Very enjoyable ride down the Danube, starting from the source at Donaueschingen, and finishing in Vienna 3 weeks later. Day by day notes, and holiday snaps below.
We got going from Donaueschingen late morning, after wandering over to have a look at the official source of the river, and watching a cycle race that was in full swing round the streets of the town. It was a nice easy start, smooth wide cyclepath across relatively flat fields, interspersed with small villages. Lots of black and white birds hanging about in the fields. Not far after the start we got to the "Danube Sink", where all the water disappears underground for part of the year, and we had a wander round the river bed, and met a woman who had ridden our entire 3 week route in 6 days, when she was younger! After Nendingen, it started drizzling, and steadily got heavier for the rest of the day, which was unfortunate as there was good scenery, limestone cliffs, with small chateaus perched precariously on top. At Stetten, a beer festival seemed to be in full swing in the streets, with lots of very jolly revellers in Bavarian dress, who didn't appear to be in the slightest bit deterred by the now quite heavy rain. Eventually we reached a very soggy campsite at Hausen, and got pitched up and had showers. Unfortunately they didn't have any screw top gas cannisters to fit our MSR stove, only the old fashioned blue type that you puncture, so we couldn't even make something hot for tea!
It rained quite heavily all night, and a few drips made it into the tent, and it was still chucking it down when we left Hausen in the morning. We stopped for morning coffee in Gutenstein, and when we emerged it seemed to have finally eased off a bit. By Sigmaringen, the sun had even come out, and we wandered round the whole town looking for a decent outdoor shop for some gas cannisters. We couldn't find anything, but on the plus side, it was a very pretty town, and the castle was impressive. We camped at Riedlingen, in a nice little spot at the local tennis club. We still couldn't find any gas cannisters, which was a bit worrying, but we did find an excellent organic supermarket nearby, so we got some picnic stuff for tea.
Leaving Riedlingen, it was a much nicer day, blue skies and warm, and we even had to put sun cream on later on in the morning. On the stretch to Untermachtal, two red kites circled overhead. There were lots of apple trees laden with fruit, right beside the cycle path, so close you could almost pick them without stopping. The camping gas situation was still worrying, and we tried a couple of shops in an out-of-town place near Ehingen, but still couldn't find anything. In the centre of town there was a more serious looking outdoor shop, but unfortunately it was closed until mid september, however there was a small organic shop, so we got some good picnic items, and sat in the sun watching the comings and goings in the town. We took the Blau valley variant for the last stretch into Ulm. There were some nice stretches, and some good limestone cliffs, some of them with climbers in action, although a lot of industry too. Diversions near the end on the outskirts of Ulm left us a bit confused, and we ended up coming into Ulm alongside a busy dual carriageway, although on good cycle path at least. There wasn't any camping in the vicinity of Ulm but we found a good hotel quite quickly, the first one we tried, right in the main square beside the cathedral, that even had a special garage for bikes. We also found screw top camping gas cylinders in a large sports shop near the centre - at last, hot meals and cups of tea in the evenings!
It was raining when we woke up, but it seemed to have dried off a bit by the time we left Ulm, and after Ulm there were some very pleasant forest sections. At Dillingen it was starting to drizzle again, it didn't seem too bad at first, but then some sudden heavy downpours had us rushing for cover to the nearest coffee bar. It had eased off a bit by the time we left, although we still needed full waterproofs on. We camped at Donauworth, at a small spot at the rowing club on the outskirts of town next to the river Wornitz. Four blokes arrived on super-light bikes with no kit, which seemed a bit odd, but after a lot of animated conversation into a mobile, eventually a van arrived which was carrying their tents and all their other stuff for them!
Leaving the Donauworth campsite we passed a discount super market, so we popped in and stocked up with a few supplies, including a huge loaf of bread which weighed a ton, and seemed to take up most of the space in my food bag. After breakfast in the centre of Donauworth, we pushed on along rolling cycle path, surprisingly hilly in places, alongside a road. After Bertoldsheim it started spitting a bit, and we passed four blokes on super lightweight bikes, and a van with a bike trailer on the back who seemed to be following, and had stopped to give them some waterproof tops! It was easy riding, flat road through farmland, with fields of sweetcorn and cabbages. At Neuburg the campsite was conveniently near to the town, a fairly low key site, right by the Danube. We pitched up and went and had a look round town, nice place, although we struggled to find a supermarket and ended up buying some expensive pasta and sauce from an expensive gift shop, only to find the supermarket a few minutes later, and only about thirty seconds from where we had walked into town in the first place. We treated ourselves to pasta with tomato sauce and green lentils for tea.
It rained quite a bit during the night, but it had stopped by the morning, and it was still a bit overcast when we left Neuburg. The route left town alongside a long straight road, but then crossed into an area of farmland and an old hunting lodge, with some nice tree lined roads and tracks. At Ingolstadt the route did a small tour of the town, with lots of pleasant pedestrianised streets and cafes, and we stopped off for elevenses and had croissants and rolls with homemade strawberry jam. By this time the sun was out, so we even had to put some sun cream on. At Neustadt, there was a good selection of supermarkets, to stock up on supplies. The campsite had good facilities, a nice flat grassy area beside a small stream, but one serious problem - mosquitos!! We had pasta with spicy tomato sauce and mushrooms for tea, and then retreated to the tent early to escape the mosquitos. We still managed to get quite a few bites, which took a few days to subside!
Leaving Neustadt the route went through fields full of hops, strung up on elaborate frameworks. It was sunny and very hot. At Weltenburg, there was a choice of taking the ferry for the 5km stretch through the Danube gorge, or less scenic forest track, and we plumped for the scenery. We weren't quite sure how the fully loaded bike would make it onto the ferry, but there was an easy-angled ramp to roll on and off without even having to take the panniers off, then the bikes were arranged in a large line in the middle of the deck, like a sequence of dominos. The gorge was quite impressive, and the narrowest bit had iron rings set into the limestone cliffs, which the boats used to use to manhandle their way round the cliffs. Kelheim was busy, the boat disengorged us straight into a coach parking area, and we quickly pushed on. A little further on we stopped at a pub in Kelheimwinzer for chips and some drinks, under a large parasol to keep the sun off. From Bad Abbach onwards the route was very busy with cyclists, on both the path, and lots of more serious roadies sticking to the road. There was a nice final section nearer to Regensburg, where the path skirted the river as it gently curved round, with a line of small limestone cliffs on the other side. The camping was a good site, with a small hiker area, separate from the car campers. The most pricey campsite of the trip at 21 euros, although undoubtedly a lot cheaper than any other options in the city! It even had screw top gas cannisters in the shop, although we were fully stocked up by now anyway.
We stayed at the Regensburg campsite for two nights, and spent a day looking round Regensburg, which was very worthwhile. There were lots of old streets and churches to look at, and lots of people cycling about, including many with kiddy trailers on the backs of their bikes, and people sitting out in squares with cafes. We were sitting having a coffee when suddenly there was a load of noise from down the street, and a very strange bicycle went past, about the size of a milk float, with about 8 people sitting at bar stools peddling and drinking. Back at the campsite, we had just got settled down for the night in the tent at about 10pm when we heard some noise outside, and a band of thunder and lightning appeared, almost out of nowhere, passed by for about half an hour, then it all went quiet again.
As we were getting ready in the morning, there was an unpleasant cracking noise from the tent, and it turned out that the tent pole had snapped! Luckily, the tent came with a piece of aluminimum sleeve for repairs, so using that and a bit of duct tape I was able to fix it. It was a bit cloudy when we left Regensburg, but even by the time we got to the outskirts it was hot and sunny, and we had to stop and put sun cream on. We soon passed the rather lavish Walhalla high up on the wooded hillside. Passing Wörth we took a short detour into town, there didn't seem to be much to it at first, but then we found a good cafe for elevenses, it even had earl grey tea. Later on we passed something I had never seen before, a bicycle inner tube vending machine, with 6 different sizes of tube, just perched there at the side of the road! We camped at Straubing, the bloke on reception seemed rather gloomy, but the place had very new shower and washing facilities, and we were the only tent in the whole camping area.
After Straubing it was another nice sunny day. The Danube is really wide at this point, and there were great views at times, sometimes you could see an avenue of trees stretching off along its banks, other times there were large barges chugging their way down it. We took a quick look in at Deggendorf, it seemed like a nice enough centre, but we pushed on. At Niederalteich, we went and had a look at the Benedictine abbey, and then stopped at the small cafe. We camped at Neßlbach, a very small campsite with a few caravans around, and a small grass area for tents. Two other cycle tourers arrived about the same time as us, they took a look inside our tent, looked faintly unimpressed, and declared in German to each other that it was far too small!
As we were de-pitching the next morning in Neßlbach, there was a rather unpleasant snapping noise, and we found that a second section of tent pole had snapped. The campsite attendant appeared looking for the other two campers, who seemed to have done a runner without paying! The weather had taken a turn for the worse, and it was already raining when we left Neßlbach. We pushed on for a while, but then at Windorf we adjourned to a nice little bakery for a morning coffee and some plum crumble, which cheered us up a bit, and was a good escape from the rain for a while. There were quite a few dirt stretches, which were very wet, so the bikes and us were quite muddy and wet by the time we were nearing Passau. The cycle route crossed an impressively large and very industrial looking dam just on the outskirts of Passau, and the cyclists crossing over looked tiny against it. We soon arrived on the neatly paved riverside at Passau, where lots of large cruise ships were moored up. The rain had eased off by this time, although we were still quite damp. We went and found the campsite, which was conveniently located only about 15 minutes walk from the centre of Passau, and right on the banks of the River Ilz. It took a while to get pitched up, first we had to do another tent pole repair, then it took a while to find the best spot in the rather soggy ground after all the rain. During the night we had some attacks from a very determined mouse, which we had to shoo off a few times.
We stayed at the Passau campsite for two nights, and spent a whole day looking round the city. We did a circuit of all the old bits, then we walked up to the Veste Oberhaus, which gave a great view over the entire city. When we got back to the campsite a few more people had arrived, including two separate teams towing all their stuff in bicycle trailers. After tea we were treated to an excellent display of bats flying over the river.
We had some more mouse attacks during the night at the Passau campsite, but we managed to shoo it off each time. In the morning there was a damp mist hanging over everything, although it did look like there was some blue sky hiding behind it. We de-pitched and after a quick breakfast stop in Passau, took the bridge over the river Inn to take the cycle path on the South side of the Danube. Not long after leaving Passau we crossed into Austria, although there wasn't much to the crossing, just an old marker stone on the ground. This stretch was absolutely gorgeous, probably the best scenery of the whole trip, with tree covered slopes streching up high above the river on both sides, and little castles perched on the slopes. At Schlögen the river turned back on itself, then meandered round a series of bends, with tree-lined cycle path, right beside the water. Brilliant scenery, the photos don't really do it justice. We pushed on to Kaiserau where we got some good camping, only a few metres from the water.
It was a bit chilly when we left Kaiserau the next morning, as the steep sided river valley was still in the shade, but it soon warmed up. At Aschach the river valley started to flatten out, and we left the steeper tree covered hillside behind. We crossed over to take the North side of the river, flat roads through farmland, and fields of sweetcorn, hot and sunny by this time. There was a very long stretch right on the river bank, before arriving at Ottensheim where there was another inner tube vending machine. The last stretch was dreary, on cycle path right beside busy dual carriageway to Linz. At Linz there seemed to be some sort of food festival in full swing, and the place was heaving, everyone seemed in very jolly mood. There was no campsite nearby, but a quick visit to the tourist info got us sorted out with a decent hotel instead that was fairly central. We stayed in Linz for two nights, so that we could spend a day looking round, although half a day would have probably been enough, especially as it was a Sunday, so everything was closed up.
The day after leaving Linz was the wettest of the whole trip! It was already drizzling when we left Linz, and it got steadily wetter as the day went on. There was a rather grim section where the cycle route had been diverted inland before Mitterkirchen, as they were in the middle of constructing flood defences at the river side. The sign at the end of the diversion showed some pictures of the most recent flood in 2002, and it was hard to believe how high the river had got. By the time we got to Grein we looked like drowned rats, so instead of camping we went to the tourist info and treated ourselves to the luxury of a B&B instead. There were plenty to choose from, and it was nice to be able to dry out all the stuff properly. The B&B woman seemed to be used to soggy cyclists, and had drying racks all set up ready for our stuff when we arrived.
It still looked a bit drizzly when we left Grein the next morning, but it soon dried up. We caught the ferry to the other side of the river, it had just left the bank when we got there, but the driver spotted us and did a small loop to come back and get us. There was some good scenery on this bit, the river valley got steeper and tigher again, with tree lined slopes, and little castles and cliffs. At Melk the campsite was right beside the river, and looked a bit desserted and forlorn. We were the only people there, until two German chaps appeared later on. There were lots of cruise ships moored up, and a mock steam train on wheels that ferried the cruise people back and forth between the river and the town, so they could take a look at the abbey. From behind the campsite hedge we heard lots of American voices going past. When I took a shower later on, there was a bloke who seemed to have taken up residence in the shower room, with all of his stuff piled up beside him, listening to the radio. I could hear him singing to himself as I was showering.
The next morning we adjourned to a small bakery at the top of Melk for apple strudel and morning coffee, and to watch the comings and goings for a while. Leaving Melk there was a surprisingly long hill climb to get up to the bridge to cross over to the other side of the river. It was worth it though, this was a superb stretch, starting off through orchards, which turned into vineyards, with terraces on the hillside, and lots of small pictureseque villages. It was lovely and sunny, and it was hard to make decent progress along here, without constantly stopping to take photographs of the scenery. At Durnstein there was a very imposing monastery, and an interesting narrow old cobbled street, although it was quite busy with tourists, and another pretend steam train going back and forth. We camped at Krems, we were the only tent there, and had a whole grassy area to ourselves, in contrast to all the caravans and motor homes, that were packed in like sardines.
After Krems we crossed back over the river, then followed lots of sections of wide smooth cyclepath that stretched for miles, right beside the river. Not the most exciting scenery, but still very pleasant and easy riding. At Tulln we took a short detour into the large pedestrianised main square for elevenses, and sat in the sun amongst the flower beds for a while, lots of cycle tourists around. Then on to the very last campsite of the entire trip at Klosterneuburg.
The final day was quite a short one, it was surprisingly easy to get almost all the way to the centre of Vienna along the Donaukanal, which branched off from the river itself, passing an array of colourful grafitti on practically every wall. Nearer the centre we took the Ring-Rund-Radweg, which did a circuit round the scenic centre of the city, and was quite easy to follow, with well marked cycle paths completely separate from the road. There is a campsite that would be very convenient for Vienna, at Lobau, but unfortunately it closes for the year in the middle of september and we had just missed it by a few days. So we paid a quick visit to the tourist info and got sorted out with a hotel instead, which left us with the rest of the day to explore the city.
All in all a very enjoyable ride, with good scenery, and lots of historical things to look at. There are plenty of facilities, so there are no major logistical challenges, and it is not too physically demanding, which would make it ideal for a first cycle touring trip, or to take your kids on. Plus the cycle paths are absolutely superb, a huge proportion of the route is completely off the road, on smooth wide paths. As well as the riding, we spent a full day in most of the cities having a good look around at all the historical stuff. The only place we didn't really do justice to was Vienna, where we could only spent about half a day (as we had spent too much time looking round all the previous places). Definitely worth a couple of days in Vienna for proper exploration.
We used the two Bikeline guidebooks (the English versions) for the navigation, the maps are very good, and most of the things listed (facilities, campsites, etc) did seem to genuinely exist on the ground. From Passau onwards, there is a choice of sides of the river, and its worth having a read through the descriptions the night before to choose the best side. For example, from Passau to Schlögen, we took the South bank, which was good for a while, but then had some road sections where there was no cycle path, and the North bank would have been much nicer.
The route is great for camping, with an interesting mix of sites, and they appear often enough to give plenty of different daily mileage options. Some are highly organised, others smaller and lower key based in the local tennis club or rowing club. Typical price for two people and one tent was between 11 and 16 euros. The campsites are clearly marked on the Bikeline maps. Some of the cities had convenient campsites quite nearby, particularly Regensburg and Passau. However some didn't have any camping within range, so in those we got hotels instead. September seems like a decent time to go, everything is less crowded, and although there is some inevitable rain, sometimes quite heavy, overall its not too bad - I think we had about three nice days for every one wet day. Worth making sure you have good waterproofs though, and decent waterproof tent. Mudguards are recommended too.
I struggled to get screw top gas cylinders for my MSR stove, everywhere seems to have those old-fashioned blue cannisters that you have to puncture. After a couple of days I was starting to seriously regret not taking a petrol stove instead, and we were almost resigned to having to eat cold picnics day and night for the entire trip. Thankfully we did eventually find them in Ulm (and other places later on), however if you use this type of stove (MSR Pocket-rocket or similar) then you might want to take one of those adaptor things to be on the safe side. At the very least, take a printout picture of the cannister, so shop staff will know what you are talking about!