Passau in the southeast of Germany is located at the Austrian border at the confluence of the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers
How upgrading to an electric bike put a whole new spin on a Bike & Barge holiday for one traveller and her “reluctant cyclist”.
The Danube near Schloegen on the Danube Bike Path
There’s a section of the mighty Danube River, an immense volume of water that courses through 10 Eastern European countries, where the river slows down and gently winds back on itself, creating an elegant, cursive loop in the landscape.
The Danube Loop or Schlönger Schlinge is considered a geographical rarity on the river’s 1,700-mile journey from the Black Forest in Germany to the Romanian Black Sea Coast.
The complete 180-degree bend in the river in Upper Austria is so spectacular it has been declared one of that country’s “natural wonders”. It’s also one of the most photographed sections along the popular Danube Bike Path that follows the river between the Bavarian city of Passau and the Slovakian city of Bratislava.
However, it’s at this particular bend in the river between Passau and Linz, on the last cycling day of an eight-day Danube by Bike and Boat trip
, that my cycling companion and I, are about to have our first falling out.
And to be honest, it’s caught us both by surprise.
Despite this being our first-ever cycling trip, my first-ever cruise of any kind, and a self-guided holiday (requiring some degree of problem solving skills and adaptability), we seem to be making decisions about where we go and what we want to do each day, with great efficiency and very little discussion.
We have been setting out early from our boat each morning along the Danube Cycle Path
long before most of our fellow passengers have finished their breakfast. We have followed the mostly flat path, travelling at our own pace through protected forests, fertile farmland and vineyards; stopping when and if we feel like it; for coffee breaks, photo opportunities, water or a quick snack. Most days we opt for the suggested ‘alternative routes’ that take us off the bike path to ancient ruins, medieval castles, cider-houses and even a Celtic village; our electric bikes allowing us to easily cycle the extra miles up and down the quiet country roads normally deemed for the “sporty and ambitious”.
Discover quaint villages as you cycle the Danube Bike Path
On average we cycle 50 kilometres each day, always finding time for a long lunch, indulging our seemingly endless appetite for regional specialties (smoked trout, crumbed schnitzel and potato dumplings) washed down with steins of cold beer and the occasional Riesling.
We follow the river, like sunflowers following the sun, absorbing the ever-changing landscape; through fields of ripening corn, alongside apricot orchards and bumping over the cobblestones in ancient villages whose names we have trouble pronouncing let alone remembering. Slowly, but surely we succumb to the Danube’s timeless charms.
But now, mid-morning on our final cycling day we find ourselves in a Mexican standoff on an Austrian riverbank.
The day before, at our regular briefing, our cruise director, Andreas, had outlined our route through the Danube Valley, presenting two possible itineraries along the Loop. The first option was to cycle past the bicycle ferry at Schlögener Schlinge, lock up our bikes and hike up a steep forest trail to a lookout where Andreas assured us, we would be rewarded with a breathtaking bird’s eye view of the Danube Loop.
Alternatively, we could take the ferry to the other side of the river and stop for a cold ale, coffee or cider at Pumburger Farm, a little family-run restaurant and guesthouse, which Andreas had described as the “quietest, most peaceful place in the valley”. The lookout seemed the obvious choice.
But this particular morning my cycling companion has other ideas. While I had sped past the bike ferry with the lookout hike firmly in my sights, he had stopped dead in his tracks, straddling his bike, his feet planted on the ground, with a fierce “where are you going?” look on his face. Having started the trip as “the reluctant cyclist” he was now declaring he wasn’t going anywhere he couldn’t cycle. I was speechless.
Even the most reluctant cyclist will enjoy the Danube Bike Path
Time seemed to stand still as we stood glaring at each other, metres apart. Neither of us dared to speak lest we say something we might regret, but I could feel the angry words forming in thought bubbles above our heads. We stood our ground both silently willing the other to give in.
Suddenly the impasse was broken by the chugging sound of a wooden ferry pulling up to the riverbank below us, ready to transport a waiting group of cyclists to the other side. Without a word, we looked at each other, grabbed our bikes and raced down the path to jump on the waiting ferry.
Twenty minutes later, we were sitting under the shade of an apricot tree on a small hill, tucking into freshly baked bread and homemade jam, in the quietest, most peaceful place in the Danube Valley. With chickens roaming at our feet, a coffee in our hand and the sparkling river in the distance, we watched as three young children tumbled in and out of a hammock and chased each other around the fruit trees, clutching brilliant blue and green hued peacock feathers in their tiny hands.
It was then I remembered the conversation we’d had before we left for our European adventure nearly five weeks ago. We had agreed that nothing, short of a natural disaster, would ruin our holiday. Long queues, train delays, crowds of tourists, bad weather - whatever happened, we would take it all in our stride.
And indeed we had.
Do you know a reluctant cyclist? Get them to take a look at these cycling trips along the Danube Bike Path