By Boat and By Bike: A New Twist on a River Cruise
PHOTO: Cycling along the Danube. (All photos by John Roberts)
What if you could combine all the best parts of a luxury Danube River cruise and the adventure of seeing the countryside and historic towns and cities off the beaten path on a biking trip?
Backroads, one of the top active-travel companies, and AmaWaterways have teamed up to make it happen. River cruises are typically considered the domain of the older traveler – and that's a reputation well-earned. But these older folks also increasingly are in better shape and seeking more active ways to enjoy their vacations. Hey, I'm almost 50, and I certainly don't want my sightseeing trips to involve piling into a tour bus and shuffling slowly around a city with three dozen other people while slowly following a guide carrying a "lollipop" sign.
The Backroads biking tours on AmaWaterways are the ideal offering for people who want all the comforts and amenities of a river cruise and the daily challenge and exhilaration of pedaling through the countryside and stopping at castles for lunch in the company of fellow like-minded and energetic cyclists.
I took a weeklong cruise from Vilshofen, Germany, to Budapest, Hungary, and pedaled more than 150 miles. I still got to enjoy the fine dining and comfy accommodations onboard our ship, AmaSonata, which has a fitness center, a small heated pool with a swimup bar on the top sundeck and a spa that offers massage treatments (perfect for a midweek refresher after piling up the miles on my legs). Being on a cruise ship means you only have to unpack once for the whole trip. Plus, you can choose to take off a day from riding and still have plenty to do with the AmaWaterways walking tours or afternoons of sailing along the Danube.
The best part was being among a smaller group. About two dozen of us met each morning to set out on rides that ranged from 15 to 50 miles on any particular route that day. Backroads and AmaWaterways began this collaboration last year. The trips proved so popular that the companies are offering 58 sailings that are "biking cruises" in 2016 and at least 58 more in 2017. Backroads reserves 30 spaces for riders on these trips, and I was among a group that included a family of five with three teens and couples ages 30 to 70.
Biking, boating and beer. That's what I like. Beginning in Vilshofen, the birthplace of the brewmeister who ventured to the Czech Republic and created the pilsner beer style, we sampled all sorts of regional varieties, and Backroads was there to help, with routine break stations offering snacks and coolers full of tasty brews from Germany, Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
READ MORE: Are These the World’s Best Bike Rides?
Daily rides brought us into the rolling hills and farmland, as well as paths along the Danube's Wachau Valley – and one timely morning break at a biergarten. We zipped past apple orchards, vineyards and quaint cottages. Biking culture is such a natural way of life in Europe, and the scenic surroundings made the miles fly by effortlessly – well, mostly; there were a few challenging climbs.
You can't beat biking all morning and then arriving at a palace in the Austrian countryside for a tour of the sweeping grounds, a buffet lunch of traditional fare (including sweets!) before hopping back in the saddle and arriving to meet your ship. We biked from port to port as the ship sailed, and one epic journey had us depart Vienna and arrive in Bratislava, Slovakia. We biked from one European capital to another. Cool bragging rights for any avid cyclist.
Our journey wrapped up with a victory lap around Budapest – a mild hop-on, hop-off eight-mile tour of the Hungarian capital city on our final day.
If you're a biker who has considered a river cruise or a cruiser who ever thought you might like to try a biking tour, this is the kind of trip you've been waiting for.
More by John Roberts
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