The Fietserpad, the cycling alternative to the Pieterpad
The Fietserpad is the cycling alternative to hiking 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 country’s south, 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 that stays close to the original track. 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 to 80 kilometres stages, mainly depending on where we can sleep, preferably close to the route. 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 primarily rural and largely car-free. The trail is more often than not a dirt track through forests.
An active family holiday
For me, a middle-aged woman, this route is quite a challenge for my companions, less so. On the other hand, 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 a significant drawback: 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. At the same time, the elder navigates using the ‘route you app’ (see above). My husband ‘manages’, repairs where necessary and keeps up the spirits. My main objective is to survive.
>Still, whilst cycling, I am happy as this route showed me much of the Netherlands that was new even for me as a Dutch person. Especially the east of the country is surprisingly beautiful and hospitable. It is rural and a lot more prosperous than I expected. The trail is dotted with beautiful farmhouses on large estates, monuments, forests, birds, butterflies, mushrooms, windmills, nodding donkeys and megalithic dolmens.
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 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.
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 one climbs in Spain. Still, it proves to be a challenge for untrained women of a certain age.
In Belgium, we experience a second bicycle breakdown. Unfortunately, it happens to be on Mary’s Ascension, a national holiday in our southern neighbours. As a result, all the bike shops are closed.
Eventually, Chris from the bike shop Chrischou in Maaseik comes to the rescue. He takes a break from the party to fix the bike. Thank you, Chris!
In Horst aan de Maas we sleep at my parents. If you have no family in the north of Limburg, do not despair. Plenty of lodgings are 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, and in Gennep, a historic Town Hall. Then, the route continues through the woods, where a rear brake cable of a third bike snaps. Luckily we are reasonably close to civilisation, 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.
Hotel De Oude Molen is located in a quiet area near the centre of Groesbeek. The owner is amiable 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 of rooms, look here.
Groesbeek – Heerenberg – Sinderen 60 km
On the fourth day, we ride east through Nijmegen, a university city in Gelderland province. Although we thought we left the hills behind in Limburg. It turns out this part of the Netherlands and Germany are pretty hilly too. Hardened mountain bikers probably consider these parts flat, but they are enormous inclines for city slickers like me.
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. At the end of the day, awaits a warm welcome at B & B Greyt Place in Sinderen.
Greyt Place in Sinderen has attractive rooms. 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 excellent food with a nice view of the old mill.
We sleep at Hotel Erve Bruggert. This hotel has large rooms and a cosy bar with a fireplace and comfortable sofas to recover from the day.
Haaksbergen – Ootmarsum 70 km
Day six continues in the green. A vulture 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. We sleep in Ootmarsum, a surprisingly beautiful place with many statues and a historic city centre.
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 several restaurants are.
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.
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 mainly through a forest. En route, we see several megaliths. I am happy, just a short leg today because. I am clearly the weakest link in this cycle chain with two teenage sons and a sporty husband. My gums are inflamed after the exhaustion set in yesterday. My legs hurt after more than a week on the bike. The end is nigh.
We stay with friends.
Zuidlaren – Pieterburen 50 km
Pieterburen, we reach relatively early, as it is a short leg. It is possible to go mud walking to the Frisian Islands. Pieterburen also has a seal sanctuary, which can be visited. However, I only want to rest, as everything hurts. I am glad it is over, and above all, I am so happy I did it. It is indeed worth the pain.
Breakdown of your bike
This route is mainly on dirt tracks, making it slightly more complicated than on tarmac roads. In addition, some ways are relatively far away from civilisation. If you get breakdowns in the 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. Although, it is helpful to carry a mobile phone. This way, you can quickly figure out where to go. However, 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.
Keep your mobile phone charged and take your charging cable with you. A mobile phone is helpful 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.
The ‘buienradar’ or rainfall radar is almost indispensable in the Netherlands. Therefore, we consulted the app before departure and planned our breaks during the worst downpours.
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. So consider breakdown in your planning, bad weather, etc. Also, ensure the overnight accommodations are as close as possible to the road. You don’t want to add another 20 kilometres to your route at the end of a long day.
Consider the Dutch weather. In summer, take stuff to feel comfortable in 15-30 C०. Rainwear, some t-shirts, socks, shorts, long pants, a windbreaker and fleece are handy to have with you for the ever-changing moods. This solid shampoo is your ideal travel companion.
If you do not wish to cycle back, you can return by train or travel by Flixbus.
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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