Next day we start through farm country. It is hay making time and as the tractor-drawn rotors turn over the drying grass and rodents flee, hawks wheel overhead looking for a mouse meal. We ride through forests on rough tracks but mostly stay along the river until we reach Stein and the banks of Lake Constance. Stein am Rhein, a picturesque town of tall buildings whose walls are covered in murals, is full of tourists as is Radolfzell the next town we ride through. It is a relief to reach our destination, a quiet hotel at the end of Bodman on the lake. The restaurant provides a delicious dinner of salmon trout, and we retire early to bed as tomorrow will be a hard ride.
David had warned me that we would be climbing 2,400 feet to reach the Danube but I had not thought much about it. I am now! It is the hottest day yet and I never again wish to push a bike loaded with 30 lbs of stuff up seemingly vertical roads. Somehow we make it and after a picnic at the top of the watershed with a view south to Lake Constance and north to Swabia we swoop down to Tuttlingen on the banks of the Danube.
The hotel where we stay in Tuttlingen, on the Danube, is modern and our room too cutting-edge, very small with the shower and washbasin next to the bed. Thankfully the loo has its own room.
We eat at a wine and steak bar and enjoy a good meal and good conversation with the couple at the next table. They are winemakers, and Carl says that their winery and 30 hectares of vines have been in his family for generations. I had noticed vineyards beside Lake Constance and Carl says that the area has a mild Mediterranean climate perfect not only for vines but also for fruit trees and vegetables. He makes mostly Sauvignon Blanc but also Chardonnay and Pinot. David asks him if he agrees with a winemaker in Burgundy who said that skill was more important for making a great wine than the terroir. Carl shakes his head and says that his grandfather had taught him which areas of his vineyard produced the best varietals and in his opinion the terroir was more important. As the wine bar is a client he offers us a tasting of the two different Sauvignon Blancs that he makes; they are delicious!
Its Sunday again, the sun is shining and we head for the bike path of the upper Danube. The scenery is spectacular; the river, at this point not much more than a stream, wends its way through gorges, forests and small meadows. On top of the higher cliffs are ruined castles no doubt built as strongholds during turbulent medaeival times. Hikers and bikers are out en masse, and there are many beer gardens and outdoor places to eat even in seemingly remote places. Our route is hilly and we notice that about 50% of the cyclists are on e.bikes which annoyingly sail up hills while we sweatily push our bikes on foot. Strangely many of the male e.bikers over 60 bare a striking resemblance to Kaiser Wilhelm … all have squarish faces, neat beards and large mustaches. The only difference is that they wear a bicycle helmet instead of a spiked helmet. Its uncanny and slightly disturbing. Though long and tiring I think this has been my favorite day of riding.
Tessa does not seem to care for the aesthetics of Stein-am-Rhein (Stein on the Rhine), with its muraled walls and metal hanging signs, but I love them, and I recall with pleasure the long coffee we had there. Stein has the last bridge over the Rhine. The next bridge used to be in Austria, where the Rhine flows into Lake Constance, one-hundred kilometers away in Austria (but the Rhine rises in the Swiss Alps). (In 1938 a bridge was built across the narrows of the lake at Konstanz.)
The expansive lake views on the ride beside the lake and a picnic we had therre were for me a lovely change from the constant river and canal views of the previous eight days (and those that would follow). I much enjoyed our little hotel on a quiet branch of the lake, worth the 12 km detour from the direct route.
I had hoped that our climb up to the Danube would be gradually spread over the day, but no, it was filled first with steep ups and downs to pass by a famous castle, and brutally concentrated at the end. As Tessa writes, we had to push our bikes endlessly, sometimes through “black” forest, and then through steep open farmland.
I was surprised by the difficulty of our first day along the Danube, rough tracks through the forest by the Danube, barely more than a stream, in a narrow valley with constant short steep hills, with luckily by a few flat paved stretches. Only that evening did I learn that this area is called the Swabian Alps.