Cycling the Danube
At first the idea of a cycling holiday in Austria, a country with wall-to-wall mountains, was distinctly unappealing and not a cycle-friendly country. However, where there are mountains there are river valleys, which cycle paths could follow. Most of Austria’s cycle paths follow rivers making it a very cycle-friendly country after all.
Austria’s number one cycle track is the Danube Cycle Path, which follows the Danube from Passau on the German border to Bratislava on the Austria/Slovak border passing through Vienna on its way. I chose to cycle the Linz to Vienna section.
Much of the first day was a long but not arduous cycle over the flood plains of the Danube with the hills a distant reminder this was Austria. Along the way I took a detour to visit the highly decorated Baroque abbey where Anton Bruckner played the organ. Another reason for visiting was the cafe that served sachertorte second only to the original in Vienna.
I had decided on an early start so was up with the birds; but there were no birds. The sky was dark and glowering and the cobbled streets of Grein were lashed with rain. The day was not going to be much fun. All day long I battled the elements; a head wind, driving rain and sodden clothing despite the waterproofs I was wearing.
The scenery was dramatic and foreboding with mist draped crags, grey stone castles of evil lords who demanded extortionate tolls and a river which was the Danube but certainly not blue.
Melk was to be my mid-morning destination where hopefully I could refuel with some Kaffee und Kuchen. The town is dominated by Austria’s most magnificent Baroque abbey. Above the streets the abbey sits like a castle and stretches the full length of the old town. I stopped at one of the many cafes in the old town and guiltlessly consumed an apfelstrudel with lashings of cream.
The Wachau is the most beautiful part of the Danube’s journey through Austria and begins just beyond Melk. Here the cycle path weaves through the vineyards on the banks of the river. Orchards of apples, pears and apricots filled all the gaps left by the vineyards. Cycling through such countryside it was easy to see why the likes of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms came here to escape the hothouse of Vienna and seek inspiration. Some say the Wachau inspired Beethoven’s “Pastoral Symphony”.
In the delightful village of Spitz I took time for a late lunch at Strand Cafe. It was recommended as a place to try the local dessert of crepes filled with apricot curd covered with lashings of chocolate sauce and cream.
I arrived at Durnstein, one of the prettiest towns on the Danube with its Baroque architecture, cobbled streets, abbey and its magnificent views along the river. However, for the English it has a dark side. Above the town is the castle, now in ruins, where Richard the Lionheart was incarcerated until a ransom was paid.
It was at Durnstein that I finally saw the Blue Danube made famous by the Strauss waltz of the same name. From here it was a very leisurely pedal along a blue Danube to Krems. This delightful town rivalled Vienna in the 11th and 12th centuries.
Although the days cycling was mostly through forest and farmland there were a number of hydroelectric power stations harnessing the power of the river. It was a little more industrialised than the Wachau but nevertheless still very much a rural setting.
Vienna was now with in easy reach. I had the option of leaving my bike at a gasthof and taking the train into Vienna. According to the sign Vienna was only 18km. There was no way, after having cycled 250km that I was NOT going to cycle triumphantly into Vienna. By late morning I was sipping coffee and tucking into Kuchen in one of Vienna’s numerous coffee houses reflecting on the last six days and 278km of cycling.
There were times when I wondered why I was pushing my way through the wind, the rain and the pain. Even when the elements seemed against me the Danube had thrown up its dramatic scenery. The grey-green Danube under the dark glowering clouds held as much appeal as the Blue Danube when the sun was shining… and the best way to experience both was on a bicycle.
Thinking about booking a cycling holiday? Don’t forget to take out your travel insurance before you set off on your travels to give you peace of mind.
Gordon Lethbridge is a travel and food blogger and edits the travel website www.travelunpacked.co.uk