Since BMB, the bug of long distance touring has me well and truly in its jaws. That being said, due to work I didn’t have much of a chance for a long ride since August.
Think of January in Austria, and you’ll normally think of cozying up at home by a fireplace, or going skiing in the Alps. Thanks to global warming however, snow is reserved to the mountain tops (and even then only with snow blowers), and instead we are offered rather pleasant sunny, 10C weather. With some time to kill in my winter holidays, on a whim I decided to plan a day tour from Vienna to Bratislava and back – a 150 km trip largely following the Danube river and crossing into neighbouring Slovakia.
Things started off with a rather gloomy blanket of fog, however after a few kilometres the sun popped out with the promise of a lovely day. My Cannondale is in my local bike shop following a crash (story to come shortly), so I took my Triban, which I am planning to convert into my main audax bike.
My Hammerhead bike computer took me along the smooth asphalt of the Donauinsel (Danube Island), a 25 km long, 100 metre broad strip between the new and old Danube rivers. At the south-eastern end, I peeled off one of the many bridges, past the giant Lobau oil storage terminal, and into the vast expanse of the Lobau forest.
The EV6 European bike route (connecting the Atlantic in France to the Black Sea coast in Romania) carves a straight, thin line through the Lobau forest. From the Lobau terminal to the Slovakian border this path is about 30 km long, surrounded left and right with uninterrupted fields and forests, rich with wildlife including deer, wild boar, and birds of prey.
Tiring a little of the straight line monotony (which I would repeat later in the other direction), halfway along, I turned left down a small gravel driveway to the town of Eckartsau, which is home to the charming stately home Schloss Eckartsau.
Leaving the quaint town, I turned east again and along country roads which were thankfully quiet. There was no wind and the Triban purred along the smooth asphalt as I found a comfortable cadence. Before I would cross the border, I decided to cycle past the stately home of Schloss Hof, a baroque palace which was originally purchased by Prince Eugene of Savoy in the 16th century and later owned by Empress Maria Theresa.
The route took me up a side path to the castle which offered a nice short, steep climb of about 15% with slippy leaves underfoot. The palace was however closed, so I stopped for a quick photo, admired their collection of animals, and carried on with my tour.
The area is largely flat, with exception of the Devínska Kobyla mountain, and as I got closer to the border I spotted the coloured domino-like “Panelák” apartment buildings nestling in its shadow, characteristic of communist-era architecture.
I crossed over the Morava river over the “Chuck Norris” cycling bridge (so unofficially named due to a public vote, despite the preferred and official name being the Freedom Cycling Bridge).
I turned down a bike path which ran alongside the Morava river until it joined the Danube, and another 15 kilometres into Bratislava. Things got a little dicey as the bike path abruptly stopped, depositing me on the main road where some of the local drivers were less than sympathetic to my presence.
I persevered, dodging the potholes and eventually make it into the city centre, where I slowly rode along a pomenade and enjoyed the bustling life of the cafés and restaurants, and the impressive sight of the bridges across the Danube.
I nipped into the beautiful old town and then turned onto the Starý Most (old bridge), which boasts a dedicated separated bike path. This took me over to the southern bank of the Danube, and I began my trip westwards back home.
The route out of Bratislava follows a wide bike path through the Sad Janka Kráľa park, under the main motorway out of the city, and then rather suddenly I found myself at the border with Austria. Where once was the Iron Curtain marking two radically different political regimes, watched over by guard towers and machine guns, now I cycled past a handful of distinctly drab buildings and a sign welcoming me into the country. Whatever your political leaning may be, exalted reader, this is surely one of the many blessings of the European Union.
I followed a small asphalt path which ran parallel to the main road, which eventually peeled off and into the small town of Hainburg, the last Austrian town on the Danube. This led me onto the Andreas Maurer Bridge, an impressive and long bridge with a unnervingly narrow bike path alongside a road, which would deposit me into the marshland of the Hainburger Au.
From here, I was back onto the 30 km long bike path which would lead me back to the Lobau and Vienna. Around 4 pm, the sun started to set ahead of me, casting a warm orange glow over the fields and forest around me. For the next hour, I hardly saw a soul and kept myself entertained with a nice audiobook.
By the time I reached the Lobau oil terminal, the sun had set and my headlight cast its soft beam of light into the inky blackness ahead of me. The air started to cool and I was surprised to feel light drops of rain. I certainly didn’t expect this from the weather forecast.
I rode back along the criss-crossing paths of the Donauinsel in the darkness, the raindrops now having turned into a right old rain shower. Still, this is what I train for – anyone can ride in nice, sunny weather, it takes grit to ride in rain and the cold. It wasn’t without its beauty though, and in addition to the amazing reflections in the Danube, through the gloom on the island, I passed a young deer which stood no further than 5 metres away from me.
In all, it was a successful ride of 150 km, finishing in 6 hours. If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a try! If you want a slightly more relaxed trip, perhaps consider staying overnight in a hotel in the city centre and tour Bratislava. Here is a Komoot link to download my route.