For our first long distance bike tour in August 2016, we chose the “Groene weg naar de Middellandse Zee”. Freely translated: The Green Route to the Mediterranean Sea. A marked out route of about 1300 kilometers from Roermond in the Netherlands to Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer in France at, you guessed it, the Mediterranean Sea.
How all of this started
My girlfriend and I love travelling. When we saw people making trips by bike a few years ago a seed was planted. We both got a second-hand, though decent Koga Miyata bicycle a year before this trip. We also bought some equipment like Ortlieb panniers for carrying our camping stuff on the bikes.
Making some smaller trips
In the Netherlands we did some weekend camping trips to see how this was. We usually started after midday, cycled no more than 60 kilometers per day and really liked it this way. Therefore my estimation for the route to the south of France was that we could cycle an average of 65 km each day. Including 5 resting days, we would finish the route in about 25 days.
After researching the options for getting us and our bikes back to Rotterdam, the plane seemed to be the most attractive. The airline company (Transavia) assured us that taking the bikes on the plane would be no problem and the total price was still quite below the bus and train alternatives. On top of that, we would be home much quicker! If everything would go well and our bikes would arrive in one piece, of course.
Let the trip begin
The first few days of cycling were pretty exhausting. We weren’t really used to long distances and anything other than flat asphalt surfaces. As soon as we left the Netherlands and drove into Germany, the terrain was getting more hilly and we cycled on mostly gravel roads.
Will we make it…?
Once we got to the beautiful Eifel region we were challenged by steep climbs at around 10%. Although we were on schedule, we were slightly worried whether we would make it this way. We had a map with directions of the route plus electronic navigation aid, so we knew what was to come. One thing was sure: it wasn’t going to be any flatter.
Adaptable bodies to the rescue!
Fortunately, our bodies were resilient enough to adapt to the changing landscapes. Our hill-climbing-muscles and stamina grew steadily. After about 5 days we were sure that we were going to make it. We didn’t have to “hurry” or cheat by taking a train or anything. My estimation was good after all!
German section of the route
We were happy that we took the route through Germany. For the first part you can also chose to go via Belgium. Maybe that is great too, but I can’t tell for sure. What I do know for sure is that the South West of Germany was beautiful. We followed cycling or walking gravel roads through forests and spend nearly no time at all next to cars. We noted the perfectly maintained gardens and big beautiful houses in small towns. It seemed like almost every German living in these small towns had a great income to afford such a house, garage and garden, spent all his spare time cutting the gras with robotic precision, and had the skills to keep his property in perfect condition. It was almost too perfect for my liking.
The largest part of our route took us through France. The north east is quite sparsely populated, pretty desolate actually, and there is agriculture everywhere. After 2 or 3 days of cycling this was getting a bit boring. We also noticed a big difference with the perfectly maintained buildings in Germany. France seemed to be quite a bit poorer, or it was just a difference in “maintenance culture”. Most villages had decayed buildings and there was just a lot of “old stuff” / machinery laying around. Nevertheless, we also came across a few towns that had more charm than the typical German ones.
Almost all the roads we took in France were paved and ranging from quiet to very quiet. Whenever a car approached us from behind, he usually kept a large distance between himself and us. That was quite pleasant as well and we never really felt unsafe.
One of our best camping experiences in France was a free one. We camped next to a church in the town of Arriance. There was a tap with fresh water and even a little house with a toilet and sink. All thanks to the generosity of this little community. We are grateful to them! When we eating our dinner, some other cycle tourers arrived: Ruth, Floris, and their lovely 3-year old son Max. We had a cozy evening drinking red wines and sharing stories.
Meeting lovely people and camping
On the route we met quite some nice people. Most of them from the Netherlands, as they cycled the same route as us. For a few days we cycled together or met each other at the campsites on the way.
Most of the campsites down to the middle of France were very affordable (about 12 euro’s for 2 persons) and not too busy. From the middle of France further down to the South, they were generally getting more expensive, busy, noisy, and likeable for someone who enjoys nature, space, and a good nights rest after a day of cycling. The last few campsites cost us about 25 euro’s for 2 persons. Alright, we did mildly enjoy the swimming pools though, with temperatures above 30 degrees.
What we enjoyed mostly
Our favorite sections in Germany was the Eifel, and in France the Jura, and the Isere / Drome. We also thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of freedom and seeing different places every day, being active and outdoors all the time, ascending and particularly descending mountain passes, the good weather, and the Mistral wind blowing us to the south for a couple of days. Last but not least all the nice people we met on the way!
We also made a video of our this trip with a GoPro camera: