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Throw in the chance to meet cycling legends and you have all the ingredients of a wheelie enjoyable weekend in vibrant Dusseldorf.
Brits of a certain age know this German city from the massively popular 80s TV show Auf Wiedersehen, Pet in which Geordie bricklayers headed out to the Rhine to find work.
This summer Dusseldorf will be back on our screens when it hosts the Grand Depart – the opening of the Tour de France.
Some of cycling’s most famous names were in town to start the countdown to July 1 when Chris Froome will open the defence of his Tour title. And we joined them to find out what the North Rhine-Westphalia region has to offer.
First up on a packed itinerary was the Altbier Safari, a tour of five breweries in the buzzing Altstadt, Dusseldorf’s picturesque Old Town.
We kicked off at the Kürzer Brauerei where we were met by the heady aromas of the brewing process. After a brief history of the dark, copper coloured Altbiers, or Old Beers, we got the chance to taste the raw ingredients and then sample the beers themselves.
With their foamy, creamy heads they are more like a traditional British bitter than the lagers most people associate with Germany. Drinking is a serious business in the Altstadt.
It’s often done standing up at a small, chest-height table where you can rest your glass. In the brewers’ eyes, tables and chairs take up valuable boozing space that could be used by paying customers. And it’s a brave man or woman who tries to order anything other than beer from the waiters in their traditional aprons.
Our guide Eberhard warned that a request for water is often met with the question: “Do you want a towel and soap with that?”
There were four more Safari stops, each to sample a different brew, before a visit to our hotel, the uber-trendy Me And All Hotel, Dusseldorf, to freshen up ahead of the evening’s main event – a chance to find out whether our hosts really could organise a “booze-up” in a brewery. They certainly pulled it off.
At the historic Uerige brewery and restaurant, and in the presence of the great and good of the Tour de France organisation, we enjoyed local treats including pork knuckle with sauerkraut, potatoes and sausage. Pudding was a tasty chocolate mousse… with a hint of Altbier, naturally.
After dinner I grabbed my chance to meet a Tour legend – 1987 winner Stephen Roche. They say never meet your heroes, but as I grabbed him in a tipsy bear hug my teenage idol couldn’t have been more welcoming – just like everyone we met in Dusseldorf.
Next morning it was time to pull on our Lycra-hosen and helmets and head off to cool cycling cafe Schicke Mütze to pick up some bikes.
A spin along the route of the second stage of this summer’s Tour was the ideal way to blow away the previous night’s cobwebs. Our guide Konrad shepherded us through the city streets and before long we were out in open countryside enjoying the spring sunshine, doing our best to copy the professionals by racing up the first real climb of the Tour.
Our 30-mile jaunt was over all too quickly and it was time for us to return to the city to swap to Dutch-style town bikes and join a parade in honour of the Grand Depart.
Even on a blustery March afternoon it felt like most of Dusseldorf was on the roadside cheering us on, so you can bet July’s events will be one big party. That evening the crowds were still out as we headed on foot to take in the annual Night of the Museums.
Galleries and museums open their doors into the wee small hours and this year, as well as exquisite Michelangelo sketches and stunning ceramics, there were events with a cycling theme including some crazy stunt riding.
For the next five years, you’ll find the city’s most dramatic art installation at the K21 gallery in a former Prussian parliament building.
In Orbit, by Argentine artist Tomás Saraceno, is a web of thin steel cables anyone with a head for heights can wander around on.
Really brave souls can walk out into the middle of the net, a vertigo-inducing 25m up, and act like a human spider.
Lying down on the web and gazing at the art lovers far below is the perfect way to pick up the vibrations of this thriving, buzzing city.
Getting there: Fly to Dusseldorf from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham, Heathrow and Jersey with Eurowings from £19.99 one way. See Eurowings.com.
Where to stay: Me and All Hotel is a new boutique hotel in the heart of Dusseldorf. It has an informal dining room with city views serving street food, a bakery and fitness zone. Rooms have power showers and high-speed wifi. From £60 per night. Book at meandallhotels.com.
For more details on the Tour de France 2017 see letour.fr or duesseldorf.de/international/letour.
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