Bernd F. Meier, DPA, September 27, 2011
All but one of the mills dotted across the French commune of Volmunster in Lorraine have long ceased to serve their original function.
Some have been transformed into guesthouses for tourists while others serve as museums. One thing they all have in common, however, is that they are well worth a visit and a specially designated mill cycling route makes it all the easier to view as many as possible.
Across the border in Germany, the stunning landscape between Peppenkum and Altheim is marked by lush green meadows and birch forests.
"We are in the forgotten eastern section of Saarland," says tour guide Wolfgang Henn from Blieskastel, a municipality in the Saarpfalz district situated near the German city of Zweibruecken in the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate and the small French town of Bitche in Lorraine.
Since 2000, cyclists have been able to use the 45-kilometre-long mill cycling route to explore the rolling hills situated in the border triangle. The route passes 14 water mills, including Moulin d'Eschviller in the heart of the Schwalb valley in the very north-eastern part of Moselle.
The 18th century mill is now a museum where visitors can learn all there is to know about flour and saw mills.
"The Moulin d'Eschviller remained in operation up until the 1930s when the building was badly damaged by a huge fire. The bitter fighting during the Second World War destroyed the rest," explains guide Loic Hergott during the museum tour.
The museum opened its doors to the public in 1987 and today includes a historical sawmill, while visitors can also visit a recently constructed bee house and learn about beekeeping.
The Auberge du Vieux Moulin (the Mill Inn) offers food and refreshments to cyclists in need of sustenance.
The Moulin de Volmunster situated a few kilometres further on is the only fully functioning mill on the fast-flowing stream. Andre Arnet mills corn in the same way it was done for centuries, while a small mill shop sells small packages of flour, noodles and other cereal products.
Blieskastel-Altheim in Saarland or Hornbach in Rhineland-Palatinate are good starting points for cyclists wishing to enjoy the mill route.
Hornbach boasts a feudal hotel in a renovated Benedictine abbey. Sant Pirmin grounded the first monastery in 742 AD and monks lived and worked here until 1558, during which time Hornbach was considered the spiritual and cultural centre of the entire region.
The monastery fell into disrepair over the subsequent centuries but the complex has undergone extensive renovation in recent years and is currently used as a modern hotel, restaurant and cafe, the Kloster-Hornbach.
The European mill cycling route is marked by signs bearing a white and blue mill wheel. The almost level main route runs for the most part between meadows and fields along tarmac lanes used by farmers and former railway embankments.
There is also another route that passes Dietrichingen and the Grosssteinhauser Mill as well as a more challenging 12 km cycle that involves several hilly stretches.
The section around the French town of Rolbing is also steep in parts. There are few places to stop for refreshments so cyclists should ensure they have plenty of food and drink to sustain themselves as the terrain is challenging for even the most accomplished of cyclists.
The border between France and Germany is hardly recognisable although there is a disused customs area between Guiderkirch and Peppenkum.