Fifteen years ago I decided to cycle from my tiny village in East Germany to Paris. I didn't know much about route planning and set out on this 500-mile journey with only a large-scale map that gave me a general sense of direction. It didn't take long to find myself gravitating toward the river valleys, both to avoid climbing steep hills with an overloaded bike and to ease the challenge of navigation. So I followed the River Main through Frankfurt, went north along the Rhine River for a bit and then turned westward onto the Mosel River, which brought me all the way to Luxembourg. Finally, the Marne was my companion for most of the way into Paris.
I had almost forgotten about this cycling adventure until earlier this year, when my wife--also a Backroads leader--and I were invited to research a new type of trip: the combination of river cruising and biking. Starting with the Danube, Europe's second-longest river, we set out to see how Backroads-quality biking could be combined with a luxury floating hotel. We quickly realized that this is the perfect blend--and a lighter and much more comfortable trip than my journey to Paris.
The Danube is known for having the longest bike path in the world along its banks, known as the Donauradweg. But our job was to look for more than that, to find "backroads" so guests can get off the well-ridden path and really get to know the region via bicycle. Riding choices turned out to be much more diverse than we expected. There are beautiful routes through protected forest, past farmland, through tiny villages and on bike paths and quiet roads, with occasional views to the Alps. All of this is topped off with guided bicycle tours through the vibrant cities of Vienna and Budapest.
One of my favorite parts of researching the Danube River route from Vienna to Bratislava was crossing what was once the Iron Curtain into Slovakia. Having grown up in East Germany, the ease of crossing those borders now never ceases to move me and I paused at the small remnant of barbed wire.
There is beauty in this journey and, at the same time, very thought-provoking moments.
While working on the AmaWaterways ship, we could see why river cruising is enjoying such great popularity. The comfort and quality of ships have come a long way: staterooms are equipped with premiere features, food choices cater to a wide range of palates and dietary needs and there's a small spa and fitness center onboard. Also, the 24-hour Wi-Fi and self-serve espresso station made our time on the ship super comfortable. The biggest challenge we foresee for guests is deciding how to spend their days given the myriad of biking options, city tours and amenities on the ship!
I've come to love the logistical puzzle of creating great riding experiences that coincide with nautical schedules, and I'm quite excited that our river cruise bike tours have become so popular. Since developing the Danube trips, I've researched new trips along the Douro River in Portugal and Spain and just recently through four countries along the Rhine River, bringing me right past some of the sections I rode on my journey to Paris.
I might someday pick up where I left off in Paris and follow the Seine to Normandy or head south through Provence along the Rhone. Whichever it happens to be, I'll keep going with the flow and might see you out there on one of our rivers!