Back in July I received an email from Jack’s Flight Club that stated ‘London to Vienna at £0.02 return in July – October, be quick’ in the subject line. And so I did. I jumped on the offer and managed to get a great deal for the August Bank holiday – not quite £0.02 return but pretty damn cheap nonetheless.
With two mates joining, we decided to plan something a bit different from the usual European city break. Initially, we were set to walk along the Danube, but with one friend suffering from an injury we opted for cycles instead – in hindsight a much better idea! As we started to look into the plans we realised that the Austrian Danube is possibly the most famous cycle route in Europe, with approximately 38,000 biking the route every year.
So we set off from Vienna with our bikes and took a train to Krems an der Donau. I had tagged a few restaurants and sights on my trusty Google map and we came across Nikolaihof Wachau for our first pitstop for a traditional Austrian lunch and delicious wine. Nikolaihof is the oldest wine estate in Austria, whose history goes back almost 2,000 years to Roman times. The woman behind the scenes is a lovely woman named Christine who took time to talk to us about the history of the place and even gave us a private tour into the cellar.
Venturing further upriver we spotted the small village of Dürnstein, so caught the ferry across the Danube to check it out. Here we explored the castle – or what’s left of it – which offered amazing views of the river and the surrounding countryside, dominated by vineyards. After taking in the views we walked the quaint main street, stopping for a potent shot of apricot schnapps before indulging in yet another bottle of the regions delicious Riesling.
Then it was back across the river and on the bikes. By this time it was late afternoon and the weather had started to turn. Stealing a few apples from the orchards we passed kept the energy levels up and we couldn’t help ourselves from stopping for one more glass of wine at a restaurant along the cycle path before cycling into the dark toward our accommodation for the night.
The following morning we rode straight to Melk, just 10km away from where we stayed the previous night at Aggsbach-Dorf. Melk is a small town, known for the 11th-century monastery which is perched on a hill high above the town. There wasn’t much to see in Melk but we did locate some delicious local pastries filled with lush custard. So out of sights to see and pre-booked tickets keeping us from cycling further upriver, we decided to catch the train back to Vienna early.
Don’t get me wrong, Vienna is a picturesque city in its own right, but I couldn’t seem to find that extra something special I usually uncover in our European city breaks. Or maybe we just didn’t give it enough of a chance with our limited time. We spent our last half day exploring the usual suspects: the Hofburg Palace, Heldenplatz, Maria Theresa Square and surrounding museum’s and gardens. We also made a trip to the (disappointing) Naschmarkt, which after the first 20 metres felt like Groundhog Day. By this time I was a bit over the aimless wandering and needed a sugar hit which I found in a delicious piece of cake and glass of prosecco at Café Landtmann.
Cycling along the Danube, stopping regularly for a wine, apple picking and admiring the small villages we encountered was a truly memorable weekend away. Perhaps we could’ve skipped Vienna altogether and spent more time on this famous cycleway. We only covered about 10% of the total 370km length so there are plenty more reasons to return to Europe’s longest river.