I’d always fancied cycling down the Danube, mainly because it looked both scenic and flat – the winning combination for cycling jaunts. Passau to Danube is both, and so perhaps not surprisingly the route from Passau to Vienna is the most popular cycling holiday in Europe (for which read busy in the school holidays). It’s signposted well enough for even a map dullard like me to navigate, it’s mostly off road and primarily it mirrors the river path itself cutting through breathtaking scenery.
Being so popular, and being Austrian, it’s seriously well-organised on the bicycle front – thousands of top of the range bikes to rent and vans to take your two pieces of luggage on to the next destination every day as well as a couple of panniers for bits and bobs during the daytime. They’ve got cycling holidays sussed big time.
Better still with this route, if you get tired (and with an average of 40kms a day over 7 days you might well do) you can put your bike on the train, or a boat to shorten some of the days or skip the bits you don’t fancy. If you want to switch river banks you can ring a bell and a little ferry for bikes and walkers will take you across to the other side. They even sell schnapps on board which if you are sopping wet might not be a bad idea.
It’s about 5 hours cycling a day at a gentle pace plus all important coffee, cake, lunch and sightseeing stops.
The hotels are good but not luxurious with the exception of Hotel Donauschlinge at Schlogen where the river does a switchback U bend and you need to save energy here for a tough climb up to the Schlogina Blick to take in the view, as well as time in the spa, pool and sauna. The hotels all provided good hearty breakfasts, comfortable rooms and in several cases all you can eat buffets in the evening. Austrian food is so fabulous that I have a horrible feeling that I spent 60% of my cycling time thinking about what I might eat at dinner– should I go apple strudel, pork knuckle, or suckling pig tonight? Or maybe goulash with red cabbage? Or indeed some pumpkin soup with caraway dumplings?
And of course because you’re exercising all day you feel a marvelous sense of entitlement to your food (it reminded me of being pregnant- ish). Unfortunately the net result is that I’ve put on 2 kilos – something of a personal best, but I do feel incredibly well.
Perhaps best of all are places to see on the route. Passau is a charming city where three rivers meet and cruise ships dock to take in the charming cobbled streets, Baroque churches and castles notably at Wilhering and Artstetten are on the route and ideal places to stop for a picnic or when saddle sore, Linz is one of the overnight stops which was Hitler’s favourite city – not necessarily something to boast about but gosh I can see why. It’s utterly enchanting and the Cathedral’s stained glass is some of the most powerful I’ve ever seen. On Day 4 the path winds through vineyards of the Wachau region, fields of apple orchards and picturesque villages. Then there’s an overnight in Krems the beautiful mediaeval city, Melk Abbey and Stein which has one of the oldest working theatres in the world (together with loo separated from the auditorium by just a curtain). The cycle ends spectacularly with a flourish in Vienna itself. Brilliantly the tour suggests you drop your bike off in the suburbs- since getting your wheel stuck in a tramline would be something of a worry otherwise. Vienna is one of those cities you could just keep going back to. It’s the jewel in the crown of the Hofburg Empire and its opulence and elegance is second to none. The cafe society still feels as important as ever and try Cafe Central where Trotsky, Freud and intellectual reprobate Altenberg met on a daily basis to plot intellectual revolution by cake or indeed Cafe Mozart where Graham Greene wrote The Third Man. To end the trip, what else but the world famous Sacher torte at the Sacher Hotel.
Things to pack
- Travel kettle. What is it with European hotels?
- Cycling helmet. They don’t rent them.
- Cycling shorts with lycra padding for the undercarriage.
- Savlon. Lots of it as above.
- Waterproofs(plural) rain can happen and you’ll need to dry it all for the following day.
Leave room in the case to bring back Sacher torte. They sell it in presentation boxes.