As a child, whizzing along down country lanes on my bike was arguably my first taste of freedom. The feeling of independence- no adults around!- is still linked in my mind to freewheeling down hills, and although I’ve not been on a bike regularly since I was a teenager, I was more than keen to test out Europe’s most popular cycle route, the Danube Cycle path, and hopefully rediscover my long-lost enthusiasm! With easy cycling, daily luggage transfer and ever-changing scenery it’s perfect for beginners or those looking for a leisurely but still active holiday. Now is the perfect time to get back in the saddle, feel the wind through your hair and remind yourself just how much fun cycling can be.
The ‘classic’ section of the Danube cycle path starts in the German city of Passau and continues to the Austrian capital of Vienna. It’s the most family/beginner-friendly section of the Danube Cycle Path route, as it’s incredibly well-maintained, flat and paved. The journey from Munich airport to Passau by train was a piece of cake, even with my utter lack of German. Passau’s old town is definitely worth a visit, its cobbled winding streets and tunnels lead you to the water’s edge where you can see the confluence of three rivers; the Danube, the Inn and the Ilz, all of which have their own distinct colour and combine into one large waterway leaving the city. St Stephen’s Cathedral is a masterpiece in Baroque architecture, and emitted gasps from all the tourists as they entered. It houses the largest church organ outside the USA and there are almost daily performances from May to October.
After donning my cycling shorts and a few minor seat adjustments, I set off to meet the river. The route is very well signposted and apart from the odd look at the map, I barely needed to consult the route descriptions.
As you follow the river downstream the landscape completely changes, from woodland paths to open plains, to the terraced vineyards of the wine growing region. Every turn of the river reveals a storybook castle or a colourful traditional village, or the next great city you’re headed to. That’s another fantastic thing about this route; it feels like a city break and cycling holiday rolled into one, as you visit the vibrant cities of Passau, Linz and Vienna interspersed with pretty, rural towns and sightseeing spots that you’ll have plenty of time to explore along the way. Vienna needs no introduction as a wonderful city but the other stopovers along the way have just as much to see and do- Linz was the European Capital of Culture 2009, Austria’s oldest theatre is located in Grien, Melk is home to a beautiful Benedictine monastery and the Wachau region has its ‘thousand-bucket hill’, so-called due to the amount of wine it produces.
Some personal highlights of the trip include: cycling through early-morning dappled sunlight and spotting wildlife along the way; accidentally ordering a bizarre combination of food due to not remembering my German phrasebook; discovering Austrian wines with the free tastings in Durnstein; triumphantly arriving in Vienna and realising I had made it over 280km entirely using pedal power!
Since returning, I can confidently say my bike is getting much more use, and it has definitely revived my former zeal for long days out cycling, picnic lunch packed in the panniers, and freewheeling down big, long hills.