Cycling in Belgium - Vennbahn Fietsroute (Belgium - Germany)

This article first appeared in My Travelogue by Bhushavali
 
Belgium's borders are funny and crazy. Doubt me? Read about Baarle Hertog-Nassau in my earlier post. Guess what? Netherlands is not the only country Belgium has a crazy International Border situation with - Germany too, though not as crazy as with Netherlands. Here's more about VennBahnpad - one more of the crazy, unique, unusual places to see in Belgium.

Bahn in German means, railway (remember, their national railways is called DB - Deutsche Bahn?). Vennbahn literally means, the 'railway line of Venn' and 'weg' literally means 'way'. So Vennbahnweg means, the path of the Vennbahn Railway track'. This is also called Vennbahn Route or Vennbahn FietsPad or Vennbahn Radweg.

Vennbahn was a functional railway line built to carry coal and iron connecting Aachen in Germany to Troisvierges in Luxembourg. This was very much in operation from 1885 to 1920s after which its preference was slowly lost to faster modes of transport and by 1980s it was completely given up. However this was a functional railway line till 2001 for recreational purposes, including a touristic steam-engine railway. Currently there runs a rail-biking activity (at Leykaul) but otherwise, this line is in complete disuse. 

Like Baarle-Hertog-Nassau, here too, an enclave-exclave situation exists. Since the railway line belonged to Belgium, even after the international borders were drawn around it, that stripe of land always belonged to Belgium. Now, even after the railway line has fallen into disuse, this cycle-path now belongs to Belgium. This creates 5 German exclaves in Belgium! All 5 are exclaves of NRW province of Germany and enclaved into Liege province of Belgium.

Now, this entire track has been converted to a cycling path. At some places the railway tracks have been dismantled and replaced with cycle-path and at some places, the cycle-path runs just beside the railway-track. This is one of the longest international rail-bike paths in Europe stretching through 125km. The whole path has been divided into 6 Vennbahn Stages varying from 15km to 26km, with dedicated maps with tourist attractions mentioned along the way. Also there are several way-marked Vennbahn Loops which are more suitable if you're depending completely on public transport or hiring cycles, which is what I chose!

Raeren Castle Toepferei Pottery Museum

Raeren Knoppenburg Castle

Ravel Cycling Route Wallonia L48 Vennbahn

Schloss Knoppenburg Raeren

 
I reached Eupen by train and hired my e-bike there. Electric bike in Belgium can be easily hired in very many places today, though its deposit is slightly higher. While I did want to explore Eupen, I chose to first head to the Vennbahn Radweg (means cycle-way in German) via Katharinenweg, and my first stop was at Raeren. 

I had 2 stops in Raeren - Schloss Knoppenburg and Toepferei Museum. Schloss Knoppenburg was built in 16th C CE by Bertold von Belven. In the 17th C CE, under Vischer family under whom it was extended with 2 onion-shaped towers which gave it, its current name. It further expanded extensively under Saulxober family in 18th C CE to what it is today, with 2 floors, 7 wings are more. Since 1980s it passed to several owners, who all tried different projects to materialize here, but unfortunately nothing worked out and it is now is a desolate condition. Its is currently under renovation and is still a private property of its current owner. So it is not possible to go inside the Knoppenburg castle!
Toepferei Museum is housed inside the Raeren Castle. Unfortunately the museum was closed for its weekly-off on the day I went, so I couldn't see the interiors of the castle. This was built in 14th C, but renovated and expanded extensively in 1583 after a fire. By 18th C it fell into disuse and is currently the home of Pottery Museum of Raeren.

Eifel Nature Park is a large forest / national park that is mostly in Germany and a bit of it extends into Belgium. This region, to the bit south of Raeren and Eupen, fall under the Eifel Nature Park and this part is called High Fens / Hautes Fagnes / Hoge Venen. After visiting Raeren, I got into this forest to head towards the Vennbahn Path and got the point of the first exclave of Germany in Belgium (or the point where Belgium cuts into Germany), also in Vennbahn Eifel! Then I just followed the Vennbahn-pad into Germany (while still being in Belgium), till I reached Petergensfeld in Roetgen, where the 2nd exclave begins. I went ahead in this route for a short distance, but returned back to this point again and turned into the Eifel Forest to reach Lac d'Eupen and Wesertalsperre Dam
This path was exceptional, completely deep into the Eifel forest, so much that at many a places there was no cellphone reception! GPS functions, but with the node-to-node cycling path, it is super-easy to find the way. But do keep in mind that some portions through the forest are not paved, has gravel or just dirt-tracks.

Lac d'Eupen and Wesertalsperre Dam

Velotour Eupen Hautes Fagnes

Lac d'Eupen and Wesertalsperre Dam

Lac d'Eupen and Wesertalsperre Dam

Wesertalsperre Dam was built in 1949 across the Lac d'Eupen to fulfil the drinking water needs to the people of Eupen and surrounding regions. This lake gets its water from the Weserbach, the Getzbach and the Hillbach streams. The most striking factor here was the mere number of swallows, the birds. Hundreds of them flying around, it was such a spectacular thing to see! 

Finally I was back in Eupen and my first stop was the German Parliament of Belgium - well, Belgium has 2 regions - Flanders & Wallonia. But within Wallonia, is a small Germaphone region along the German border and ofcourse, it is this very region. Like how Flemish & Walloon region have their parliaments, here is the German parliament - Parlament der Deutschsprachigen Gemeinschaft.
After that I returned my e-bike and walked in the city to spot some buildings, sculptures & street-art including Mary's Column, Former Shearers' shop, Church of St.Nicholas, Fountain of peace, American memorial, Evangelical Church (Friedens-kirche), Grand Ry House, Weavers fountain and more.

Vennbahn Radweg - Cycling in Belgium

Parlament der Deutschsprachigen Gemeinschaft Eupen

Vennbahn Fietspad - Cycling in Germany


If you have one day, the best way to reach Vennbahn is by taking the EU-Regio ticket. Cycles could be carried in the train or could be hired at one of the many cities throughout this route. Choose 1 or more stages depending on your cycling capacity and return by train to reach back the starting point to your car/ to return the hired cycle. As an alternative, one of the loops could be chosen, esp., if you are hiring cycles.

My Cycling path - A slight variation of the 48km loop route of Ovelo
Here's the Fietsroute Planner with the knooppunten fietsroute (node-to-node cycle network) for this region on OstBelgien (East Belgium) official website.
Here are the routes from Vennbahn's official site - Vennbahn Stages, Vennbahn loops

HOW TO REACH EUPEN 
By road to Eupen from Brussels: 130km
Eupen has a railway station and has a direct train from Brussels Noord/Centraal/Zuid (journey time: 1:42 and frequency: once every hour). If not, trains can changed at Liege Guillemins. 
The train ticket costs about €22 one-way and it is one of those trips in which I used my 10-journey pass of SNCB. Worked out much much cheaper with €16.60 for return-journey!

WHERE TO HIRE E-BIKE IN EUPEN, BELGIUM? Eupen Tourism office offers electric bikes as well as city bikes for hire. City bikes cost €12 per day and e-bikes cost €21 per day. It has to be reserved by email or phone (info@eupen-info.be  or +32 (0) 87 55 34 50). It has to be taken & returned within the opening hours of the office and cannot be rented overnight. 


Vennbahn Map
Pic Courtesy: Google Maps

Eupen has the Best Western Ambassador Hotel Bosten as well as a few more hotels & airbnbs.

ONE DAY ITINERARY OF VENNBAHNWEG OPTION 1: Trace my path! 
ONE DAY ITINERARY OF VENNBAHNWEG OPTION 2: Begin this journey in Aachen. At Roetgen take the bus back to Aachen and explore Aachen if time permits!
TWO DAY ITINERARY OF VENNBAHNWEG (WEEKEND TRIP): On day 1, trace my path but continue on the Vennbahnweg straight ahead from Roetgen till Monschau. Stay overnight at Monschau, explore Monschau on Day 2.

Vennbahn Fietsroute cycling in Belgium Pinterest Vennbahn Fietsroute cycling in Belgium Pinterest

Bhushavali

An ardent traveler by passion. I am a wanderlust.. Read more about me here.

10 comments:

  1. Cycling through Belgium and the German exclaves seems like a lot of fun and a great way to see some off the beaten path destinations. I would love to stop and visit the Wesertalsperre Dam and the Eifel Nature Park sounds like the perfect stop for me as well. This itinerary will come in handy if I am ever able to make it to the area.

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  2. I love when old railway lines are re-purposed as cycling trails. Great that the Vennbahn has been split into 6 sections. And that there are loops to do. It is great that you can take the train back if you do a one way section. The scenery along the way looks lovely.

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  3. This is a good way to experience the countryside of Belgium. Loved the history that you have caught behind the trail - it being an old railway track. Pity that you could not get into the museum - that would have been an interesting find. Eifel Nature Park looks gorgeous in your pictures.

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  4. This is my first time to hear about Vennbahnweg and it is nice to learn something about their history. It is definitely a great destination and it's cool that coverted the track to a cycling path. :) Thank you for sharing about this.

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  5. Looks absolutely beautiful there! A perfect place for cycling really. It's amazing that you can ride along so many historical places. Or that you can at the same time be in multiple countries. Since this trail used to be a railway, it has a special touch to it. Thanks for introducing this to me.

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  6. What a great trip. I am impressed by the cycling trip so many kilometers. It is so inspiring. It is excellent that old railway lines are re-purposed as cycling trails. I haven't heard of Vennbahn before. But it is a perfect idea for a cycling trip. Wesertalsperre Dam, built-in 1949, is so impressive. I would love to see it. Eifel Nature Park offers excellent views, too.

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  7. Typically I'm really afraid of cycling, but this area seems safe to try out cycling as it's not crowded and does not have a ton of obstacles. Typically when I think of Belgium, I just imagine hitting the big cities, but this gives me some perspective on going outside of the norm and seeing the beautiful nature of the country.

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  8. What a lovely way to explore your own city! Thanks for introducing me to Vennbahn Fietsroute, that it is among the longest international bike paths in Europe is a revelation! I like the concept of railway tracks repurposed as cycling paths, and even better if they run along the railway tracks, with such splendid views!

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  9. I loved your cycling route in Belgium as it is full of nature and lush green trees all arounds. I was knowing Bahn as station but was not knowing the meaning of weg and good to know that Vennbahnweg means the path of the Vennbahn Railway track. Good to know that there is separate cycling path and designated loops - Vennbahn loops. Your final stop at Eupen is also amazing with that grand Parliament. In between you spotted beautiful street arts.

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