CYCLING TO THE SOUND OF MUSIC
By Jeremy and Natalie Howes
It was Julie, one of our regular Saturday morning riders, who first got us thinking about Austria. She announced one Saturday morning over a post ride latte that she was turning 50 in June and was planning to do a cycling trip in Austria to celebrate and that any of us were welcome to join her and her husband Roger.
My wife and I were already planning a trip to Europe to visit our son who was turning 21 in June so we were keen to try and make it work. Julie had spent a year as a student in Austria and knew it well and after much research had settled on a nine-day ‘Bike and Hike’ package in the Salzkammergut region outside of Salzburg. Salzburg of course is famous not only as the birthplace of Mozart but also for where the movie The Sound of Music was set and filmed. As it turned out we were able to fit it into our plans but ironically Julie and everyone else ended up pulling out!
So in the middle of June we ended up alone at the Salzburg train station ready for nine days of cycling and hiking. The package Julie had found for us included pick up and return to Salzburg, hire of bikes, nine nights accommodation, three meals a day, transportation of gear, alcohol with dinners and all for a very reasonable 845 Euros each. We were to stay at three different B&B’s and as a bonus each set of hosts was English and so language was never an issue.
We were picked up by our first hosts and taken to the beautiful lakeside town of Ebensee, one and a half hours away. The Salzkummergut region consists of several mountain ranges with many peaks over 2000 m, glaciers, dozens of lakes, beautiful valleys and rivers and many quaint towns and villages. Most of the riding over the nine days was along valley floors with gentle gradients often following the Traun River.
Each day the hosts would prepare a packed lunch for us to take and give us guidance and maps for where to go and the various options we had. They were all very knowledgeable of the area and had ridden themselves along all the various paths and routes. Everyday we would come back to our host B&B except on the third and sixth day we travelled on to the next B&B while our previous hosts transported our luggage. The accommodation was all en-suite and very comfortable and all the meals were delicious and especially at our second B&B where Larry the host was a qualified chef.
The bikes supplied were ‘middle of the road’ hybrids, which suited us but would be a bit frustrating for a serious rider used to a fast road bike. I was used to riding several times a week with usually a 70 km ride on Saturdays. My wife though only rode once a week for about 30 kms. However we did most of the recommended rides and my wife handled it well. Riders wanting more of a challenge would be free to do more extensive rides, as there were plenty of options for further riding.
All the paths except for one were well maintained and lots of the routes were quiet back roads with hardly a car to be seen. When you had to ride on the busier roads closer to towns there usually were bike lanes. However the great news was that motorists actually slowed down for you and really seemed to respect your right to be on the roads as well! We had heard that Europeans were generally like this but it took a while to accept that it was true after many unfortunate experiences here in Australia. The other good thing was that a train line ran through the area where most of the cycling was done and there was always the option of putting the bikes on the train if the weather turned bad or you needed a rest. Once again the trains were very ‘bike friendly’ and came regularly. We even used the train on our last day to travel one hour back to Bad Ischl, one of the first towns we visited and do again a beautiful 20 km ride to Lake Wolfgang where we swam and water skied. Mind you it also allowed us to visit again the famous Zauners Café in Bad Ischl, which has the absolute best cakes and deserts you can get.
We were very lucky with the weather and had rain mostly at night. Most days we did a mixture of cycling and a bit of hiking. What you find is that mountains surround nearly every town and you can catch a gondola up to the top of the local mountain and go for alpine walks for as long as you want. Most had walks of about an hour to wonderful lookouts with panoramic views of lakes and mountains. There were usually cafes there as well where a beer, coffee or meal could be purchased. All of the cycling was extremely pleasant. Some paths were through forests, some along quiet roads with lovely Austrian houses on them with window boxes full of flowers, some beside flowing streams and others around lakes surrounded by mountains. It was often difficult to not break out into ‘the hills alive with the sound of music…’ as you rode along through this beautiful countryside.
Apart from the spa town of Bad Ischl the other town of special interest was the beautiful lakeside town of Hallstatt where archaeologists have traced human activity back to 7000BC. The reason for this is the presence above the town of salt mines. We stayed four kms from Hallstatt and spent one whole day exploring the town and visiting the interesting salt mines. Another day was spent visiting the very impressive ice caves in a nearby valley. Whilst staying in this area we also took a gondola up into the Dachstein Mountains above Lake Hallstatt and walked below the Dachstein Glacier. In two of the smaller towns we came across local street festivals with lots of Austrian food and beers and locals parading around in their lederhosen and dirndl dresses.
As mentioned earlier there was only one ride that was on a track more suited to mountain bikes and was a bit of challenge for my wife. However it ran through a beautiful forest and valley with a swift flowing river which more than made up for the extra effort. This section can easily be avoided by catching the train to the next town. The train also runs through the same valley so you don’t miss out on the scenery.
As you may be able to tell we had the most fantastic time and would highly recommend the trip to anyone with a love of the outdoors and just the slightest cycling experience. More information can be found at the website www.bikeandhikeaustria.eu. We were very grateful to Julie for her brilliant idea and we certainly toasted her on her 50th birthday from our Austrian Château while she celebrated back in Brisbane.