So, you think you know Austria? Big mountains, men in strange leather shorts, heady accordion fueled folk music and giant glasses of yeasty beer, right? Think again. Austria may be the best cycling destination in Europe. Here’s 5 reasons why:
1.A well developed and well marked Cycle Route network.
For the first few miles cycling into Austria we weren’t sure if it would live up to the benchmark set by its northern neighbor, Czech Republic. We had been very impressed with the Czech Cycle Route network and we were sure Austria had a pretty decent cycle route system as well, but we were cautiously skeptical nonetheless. Quickly we were convinced that Austria would deliver on all fronts. The routes are numbered in a logical fashion with signage and milage markers along the way. Most of the cycle routes were plotted just as they were in the Czech Republic, along small secondary and/or agricultural roadways; however, a few, mainly in the south, are actually wide, separated cycle tracks running next to the roadway. These tend to be along village areas and their surroundings. Once back into the countryside they return to the roadway. The routes are not only are well marked, but there are cyclist friendly facilities and repair resources conveniently placed along the way which often include a few interpretive signs and maps as well. On the few instances when we came upon a section of the cycle route/roadway that was under construction there were accurate and up to date detour markings for motorists as well as cyclists. Even in the mountains when a tunnel was bored through a mountain there were separate cycling tunnels parallel to the roadways. Not once did we find ourselves without direction and even several times we veered from our long distance routes to the more local routes through a nearby village just for the fun of it.
2. Charming Towns, quaint villages and bucolic mountain scenery.
When most folks think of Austria the first images that come to mind are towering peaks, expansive fields brimming with wildflowers, herds of bell-laden cows happily grazing green hillsides, charming folksy buildings placed in neat and tidy villages and crystal clear mountain streams. Not that we would ever perpetuate stereotypes, but Austria, at least rural Austria, really does look like this. It’s beautiful. As we cycled through the interior of Austria we stopped over and over to remark on the unbridled beauty of this place. Almost no place else have we seen such natural beauty surrounded by neatly cared for towns and villages.
3. Wonderfully friendly people.
Need I say more? Like most rural folks, the people of the Austrian countryside are friendly helpful people almost to a fault. Don’t mistake the lack of the immediate smile, like you’d see in the USA, for unfriendliness. They are reserved, salt of the Earth kind of folks. Willing to help or offer guidance even when approached in our child-like German-Dutch-English hybrid speak. Without fail we have been met with gentle, slowly spoken replies or politely asked,” Do you speak English…?” Phew, “Yes, we DO speak English…”
4. Great Camping and Lodging.
In almost every town or village there is a Gasthaus or Gasthof, most of the rural areas have camping sites and all are well documented on almost any map you can find. The camping sites ( campingplatz) have all had hot showers (whoopee!), and laundry facilities and a few even have had internet access for a fee. The Gasthaus is thing of beauty: Good food and neat, tidy rooms and most are cycling friendly, at least the ones along the Cycle Routes. Not once did we have someone look at us crossways when we asked where we could park our bikes. Many Gasthauser even have bike facilities or provide a nearby garage to store bikes overnight.
5. It’s NOT as mountainous as you think.
Ok, let’s get this straight: Yes, Austria is a mountainous country. Although the Cycle Route network would lull you into thinking that it’s not really all that mountainous. Don’t worry there are mountains, and you get to see plenty of them, and you do “get to” climb over quite a few of them. There are also wide and long rivers with great roadways and cycle routes running just next to them. Mostly the longer more popular Cycle Routes, like the R7 and R2 routes run along the bigger rivers and through the valleys. Taking you next to and around, but not over the mountains. In approximately 400km cycling around Austria we have come to exactly 2 monster climbs. The rest have been rolling and some sustained climbs here and there, but nothing unbelievable. If we can do it, anyone can…