1,200km of downhill cycling awaits… and it all starts on a remote mountain pass in Switzerland. The Rhine Cycle Route is one of Europe’s greatest cycling adventures, from the Alps to the polderlands of Holland. There’s a lot to see on the way, but for scenic grandeur, this first leg to Basel is the clear winner.
This isn’t the Rhine of storybooks and river-cruise brochures, where every hillside is ornamented by a castle and every bend is shadowed by a high bluff. That comes further downstream. This is a mountain stream that becomes a torrent, that becomes a lake, that becomes a frontier, crisscrossed by medieval bridges and trading posts. You’ll spend long stretches on riverside trails and levee paths, yes, but you’ll also venture along mountain roads and vineyard lanes.
For simplicity, we’ve titled this guide as the Rhine in Switzerland. In reality, the river forms the boundary between Switzerland and Germany, with incursions into Austria and little Liechtenstein. As you venture downstream, you’ll find yourself crossing from bank to bank, country to country. We’ve chosen the most scenic alternative for each section, but you can mix and match left and right bank for your own Rhine tour.
We rode it over 5.5 relaxed days, but you could do it in less. Though you can make good progress on many of the cycleways, don’t plan too ambitious a pace. The cycle paths around Lake Constance, in particular, are too crowded for heads-down racing.
It’s a river route, so you’re heading downhill, right? Well… perhaps. The first 50km from Oberalppass form a glorious fast descent, beginning with an enjoyable stretch at 6%. You then have a short but tough climb up to the balcony road at Ilanz.
But after that, from Tamins/Chur all the way to Basel, the Rhine’s gentle gradient means that it feels pretty flat. So with the exception of that one climb, we have no hesitation in classing this as ‘easy’.
A classic tourer, pannier-equipped road bike, or hybrid is best suited to the long, easy days in the saddle. There are a few off-road sections where we wouldn’t recommend 25mm tyres, but you can easily avoid these at the cost of more kilometres on busy roads.
This is a popular tourist area, so you’ll have no difficulty in finding accommodation or refreshment. If you’re staying in hotels or B&Bs, we’d strongly recommend booking ahead in summer months, as the most popular towns can fill up quickly.
The route is signposted throughout as EuroVelo route 15. You’ll also see signs for national cycle route 2 in Switzerland, D-Route 8 in Germany, and a tantalising array of other routes which come and go.
There’s a route on both banks of the river pretty much all the way downstream from Vaduz, including all the way around Lake Constance. We’ve chosen what we think is the most varied and attractive, occasionally swapping from side to side, but you can take your pick – or maybe cycle downstream on one bank, upstream on the other?
There are excellent train services all the way along the route. To get to the start of the route at Oberalppass, you’ll need to take a train to Disentis/Mustér, then change onto the scenic Matterhorn line for the final ascent to the pass. Bike tickets are required on mainline trains in Switzerland, but not for the Matterhorn line.