For more than 1,000 years, the Danube has been the principal highway for the exercise of power in central Europe. It connects major capital cities east and west. Between Regensburg and Budapest especially, its banks are studded with the towns, abbeys, fortresses, palaces and cathedrals built to demonstrate the temporal power of bishops, princelings, dukes and oligarchs
whose shifting allegiances raised Kings and lowered Emperors. The gorges of the Danube still echo hallowed names – Charlemagne, Attila, Wittelsbach, Hohenzollern, Hapsburg, Esterhazy – whose assaults and confrontations have left their stamp. Journeying along it now from Germany to Austria, Slovakia and Hungary you could feel that little has changed in centuries – except that modern travellers do so in much greater comfort.
Most go by boat, which certainly offers a unique visual perspective on the Danube’s natural wonders as well as its sights. Rounding a curve to your first sight of the Benedictine Abbey at Melk, in the UNESCO World Heritage Cultural and Natural Heritage Site of leafy Wachau Valley, is just one of the princely landscapes you can’t see any other way. Even so, lots of people choose to travel the Danube by bike. You can speed or tarry at will, and because the special bike route follows the old towpath, the going is flat the whole way. If you’re prepared to use an agent to smooth your path, you can combine bike and boat, either for excursions in Passau, Linz, Durnstein, Vienna and Budapest, or as alternative transport through the woods, terraced vineyards, orchards and meadows between stops like the venerable towns of Aggspach, Spitz and Weissenkirchen.
Like the emperors and kings who have preceded you, allow plenty of time, however you travel. The wealth of history, culture and giddy-making surprises is too rich, and the Danube too beautiful, to rush.
By boat and/or bike
WHEN TO GO:
April to November. Winter boat services are infrequent, and at the mercy of heavy rains/river levels.
TIME IT TAKES:
6-7 days by boat (Regensburg-Passau- Durnstein-Vienna-Bratislava- Esztergom-Budapest): 14-16 days by bike (including 2 rest/excursion days): 19-21 days (bike and boat, with many
short excursions and including rest days).
Discovering Regensburg to be one of Germany’s most complete medieval cities.
Tulln – with its baroque old town.
1. By bike, travel the Danube from west to east – there’s an overall incline in your favour, and both the prevailing wind and afternoon sun will be on your back. 2. If you start your
journey mid-week, you’ll avoid the large numbers who set out at