The region of Bavaria embodies everything I love about Germany: friendly inhabitants, old world charm, modern cities, which retain their historical architecture, the famous Oktoberfest, well-made automobiles, grilled bratwurst and of course, beer. With over 640 breweries located here, it is as much a part of Bavaria as Bayern Munich soccer, BMW and the fabled Neuschwanstein Castle.
But there is more to southern Germany than big cities, fast cars and oversized opulent, gold gilded residences that no one actually resides in. It is home to some of the cleanest towns, romantic countrysides and emerald green lakes. The ability to see all this on the back of a bike as opposed to whizzing by it on the autobahn makes it resonate that much more. Now imagine cycling passed beautiful winding rivers, through memorable medieval towns and stopping off at breweries along the way to quench your thirst at the end of a long ride. A cycling beer journey if you will.
Bavaria is a cyclists’ paradise and there are miles and miles of scenic paths throughout the area. There is a route close to my ancestral home that takes you from the ancient walled town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber to Nuremberg, through Bamberg along the Regnitz River and ends back in Rothenburg. Every town on this 183-mile circuit offers a wide variety of some of the best beer Germany has to offer.
Perhaps to get a better introduction to Bavarian beer, instead of slipping into your spandex bike shorts and two wheeling it to the first beer garden you see, it would be to start your beer adventure with some beer knowledge in Kulmbach. Kulmbach is about three hours from Frankfurt and home to the Bavarian Brewery Museum. A museum dedicated to the origins of “Manna” (Bavarian name for beer) where you can learn about this centuries old libation. And the museum, with its own pub, makes it convenient to put new knowledge to the test right away.
From Kulmbach the cycling commences down the easy Main Valley trail that follows the Main River. Within 70 miles the quaint town of Bamberg, with its cellars bulging from beer barrels, is the first destination. Here is where Rauchbier (smoked beer) is popular and worth a try. The beer gets its unique taste from barley that is beech-smoked before brewing.
Moving on from Bamberg follow the Regnitz, the Regnitz Valley and the Five Rivers trails while taking in the soft rolling hills with churches and palaces dotting the landscape along the way. After 70 miles the town of Neumarkt appears and it is this town that is proud to give the world 13 varieties of Neumarkter Lammsbräu organic beer.
57 miles further, along the Tour de Baroque trail, is Kelheim and an opportunity for a brief respite for the legs via a relaxing river cruise on the beautiful blue Danube that stops in Weltenburg. Back in 1050 monks founded the world’s first brewery, the Abbey Brewery. 11 types of Weltenburg Kloster beers are still made here.
Leaving the Benedictine monastery behind cycle the flat Danube trail and take in the scenery of hilltop castles perched high above the river. Connect with the Abensweg trail then the Isar trail and finally the Durchs Erdinger Land trail to arrive 60 miles later in the town of Erding and the land of wheat beer. There is a selection of 9 delicious Erdinger specialty beers to relax with after covering so many miles planted on a bike seat.
The 34 miles from Erding to Aying via Wörth, Markt Schwaben, Ebersberger Forst and Oberpframmern are along roads that cars occupy, but the serene beauty of grassy meadows, onion domed churches and farming fields makes up for it. Since Ayinger Brewery sits in the region known for growing some of the best barley for malting and brewing it is no wonder its tastings of 9 brews is taken as seriously as wine tasting.
The Lake Constance-Lake Königsee trail from Aying passes picture book scenery of alpine lakes, forests, hamlets and the Zugspitze. Situated at the end of the last stretch of 70 miles is the town of Mittenwald. A nice place to finish this cycling beer trip. Mittenwald sits at the base of the Karwendel massif, is world renowned for making violins since the 18th century and making beer since 1808. With 15 varieties of beer made at Mittenwalder it would be easy to park the bike, relish the view of the German Alps and enjoy the beer in the perfect setting.
This is just one of the many cycling routes in Bavaria. There are countless little villages and large cities en route to taste even more beer. I would venture to say that it is impossible not to have a great beer with your bratwurst, sauerkraut and spaetzle while soaking up the scenery and culture. Explore both the region and the beer as you cycle, but just know that after awhile it gets difficult to drink and peddle. Prost!