Excellent first cycling trip - beautiful countryside and learned a lot
Background: My friend and I are from Winnipeg MB. It is extremely flat where we live. This was also our first cycling trip. We paid the extra to have our overnight bags delivered to the next hotel. We started the cycling trip on August 25 and finished August 30 2017.
We booked the 5 day, 6 night self-guided cycling tour through Radweg Reisen. You receive a .pdf of maps and hotel logistics about a week before you arrive. Ideally this would be provided at time of booking so that you can download your own offline maps and determine where you will stop for the day. Although, in hindsight, with a little bit of effort we probably could have done this ourselves with a bit of research.
We started our tour in Constance, Germany. The company was most professional and very attentive to detail when we picked up our bikes. We were given a coiled booklet with the maps, written instructions on how to fix a bike tire, reattaching a bike chain and how to adjust your bike.
Please note, the bikes do not come with water bottle holders. First hand experience has taught me not to put your water bottle in the front basket with your phone unless you put your phone in a waterproof container (drowning your phone on day 1 puts a damper on how proud you should be of yourself for cycling all those hills!).
We were advised to cycle in 3rd or 4th gear when it was "flat" and in 1st or 2nd gear when cycling on an incline. Because where I live is extremely flat, and I'm short (5 foot), I ended up cycling in 5th or 6th gear most of the time, dropping down to 4 at my lowest. My friend who is average height was able to cycle in 4th gear and able to drop down to 2nd gear at her lowest.
The first day we cycled from Constance to Reichenau Island (to sightsee) and then on to Stein am Rhein. I would recommend visiting Reichenau Island on your own if you have a day in Constance. Cycling from Constance to Reichenau Island required us to cycle out of our way and back almost all the way to Constance to get back on the trail to Stein am Rhein. While it was an excellent place to visit, it wasn't worth expending energy that could be used elsewhere. The first day was mostly uphill, and included a hill with a 13% incline. If I were to do this trip again (and hopefully I will!), I would recommend taking your bikes on the train from Constance to Stein am Rhein. Dropping your bike off, and catching the train to the Rhein Falls. We desperately wanted to visit the falls but after all of those hills we were too tired to get there. This leg of the trip is mostly through farmers' fields so if you took the train, conserving your energy for the remainder of the trip, you aren't missing too much. Your legs will thank you and it will give you more time to visit the town of Stein am Rhein and/or the falls.
The rest of our journey was as follows:
Day 2: Stein am Rhein to Überlingen Note: you will end up cycling through Constance again (with stop in Arenenberg at the Napoleonic Museum and in Constance for a swim in the Rhine).
The hotel that was booked for us by Radweg Reisen is at the top of a very large hill. The view was spectacular from our room! However, it was hard to enjoy because our legs were ready to commit mutiny. In hindsight, if we hadn't doubled back the day before and/or took the train to Stein am Rhein, the uphill cycle to our hotel in Überlingen wouldn't have a been so arduous.
Day 3: Überlingen to Kressbronn (with stop in Meersburg for the Old Castle and then took a shortcut on the ferry from Friedrichshafen (I think?) the rest of the way to Kressbronn)
Day 4: Kressbronn to Rorschach (with stop in Bregenz to take the cable car up to Mount Pfänder). Contrary to everything we read, Bregenz was the easiest city to navigate to, around, and out of, compared to any of the other towns/cities we cycled through.
It was in Bregenz that we found out from two British couples who were also completing the self-guided Radweg Reisen Lake Constance tour that you can request that the booking company give you an extra day in the middle of your trip. This gives your legs one day to rest, one day to sightsee a little bit more than the days you are on your bike and one extra night at one of the hotels. When I do this trip again, I will likely book my day off for Bregenz. There were lots of day trips you could take in that area or alternatively stick around in the town.
Day 5: Rorshach to Constance (with a stop in Arbon for a beach day).
Besides taking the train the first leg, booking a day off in the middle to rest your legs/sightsee a little more in depth, the only other thing I would recommend is to download offline maps to your smartphone for each of the cities you will be staying in and how to get to the hotels. The path itself is very easy to follow but when you enter the cities it becomes quite challenging to navigate to your hotel. We frequently found ourselves using the map provided as well as finding a local map once we entered the city and still often had to ask for directions.
If two flatlanders can cycle this, you can too! The scenery is stunning and it's honestly not too hard of a cycle if you are smart about it. There are plenty of things to see and do, but you will need to plan a bit in advance of booking if you want to take in certain things. Each day you are cycling about 75 km per day (hotel to hotel) and while that doesn't seem like a lot, it does take a full day to do. We found one sightseeing thing was all we could fit in a day, hence why next trip we will be booking a day off in the middle so we can visit more of the places we had hoped to see! That being said, you could tell who the locals were because entire families were on the trail (although I think most of them were just out for the day!).
Don't be afraid to hop off your bike and walk it uphill if you need to. You should note however that the bikes are quite heavy. (I ride a fixie and even compared to my little hipster bike, these touring bikes were quite bulky and heavy.)
On a final note, the hotels that were booked for us were much nicer than anything we would have booked on our own! And the breakfasts provided at each of them was delicious. I recommend picking up some snacks at the grocery stores in the town so you have something to munch on throughout the day.
You can drink the water in Switzerland from any fountain unless it says you can't. Even still, I would recommend bringing 2-3 water bottles with you because of how hot the weather can get.