We are keen walkers though we also like cycling. But we have never managed to cycle more than 4 days one after another.
This time we decided to explore the "Altmühltal" and the areas next to the valley by bike. Within two weeks we cycled more than 550 km and travelled the valley down and up and went also into some side valleys, the Nördlinger Ries and a stretch along the Danube.
What a good experience that was.
First of all the Altmühltal is an area in Bavaria that is spoiled by a dry and warm climate in the summer protected by the Black Forest, the Schwäbische - and Fränkische Alb. This position gives you a good chance to cycle dry and with pleasant to hot temperatures in the summer. And this is what we had.
If you think of a valley then you expect a river with slopes to both sides of the river. But the Altmühltal offers more. It has two sections - the upper valley (from Colmberg to Treuchtlingen) and the lower part (from Treuchtlingen to Kelheim). Both have their own charm.
In the upper part the river runs through a hilly landscape with rolling hills and mainly (Nasswiesen) "wet meadows - wet grassland" and some fields that offer storks, geese, birds of the marshland and birds of prey good and plenty of food and a good habitat.
So almost every of these peaceful and dreamy villages and little towns accomodates some storks which build their nests on gatehouses, townhalls, chimneys, just every building that shows a welcoming nest on their roofs.
The lower part is more of what you expect of a valley with steep slopes on both sides of the river, rocks and castles that overlook the valley. If you ask what the nicest part is, then I can only tell you that the parts are just different. I would not like to have missed one or the other and cannot understand the people that kept on pointing out that the nicest part (the lower part) was still ahead of us.
Guidebooks will tell you all the places that they think are worth seeing - but I tell you THERE ARE ENDLESS many of them: Culture, history, nature, architecture... all aspects of interests are covered in this area. You have such a great choice that it is difficult to choose.
To say it with one (long) sentence:
I liked all the little towns and villages with their cosy atmosphere and their pastell coloured buildings with their red roofs and the differently shaped and coloured spires of the churches, their welcoming market squares with numberless "Gasthöfe, Hotels" and beer gardens that offer good local food, drinks and accomodation with very good value for the money. And not to forget the welcoming and friendly people. All that gives you a southern flair.
The bike pathes are tarmac pathes, little side roads with little traffic or gravel roads / pathes and they are all very well signposted. Accomodations are numerous and prepared to accept cyclists who only want to stay for one night.
As there is no well organized public transport all along the River Altmühl (something to criticize) I would suggest to start at Ansbach (which has a railway station with trains from Nürnberg) and ride west to Colmberg (also well signposted) with your bike and then follow the route to the river mouth from there. At Kelheim continue along the River Danube to Regensburg (the place is a UNESCO world heritage). Here you can catch a train to Nürnberg and from there to Ansbach to get back to your place of departure.
To avoid oncoming traffic on the path, it is best to cycle from the northwest to the southeast because this is what the organized tours and most people do. So you are amongst them. It is advisable to be informed where they start (Rothenburg) and know how they organize their tours. So you make sure that you do not have difficulties with accomodation. The organized tours set off from Rothenburg (most of them on a Sunday).
That means that the Monday night is busy in Herrieden, then Weißenburg (Tuesday), Eichstätt (Wednesday), Riedenburg (Thursday) and Regensburg (Friday) (because they usually do about 60 km per day) and the tour is a one week tour).
There is one extra tour and three detours that seem to be a must for me:
1) The extra tour is from Eichstätt cycling south across the hills passing Adelschlag and Nassenfels and go to Neuburg at the River Danube. From there cycle up the Danube and into the URDONAUTAL (today a wide dry valley - in ancient times the river bed of the River Danube) passing Rennertshofen, Wellheim, Dollnstein and back to Eichstätt. (70-80km)
2) a detour from Treuchtlingen to Weißenburg (Roman archaeological excavations - and Limes borderline) (10km each way)
3) a detour to Berching (pretty medieval town) and the monastry "Kloster Plankstetten" (little touristic). (8km each way)
4) and board one of the many boats at Kelheim that take you upstream the river Danube through the "Donaudurchbruchstal to the monastry "Kloster Weltenburg" (full of tourists but still worth a visit). My advice is to leave the bikes in one of the bike boxes at the carpark of the boat landing stage. (It is free of charge and you lock the boxes with your own bike locks.)
Both monastries serve a very; very good beer!
Do not miss it!
If cycling is not what you want to do. The Altmühltal has a very good panorama walk starting at Treuchtlingen to Kelheim. And between Treuchtlingen and Beilingries there are many chances to hire canoes (the river is good for unexperienced canoeists). This is also something you can do if you want to have a break from cycling.
By the way: I think it is a shame if you do the Altmühltal trip in just one week. You will miss so much of it. It is too pretty to use it just as a cycling path.
ACCOMODATION to recommend and not to recommend:
Wettelsheim: Landgastof zum Hirschen - very good value for little money, modern well equipped rooms and a good breakfast and good freshly cooked meals, all worth the money!
(in good weather you must visit the BEER GARDEN of the Strauß Brewery near Wettelsheim - only open in the summer if it is warm enough and dry - good beer and the sausage meal is a speciality in this area)
Eichstätt: Gasthof Sonne - more pricy than the place mentioned above, also modern equipped rooms - but extremely good breakfast, very good and freshly cooked meals, definitely also worth the price;
Deising: Gasthaus zum Himmelreich - price in between the places mentioned above - also a very good breakfast, but they do not serve proper meals - they just offer snacks and have what they say a "Brotzeitkarte" mainly cold snacks or sausage meals (not a big choice though) - But in the village across the river (Meihern) in a 10 minutes walk there are two more "Gasthöfe" that serve warm meals.
Herrieden: Gasthof zur Sonne - freshly cooked meals in the evening which were worth the money, breakfast was limited and not as rich as in the other places, rooms are modern and well equipped but compared to the places and service we experienced at the other places too expensive for this area.