Life is better on bicycles – that’s for sure to me! After having used the broad expanses of the European cycle route network when pushing the pedal from Berlin to Nordkapp, my calling was clear how to spend this summer of 2019. Back in time, I lived and worked in Brussels and teamed up with my Belgian friend Jan from Maaseik, who had the same favour since cycling the whole Maasfietsroute has ever been his childhood dream. Besides that fact, I enjoy telling others our story and how we’ve met. Well, it was directly the year before in the Northern-most fjords of Norway before heading to Senja Island alongside the EuroVelo 1. Back then, we both did our first long-distance tour and soon it turned out that we’ll both live in the same country soon – Belgium, here we go!
Technically, the EuroVelo 19 route is 1,050km long and passes three different countries in Westeurope – France, Belgium and the Netherlands. It runs exactly along the Maas river connecting the French Plateau of Langres and via Rotterdam the Dutch mouth of Hoek van Holland into the North Sea. So far the EV19 is the brand new cycle route in Europe by being just recently opened in the beginning of 2019. In mid-August I started my journey in Brussels in front of my apartment cycling southwards, downstream towards the French source of the Maas river. At this moment I did not know that this extra trip plus some detours would double the official distance up to round about 2,000km in the end.
On the 14th August I cycled towards the European Parliament catching the train from Place du Luxembourg. Everyone who ever used a bicycle in Brussels knows that its cycling infrastructure is dangerous – small paths and a lot of cars cause a huge amount of stress for cyclists. After being hit twice by a car since I moved to the Belgian capital, I enjoyed this way to take the train for getting out of the city. For this reason I can advise to go to Gare de Ottignies round about 30km southwest of the town. The ticket can easily be bought inside every train station and doesn’t cost a fortune.
After cycling 96km by crossing Namur, I ended up in a small Wallonian village called Lessive. Deep down in the countryside, I enjoyed green Belgium off the path so much! Via the cyclists platform >>Warmshowers<< I got in contact with Oriane and Baptiste, who hosted me warmly at their space. I highly recommend the use of Warmshowers.org to every bicycle traveller. It’s based on the principles of Couchsurfing and after using it for two years, it’s hard to describe in words, how many honest, great people I met – just like this day! Again grande merci to the both of you! I will never forget the sweet taste of those tomatoes bought at the eco-farm around the corner. They served so much great energy after cycling 100 sweaty kilometres with surprisingly altitude and muscle pain. At the Festival International des Arts de la rue Chassepierre, I met my friend Jan a few days later in the area of Florentville. We had great fun by observing different kind of artistic shows, jugglers and clowns. The area of the French Ardennes National park serves great cycle paths and nature for wild camping. Still I daydream of those beautiful sunrises, rurality and natural reserves.
Finally on the 22nd August 2019, we reached the source of the Maas river in the small village of Pouilly-en-Bassigny. For days we cycled in hot weather conditions of 35 degree, drank up to 5 liters of water and pushed ourselves beyond limits for finally feeling like in a fool’s paradise. A few meters before the river head a local explained laughingly the bad condition of the river in the last years. Indeed, we saw it. The source had just a few drips of water, because of the changing climate condition. To sum up, this is what the consequences of climate disaster in Europe looks like nowadays. Quiet disappointed Jan and I started from here on the official part of the EuroVelo19 – now northwards.
Once we passed the town of Neufchâteau, we entered Domrémy, the birthplace of Jeanne d’Arc. Continuing direction Commercy and Saint-Mihiel, we reached the city of Verdun soon. This place is sadly known for the huge battle where hundreds of thousands of soldiers died during the First World War. Definitely the best and most enjoyable part of the journey was cycling about 100km in the Maas valley in Parc Naturel Régional des Ardennes from Charleville-Mézières till Givet. In particular this is the small town on the French-Belgian border with its little Citadel of Charlemont. After all we were finally back in Wallonia, bonjour! Within a few kilometres we cycled into Dinant. Glorious setting, revealing many cliffs in the town of birth of Alfred Sax where we stopped for a recharging lunch break and enjoyable ice-cream in the cold shade. To be honest, the next 100km of the EV19 from Dinant till Liege are in awful condition. Jan and I got quite upset by bumpy roads, missing signposts and holes in the path. This part is very contrasting to the great condition in whole France and again then in Belgian area of Flanders.
Later on we made it into Limburg where Jan was born – very much a home game for him. In general the flat terrain there makes it ideal for easy cycling. Thanks to Jan, we made another detour to the lakes of De Wijers. Right at intersection 91 you’ll find a great surprise for cyclists! For further insides look up “Fietsen door het Water”! Passing by the Netherlands made me coming into cycle heaven. Great infrastructure and safe paths to ride bicycles served good vibes only. After all the journey along the Maas river ended behind Rotterdam. Cycling the last 20km from there till Hoek van Holland you will see heavy industry. In the end reaching the mouth of the Meuse there was a good compensation!
Putting it in a nutshell – the 70,000km of European Cycle Route Network are a great opportunity to head into adventures!