I’m presently on my first river cruise, which is taking me up the Danube on Scenic Cruises’ Scenic Pearl. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the experience, but figured I might as well check it out since river cruising is one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel industry. So far it’s been a complete joy!
One thing that’s really nice about Scenic Cruises is the fact that everything is included—including all off-the-boat excursions. One of my excursions was even a private performance by the Vienna Imperial Orchestra at Liechtenstein Palace in Vienna, and until yesterday, that was my favorite excursion. But then, I went on a 32-kilometer (19-mile) bike ride through the Wachau Valley in Lower Austria.
Only 15 people signed up to travel the Valley from Durnstein to Melk, and ages ranged from early 40’s to late 70’s. It wasn’t a very difficult ride for anyone in decent shape because Scenic has special electric ‘assist’ bikes. These bikes made it so when you needed a boost, all you had to do was put the assist on. Boost levels ranged from 1 to 6, with 6 being the highest (I only used that level once to see how fast I could go: 32.7 KPH). It doesn’t work unless you pedal, so it’s not like a moped, and it didn’t always work so you can’t rely on it. But it sure was a nice added feature. In fact, at our first stop, everyone, including me, inquired where we could buy one since riding a bike will never be the same.
Helpful tip: If you plan on riding the bikes a lot look into getting a seat cushion because after a while my butt was sore.
But the real star wasn’t the bikes—it was the scenery. Oh my! Riding alongside the lush green countryside of Lower Austria made me feel like I was dreaming. We went through small village after village stopping along the way to snap photos, visit churches or buy fruit from unattended stands. FYI: A dozen apricots at one stand cost just two euros and a bag of cherries a single euro. But others had prices as high as five euros each.
My favorite stop was the village of St. Michael. Here we climbed a circular staircase to get a bird’s-eye view of the area. We then walked inside the foyer of the main church, which was not in service but did have a uniquely entrepreneurial set-up wherein you could watch videos on a flat-screen TV for a fee.
Helpful tip: Don’t miss the bones and skulls on display in the back building near the cemetery. According to our guide, the cemetery got too full so they dug up the old ones and put them here.
Below is a selection of photos from the 3.5-hour excursion and as you will see, it was as much fun as the scenery was jaw-dropping. The whole trip actually inspired me to look into going on a week-long biking trip through this area again, or somewhere similar. I know Backroads offers them (since we passed them on the road) and I hear Butterfield and Robinson is really good. But I’m only going if they have the assist bikes ;-).
For more information and a bit of history on the Wachau Valley, including the towns we traveled through, check out the Wachau Wikipedia page.