Limes tour, part 1: Katwijk - Wien


Description of sections.

 Section I:
Katwijk aan Zee - Bad Hönningen

 Section II:
Bad Hönningen - Kelheim

 Section III:
Kelheim - Wien


See page Limes part 2 for sections from Wien to Constanta.


Left: Henro and Oof at the North Sea beach of Katwijk aan Zee (April 2008).   
Middle: reconstructed roman watchtower of the former Castellum Fectio (Vechten, close to Utrecht). Right: Kromme Rijn near Wijk bij Duurstede.

Section I.
Katwijk aan Zee - Xanten - Bad Hönningen.
405 km, average 19 km/h, 171 hm.

Starting on the North Sea beach we have followed the original course of the river Rhine, which greatly differs from the nowadays, more southern main course. The old course is now known as Oude Rijn (Katwijk - Leiden - Alphen a.d. Rijn - Woerden), Leidse Rijn (Woerden - Utrecht) and Kromme Rijn (Utrecht - Wijk bij Duurstede). From Wijk bij Duurstede we took a short cut to the river Waal, the largest branch of the river Rhine, which enters the Netherlands 25 km east of Nijmegen. Xanten (Colonia Ulpia Traiana) is the highlight in the German part of Germania Inferior. The Archaeological Park Xanten clearly shows the importance of this former roman town. After Xanten we followed the Rhine to Bad Breisig (70 km upstream of Köln). Here we took the ferry to the opposite town of Bad Hönningen, the end of the flat, first section of our tour.

Guide: Limes fietsroute part 1 by Clemens Sweerman. The guide gives a lot of information about the route, roman past and its remnants. The quality of the maps varies; more detailed maps could have been helpful. Passing the industrial areas of Moers-Rheinhausen-Krefeld, Düsseldorf-Neuss and Köln was a bit of a puzzle; the help of locals was appreciated. The written descriptions (in Dutch) are clear, but reading and cycling is sometimes difficult.

'Roman' milestones.

In 1997 a series of concrete quasi-roman milestones have been erected between Woerden, Utrecht and Wijk bij Duurstede marking the reconstruction of the Limes in this part of Germania Inferior (now Dutch province of Utrecht).

This example is situated near Vechten. The indicated distances are 17.67 km to Rijswijk (Levefanum) and 6.22 km to Utrecht (Trajectum). The site of the auxiliary fort Levefanum has been disappeared in the modern course of the Rhine. Nowadays Rijswijk is situated, opposite of Wijk bij Duurstede, were the Kromme Rijn joins the Rhine (locally named Nederrijn, which means lower Rhine).
Distances are also indicated in MP = Milia Passuum = one thousand steps, a roman longitudinal measurement (approximately 2.2 kilometers).

The original Roman milestones also mentioned the name of the emperor in function. The replicas mention the names of sponsors of the Limes reconstruction project (bottom panel).

See Livius, articles on ancient history for more information on the roman province of Germania Inferior.

Return to map.


Left: Oof and Henro at the start of the German Limes route (Bad Hönningen). Middle: remnants of the stone wall surrounding castle Holzhausen (Taunus).
Right: river Main at Miltenberg.

Section II.
Bad Hönningen - Miltenberg - Kelheim.
875 km, average 16 km/h, 8692 hm.

This was the most appealing section of our 2008 Katwijk - Wien tour. From Bad Hönningen we have taken the Deutscher Limes-Radweg. This route follows as closely as possible the Limes Germanicus, via secondary (and tertiary) roads and quite a number of forest tracks. It crosses the beautiful Taunus, Spessart and Franken region. Along the route you will find relatively many remnants of roman civilization, reconstructed watchtowers etc. Local authorities and the Verein Deutsche Limes-Strasse have done a great job bringing roman history to life again. Near Saalburg excavations and archaeological investigations have resulted in rebuilding a complete castellum. It now serves as an open-air museum and research institute (see image at the previous page). A visit is highly recommended.

Cycling the Limes-Radweg is also a demanding effort. You have to triumph many hills; typically 500 to >1000 hm per day, except for the 66 km from Großkrotzenburg to Miltenberg where the route joins the Main-Radweg. In a couple of forest sections gradients are really steep, but also that added to the attractiveness of the tour. The Limes-Radweg is signposted in both directions (Bad Hönningen - Miltenberg - Regensburg, vice versa). However, the signs are rather small (approx. 10x10 cm) and their dark brown colour is by no means conspicuous. Moreover, we have noticed that quite often signs are missing, in particular in new housing estates and forest sections. It seems that the Limes-Radweg is not a particular popular long distance cycling tour. We have met only few fellow cyclists. It might be this has influenced the frequency at which the route and signs are checked.

Guides: we have used Verlag Esterbauer Radtourenbücher Deutscher Limes-Radweg 1 and 2. They include 1:750.000 maps, which are essential to check your progress and finding how to continue where signs are missing. An absolute must!

It is possible to avoid most of the climbing. An alternative route is described in Clemens Sweerman's Limes fietsroute part 1 (610 km, see map above). Between Bad Breisig (opposite to Bad Hönningen) the route follows the valleys of the Rhine and Main to Miltenberg. Thereafter you mainly follow the rivers Tauber and Altmühl and finally the Main-Donau Canal to Kelheim. The downside of the alternative route is missing most of the roman remnants and reconstructions along the original Limes Germanicus.

Castel Holzheimer Unterwald.
Left: reconstruction (from notice board at the site); right: excavated pavement.

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3x Donau.
Left: seen from Bogenberg (Bayern). Middle: Donauschlinge (downstream of Passau). Right: Spitz a.d. Donau and vineyards (Wachau).

Section III.
Kelheim - Passau - Wien.
525 km, average 19 km/h, 1018 hm.

The final part to Wien was easy going again; we simply had to follow the Donau-Radweg. Up to Kelheim the Donau is a quite modest stream. The Donau becomes navigable when the river Altmühl / Main-Donau Canal has joined the river. From Regensburg to Passau the Donau winds through the Bavarian lowland; a friendly but not very exciting region (see photo taken from the Bogenberg). In Donaustauf (just east of Regensburg) it is worth making a small uphill detour to visit the Walhalla, a monument in the form of a neo-classical Parthenon-like temple, inaugurated in 1842 by King Ludwig I of Bavaria. It houses busts and tablets commemorating outstanding Germanic personalities (see photo below).
Passau - Wien is the classic Donau-Radweg, taken by many cyclists. However, the chance to be caught in a 'cycle-jam' is limited. The Donau-Radweg is signposted along both sides of the river and the frequently used former towpaths are usually pretty wide and well maintained. From Obernzell (left hand border), or Engelhartszell (right hand border) to Aschach the Donau flows with quite spectacular loops through a relatively narrow valley. This is certainly one of the most attractive parts of the Donau tour (see photo above).
The middle part, roughly from Linz to Melk, is - to our opinion - marginally impressive. A wide, regulated river is flowing through lowland and along floodplains. Melk is rightly world famous for its dominant, massive and flamboyant baroque Benedictine monastery (see photo bottom left). Downstream of Melk the Donau passes the Wachau, a charming region famous for its wine (see photo above). During our tour along the roman border we have seen many church-, watch- and other towers. The last tower, in Wien, was probably the most remarkable; see photo bottom right.

Guides: Verlag Esterbauer Radtourenbücher Donau-Radweg 1 and 2, which cover respectively Donaueschingen (source of the Donau) - Passau, and Passau - Wien.


Left: interior of the Walhalla near Regensburg. Middle: tools to repair your bike at the Fahrradmuseum in Ybbs a.d. Donau (upstream of Melk).
Right: one of many clear Donau-Radweg signs, and an often seen Treppelweg sign (towpath, closed to all traffic except for cyclists and licensees).

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Towers ...

When cycling along the border of the Roman Empire we have seen all sorts of towers. Among others, from left to right:
Stifskirche Melk (photo by Walter Hochauer), roman watchtower near Saalberg (2nd century AD; reconstruction), watchtower (20st century AD),
tower for obvious purposes (near Sindringen), and Fernwärme Wien-Spittelau (district heating plant), extravagantly decorated by Hundertwasser.