Renaissance Reconnaissance: Roadtripping the Ore Mountains

The Ore Mountains stretch into both Germany and the Czech Republic, with the border between the two running just north of the main crest of the mountain range. The area has a long and diverse history. And even though offering a wide variety of gently rolling hills and steep ascents, it hasn’t yet had its outing as a worthwhile road bike destination. We set out in late autumn, full of excitement.

Day 1 // Chomutov – Frauenstein – Chomutov

It is Tuesday. It rains. Over the last couple of weeks it always rained on Tuesdays. Sometimes only for a few minutes. In other times the rain came down hard and heavy with its drops lashing against the window panes, before running down on them in thick trails.

The rain is moderate this time. Jens sits at the table. He sports a tired look while he cuts the fruits for his breakfast. The rain is non of his matters at the moment.

“Do you want some coffee“, I ask. He nods. The coffee is rather fruity and leaves a gentle, yet sweet taste on the tongue. It is the taste of red berries.

The roads are narrow for the first few kilometers and as such differ to the ones in Chomutov. We parked our car in the North Bohemian city and got on our bikes. It seems like the locals try to avoid the climbs that lead into the mountain range. At least there is not much traffic.

The aftertaste of the coffee is gone as we reach the dam of the river Flöha near Fláje. On the side of the road stands a faded warning. It somehow fits well here. This place used to be livelier in the past. In the distance three houses are keeping watch, since more than sixty years already. They are a resisting fragment. Similar to the fundaments of a moved church which dates back to the 17th century. A large part of this place disappeared when the reservoir was flooded. And with it did its people.

The old church was moved to Český Jiřetín where it was neatly rebuilt. In it one can find a statue of St. John Baptist. A little further down the road the Flöha marks the border to Germany.

Following the peaceful revolution in 1989 the borders in Europe became transparent. Old values were granted some sort of a renaissance in the process. However, this process was a two-speed race in the Ore Mountains. Český Jiřetín lost only a bit of its romantic character since then. It looks like it has always been like this, speed just seems to have different meanings here. Maybe that is never going to change.

I take a sip from my bottle as we cross the border. We are on our way to Frauenstein. The first part of our ride is in the books. The narrow and partly challenging roads through fields and forests become a little wider. There is still not much traffic around.

“It is not that far anymore“, I tell Jens. The shutter of his camera dances in the measure of the rain. “Did you see those small shacks?“ “Sure”, he replies.

The shacks make for a good contrast. There are lots of colorful clothing, toys and jumble on offer, with the sellers waiting underneath their porches. Some of the shacks even advertise the search for happiness. Other border crossing points in this area show similar sights. They are a reminiscence of the early years after the fall of the Wall.

The past few years certainly moved faster in Frauenstein. The old market shows off its houses in flamboyent pastel shades. They are now facing the weather. Someone plays Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” in the city church, but perhaps I only fancy that.

We are on the road since more than two and a half hours. It is cold. The rain has ceased since we started, yet starts to take its toll. The last kilometers before reaching Frauenstein have been anything but easy. 60 kilometers and 1.500 meters elevation gain are only two of the naked figures on my Garmin. As a harbinger of the town the local fields opened theirselves for the winds to play.

The city church has always been the centre of Frauenstein. In 1711 one of the most renowned organ builders of the baroque, Gottfried Silbermann, donated his very first organ to it. By then the local mining was at one of its climaxes. Bach did not like Silbermann. The Elector of Saxony, August I., favored him on the contrary. Maybe this was due to Silbermann’s origin and the electors source of capital. Who knows.

Mining has always been a key factor for Saxony’s wealth. And for the prosperity of the cities and towns in the Ore Mountains. Besides Frauenstein’s city church and market houses the old castle is another witness of that time. These days it is host to a museum that honors the works of Silbermann.

Jens rides ahead to the archway to search for some good photo spots. The castle waits behind. It offers a roughly cobbled inner courtyard and a fainted facade. For a few moments the camera shutter takes the lead. We then head back to the market. It is time for another coffee.

The wet of the day shows its effect. Not even a cup of coffee is much of a help right now. Although the waiter is kind enough to fill our bottles with hot water. With a black cardigan and her shoulder-length straight hair there is something maternal about her.

We ride north for a while after leaving the town before crossing ways with the Flöha again in a small village called Niederseiffenbach. From now on the road leads upwards. The tarmac is wet but it doesn’t rain anymore. One can clearly hear the sound of the nearby river as the forest gets thicker. We can see our own breath.

A dirt track leads us back into the Czech Republic. Locals called the track “the neutral one“ in the past, since it never was target for any border crossing restrictions. Ahead of us the mountains open up and give room to a wide valley. A small creek serves as orientation point. It is only downhill now, all the way back to Chomutov.

Day 2 // Johanngeorgenstadt – Klínovec – Johanngeorgenstadt

It is 4 degrees Celsius outside. The radio forecast says it snows above 1.000 meters. Some things don’t come easy. Jens has already closed his jacket. He checks his cameras, as I put on my helmet.

Yesterday’s rain drained on us. Having only half a day left to spare we want to keep it short today.

A few road signs indicate that the border is close. We park the car behind a café in Johanngeorgenstadt and get our bikes ready. A couple of hundred meters further down the road lies Potůčky. Our ride into the Czech Republic starts with a familiar sight. The shacks in this place provide even more stuff than the ones in Český Jiřetín. It it weren’t for them the border would be almost invisible.

Before heading to Horní Blatná, we roll along the main road in Potůčky. Winter has left its first traces on the roadsides. The forecast was right. Two elderly women tell us that we can continue to Bozí Dar. Both speak with a strong German accent. One of them draws a line in the air while speaking, as if she is freeing the road from snow. Her sweater is made of blue wool. And looks slightly worn down. The other one agrees. She seems to be on her way to go shopping.

The road leads us out of town, straight and uphill. The following kilometer offers nearly 100 meters elevation gain and gradients up to 14 percent. The fields on both sides of the road are covered in snow, luckily there is no wind. We are not that far from the nature park Božídarské rašeliniště.

Bozí Dar is the highest situated town in Central Europe. The place doesn’t try to hide that. It is rather remote and has an unconventional aura. The Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis lived here in the late 1920s, seeking for inspiration. “I hope for nothing. I have no fear. I am free“, he once noted. I have to think about it as we ride through town. The temperature drops towards the freezing point.

We are at the foot of the Ore Mountain’s highest point, the Klínovec. Normally, one can see the Fichtelberg from here. Unfortunately, the weather doesn’t allow for a clear view today. The visibility gets lesser the higher we get. We can barely see the hotel at the summit of the climb.

We turn around and take the descent towards Oberwiesenthal. The road is wide, the tarmac is sleek but grippy enough to be a good counterpart for our tires. “That was a neat spin“, says Jens as we reach the top of the Fichtelberg. He’s referring to the steady up-and-down that lies behind us. We get off our bikes and buy two cups of coffee.

There is only one short climb left. However, to reach it we are able to enjoy one of the arguably nicest descents of the whole trip. The forest is as thick as one can imagine. Its snow-covered firs add a sweet flavor to our ride, just like the powdered sugar does to brownies.

It rains in Johanngeorgenstadt. It is still cold. But it doesn’t matter right now. My Garmin’s figures sum up 195 kilometers and 4092 meters of elevation gain within the last 24 hours, in rather unpleasant conditions. A few drops sit down on Jens’s jacket. Everything is in its right place.

Roads to discover

The Ore Mountains have plenty of great roads to offer. And not all of them are steep and hidden in the forests. Here are 3 roads we were lucky enough to ride.

Spot 1: Potůčky // Czech Republic – [click here]

Spot 2: Maly Hrzín – Srní // Czech Republic – [click here]

Spot 3: Oswaldtal // Germany – [click here]