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Prague to Budapest

Passau to Vienna was just a warm-up; the real cycling begins in Prague where I join an 11 day Exodus tour to Budapest.

I have a two-day breather; time to get myself to Prague and have a look around – somewhere I have always wanted to visit.

Prague lives up to its reputation as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

I spend my ‘rest days’ joining the throngs of tourists that flock here every year – over 8 million annually.

Majestically, Prague Castle sits on the hillside overlooking the town below. The 14th century Charles Bridge spans the meandering river Vltava, connecting the castle district with the old town.

Weathered cobblestone streets and alley ways entice you down to discover quaint bars and cafés, hidden courtyards and gardens. Crowds aside, it’s hard not to fall in love with the place.

Day 1 : Exodus Tour Cycling Prague to Budapest
Thursday evening I meet my fellow cyclists.

Most of the group hail from the UK; Keith and Nicola, Rachel and Andrew, Jill and Henry, Anne, Colin and Jacque, Faye and Michael.

The Antipodeans make up the rest; Yvonne – an Aussie/New Zealander and two fellow Victorians, Jan and Graham; we are 15 in total.

Our tour leader is Dana, originally from Czech, she now resides in Slovenia, when not cycling.

A thank you to the Exodus trip notes, which I have used with generous liberty in the narrative below. Without them I wouldn’t be able to recount which town I was in, when.

The days quickly blurred into long periods of cycling in repressive heat; enjoying a refreshing shower at the end; washing out your cycle gear (it was not unusual to see a collection of padded lycra hanging out hotel windows each evening); and devouring a carb loaded dinner before falling into bed, only to repeat it all again the next day.

České Budějovice

České Budějovice

Day 2 : Prague to České Budéjovice (bus), cycling from České Budějovice to Český Krumlov (CZ)
Total 32km, ascent 385m

Leaving Prague in the morning we transfer 150km to České Budéjovice where we collect our bikes.

Our first day is a warm-up, a relativley short 32km following the Vltava River to Český Krumlov.

I was feeling comfortable being back on a bike, very grateful I’d already worn my butt in and wouldn’t have to worry about being saddle sore.

About 10km in we came upon our first hill – this is what I wasn’t in condition for. And today was the easy day!

Over the next few days I would struggle up many more hills (some I’d call mountains). I managed to scale a few, but probably more I didn’t, opting to stretch my legs and walk up them!

I had no expectations of Czech; outside of Prague it hadn’t been on my travel list.

Come to think of it, I had no idea what I was in for. The only reason I was on this particular tour was because the dates matched Don’s Scotland golf trip.

So, I happily spent the next 8 days traversing through beautiful medieval villages and an ever-changing landscape of rolling hills, vineyards, farmland and forests.

Our destination for the night is Český Krumlov. The castle, one of the largest in Central Europe, overlooks the town from its strategic position on a horseshoe bend in the river.

The picturesque old town is a maze of narrow, crooked streets, the buildings a blend of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture.

Day 3: cycling from Český Krumlov to Třeboň (CZ)
50km, ascent 800m

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Trebon Markets

Leaving Český Krumlov behind we head out into the hilly (to say the least) countryside.

The route flattens out as we enter the Trebon Basin, a lowland area of forests, meadows and lakes.

Trebon, is (yet another) gorgeous mediaeval town of renaissance architecture.

We arrive in time to peruse the market in the town square before transferring to our hotel in Jindrichuv Hradec.

By day 3 the group has got to know each other and I’ve nearly got everyone’s name sorted out.

The riding pace each day was usually set by Fay and Michael.  They live in the UAE, so there cycling is generally restricted to a velodrome.

The youngest and fittest in the pack, they set a speedy pace which never slowed, even on the hills. The leaders, however, were not without their challengers.

Andy who clearly loves his mountain biking would be off anytime we hit gravel roads with Rachel close behind.

Anne is often brining up the rear. She has never been on a cycling holiday, the majority of her cycling has been in spin classes.

She never falters, not even when climbing a hill. I am secretly relieved to have Anne among us; never too far behind, but just enough to give me a breather whilst we regroup.

The only problem was Anne got faster as the week went on, my rest periods shortened and I found myself dropping back at times to become the tail.

Day 4: from Jindřichúv Hradec to Lásenice (bus), cycling from Lasenice to Telč (CZ)
70km, ascent 700m

We start cycling from Lásenice today and pass a number of artificial lakes as we follow sections of the Greenways Trail, a network of hiking and cycling trails through the Czech Republic and Austria.

It’s a long hot 70km to our destination; the renaissance town – Telc, registered on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List in 1992.

From here we transfer to Znojmo on the banks of the river Dyje, often seen as the gateway to the wine-making area of South Moravia

Mon day 5: cycling from Znojmo to Mikulov (CZ)
63km, ascent 230m

Today’s ride is through the rich fertile flatlands of Moravia, home to an abundance of vineyards and wine cellars.

Wine cellars? If only I’d read the trip notes, I’m sure I could have convinced a few (if not most) of the group to make a detour or two.

Unfortunately, late morning Colin takes a spill when his bike spins on some thick gravel, the fall results in a dislocated shoulder.

The fortunate thing for Colin (if there can be one), is that Jan and Graham are both highly trained paramedics.  Actually Australia can boast some of the best trained medics in the world, which these two demonstrate.

Quickly taking control of the situation they have Colin wrapped up tight and on the bus before he knows it, destination the nearest hospital (which did prove further away than first thought).

Applause also to Dana and the Exodus team, who provided Colin with all the assistance they could to insure prompt medical attention.

wpid-wp-1441708353025.jpegThe end result; Colin was going to be off his bike for a while and he and Jacque would be returning to Scotland.

I can report he is well on the way to recovery and he should be back on his bike and out on the golf course in no time!

Lessons learnt from this experience: always handy to travel with paramedics where possible and travel insurance really is worth it!

I have contemplated what would transpire if it was either Don or I in this situation.

I suspect the conversation would be along the lines of:“Are you OK…good, so I’ll meet you at the end of the trip.”

That evening the reduced crew of 13 head out for dinner and Moravian wine tasting.

Being spoilt for wine in Australia, I’d probably say Moravian wines are OK, but I wouldn’t be rushing out to find them.

Tue day 6: cycling from Mikulov (CZ) to Poysdorf (AU), transfer to Vienna (bus)
30km, ascent 350m

We sadly bid Colin and Jacque farewell and continue our cycling, all the bit more cautiously through Mikulov, located directly on the border with Lower Austria.

Today we enter Austria through the UNESCO grounds of Lednice, known as the “Versailles” of Southern Moravia.

We continue to the wine-producing town of Poysdorf, from where we transfer the final 47km to Vienna.

Austria’s capital is a hive of architecture, history and culture with a lively café and bar culture and great range of restaurants.

The regular Exodus hotel was full, which I think was to our benefit. The Hotel Regina turned out to be in a superb location within the historic centre.

Heading out to see the sights we get to the Vienna Rathausplatz which had been turned into an outdoor cinema and international food market for the Vienna Film Festival.

I joined Jan and Graham for a walk around the city.  Our tour started with a snack and a well-earned G&T in the food market and ended there was well!

It would have been lovely to spend more time in Vienna, a rest day here would be ideal. Saying; “I’ve been to Vienna” is somewhat superficial in the short time frame and exhausted state I was in.

Wed day 7: cycling from Vienna (AU) to Bratislava (SK)
72km, ascent 40m

Dana takes us on a guided bike ride around the city before we join the Danube cycle path. Cycling as a group of 14 through a major city is a challenge in itself and I manage to lose the group at a set of lights.

After a quick scout down the street I return to the spot they disappeared and wait.  Of course Dana has given everyone her mobile number for just this sort of thing, but I never did put it in my phone.

It isn’t long before she returns to collect me, this ends up being the first of several times I lose the group.  Eventually I did put Dana’s number in my phone!

Following the river we cycle into the Donauauen National Park, past the red-tiled turrets of Castle Orth and the château at Eckartsau.

Well, that’s what the trip notes say, I don’t remember Castle Orth at all!

We cross the border at the town of Hainburg and enter Slovakia, winding our way towards the capital Bratislava.

Again, it’s another charming old quarter with cobbled stoned streets. The evening is balmy and we dine outside on Slovakian cuisine.

Thur day 8: cycling from Bratislava (SK) to Hedervár(HU), Hedervár to Gyôr (bus)
58km, ascent 40m

During the morning walking tour of Bratislava, Jill is relieved of her wallet and phone by a pick-pocketer.  It’s an unfortunate reminder how brazen thiefs are and to be careful of our possessions at all times.

After Jill and Dana visit the police station to report the incident, we get back on our bikes.

The Danube is again our guide as we return to the cycle path and head out into the forested hills around Bratislava.

Crossing into Hungary we ride through peaceful rolling countryside before arriving in Halaszi, a small village of around 3000 inhabitants.

The bus than transfers us to Gyôr for the night.  We arrive late and apparently it isn’t much of a town, so we don’t even leave the hotel for dinner.

Fri day 9: cycling from Gyôr (HU) to Komárom, Komárom to Esztergom (bus)
53km, ascent 80m

The plane of ‘Little Alfold’ has some of Hungary’s most productive farmland and offers a relaxing cycle en route to Tata.

From Tata we transfer to Esztergom, which was once the capital of the country, until the seat of power was transferred to Buda in the mid 13th century.

Sat day 10: cycling from Esztergom to Vac (HU), Vac to Budapest ( bus)
43km, ascent 150m

We leave Esztergom mid morning after visiting the Basilica, an imposing cathederal perched on The Castle Hill of Esztergom.  The historic site dates back in Hungarian history to the 9th Century.

Aftewards we begin our last day of cycling along the Danube before joining the road.

Our final route meanders over rolling countryside and through rural villages until we reach Vac, where our cycling tour ends. A grand total of 471km.

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Esztergom Basilica

From here it’s about a 45 minute transfer to Budapest, or more correctly the outer suburbs of the city.

We are all a bit disappointed to discover the hotel is a reasonable way from the city centre.

It’s a good 20min walk to the metro station, through a dubious part of town and then a 15 minute ride downtown.

In town, those who are keen to see the sights head off. I join my like minded compadres Jan and Graham and find the nearest bar. 

This wasn’t far, as the Sofitel has a lovely wine bar where we plonk ourselves to enjoy an evening of people watching.

Sunday 11: Budapest

In the morning I bid farewell to most of our group who are heading home.

I have really enjoyed the trip with a great bunch of people. Hopefully I may seem some of them again one day; maybe in Australia, on a cycle route, enjoying a good glass of red, or better still: a combination of all three.

Once again, the temperature is soaring into the 30’s. Walking around a city in this heat with clothes sticking to you and dripping in perspiration is not my idea of a pleasant day.

If you haven’t worked it out by now, I really hate the heat, unless I’m sitting under an umbrella by a tranquil turquoise sea sipping cocktails – I’m sure you get the picture.

The hop-on-off bus seems a good option and Yvonne joins me.  The breeze upstairs on the open top bus provides for some relief, the onboard commentary is average, but it gives a basic overview of all the major sites.

After lunch we take the river cruise for a different perspective of the city.

Budapest straddles the Danube with Buda on one side and Pest the other, it is a wonderful mix of architecture with many grand old buildings.

Bus and boat is certainly the lazy way to see Budapest, but with the limited time I had (not to mention the heat) it gave me a taste of this exotic city – one I would definitely go back to explore in detail.

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