Go with the Flow: River Cruise Biking

Gorgeous views along the Rhine RiverFifteen 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.

A piece of iron curtain on the border between Austria and SlovakiaThe 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!

Backroads River Cruise Bike ToursI'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!

15 Responses

  1. Gordon Johnson

    My wife and I are doing this trip in August. We have done several Backroads trip before but never a cruise of any kind. This seems like the perfect mix of the two. We can’t wait!

    • Michael Bernhard Michael Bernhard

      Hi Gordon, I’m glad to hear that you’re joining us on the Danube. You’re right, it’s a true Backroads experience with a new twist. I’m sure you’ll both love it!

  2. mark

    My wife and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary with this tour last week of May into June. Anyone else out there planning for that week?

    • Michael Bernhard Michael Bernhard

      Hi Mark, I’m for sure planning to be on this trip and am excited to have you and your wife celebrate your anniversary with us. See you in May, Michael

  3. Tom

    Hello Michael and Mark
    My wife and I are joining the tour at the end of May, so we’ll see you there. We’re coming from California. A speed bump leapt out and tripped up my bike three weeks ago. My broken right arm is keeping me off my bike for another couple of weeks, but I’ll be able to ride the paths along the river, at least.

    • mark

      Hi Tom. We’re coming from Atlanta. We look forward to riding with you and your wife. It’s almost here!

  4. Michael Bernhard Michael Bernhard

    Hello Tom,
    I’m so sorry to hear about your broken arm and am glad you’re still able to join us. We’ll find some good options for you. Wishing you a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing you and your wife in May.

  5. Roe Sanford

    You cannot go wrong traveling with Backroads.

    • Michael Bernhard Michael Bernhard

      Glad to hear you’ve had great experiences with Backroads. Do you have any upcoming adventures planned?

  6. Char Murphy

    My husband and I have done more that a dozen Backroad trips, from a Napa Valley one back in the 80’s to the Outer Banks of Croatia (more mountainous than our North Carolina Outer Banks we discovered!) Two with Tom Hale in Canada and France. We love cruises but find them too sedentary so are DELIGHTED to find out that Backroads offers the combination of cruising and biking! Will book one in the near future!

    • Michael Bernhard Michael Bernhard

      Hi Char, you’re right. Making the river cruises active has been a great experience. We’re excited to be offering a couple of rivers now and look forward to welcoming you on one (or more) of them in the future.

  7. Frances

    My husband and I are doing the Danube trip June 3rd. We’ve done one previous Backroads trip and are celebrating our 30th anniversary with this one. I am a triathlon coach in North Carolina and hope to meet you this summer. Would love to hear about your international tri’s

    • Michael Bernhard Michael Bernhard

      Hi Frances, so glad to hear you’re choosing the Danube to celebrate your 30th anniversary. Would be great to swap tri stories, I could always use some coaching.

  8. Loren W Rice

    Concerning the Spain/Portugal trip. My partner is an avid hiker and walker. Due to health reasons, I am not quite as active as I would like. Is it possible for me to stay on the ship during the day while others are hiking? Are all services open and available–spa-gym, food, etc. on the ship during the day ?


  9. Michael Bernhard Michael Bernhard

    Hi Loren, yes it is entirely possible to stay on the ship during the day and ship services remain available. In fact, some of the other non-Backroads guests on board also do that throughout the week. We have hiking & walking options for different activity levels each day, so you might find that some of the hikes suit you well. Let us know if you have any other questions.

    Best regards,

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