The Moselle Bike Route runs from the Vosges in the east of France to the Rhine in Germany. Mike Wells, author of the Moselle Cycle Route guidebook, has sent me this route overview.
The Moselle Cycle Route follows eastern France’s most important river from its source on the western slopes of the Vosges mountains to its junction with the Rhine at Koblenz in the German Rhineland, a cycle ride of 512km.
A strong cyclist should be able to complete the route in a week, a more leisurely ride allowing time for sightseeing en-route, could take a fortnight.
The route runs through France for 267km, entirely in Lorraine, running from the source to the small town of Schengen on the tri-country border with Germany and Luxembourg, well known as the place where the treaty providing open borders throughout Europe was signed.
The French part of the route is best cycled between May and October.
In France, much of the route follows a designated national cycle route, the Véloroute Charles le Téméraire (national cycle route 50), that runs from north-to-south through the eastern part of the country.
It uses a mix of canal or river towpaths, quiet country roads and voie verte along old railway tracks and passes through three départements, each with different policies regarding cycle track surfacing and waymarking.
Most, but not all, of the towpaths followed have been surfaced in accordance with national voie verte standards as 3m wide asphalt cycle tracks.
Click to enlarge map
In the Meurthe et Moselle département, where rough unsurfaced tracks are encountered, alternative routes exist along nearby country roads.
The whole route is well suited to mountain bikes and hybrids. Tourers and narrow tyred racing bikes can be used, provided the alternative routes are followed. It is anticipated that the whole route will be surfaced in the next couple of years.
The best place to start is Mulhouse from where local trains that carry cycles run to Fellering in the heart of the southern Vosges. After a short climb to the source and a descent into the Moselle valley, the rest of the going is generally flat, running through a wide flood plain with the Vosges mountains away to the east.
Although the going is easy, there are some long stretches between towns and cyclists should carry the normal ‘get you home’ spares and tools, such as pump, spanners and inner tubes. There are cycle shops in most towns capable of undertaking more demanding repairs.
Places of interest
Remiremont, for many centuries the site of the foremost nunnery in Europe whose canonesses had to show 200 years of royal or noble lineage. The abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution, although the abbesses residence, abbey church and a number of canonesses houses survive.
Épinal, the old town huddles around a hill with the ruins of a medieval castle perched above. Napoleon addressed his troops here before the ill-fated attack on Russia in 1812. The Imagerie d’Épinal has been producing collectible prints since 1796.
Nancy, former capital of Lorraine and an architectural jewel. Place Stanislaus and two adjoining squares represent outstanding examples of 18th-century architecture, while the École de Nancy movement in the late 19th/early 20th centuries produced world leading examples of art noveau buildings and design.
Pont-à-Mousson, a small town with an attractive centre. For 200 years from 1572 it was the location of a leading university before it moved to Nancy in 1768.
Metz, the industrial capital of eastern France, has developed around a small hill originally occupied by an important Roman city. The old medieval centre has a cathedral with some of the best stained glass in France, while the imperial city has a wealth of grand buildings built during Prussian occupation form 1871 to 1918.
Thionville, once known as the métropole du fer (city of iron) was for 200years the centre of the French iron and steel industry.
Sierck-les-Bains, is dominated by a15th-century castle, formerly home to the Duke of Lorraine, which nowadays hosts medieval events and re-enactments.
Near Nancy an alternative route along the Boucles de la Moselle asphalt surfaced cycle track (below) can be used to visit Toul, where there is a huge, crumbling but atmospheric cathedral dating from a time when the city was ruled by an all-powerful bishop. Fortifications designed by Vauban encircle the old town.
Regular SNCF trains that will carry your cycle run from Thionville to Mulhouse, enabling you to get back to the start.
Accommodation and refreshments
There are many places to sleep with everything from bed and breakfast accommodation all the way to five-star hotels. En route there are youth hostels in Nancy and Metz, with another in Mulhouse convenient for getting to the start and one in Remerschen just over the border in Luxembourg. There are official campsites throughout the route. For most accommodation, booking ahead is seldom necessary.
Restaurants abound. The most typical snack is quiche Lorraine, an open savoury tart filled with egg, cream and bacon; while Alsatian dishes like tarte flambée a kind of white thin-based pizza topped with cheese and bacon; and Choucroute garnie, a mix of different pork cuts cooked with sauerkraut pickled cabbage are widely available. In July and August the area is famous for Mirabelle plums which are used in fruit tarts or distilled into a strong liqueur.
Books and maps
Cicerone Press publishes my guide to The Moselle Cycle Route covering the whole route including detailed descriptions of the French stages.
There is no specific series of maps that provides comprehensive coverage of the whole route.
For France, sheet 516 of the Michelin map Alsace, Lorraine (at a scale of 1:200,000) or sheets 314 and 307 (at a scale of 1:150,000) give an overview of the route across Lorraine without specifically showing cycle routes. There are also the IGN equivalents.
For the stages between Metz and Koblenz, Esterbauer Bikeline publishes a guide that includes maps of the route along both sides of the river at 1:75,000.
Lorraine regional tourist office publishes a free map of cycle routes in Lorraine that includes the Moselle cycle route. It's worth checking final preparations with the tourist board as sections of the route were still under construction at the time of writing, and the tourist office on the ground should have the latest information.
Mike Wells is an author of walking and cycling guides, including the Cicerone guide to this Moselle route and The Rhine Cycle Route. He has walked long-distance footpaths for 25 years, including sections of France's Grande Randonnée. He has been a keen cyclist for over 20 years, cycling long-distance routes such as Lon Las Cymru in Wales, the C2C route across northern England, the Camino and Ruta de la Plata to Santiago de la Compostela, and a circumnavigation of Iceland.