couple of hills, this is a great place for cycling; where you can find unspoilt nature, rivers, cool valleys, small villages and excellent views. There’s plenty of free maps for the region and you’re still close to the main cities in the area, Karlsruhe and Freiburg, meaning you can easily go for just a day or a full week.