From Viennese grandeur to the Pearl of the Danube – by bicycle!
For all those prepared to sight see at a slower pace with a bit more effort check out the EuroVelo routes that connect Europe. There are 15 EuroVelo routes taking in the entire European continent, 42 countries and over 70,000km. We chose a tour from Vienna, Austria to Budapest, Hungary on the EuroVelo 6 following the Danube through Bratislava, Slovakia and northern Hungary. This tour was booked through Wheel2Wheel Holidays, a company based in the UK specialising in cycling holidays across Europe.
We arrived in our starting location a couple of day prior to our departure. You can read about our first 24 hours in Vienna in another separate post – here. For now let’s concentrate on the cycling part of the trip.
Our first night of the organised trip was in the Hotel Arcotel Kaiserwasser, which was a really nice hotel, we’d be meeting our rep first thing in the morning and collecting our trusty steeds for the next week.
Cycling Day 1 – Vienna to Bratislava
We left the Arcotel Kaiserwasser early on our first cycling day as it was the longest distance we would cover in one day on the trip. The tour operator took care of our luggage, each day we would leave our cases in reception and they would be delivered to our next hotel later in the day, so we just needed to carry with us what we would need for that day.
Cycling from Vienna to Bratislava involves mostly cycling through eastern Austria. The cycle paths were well maintained and easy to cycle on – or would have been if my bike was working properly. I am not a regular or even semi-regular cyclist, Richard is the cyclist in our house. This trip was great though because you have the option to hire an E-Bike, these bikes give you some help when you need it but are heavier since they carry a battery. The first day the battery wasn’t in the bike fully and so wasn’t working, I had a heavier bike and no help!
We stopped off at Schloss Eckartsau for lunch, it’s a bright yellow hunting lodge with a cafe in the central courtyard. We were given a guide book at the start of the trip with suggested stop offs – really useful and often we were cycling through the middle of nowhere. The food here was pretty good, and much appreciated!
After an early start we arrived in Bratislava, Slovakia around 5pm crossing the Nový Most Bridge, aka the UFO bridge thanks to the spaceship on top which contains a viewing platform and restaurant. 40 miles we had covered today and once we arrived at our hotel, the Hotel Apollo, we were in for the rest of the night.
The Hotel Apollo is outside of the centre of Bratislava and might not be the best location for a typical city break however it was something to see. It felt very foreign to us when went into the restaurant for dinner, the walls were covered in taxidermy animal heads with many examples on display. The food was great though and we sampled some local plum brandy called Slivovica – very strong.
Cycling Day 2 – Bratislava to Mosonmagyaróvár
Before leaving Bratislava we spent the morning sightseeing in the city centre and there is a lot to see, too much for our short visit, it is on our list of places to go back to. It would make a great city break.
We navigated through roadworks and housing estates on our way out of Bratislava to get back onto the EuroVelo 6. Clearly a lot of money has been spent on the city centre and it’s now working it’s way out but it’s taking time.
Not many sights on this leg of the trip but we did cross the Hungarian border. Lots of open green spaces and excellent cycle paths to follow, mostly off road the entire way which suited me.
Soon after crossing the border we stopped for lunch at a place called Rákász Étterem és Pizzéria in Rajka. Google translate came in very handy, we found Hungarian very difficult to get our heads round and could say little more than thank you – köszönöm. Rajka is a village or small town and the menu’s at this restaurant were only in Hungarian, something we became use to on our journey. One surprise though, it was very cheap, a 12 inch pizza, large salad and two drinks came to approximately £6 total, it was pretty good too.
We had a headwind the rest of the day making cycling really hard, our speed halved and although we only cycled 21 miles today it felt longer and we didn’t arrive in Mosonmagyaróvár until early evening.
The good food continued, we had dinner in the town centre at Ambrozia Sorozo, I had the Argentin hagymás rostélyos hasábburgonyával which translates to Argentinean steak with the chips and onion. This seems to be a popular dish in Hungary and we seen it offered multiple times. It was excellent and again a bargain. Dinner was followed by more plum brandy, Hungarian this time called Pálinka but just as strong as it’s Slovakian equivalent.
We were staying at Hotel Aqua Hotel Termal. Hungary is famous for it’s spa’s so we gave this a try before calling it a night. The spa was great but we were disappointed with the hotel, the air conditioning didn’t work in the room and it got really hot. We had limited water and the minibar contained very little. We got a couple of hour sleep before heading back out on the bikes.
Cycling Day 3 – Mosonmagyaróvár to Győr
An early start, not intended but necessary, 7am we were out of the hotel. We stopped at the nearest supermarket to get some bottled water and ran into a couple of other people on our tour there doing the same, they had gotten no sleep either.
There were at least 10 others on the tour with us but we didn’t meet everyone. Although you all follow the same route you don’t cycle all together in a big group you just go at your own pace, you can socialise or not it’s entirely up to you.
We had 26 miles to cover today and fortunately the headwind had gone so we covered it fairly quickly. Lots of green fields on this leg of the trip mostly agricultural land and wide open space.
We arrived in Győr at 12 noon where we were staying at the Hotel Klastrom. This is a great hotel right in the middle of the city. They allowed us to check in early and we were soon out exploring.
Győr is the halfway point between Vienna and Budapest. It’s a beautiful city and there is plenty to see. We spent most of our time here strolling around the city centre.
Cycling Day 4 – Győr to Komárom
The Hotel Klastrom puts on a great breakfast and we had a good night’s sleep to set us up for our 25 mile ride to Komárom.
The sights between towns and cities are few but we did get a feel for what life in northern Hungary was about as we cycled past farmers fields where crops were starting to grow or just being planted. Lots of open space which we hadn’t really experienced in Europe before as it’s so built up.
Komárom is a town of two halves, we stayed at Hotel Forrás which is in Hungary however before world war one the town on the Slovakian side of the Danube Komárno was also part of Komárom forming one city before borders were redrawn. To date 60% of the population in Komárno are Hungarian.
Although we would be staying in Komárom we spent some time in the afternoon exploring Komárno by walking across the bridge connecting the two. It’s very easy to walk between the two towns and each have their own sights. They are proud of Jókai Mór, a famous novelist who was born in the city in the 1800s and you will see large statues of him here.
Hotel Forrás, along with many hotel’s in Hungary, has a spa. Actually not only did it have a spa it also had a large swimming pool complete with slides, it would be a great choice for a family hotel. I wasn’t quite prepared for how much the spa would smell though, as soon as you get close the sulphur smell hits you and it took some getting used to. The warm thermal pools are very popular. We spent some time in here after our sightseeing which was a perfect way to relax after all our cycling.
Cycling Day 5 – Komárom to Esztergom
Our 5th day on the bikes and we were getting very sore! We could tell we were getting closer to Budapest now the towns were getting bigger and although we still cycled through a lot of agricultural land it was getting less.
While in Esztergom we made our way up to the Basilica which is up a very steep hill – some pushing was involved. The views from the top are amazing though and worth the effort. The Basilica is worth a look inside, it’s quite popular but wasn’t too busy when we were there but we also didn’t visit in the middle of summer when I can imagine it being a very popular attraction.
It was another long cycling day, 37 miles, but my bike was great now and it was a lot more fun than the first day. This was our first cycling holiday and I found it a great challenge. It’s a very different experience to a road trip although it’s a similar format in that you’re moving on to new places most days, you get to take in a lot more travelling at the pace of a bicycle than that of a car.
Our hotel for the night was another 6km past Esztergom, the Hotel Belleview. You would be forgiven for thinking that the Hotel Belleview must have been there for decades, it actually just opened in 2009. It has an old style about it, and of course it has a spa! We were getting use to going to a spa each evening.
Cycling Day 6 – Esztergom to Budapest
This was our last day cycling, we cycled from Esztergom to Szentendre via Visegrád covering 26 miles with the Danube in sight most of the way.
Visegrád is a small town which main sight is it’s castle up on a hill overlooking the Danube. Had we been staying here we would definitely have made the trip up to have a look but looking at the size of the hill from the cycle path by the Danube I couldn’t be persuaded to go up. We had a great view of it on our way through the town but no doubt the views from up there are fabulous.
We arrived in Szentendre by lunchtime and we got a quick bite to eat in the town before cycling the short distance to Skanzen, an open air museum showing Hungarian rural history from the 18th and 19th centuries. Part of my family come from farmers so I thought this was great to see but I’m sure most people would enjoy it.
We had reservations on the ferry from Szentendre to Budapest at 5pm. We returned to the town in time to get visit a coffee shop and take in a few more sights before joining the others on our tour at the dock for the ferry.
After an hour sailing down the Danube we made it to Budapest just as it was getting dark. Our final hotel for the trip was the Hotel Mátyás on the Pest side of the city. It was a short ride from the dock but on very busy roads compared to those we had been on.
When arriving at the Hotel we were met with a decent flight of stairs that Richard carried the bikes up. The reception was on what seemed like this first floor. We left the bikes for the final time with the hotel reception where they would be collected by the tour company.
The Hotel Mátyás is dated and not somewhere we would necessarily book ourselves – not really our style. We made our way to our room one at a time, as only 1 person with luggage can fit in the lift! There is a large courtyard in the centre of the hotel and all of the rooms open out into this outside space.
Budapest was once two cities, Buda and Pest. We spent the final night of our tour on the Pest side of the Danube exploring the many bars and restaurants on offer. We would be staying a further 3 nights in the city on the Buda side of the Danube in a hotel which we had booked ourselves – you can read about this in 3 Days in Budapest – our next post.