Two more days ‘in the bag’ with the total miles travelled standing at 840. We parted company with the beautiful Drau river valley this morning, in the Tirolan city of Lienz, after cycling almost half of its 430 mile course. The day into Lienz is one that will stay with us forever for the sheer beauty of the increasingly breathtaking scenery on a perfect sunny autumn day.
Our northerly route out of Lienz followed the river Isel upstream for a relatively gruelling 30 miles to a height of about 5,300 feet. The first twenty miles were on quiet lanes through very pretty villages where the houses typically have wooden first floor balconies bedecked in colourful pelargonium and / or surfinas. We also passed a succession of tiny mobile milk vats awaiting collection by the ‘Tirolan Milk Company’. This and the clanging of cow bells as the, mostly simmental, cows grazed seemed at odds with the crops of maize and larger agricultural machinery in evidence.
The last ten miles of our climb to the Felbertauertunnel through the Alps was on a busy road with little or no shoulder, so was not as enjoyable as it should have been given the magnificent scenery in the snow clad mountains. As cycling is not allowed through the 3.3 mile long tunnel, we were taxied through. The ten mile downhill the other side to the town of Mittersill was world class if a little cold, despite being fully zipped up, and the omni present traffic.
Gavin is still on a high after spending our night in Lienz in a small hotel attached to a brewery. The rooms were all themed with pictures of the brewing process, furniture incorporating beer crates and light fittings made of beer bottles. The finishing touch was the bathroom where the sink was made of a metal beer keg and the door handle and tap were both the sort of tap used to pull a pint. The view from the window was just stunning though.
With over 750 miles under our belts we are still cycling up the increasingly beautiful valley of the Drau River, which is now a, fast flowing, emerald green. The sun has returned but it is much colder now, requiring long trousers and full gloves. The terrain is still largely a mix of gravelled bike paths and quiet lanes and is a reasonably benevolent in gradient. That will change on Wednesday when we reach the town of Lienz in the Tyrol province. Thereafter we head north, through the alps, to return to Salzburg. The pictures below show that it is impossible to put into words how stunning the scenery here is.
Keith, as master of “the rules” if you are reading this can you please settle an argument? The definition of a “day off” is:
A) anything less than 70 kms
B) a day with no requirement to cycle anywhere at all
C) any other variation – please specify
After two days and nights in Slovenia, Austria’s southern neighbour, we cycled back over the (no longer existing) border this morning. We are largely following the Drau river upstream. Running for 439 miles from its source in the Italian Tyrol, the Drau flows through Southern Austria, Northern Slovenia and forms most of the border between Croatia and Hungary, finally joining the Danube and draining in to the Black Sea.
Northern Slovenia is very picturesque, with steeply wooded hillsides and sleepy villages, not having been involved in the Balkan war in the 1990’s, Slovenia was the first of the former Yugoslavian States to gain independence and join the EU. Our first night was spent in Maribor, Slovenia’s second largest city, which sits on the banks of the Drava (Slovenian name for the Drau). Yesterday, Friday, was a graphic demonstration of why Slovenia is so verdant; it rained all day, good farmers rain; persistent, penetrating and positively wet! Consequently we chose to cycle on the road to Dravograd, our next stop, as opposed to facing unknown surfaces on the, much longer, bike route through the hills. The road was very busy, without much shoulder, for most of the way, so we were very relieved to get to Dravograd looking and feeling like a pair of drowned rats.
Today was at least dry, if a bit on the cold side, with low clouds unfortunately obscuring the higher views for much of the morning. The Drau bike route is a mix of quiet lanes and gravelled paths, either right by the river or through adjacent countryside, which we both enjoy for the more open vista and variety. Again there are vast acreages of maize in this region, interspersed with pumpkins, sunflowers, lupins and millet.
Our pit stop tonight, 690 miles into our trip, is the village of Ferlach in the southern Austrian province of Carinthia. Unfortunately for Gavin his welcome was a bite on the foot from a sleepy wasp!
Good progress so far, more than half the distance in half of our time so some easier days to come? Our journey continues, south, through the province of Burgenland, on the Austrian side of the border with Hungary; no troubles to report. The landscape is very rural, having cycled through more acres of vines, those not yet harvested simply dripping with fruit, today (Wednesday) has been mostly maize with, autumn cultivation in progress on the, already cropped, arable lands. The terrain is more hilly now, with wooded ridges, just hinting the autumn reds and gold to come.
Thinking the night in the winery would be hard to beat, last night we slept in a hilltop Castle above the village of Lockenhaus. The oldest part of the castle was built around 800 years ago with the wing we were in being positively modern, having been added in 1661. Our bedroom was huge with magnificent views down the valley below. Gavin insists I call him “Your Lordship” now. The old kitchen, great hall, and banqueting room were all very impressive with vaulted ceilings and huge wooden beams. The torture chamber, complete with chains, rack and iron maiden were a grim reminder of less civilised times. Historic accounts report a previous owner, a completely mad and evil “noble” woman, who is alleged to have tortured and killed over 600, mainly peasant, girls so she could bathe in blood in the belief it would keep her young and beautiful. Fortunately neither the victims or the mad woman made their presence felt….
Since the last post we have added another 190 miles (440 since leaving Salzburg) and visited two capital cities; Vienna and Bratislava. Before the final run in to Vienna we travelled through the Wachau region, a stunning, wooded, section of the Danube Valley with beautiful villages and a myriad of hilltop castles, although mostly ruins.
Vienna has many majestic buildings which result from it being the seat of the Hapsburgs Austro-Hungarian empire for centuries until 1918, when war saw the end of the empire and Austria became a Republic state. The Old State Treasury houses robes and the Crown jewels including golden crowns set with enormous precious stones. The cloaks and robes are remarkably preserved, with exquisite embroidery and vibrant colours in amazing condition; some dating back to 1100! A four mile ride to visit the Hapsburg’s summer residence, the Schönbrunn Palace, was most worthwhile even though we could see only 40 of the 1,441 rooms! The gardens, fountains and sculptures are mind blowing.
Just 40 miles downstream the Danube flows through the state capital of the Republic of Slovakia, Bratislava. Slovakia joined the EU in 2004, uses the Euro as it’s currently and is party to the Shengen agreement which has allows free movement between participating member states, so there were no border checks or money changing issues for our overnight stay in the old heart of the city. It has a distinctly different vibe than Austria, definitely a lingering hint of its eastern block past, however we enjoyed our visit, particularly the heart of the old town. Gavin was very taken with the trams.
Leaving the Danube flowing towards Hungary, we turned south, back into Austria following the, excellently signposted, Jübilaum cycle route; firstly through vast acres of maize studded with hundreds of rather majestic wind turbines, then through miles of vineyards where harvesting is in full swing. Our billet for tonight is bed and breakfast at a winery in the charming village of St Georgen near to the Nuesiedlersee Lake. Yes we did try some and very good it was too.
With 250 miles under our belts we have passed through the provinces of Salzburg and Upper Austria and have now entered Lower Austria with a couple of sorties into Germany along the way. We are only about 70 miles from Vienna, so should arrive there on Saturday.
We crossed the (non existing) border between Austria and Germany on a couple of occasions although the German police were present in some numbers checking for migrants. We did see a few who were walking over an un-policed dam just a bit further up river. The Salzach river, we followed out of Salzburg, flows into the Inn; with this then joining a confluence of the Ilz and Danube at the Bavarian town of Passau. The Danube, joined by m
any smaller rivers along its course, flows through Austria, eventually emptying in to the Black Sea.
The cycling is world class, mostly paved, dedicated cycle paths or very quiet roads running alongside the broad river; so consequently mostly very flat. The weather has been very warm and sunny, although somewhat humid this afternoon. There are numerous cyclists, many on electric bikes, which we seem to overtake with ease and frequency! The other oddity is the number of bikes pulling child trailers with dogs in them! Call me old fashioned but I thought the furry mutts have legs and like going walkies. One Collie looked suitably sheepish, whilst a smug pug had “I’m not the mug in this ensemble” written all over its screwed up f
The only other concern is whether Johann Strauss or me needs to go to Specsavers; I would say the Danube is definitely a deep jade green colour shimmering in the autumn sun. Maybe things have changed since he wrote his Blue Danube Waltz in 1866……
Where else could we be other than in Austria. A swift hour and a half flight from Gatwick to the home of the Von Trapps in Salzburg, courtesy of a British Airways captain who sounded like Robert Peston on speed. Gavin has tacked together a number of Austria’s superb cycle routes to come up with a circa 900 mile round tour back to Salzburg.
An afternoon in Salzburg allowed us to climb up to and tour the splendid medieval Hohensalzburg, a hilltop fortress built and extended by successive Bishops from the eleventh century onwards, the views from the top are stunning from the alps to the south and across the Salzach river valley to Germany in the North. We cycled around some of the locations used in the filming of the Sound of Music, Gavin now seems to think he is sixteen going seventeen for some reason. We stayed at the Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron, where many of the lakeside scenes were shot. Breakfast was in the most amazing great hall, complete with frescoed ceilings and marble pillars.
Our first full cycling day took us north along the Salzach and then Inn rivers which form the border with Germany. Handily placed bridges allowed us to cross into Bavaria to the charmingly named town of Tittmoning for a picnic lunch in the town square and then later to Burghausen which lays claim to the longest Castle in Europe extending one kilometre along a ridge above the town.
Rather damp at the end of a grey and rainy day, it was good to roll into the charming town of Braunau am Inn some 57 miles from Salzburg.