Travel: On your marks in Munich

As the pound hits its highest level against the German currency for nin e years, Muthena Paul Alkazraji sees Bavaria's capital from his bike
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What would be Germany's contribution to the global supply of "world cities" for the 21st century? Berlin, certainly; Hamburg, probably; and, to complete the Teutonic triumvirate, only Bavaria's capital can suffice. Munich's size and stature provides the touristic gravity to attract visitors, but also presents them with a bit of a problem. How best to get around a city so vast that it already possessed three orbital Autobahnen while the M25 was still on the drawing-board?

The 1,300km of Munich's cycle paths provide a solution, not least because they are so neatly marked and organised. If a cyclists' traffic light says "Halt", Muncheners will obediently wait at a desolate pedestrian intersection until the light changes to green. An English friend living here has tried sneaking across, and been promptly ticked off by affronted citizens. Given a modest stretch of smooth Tarmac, however, and the temptation - especially among the 100,000 students at Germany's largest university - to crank up the pedal-power is frequently surrendered to with unnerving abandon. That said, Munich's wealth of historic buildings and elegant avenues, extensive gardens and gradient-free terrain make it excellent for urban cycling.

I began my trip away from the weaving lines of cyclists in the centre of Germany's "secret capital", by the Deutsches Museum on Ludwig's Bridge. My chosen route was through leafy parkland on the east bank of the river Isar, across Luitpold Bridge, right into the English Garden, and then north to the park's Kleinhesseloher See.

At the start, the wooded pathways through Maximilian's Garden, across from the Deutsches Museum, give continuous, bank's-edge views of the beautiful river Isar. It flows from its Alpine source 50km south of the city, through the heart of Munich, before spilling into the Danube near Deggendorf. Clean, gurgling and green, it runs swift and shallow around white pebble banks and islets on which flocks of black-headed gulls gather.

With a clear blue sky, and the Fohn wind blowing in from the Alps and warming the city up, I freewheeled along the bank, under Maximilian's Bridge by the seat of the Bavarian State Parliament, and on to Friedens Angel. This golden statue of a Greek goddess, perched on a high column overlooking the river, was built in 1871 by King Ludwig II. Now known as the "fairy-tale king", on account of his love of building romantic castles in line with Wagnerian German legend, he did not live happily ever after. Ludwig apparently neglected state affairs, was declared insane, and met a mysterious watery death in Lake Starnberg. The view from the monument's base stretches along Prinzregenten Strasse, past the Bavarian National Museum and the Haus der Kunst (House of German Art): the route I had decided to take next.

A short spin across Luitpold Bridge brought me alongside the building that Hitler's opponents nicknamed "Weisswurst" (a white sausage). This long, flat, neoclassical gallery is truly monolithic, opened in 1937 by Joseph Goebbels to house the Third Reich's notion of German art (meanwhile, at the nearby Hofgarten, "degenerate art" was being displayed). It is now home to the State Gallery of Modern Art.

From the Haus der Kunst northwards, the English Garden stretches for five kilometres of open grassy spaces and woodland clumps, interwoven with smooth gravel tracks. Known as Munich's "green lung", it was laid out in 1879.

As the gravel crunched underwheel, I took a path heading roughly in the direction of the Monopterous, a circular, Greek-style temple on a hillock, which draws the eye from the southern end of the park. The view from the temple today is absorbing. Cyclists whip across distant gaps in the chestnut trees; the green, onion-shaped domes on the towers of the Frauenkirche top the city's skyline.

From the Monopterous, I pedalled past the park's Chinese Tower, and northwards towards the Seehaus beergarden on the edge of the Kleinhesseloher See. This large, man-made lake is only a stone's throw from Schwabing, home of the city's once thriving artists' quarter (Kandinsky, Klee, Brecht). The beergarden made a suitable finishing-point for my trip and as I sat back to relax, water lapped at the edges of the wooden benches and tables arranged in ordered ranks under the swaying trees. Without a sandwich in my saddlebag, I considered sampling the Munich fare, but the thought of Schweinshax'n (pork knuckles) quelled the idea. It was tempting to try the macho Bavarian challenge of drinking a "mass" of beer. I settled, however, for half a litre, which, in a robust glass mug, seemed heavy enough, although it falls pathetically short of a local record: one muscular Munich beer-maiden carrying 27 litre glasses at once.

Such boisterous images, though, were a far cry from my gently satisfying day - a little biking, a little beer, in a leafy city of great architectural elegance.

Gateway to Bavaria

Getting there: the best deal to Munich at present is flying on Debonair (0500 146200) from Luton to Munich for pounds 99 return. Lufthansa (0345 737747) and British Airways (0345 222111) fly from Birmingham and Heathrow; BA also flies from Edinburgh and Gatwick, and Lufthansa from Manchester.

A more esoteric way to travel is by train, most economically achieved by using Eurostar (0345 303030) via Brussels to Cologne for pounds 89, then one of the special evening or weekend deals promoted by German Rail (0181- 390 8833) - which can get you across Germany to Munich for around pounds 40 return or less.

Getting around: in Munich a selection of cycles can be hired at Radius Touristik, near platform 31 of the Hauptbahnhof, Munich's main railway station. Prices begin at pounds 25 per day.

Further information: the German National Tourist Office is at 65 Curzon Street, London W1 (0171-493 0080).