Myself and my Partner Ashley recently experienced a cycling holiday for the first time. Given that we class a holiday as somewhere hot with sun, sea and sand – we were intrigued by what a cycling holiday was all about and if we could handle three days on a bike. Originally an eight day holiday, we trialled three days of the ’10 lakes and Sound of Music tour’ provided by Wheel2Wheel Holidays.
Due to a rocky start with our connecting flight being delayed, we missed our cycling for the first day of the trip but we didn’t let that ruin the mood. We arrived at Salzburg airport at 5.30pm in the evening; Eurobike was awaiting our arrival and took us to Seeham, where we stayed the night in a secluded hotel set back behind a forest landscape. It was beautifully furnished and we were welcomed by the owner with open arms. We got ourselves an early night in preparation for our day ahead.
We started the next morning with a traditional Austrian buffet breakfast. We helped ourselves to Semmeln (a type of breadroll) with butter, cold cuts (ham and cut sausages), boiled eggs, jam smothered on pastries washed down with a fresh orange juice. When we had eaten more than our stomachs could handle, we left the hotel. Our bikes were ready and waiting on a trailer outside the hotels entrance. Our first leg of the journey was an hour transfer to the village of Hallstatt.
On the way, we were taken aback with the amount of greenery Austria has to offer – miles and miles of freshly cut grass surrounded by tall trees, placed perfectly in front of a mountainous landscape. Wide, Alpine houses towered the roads below – each one situated alone, beautifully rendered and painted in pale colours with high balconies covered in colourful flowers. The decoration was unique and continued into the village of Hallstatt.
Hallstatt is a tiny village in the Salzkammergut Region – famous for its history of salt mines and sits neatly between the surrounding mountains and lake. We got off the bus and picked up our bikes ready to start cycling.
We rode down tight winding roads next to Lake Hallstatt, passing many quaint shops filled with homemade products and souvenirs. It wasn’t long before I had to park the bike up and explore (much to Ashley’s delight!)
We were told a little about the village as we parked up – sitting in the centre of the town is a gothic church where people are buried for the maximum of 15 years, due to the village being so small, space is limited and graves are needed to be re-used (creepy!) The villagers deal with this problem by keeping the skulls of the dead, painting them and placing them inside the church. This is to allow people to pay their respects to their past loved ones. Although it sent shivers down our spine, it was interesting.
Our time in Hallstatt was limited as we needed to start our 20km cycle to Bad Ischl. We cycled a route on the road and along cycle paths, occasionally stopping to admire the wonderful views and to take shelter from the rain (the sun had been scorching so far so we were glad of the shower).
Around two hours later, we arrived in Bad Ischl and ready to taste the local delicacies. We stopped for lunch in Café Konditorei Zauner. As we entered we were met with glass cabinets filled with desserts – colourful cakes, iced pastries, chocolate covered doughnuts displayed beautifully at the front of the shop. We sat and ate traditional Frankfurt sausages and chosen a dessert that the café was famous for ‘Zaunerstollen’ – a swiss roll shaped cake made up of chopped wafers, mixed with nougat, hazelnuts and finished with a smooth coating of chocolate. Delicious!
After lunch, we got back on the bikes and headed to our next destination of St Wolfgang. We arrived two hours later having completed a 21km cycle – passing fields of open grassland and stunning mountain views. We stopped a while to explore St Wolfgang which is famous for its pilgrim church, religious history and White Horse Inn hotel. It had many small shops selling household items and traditional Austrian costume. We’d worked up quite an appetite whilst cycling and there was still an Austrian favourite we hadn’t tasted. We sat comfortably inside a small pub were we ordered an apple strudel to share. By far, my favourite food I had tasted so far.
Time was ticking, to get to the next hotel we needed to take a short boat trip across Lake Wolfgangsee. The water was glistening and clear enough to almost see the bottom. The Lake was covered by high mountains – it was a picture perfect setting. 20 minutes later we arrived at our hotel in Abersee and prepared for our next day.
Considering myself and Ashley are not active cyclists, the routes we had taken on the trip so far were pleasant. Don’t get me wrong, I’d recommend having a good fitness level – we both had one-to-many breaks to rest our legs, but the sights surrounding you whilst cycling make a little pain all the more worth it.
Our last day started with a 15km cycle ride to Sankt Gilgen – a picturesque village by Lake Wolfgangsee where a high mountain hike awaited us. Our bikes were picked up by Eurobike and taken to our next destination on the other side of the mountain. The sun was soaring but thankfully the mountain was heavily shaded by the trees. The route was a tough one; it was steep and didn’t seem to get any easier along the way. We were told to look for a house situated within an open meadow then we knew we had completed the most challenging part. I take my hat off to Ashley, without him (to carry my backpack and pull me up on parts of the route) I may have ended up rolling back down.
Hills of grassland and flowers awaited us as we came to the top of the mountain accompanied by the house we couldn’t wait to meet! We took our time from then on to stroll through the fields and take in the beautiful surroundings. Walking completed, we approached the last leg of the journey, meeting the Eurobike van and collected our bikes to ride to Salzburg.
The last cycle was mostly flat ground with a few uphill climbs along the way but, the end made up for that as we needn’t use our legs to roll down a long winding path! We arrived in busy Salzburg as the heavens opened. We made it back to our hotel in time ready for our historical walking tour of Salzburg.
If there was one thing that springs to mind when I think of Austria, it’s got to be the 1965 American musical drama, ‘The Sound of Music’. Throughout our cycling trip, we almost felt like we were in the film so we were very excited to visit a few of the movies locations including the Mirabell Palace & Gardens, the Pegasus Fountain and Musical Steps (I must admit it was hard refraining myself from breaking out into song). Our tour guide Kristoff spoke in depth of the history of Austria and took us around the town pinpointing famous places including Mozart’s House and St Peter’s Monastery. The tour is definitely something we recommend doing when in Salzburg.
We were sad our trip came to an end; overall it was an eye opener and an amazing experience – we never would have thought a cycling holiday could be so easy and enjoyable. You don’t realise the amount of exercise you are doing (which is a bonus!) whilst riding, as you find yourself too busy taking in the surroundings and appreciating a setting much more appealing than a sunbed. Cycling holidays give you real sense of adventure and the opportunity to discover new places.
The Wheel2wheel Holidays ’10 Lakes and Sound of Music’ trip starts from £599 per person for an 8 day/7 night self-guided holiday. Visit http://www.wheel2wheelholidays.com for more information and a full itinerary. Wheel2Wheel Holidays take care of your luggage transfers throughout your trip, safely couriering your luggage to your next destination every day.
Copyright © 2016 Paige O'Grady