Travel review: Exloring the Danube on two wheels

A view across the Danube to Aschach which lies in the Danube Valley, on the edge of the Eferding Basin.
A view across the Danube to Aschach which lies in the Danube Valley, on the edge of the Eferding Basin.
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Two wheels is the perfect way to explore the sights of the Danube, says Julie Marshall. Just don’t forget to bring some padding.

Riding 220 miles along the Danube cycle path sounded like a pretty daunting task for a couple of relatively inexperienced cyclists not in the first flush of youth. To prepare, we’d spent the weeks before our holiday upping our mileage and getting our legs, and most importantly, our backsides, geared up for the challenge.

We’d been assured that the route was very easy and that, as our bags were going to be transported from hotel to hotel along the route, the daily mileage of between 30 and 45 miles should not cause us too much trouble.

The trip had been planned and the itinerary put together by Wheel2Wheel Holidays, a specialist leisure cycling holiday provider based in the UK. It operates cycling tours in 33 European countries for both the occasional and advanced cyclist and the one we tackled, the Danube Cycle Path, is available as a five, six or eight-day package.

Wheel2Wheel works with local agents – in this case, Eurobike – who meet the participants, allocate them bikes, maps and detailed instructions at the outset, transporting the bags each day to the next hotel.

Our first night was spent in Passau on the Austria/Germany border. It’s a pretty little place which lies at the confluence of three rivers, the Danube, Inn and Ilz.

The following morning, suitably cushioned with three layers of padding, we headed for the Danube, stopping for the obligatory photograph at the border of the two countries, and to begin our journey proper.

Although we were well supplied with maps, most of the time there was really no need to consult them – the signs marking the cycle path are plentiful and well-placed and it’s almost impossible to get lost.

Along the way we passed dozens of others cyclists making the same journey, some of them, it’s fair to say, several decades older than us but pedalling away with gusto and, in some cases overtaking us. Which was a bit embarrassing until we realised that they were riding electric bikes.

We crossed the river a couple of times via one of the small ferries that are dotted along the bank and ended up in the hamlet of Schlogen by a bend in the river, where we were given a lift up the mountain to the village of St Agatha and a lovely little hotel complete with heated outdoor swimming pool and a spa – such unexpected luxury and very well received.

Our second day’s cycling took in some lovely views and we passed through farms, where we stopped to buy freshly-picked strawberries, and lush forests, where we heard cuckoos and saw yellowhammers, woodpeckers, hares and rabbits.

Our base that night was Linz, a town in the throes of football fever: Austria were playing Hungary in Euro 2016. We escaped by taking a ride on the Pöstlingbergbahn mountain railway.

And so it continued, each day more interesting than the next, our route taking us through upper and lower Austria, into towns and villages, hamlets and farmland, almost all the time off-road with only very minor detours onto quiet country roads. We crossed the river a few more times and met some lovely people, some of whom were staying at the same hotels as us each night.

Our fifth day of cycling was the hardest. We covered 45 miles and, for much of that time we battled a strong headwind. We slept the sleep of the exhausted that night in a delightful family-run hotel in Weissenkirchen.

Our days were not all spent entirely in the saddle. We were able to fit in a visit to the Mauthausen concentration camp, and we attended a wine tasting at one of the many little family-owned vineyards in the Wachau area. There was plenty of time to stop for coffee and cake at one of the little cafes along the route where we swapped travel stories with other cyclists.

Food, both in the hotels and the local restaurants we sought out each evening, was superb.

Journey’s end was Vienna and we arrived in plenty of time to spend almost a full day in the capital. There was plenty going on. We came across the annual Vienna Gay Pride event, with an estimated 100,000 people on the streets; there was also a March for Jesus on the same day so much of the city was locked down to traffic.

So instead of getting a tour bus we decided to walk around, taking in the amazing architecture and dodging the ticket touts selling seats for the opera.

Our last ride of the week was on the giant ferris wheel in the Prater. From a height of 200-odd ft we had a panoramic view of the whole city – a fitting end to our trip.

GETTING THERE

Julie Marshall travelled as a guest of Wheel2Wheel Holidays.

The Danube Cycle Path tour starts from £469 per person for a seven-night break.

For more information visit wheel2wheelholidays.com or call 0161 703 5819.

EasyJet flies from Manchester to Munich up to four times a week, with prices starting from £42.74 (including taxes and cabin bag). easyjet.com.

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