Like most destinations, tourism in Germany is so much more than ticking off the major sights. Venture almost anywhere off the beaten track with a pair of hiking boots or a bicycle (preferably both!) and you are pretty much guaranteed a holiday or short break to remember.
You see, we had no particular reason for choosing the Ahrtal, in Rhineland Pfalz, as the destination for a short camping holiday. Sure, it was only a few hours away from our home in Luxembourg, we hadn’t been there before, and it seemed to have a few half-decent campsites, but this could also be said for perhaps a dozen other regions of Germany. However, I had read some good things about the local cycle path, so we rather spontaneously set up camp in the buzzing town of Altenahr, pumped up the bike tyres, and got ready to explore.
(Spoiler: It was WONDERFUL!)
Running traffic-free from Blankenheim in the heights of the Eifel (Ardennes) all the way down to the banks of the Rhine, the Ahrtal Radweg is 77km of pure cycling pleasure, and its gentle gradients and plenty of ice-cream opportunities en-route mean that it is perfect for kids too. Situated at a natural boundary in the valley, it turned out that our campsite in Altenahr was a great base to explore this region from, resulting in two days of very different experiences.
On Day One we headed east towards the Rhine and, in one word, the landscape has been crafted by… wine. Following a disused railway line (tunnels and all!), the Ahrtal Radweg winds and wends its way through vineyards lush with the fresh green leaves of late spring. Castle ruins crown steep rocky hills, with neat terraces of vines cascading down to the valley floor. It is, simply, gorgeous.
A little further on, the sheer scale of the Kalvarienberg Monastery, rising like a gothic nightmare over a placid sea of vines, made us rub our eyes in disbelief. Replace the vineyards with a lake and add some mountains and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled upon Hogwarts itself…
Kalvarienberg marks yet another transition point of the Ahrtal Radweg. From here towards the Rhine the scenery is more of an urban nature – German style – with the cycle path flowing past the green parks and elegant traffic-free streets of Bad Neuenahr before entering the wide-open landscapes of the Rhine Valley. We took a short detour into the timber-framed alleys of Ahrweiler and paused for lunch in a parkside café before turning around a few kilometres short of the Rhine and heading back towards our tent again.
On Day Two we headed west from Altenahr towards the higher ground of the Eifel and, to our surprise, were treated to a completely different landscape: no vineyards here, just rolling hills of pasture and forest, with quiet villages every few kilometres and chocolate box chapels sprinkled liberally in a sea of verdant green.
But the Ahrtal isn’t all about cycling – it is equally rewarding to explore it by foot. In particular, a well-marked hiking route – the rather unfortunately-named Ahrsteig – criss-crosses the cycling path, allowing hikers to explore the off-the-beaten-path gems lurking in these green hills. On Day Three of our holiday we followed a short section of this 100km trail, and were treated to two spectacular sights – the magnificent 12th Century ruins of Altenahr Castle, and the bizarre-yet-spectacular “Teufelsloch” (Devil’s Hole) rock formation.
Which led us to wonder… what other hidden gems are awaiting us in this region? Just like Germany as a whole, the Ahrtal is perfect for slow tourism. Take your time, take your bicycle, take your hiking boots… take yourself and your family to Germany.
Practical information on visiting the Ahrtal, Germany.
- The Ahrtal is located in the northern fringes of Rhineland Pfalz, about an hour south of Cologne. By public transport, trains run directly to Altenahr and Bad Neuenahr from Bonn (less than one hour).
- Here you can find more information on the Ahrtal Radweg (cycle path, German only) and Ahrsteig (hiking route). Some additional information in English can be found here.
- We took our own bicycles, but of course bicycle hire is also possible.
- We stayed at Camping Altenahr, just a few minutes walk away from Altenahr town centre and directly on the cycle path. Clean and simple. Some noise from road traffic and trains, but that’s the price you pay for convenience…
- We ate – twice – at Café Caspari at the foot of Altenahr Castle. Simple, delicious food served with a smile; the generous portions were quickly gobbled up by two hungry young cyclists.
Disclosure: We are a tester family for Outwell, who provided us with our tent and certain camping equipment. All views and opinions are entirely our own.
Daisy the bus visited Altenahr in May 2018
(c) 2018 Jonathan Orr