Between castles and vineyards - cycling along Neckar Valley

June 18th, 2008 - 8:53 am ICT by IANS  

Mannheim (Germany), June 18 (DPA) Sandstone cliffs can be seen through the trees as the Neckar River meanders in large sweeping curves along the valley below. The scene is dominated by castles and stately homes, and on warm days you can find plenty of cyclists using the bicycle path between Mannheim and Heilbronn in south-western Germany.

This popular route is surrounded by pasture land, forests and vineyards and there are small towns with framework houses as well as the romantic city of Heidelberg.

The tour begins in Mannheim, a city of 325,000 people easily reached by train, where the Neckar River flows into the Rhine.

While visiting the city, try dropping into Mannheim’s baroque castle where the university is situated or go to Friedrichsplatz to see its spectacular fountain, one of the largest art nouveau style fountains in Europe.

To the north of Mannheim’s inner city flows the Neckar along which cyclists will travel 130 km to Heilbronn. The “Castle Road” also runs parallel to the Neckar along this section.

A paved road leads as far as Heidelberg, at first directly along the river, then later through open fields with views of the Odenwald and Koenigstuhl mountains.

Just before Heidelberg the route divides in two for a short while, either passing over a bridge leading to Ladenburg, or along the river’s right bank towards Edingen-Neckarhausen where there’s the option of transferring to Ladenburg by ferry.

A visit to Ladenburg is a trip back in time to the Medieval period with its old centre, marketplace and timber-frame houses.

A short time later you arrive in Heidelberg which has a fine stately home, old bridge and baroque city centre that attract millions of tourists every year.

After a few kilometres cycling on the main road the scenery becomes more idyllic as you pass through Neckargemuend and Neckarsteinach with its four castles.

Shady paths then lead along the Neckar to Hirschhorn, which also has a castle, before arriving in Eberach a short time later. That town has noble looking timber-frame houses and an old town hall.

Castle Zwingenberg, one of the best preserved residences in the Neckar valley, is situated on steep cliffs on the river’s left bank. To get to Zwingenberg you have to take another ferry.

The ferry remains tied up when water levels are high, making it necessary to take a diversion over the hills or along the main road on the opposite bank.

After arriving in Neckargerach you cross the river once again by bridge and cycle along a paved path beside green pastures towards Obrigheim.

Obrigheim is best known in Germany for its decommissioned nuclear power plant situated in a beautiful natural setting. The power station was shut down in May 2005.

Last stop on the tour is Heilbronn where the cycle path and Castle Road go their separate ways.

It’s also the spot where you have the choice of either continuing cycling to Neckarursprung on the edge of the Swabian Alb plateau or along the Castle Road which leads to historic city of Nuremberg.

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