Cycling across the Netherlands from South to North

The Fietserpad, the cycling alternative to the Pieterpad

The Fietserpad is the cycling alternative to the Pieterpad; the most famous long-distance hiking route in the Netherlands. The hiking route of 498 kilometres leads from Pieterburen in the north of Groningen province close to the St. Pietersberg near Maastricht in the south of the country, hence the name.

The ‘real’ Pieterpad is off limits to cyclists and motorised traffic as it is developed as a  hiking trail. The Fietserpad is the cycling alternative which stays as close as possible to the original trail. In the south, the route meanders partly through Belgium and in the east of the country, the trail crosses the German border several times.

We cycle from the southernmost tip of the Netherlands to the north in nine legs. Each day we cycle 30 t0 80 kilometres stages, mostly depending on where we can sleep, preferably close to the route as we don’t want to cycle an additional ten or twenty kilometres after a long day to arrive at our overnight accommodation.

The route is mostly rural and largely car-free, the trail is more often than not a dirt tracks through forests.

 

An active family holiday

For me, a middle-aged woman, this route is quite a challenge, for my companions less so. My husband and sons are accustomed to cycling across Spain (where we live), at forty degrees over high mountains. For them, this route is a piece of cake.

This has the major drawback that they have to wait for me all the time and I’m exhausted at every break, while they are ready to go as soon as I arrive.

Netherlands cycling country

No worries, we are in this together. My youngest son, about half my weight, tows me along much of the route while the elder navigates using the ‘routeyou app’ (see above). My husband ‘manages’; repairs where necessary and keeps up the spirits. My task is simply to survive.

Still, whilst cycling I am mostly happy as this route showed me much of the Netherlands that even for me as a Dutch person was new. Especially the east of the country is surprisingly beautiful and hospitable. It is rural, as expected, but a lot more prosperous than I expected with beautiful farmhouses on large estates, monuments, forests, birds, butterflies, mushrooms, windmills, nodding donkeys and megalithic dolmens.

cycling through countryside
Typical Netherlands
Rural Netherlands

Withuis – Maastricht 30 km

We plan nine days for this tour de force. The start is at Withuis, a small town south of Maastricht at the Belgium border. The first stage is admittedly brief but intense as we begin in the Limburg hills on one of the hottest days in August. The trip kicks off with a broken saddle. The oldest son braves the  ‘mountains’ and valleys sitting on his luggage rack whilst looking for a bicycle repair shop. They seem few and far between on this part of the route, castles and manors, on the other hand, we see in abundance.

Accommodation

In Maastricht, we are happy to be able to drop in at a friend’s place, who welcomes us with a hot meal and a bed. For those without local friends, there are plenty of opportunities to stay in the capital of Limburg.

Maastricht – Horst 60 km

The second day brings more valleys and the steep Kruisberg with an incline of 16%, easy for “my men” who regularly conquer category 1 climbs in Spain, but for untrained women of a certain age, it proves to be a challenge.

In Belgium, we experience a second bicycle breakdown, unfortunately, it happens to be on  Mary’s Ascension, a national holiday at our southern neighbours. All the bike shops are closed. Eventually, Chris from bike shop Chrischou in Maaseik comes to the rescue. He takes a break from the party to fix the bike. Thank you Chris!

Overnight

In Horst aan de Maas we sleep at my parents. If you happen to have no family in the north of Limburg, do not despair there are plenty of lodgings available: from simple B & Bs to four-star hotels, to check availability and prices click here.

Horst – Plasmolen – Groesbeek 64 km

On the third day, we cycle mainly along the banks of the Meuse. First, we see various monuments: in Geysteren the Rosmolen, an old watermill, in Gennep a historic Town Hall. The route continues through the woods, where a rear brake cable of a third bike snaps. Luckily we are reasonably close to civilization, Groesbeek in this case. We sleep at the Oude Molen (Old Mill) Hotel. The owner happens to be friends with the local bike shop, so we get priority repair service.

Overnight

Hotel De Oude Molen is located in a quiet area near the centre of Groesbeek. The owner is very friendly and helpful. He offers a packed lunch, attempts to repair the bike (fails) and calls the bike shop to announce our visit. For pricing and availability rooms look here.

cannabis
Nature Netherlands
cycling through forests Netherlands

Groesbeek – Heerenberg – Sinderen 60 km

The fourth day we ride east through Nijmegen, a university city in Gelderland province. We thought we left the hills behind in Limburg, turns out this part of the Netherlands and Germany are quite hilly too. Hardened mountain bikers probably consider these parts flat, but for city slickers like me, they are huge inclines.

To ease the pain, there are views over open countryside populated by storks and herons. Picturesque houses with thatched roofs align the embankment of the Meuse and at the end of the day awaits a warm welcome at B & B Greyt Place in Sinderen

Overnight

Greyt Place in Sinderen has attractive rooms and the hostess serves a great breakfast.

Sinderen – Eibergen – Haaksbergen 77 km

The fifth day is marked by the rural smell that will stick to us most of the day. We see a lot of greenery, meadows and a cannabis plantation, which even for me as a Dutch person is a bit of a surprise.

The culmination of today is dinner at the Watermölle, the restaurant serves great food with a nice view of the old mill.

Overnight

We sleep at Hotel Erve Bruggert, this hotel has large rooms and a cosy bar with fireplace and comfortable sofas to recover from the day.

Haaksbergen – Ootmarsum 70 km

Day six continues in the green. A buzzard watches us from two meters away, a friendly squirrel says hi and the proverbial black sheep we meet in Germany. For a while, even the sun breaks through.

The countryside is empty, a strange sight in one of the most populated countries in the world. The only occupation we see are some farmhouses with thatched roofs. At the end of the day, we sleep in Ootmarsum, a surprisingly beautiful place with lots of statues and a historic city centre.

Overnight

Lomans Stie is our accommodation for the night. On arrival, we are met with coffee and cake. We are within walking distance of the village, where there are several restaurants.

Netherlands flat land
accommodation Pieterpad
Dutch countryside

Ootmarsum – Oosterhesselen – Wezup 68 km

On the seventh day, a stiff headwind makes it particularly hard. We see moors, the nodding donkeys of Schoonebeek and muddy hills. The endpoint is Wezup where we (at least me) arrive exhausted around six thirty in the evening.

Overnight

Hotel Hegen has spacious rooms and thankfully an in-house restaurant, luckily we do not have to leave the hotel to enjoy a meal.

Wezup – Zuidlaren 45km

Day 8 of saddle pain is largely through a forest and along megaliths. A short leg today, I am happy because with two teenage sons and a sporty husband I am clearly the weakest link in this cycle chain. My gums are inflamed after the exhaustion set in yesterday and my legs hurt after more than a week on the bike. The end is nigh.

Overnight

We stay with friends.

Zuidlaren – Pieterburen 50 km

Pieterburen we reach relatively early, as it is a short leg. From here it is possible to go mud walking to the Frisian Islands. Pieterburen also has a seal sanctuary, which can be visited. I only want to rest, as everything hurts. I am glad it is over and above all, I am glad I did it. It is indeed worth the pain.

cycling app
nodding donkeys Groningen
cycling the Netherlands

Practical information

Breakdown of your bike

This route is mostly on dirt tracks, making it slightly more difficult than it would be on tarmac roads. Some of the route is relatively far away from civilization. If you get breakdowns in mid-forest, this can be a problem, especially in parts of Germany where there is hardly any reception on mobile phones.

Therefore ensure that you carry sufficient spare parts (hex keys, repair box, spare tires) so you can perform repairs if necessary. In the Netherlands, you will find a bicycle repair shop in almost every village. It is useful to carry a mobile phone, so you can quickly figure out where to go, walking several kilometres with a fully packed bike is not something I would recommend.

On public holidays most bike shops are closed. Keep in mind that Germany and Belgium may have other holidays than the Netherlands.

Mobile phone

Keep your mobile phone charged and take your charging cable with you. A mobile phone is useful for:

  • finding bike repair shops
  • finding shelter in severe weather
  • to consult the weather forecast
  • use the route planner. The ‘route-you app’ is a handy tool. Note that google maps will direct you onto the regular roads and does not recognise the Fietserpad.

Rainfall radar

The ‘buienradar’ or rainfall radar is almost indispensable in the Netherlands. We consulted the app before departure and planned our breaks during the worst downpours.

Planning

It seems that in the Netherlands the wind blows mainly from south to north, at least that is how we experienced it, apart from the last part of the route. Consider breakdown in your planning, bad weather, etc. Also, make sure the overnight accommodations are as close as possible to the route, as at the end of a long day you don’t want to add another 20 kilometres to your route.

Packing list

Consider the Dutch weather. In summer, take stuff to feel comfortable in 15-30 C०. Rainwear, some t-shirts, socks, shorts, long pants, windbreaker and fleece are handy to have with you for the ever-changing moods. This solid shampoo is your ideal travel companion.

Return journey

If you do not wish to cycle back, you can return by train, or travel by Flixbus.

Thanks to

Marianne and Alain and Pieter and Ineke for their hospitality, my sister for lending me her bike and sister in law for transportation back from Pieterburen.

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