My European vacation was going to be a bit out of the ordinary, for I'd decided to explore Austria, Germany, and Switzerland on two wheels, beginning with a spin around Lake Constance. With my trusty touring bike as "luggage," I departed Toronto for Munich, Germany. Upon arrival, I did a quick reassembly job on my bike, took a rapid transit ride to the main train station, and a train excursion to Lindau, the starting point of my cycling journey.
Conveniently, I found a bicycle shop right in the local station complete with an English-speaking owner got some help with my bike, then I was ready to begin my three-country excursion around Lake Constance, or Bodensee as it is known by the locals. But first, I needed a little rest time in Lindau to take care of jet lag.
A two-minute ride took me to the center of the old town, where motor vehicles are restricted. As is so often the case in Europe, pedestrian walkways provide easy access to the main shopping area without the hassle of fighting motor vehicle traffic. If it's not too crowded with pedestrians, cyclists ride along these cobblestone streets, and if it's inconvenient to do so, the cyclist will simply walk along with the bike or park it at one of the many bicycle stands provided.
The next day, surrounded by a panorama of the Alps, I began my cycling trip with a brief 10 km ride to Bregenz, Austria. Another country already! And I hadn't even broken into a sweat yet.
Border crossings were a piece of cake; I didn't have to stop at all and, unless I watched for a sign, it was difficult to know the exact point where I crossed from one country to the next. However, each country does have its own language, and the German fahrrad (bicycle) sign suddenly became a radweg (bicycle route).
Bregenz is a center for the arts and the site of summer musical concerts that are performed on an artificial island on the lake. While in Bregenz, I decided to take a ride by cable car to the top of the mountain the Pfander from where I got a magnificent view of Bregenz Bay, back to Lindau, and the Rhine Valley. Had I wanted, I could also have taken my bicycle with me to the summit and toured around on the hilly pathways, past the wildlife park, then descended the mountain on a twisting gravel road.
From Bregenz I went to Rorschach, Switzerland the town named after the developer of the famous Rorschach inkblot personality test.
Up to now I'd done very little cycling, and I was ready to do some serious pedaling, so I continued through Switzerland in a westerly direction, 67 km to Kreuzlingen. On the way I passed through orchards and visited such towns as Steinach, Romanshornn, and Arbon, the oldest settlement on Lake Constance.
Kreuzlingen, Switzerland is located right next to the German city of Konstanz, and instead of continuing around the lake through Switzerland, I crossed the border at Konstanz, anxious to visit the nearby "must-see" island of Mainau.
Mainau (Island of Flowers) was, indeed, well worth a visit and an entire roll of photos. Family-owned since 1853, the island was acquired as a summer home by Grand Duke Frederik of Baden. His passion for rare plants formed the cornerstone of the park, which has expanded into one of the most beautiful in the world.
I could take a direct route by ferry to Mainau and back to Konstanz or, for the same price, I could have crossed the lake to Meersburg, a town I visited later, which turned out to be a favorite of the entire trip.
From Konstanz, I decided to take the alternate cycling route, following the Rhine River west to Allensbach, Markelfingen, and Radolfzell, all in Germany. I then cycled north to Ludwigshafen to hook up with the lakeshore and begin heading east to Uberlingen. This part of the route includes some narrow streets and finally! hilly terrain. Had I wanted to avoid hills, I could have taken a boat from Ludwigshafen to Uberlingen.
Not far from Uberlingen are two worthwhile stops: Birnau and Uhldingen.
Birnau's "pilgrimage church of Our Dear Lady" rises magnificently above a vineyard-covered hillside and is one of the most visited locations on the lake.
At Uhldingen, a number of buildings are set on wooden piles in the shallow water to demonstrate the lives lived by the stone and bronze age inhabitants of the area.
The bicycle route then took me to the picturesque town of Meersburg, with its steep, winding streets and variety of half-timbered houses. This ancient German city was home to the Bishops of Constance for over 300 years. Here I climbed the steep cobblestone streets towards Upper Town and arrived at Germany's oldest occupied castle. I bought a guide in English and took a tour of the fascinating 7th century castle and its Hungerturm, a tower in which prisoners were left to starve to death. Looking through "the hole of fear," I could well imagine the frightful goings-on of a bygone era.
The final day of cycling completed the loop back to Lindau, taking me through several places of interest. Around Hagnau grapes matured on the gently rising slopes. At Friedrichshafen, the history and technology of air-ships can be studied in the Zeppelin Museum. Langenargen has its famous Montfort Castle standing on a small peninsula. Wasserburg claims the best view of the area at "painters' corner."
For me this was a relaxing trip with lots to see and not much challenging cycling. Yet there are opportunities to ride on more challenging routes. For example, some heavy-duty mountain biking trails begin near Bregenz. But I decided to hop a train to Passau, Germany and the beginning of the Danube Bike Path, a ride that would take me all the way to Vienna, Austria.
I would certainly encourage anyone considering a European cycling vacation to include the magnificent Donauradweg on the agenda. What a great way to explore this fascinating area as you ride southeast from the border town of Passau, Germany along the banks of the Danube River.
Well marked cycling paths are found on both sides of the Danube (known locally as the Donau). It is recommended that you cross the river's several bridges as you ride the asphalted paths for the 325 km journey to Vienna, going slightly downhill the entire trip.
I met a great variety of bicycles and paraphernalia on the Danube Bike Path, including tandems and recumbents (reclining seats). Several cyclists had carts behind their bikes, carrying all sorts of gear: camping supplies, luggage, flowers, a child, even a small dog in a basket. Roller-blading was also popular here, and I passed several moms roller-blading with baby carriages.
Many of the trail users spoke English, especially the younger ones. On average, more than a thousand cyclists use the Danube Bike Path every day from May to October. And with so many cyclists on the route, one is bound to meet people. One Austrian family I cycled with included a 72-year old grandmother; she had cycled "most of her life" and still "loved it."
A Swiss couple told me that they were using this route simply to "cycle home." And an American couple ecstatically rejoiced when they reached their destination; it was their first major cycling tour together, and they asked me to "please take a picture" to commemorate the achievement.
Other well marked, paved cycling paths branch out from this route.
There are so many interesting places along the route it's hard to pick "must-sees," but here are some of my memorable moments:
Cycling paths go on and on in this part of the world. From Vienna you could continue riding south to Hainburg, near the Slovakian border. Then you could continue along the Danube into Bratislava, Slovakia and, with a good map, ride all the way to Budapest, Hungary.
Hope that's been helpful, and thanks again for your review.
>> Andre Volkel: I can truly confirm what you wrote about the cycle paths in Germany and Austria. We from Mercurio Bike Travel guide people along the Danube and other rivers in Germany and Austria.