Biking & Beer on the Danube River
By John Roberts.
It’s just after sunrise in the town of Durnstein, Austria, a place known for the castle ruins looming high above the village that served as the prison for Richard the Lionhearted in the late 12th century.
For myself and three dozen other cruisers on Scenic Jasper, it also is known as the port where we will begin our biking tour through the Wachau Valley.
I’m traveling on this 7-night Scenic cruise with my wife, and we join a small group that wants to hike up to the ruins before breakfast and our bike ride. So, we hustle up the path to get to the top and enjoy the most amazing panoramic view of the rooftops, valley and winding river below. Now, I’m sufficiently energized for the 22-mile bike ride to Melk.
Many onboard have been looking forward to this excursion all week, and we head out from Durnstein, snaking along the narrow trails that traces the banks of the Danube.
The matriarch of a family of seven from Toronto cruising to celebrate her 80th birthday is leading the way, up front with the guide. I had met her in the pool on Scenic Jasper earlier in the cruise, and she asked whether I thought she could do it. I explained that the bikes have an e-assist setting (which allows you to engage a motor to push you along) and the cycling wouldn’t have to be too arduous as long as she felt comfortable in a bike seat.
It appears she is plenty comfortable and has taken full advantage of that e-assist.
The route takes us up into the hills occasionally, through vineyards and villages. We also follow the path close to the river for many miles. We stop frequently, and people are having a great time under perfectly sunny skies. We take a break in the town of Spitz, just in time to watch our ship sail by on the way to Melk. Cruisers who stayed onboard to delight in the scenic cruising are eating a barbecue lunch on the sun deck and waving and shouting to us.
We all line up on the banks to shout back and take plenty of photos.
It’s the middle of summer, and we’re cruising on Europe’s second longest river, the majestic Danube. The water levels are low, but spirits are high.
I’m among more than 150 passengers who joined Scenic Jasper in Budapest. (The ship carries a maximum of 169.) Our cruisers hail from the U.S., U.K., Australia and Canada, with a few Germans, as well. The vessel was supposed to be sister ship Scenic Amber, but dry, hot conditions mean necessary tweaks to river cruise itineraries throughout Europe when parts of the waterway become un-navigable.
Our weeklong cruise sailed from Budapest, Hungary, to Vienna, Austria, where we stayed for two days, then a day docked in Durnstein, Austria, another in Linz, Austria (for Salzburg), and two days in Passau, Germany.
Leaving from Budapest, we know that more adjustments might be necessary as we go. But six days fly by with ideal sailing conditions before we learn that we won’t be able to make it to our original destination, Nuremberg. Instead, we’ll go to Passau, which is fine by me.
The historic city of three rivers is a lovely place to explore, too.
The best parts of the Scenic river cruise experience are the availability of fantastic shore excursions.
For embarkations in Budapest, the cruise kicks off with a “Grand Illumination” sailing. This is a quintessential Budapest experience — to see the city lit up at night, with the Parliament Building, Fisherman’s Bastian and all the bridges in stunning golden hues.
The next day, we venture to Szentendre, an artists’ commune outside the city, while many others choose historic tours of Budapest.
First Stop: Vienna
We arrive in late afternoon and will spend a night and the next day here. It’s an early dinner before we all go to Liechtenstein Palace to enjoy an evening of opera, which is included in the fares. Afterward, we arrive back to the ship, and crew has set up a delicious late-night snack of sausages, breads and goulash.
Passengers head off to bed satisfied after a full day of cultural experiences. I should say that some head off to bed sooner than others. There is a big contingent of Canadians and Aussies who routinely stay up late, taking full advantage of the free-flowing drinks that come with the all-inclusive Scenic journey.
The following morning arrives in Vienna, and we pick a morning trip to Bratislava, Slovakia, where we immediately set out to get to the observation deck of the aptly named “UFO Restaurant” on top of the new bridge.
After enjoying the best views (from 311 feet high) of this capital city and a couple cold beers 🍺, we go back across the bridge to wander Old Town before heading back in our coach for lunch onboard Scenic Jasper. Others go to Schonbrunn Palace, the summer home of the Hapsburgs, or to Belvedere Palace to see the collection of Klimpt paintings.
That’s Right, Danube Island
For the afternoon, we sign out a couple of the ship bikes and ride to the Danube Island. Yes, it’s an island in the middle of the Danube River that is a hot spot for residents who come here for beach time in the river and to attend festivals and other activities.
We take a spin around before needing to cool off. It’s about 92 degrees, and I am ready for my first swim in the Danube. It’s not blue at all, but the water is refreshing.
Wachau Valley Ride
The main event of our next day is the bike ride in the Wachau Valley; part of a busy and rewarding schedule that also includes options to tour Melk Abbey or a visit to a winery. Later, we all meet at the Aggstein Castle ruins site for 🍺 beers, Gruner Veltliner wines and — you guessed it — amazing views of a sunset from high in the hills above the ever-present Danube.
Salzburg, Doe a Deer
At our next port, we had to make the grueling choice of whether to go see the fairytale UNESCO Heritage village of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic or Salzburg, the home of Mozart and a favorite for aficionados of the film classic “Sound of Music.” We pick Salzburg.
The final stop is Passau, and we go for a jog into town (about four miles total out and back from our berth at the edge of town) to do exploring on our own, wandering the cobbled streets and town squares during the morning as the city begins to waken. This was my sixth voyage on the Danube, and I’ve been on several other river cruises in Europe and elsewhere.
I love to stay active and have discovered that river cruises offer much greater opportunities than ocean sailings to hop right off your ship when in port and go for a run, hike or bike ride.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral looms above the city, and we take a quick peek into the church. We also go past the town hall to spot the historic high-water marks enshrined on the front of the building as a badge of honor for a city that sits at the confluence of the three rivers and endures flooding as an annual rite.
Food, Entertainment and More
Because a Scenic cruise is all-inclusive, passengers won’t pay extra for drinks, meals, excursions, transfers and gratuities.
The ship has plenty of other features that I like, too. I mentioned the onboard bikes and small swimming pool. The pool is a popular spot during my sailing, as it is the height of the summer season, and each day is a scorcher. You also can find plenty of shaded areas on the sun deck, which has a small walking track around an attractive turf lawn.
Cruisers gather in the lounge for nightly entertainment that includes everything from casual dancing to music from the ship’s pianist Enzo, to trivia contests and Disco Night dance parties. We also are wowed by the Hungarian folk dancers who come aboard for a show in Budapest.
Rooms are spacious enough, with butler service and one bag of laundry included per cruise. Scenic Jasper also features cabins with a flexible balcony space that converts from indoor to outdoor by lowering the large window down to a railing.
You never want for a meal, either. In fact, you have six ways to eat. Crystal Dining is the main venue, with open seating for buffet breakfasts and lunches, as well as plated dinners. My favorite meals are the Chef’s Special cheeseburger and the wiener schnitzel on the menu once we reach Vienna.
Portobellos is an Italian eatery that sits at the front of the lounge, and cruisers get to experience this upscale meal with views once per cruise. Our table asks for seconds on the charcuterie plate that has flavorful meats, cheeses, olives, peppers and chutney.
Table La Rive is a wine-pairing gourmet meal available once per sailing for passengers staying in suites on Deck 3. I hear passengers raving about the wines throughout the cruise, and this meal stands out for the varieties of reds and whites offered, as well as a not-too-sweet dessert wine. The scallops, soups and beef tenderloin are fine, but the best part of this meal is the desserts. I choose the molten chocolate cake.
River Café adjacent to the bar serves light bites all day, such as small sandwiches, fruit cups and ice cream; and Riverview Terrace is open for breakfast and lunch (it’s the same space used for Portobellos at night). Riverview Terrace offerings are a small sample of the buffet items you find in the main dining room. You also can order in-suite meals from your butler.
When it comes to the onboard brew, beer options included bottles of Pilsner Urquell, a Czech beer, as well as Erdinger Weissbier (a German wheat beer), plus beer on draft — Duckstein, a typical flavorful German beer that I liked because it was cold and smooth, perfect for the hot conditions and refreshing after our biking, jogging and trekking.
All in all, this was a deliciously wonderful river cruise from start to finish. And did I mention the beer 🍺 was good?
John Roberts is owner of InTheLoopTravel.com, where he writes about cruise travel, fitness and adventure, with a focus on how to help people enjoy their journeys in a fun and affordable way.
Don’t miss a post, subscribe to QuirkyCruise.com for monthly updates!
© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.