There are some countries that hold a special place in a traveller's heart and to me, Austria is one of those places. So what better way to get a closer look at a part of the country I hadn't visited before than on a cycling holiday of Austria? I spent nine fantastic days in July doing just that, discovering some wonderful Austrian scenery and getting a real appreciation for ‘slow travel’ along the way.
After comparing a few different cycling itineraries offered by various companies, I selected the 9 day Austrian Lakes Hike and Bike holiday sold through UTracks in Australia. (UPDATE: The tour itinerary has now changed slightly and this is now sold as an 8 day tour. Click here for the details.)
One of the big sellers for me was the fact that this tour spends two nights at Hallstatt, a town I had long wanted to visit. As the itinerary featured both walking days and cycling days, it also gave me the opportunity to have a 'rest' day on the walking days should I decide to.
My Austrian Cycling Holiday Itinerary
My husband and I arrived at Salzburg by train and then caught a bus (from the station) to Abersee on Lake Wolfgang where our tour was to start. As the holiday is a self-guided tour and can commence any day of the week during the cycling season, we were pleasantly surprised to discover a couple from Melbourne were also doing the same tour and they were to become our riding and dining buddies for the next week.
Day 1 - Arrival at Abersee (near St. Wolfgang)
When we arrived at our accommodation, our bikes were waiting for us and a meeting time was quickly scheduled for the local tour operator, Helmut, to come and meet us and run through the itinerary for the duration of the trip. Armed with route maps and instructions, we were now on our own.
Day 2 - Round trip walk (or free day) at Abersee
Day two was a designated walking day so we caught the little ferry across the lake from Abersee to St Wolfgang and started the 20km walk to Schwarzensee and back. The track was quite steep in parts but very pretty and we enjoyed a delicious morning tea at a cafe beside Lake Schwarz (Black Lake) before heading back down via a different route.
It's been a very long time since I've walked 20 kilometres in one stint before, so I was pleasantly surprised with how easily I coped. Mind you, I was ready for a good long rest when we returned to the guesthouse mid-afternoon.
Day 3 - Abersee to Attersee via St. Gilgen and Mondsee
The first of our cycling days began on day three - it was to be the longest distance we travelled by bike - and it's one I won't forget for some time! Our cycling route took us from Abersee via St Gilgen and then on to Mondsee where we stopped for morning tea and some quick sightseeing. This is Mozart and Sound of Music country, so there are plenty of things to interest the tourists, ourselves included.
From there we were headed for Attersee, the largest lake in the Salzkammergut region, and the village of St Georgen im Attergau where we were to stay for the night.
The afternoon's ride was a real challenge with plenty of steep ascents (a.k.a. HILLS!) and with temperatures unusually warm for Austria and pushing 32C, I can honestly say I have never been happier than I was when we reached our final destination at 5pm after 60 kilometres in the saddle.
I confess I had to get off and push my bike up some of the steeper hills but this was only day one of the riding and I was determined to conquer the hills by the end of the trip.
Day 4 - Attersee to Bad Ischl via Gmunden
Our next day's ride took us from Attersee to the lovely town of Gmunden on the Traunsee (Lake Traun) and onto the spa town of Bad Ischl.
The beauty of riding around the Austrian lakes is that many of the towns are serviced by the excellent Austrian rail system and on many occasions there were options to shorten the day's ride by catching a train for part of the journey.
After riding to Gmunden (30 km), we opted to cool off with a dip in the lake before catching a boat to Ebensee at the far end of the lake, and then a train to Bad Ischl. Instructions were provided for those who preferred to ride the whole distance (50 and 67 km options), as well as details about boat and train schedules.
Day 5 - Bad Ischl to Altausee via Bad Aussee
Day 5's forecast was 37C and was a designated walking day but we opted to do some morning sightseeing in Bad Ischl before catching the train to our next destination, Bad Aussee.
It was then a short taxi ride to our guesthouse at Altausee, and we arrived in plenty of time to have a good look around and enjoy a cooling swim in the lake which is much less 'commercialised' than the other lakes we had visited so far on this trip.
Day 6 - Altausee to Hallstatt
The weather wasn't getting any cooler - 39C was forecast for today - so again we took a shorter option. After a 5km ride into Bad Aussee, we caught the train to Obertraum at the bottom of Lake Hallstatt, and then rode another 5km around the lake to Hallstatt itself, arriving around midday.
It was great to arrive early and have plenty of time to relax, knowing we were already at our destination for the night.
Day 7 - free day in Hallstatt
There were plenty of walking and sightseeing options available the following day in Hallstatt including the famous Dachstein Ice Caves but, having visited ice caves before, we opted for the leisurely pursuits of shopping and cruising the lake in an electric boat!
Further reading: Things to Do in Hallstatt, Austria
Day 8 - Halstatt to Abersee
The final day of our Austrian Lakes Hike and Bike holiday was our ride back to Wolfgangsee. It was drizzling and much cooler when we set off which made the riding conditions so much nicer and the route, despite not really passing any lakes, was one of the best of the trip.
We finished with a flourish around 2pm - 51 km on the final day was pretty good going considering there were a couple of killer hills towards the end - and I didn't have to get off and push my bike once!
Day 9 - Tour concluded after breakfast
So, would I recommend doing an organised cycling tour in Europe? For a first-timer, absolutely, whether it be a self-guided or guided holiday.
The beauty of booking an organised tour was that not only were our accommodation, meals and bikes organised for us but each day our luggage was transported to the next guesthouse and awaiting our arrival, and on walking days the bikes were transported, too.
Luckily we didn’t require it, but there’s also an emergency hotline number should we have needed assistance throughout our ride.
I thought the 9 day/8 night Austrian Lakes Hike and Bike Tour, which sold for just under AUD$1400 per person, was great value. It included 8 nights’ accommodation, 8 breakfasts, 8 three-course dinners, bike hire, luggage transfers, bike transfers on walking days, 2 ferry rides, arrival briefing, Dachstein sightseeing pass and Salzkammergut discount card, route notes and maps.
Need to know
- The accommodation used throughout the tour was clean and comfortable but definitely 3* - some tours offer an option to upgrade to 4* but it wasn't available on this tour. Breakfast and a three-course dinner were included each night and most guesthouses allowed you to choose anything from the menu. Only one guesthouse had a set menu (everyone got exactly the same meal) which was a bit of a foreign concept to we Aussies! No matter where we stayed, we never left the table hungry.
- Our bikes for the week were lockable 11-speed bikes fitted with front and back brakes, a large pannier and a handlebar bag. A pump and puncture repair kit was provided for each couple. The seats, combined with padded bike shorts, were remarkably comfy.
- The local Austrian tour operator didn't supply or hire bike helmets and as we were travelling in Europe for six weeks before starting our tour, we opted not to bring our helmets from home. Whilst the wearing of helmets is not compulsory in Austria, it is a condition of most bike tour companies (and rightly so) that helmets be worn. An enquiry at the Tourist Office in St Wolfgang directed us to a local bike hire shop where we hired helmets for a week for EUR2.50 per day. As our tour started and finished in the same town this suited us, however if a tour starts and finishes in different towns, hiring helmets locally may prove to be more difficult.
- Most of the cycling on our trip was done on designated cycling paths which were generally very well signposted. There were occasions when we had to ride on the road but this was usually only for short distances (1 or 2 kilometres).
- If you do decide to shorten a day's riding and catch a train, taking your bike onboard is not a problem. Most trains in Austria (and throughout Europe) have specific bike carriages with racks. These are usually at the front or back of the train and are marked with a large picture of a bike on the outside. In Austria we paid EUR5 per bike for a day ticket in addition to our own fares.
My tips for getting the most from your cycling holiday in Austria
- Don't underestimate the time required to travel the distances each day. Our first day's ride took us the whole day - from 9am to 5pm - and whilst we had a few stops along the way, it was a big day and because of this, we didn't have time to look around Attersee at all. If you particularly want to visit (and look around) a town on your itinerary, you may need to consider shortening your ride with a train or boat ride if it is possible.
- Be particularly aware of the difficulty level of your tour. Our tour was graded a category 3 (moderate level) and we were advised prior to the trip of the suggested exercise regime we should undertake before the trip to ensure our fitness level was adequate. Whilst six weeks of travelling around Europe before the tour was probably not the ideal preparation, we were still confident our fitness levels would be OK. We, perhaps naively, didn’t expect the ascents of some of the hills along the route, and the extremely hot weather didn’t help, but in saying that, I still think we handled the grade 3 ride fairly comfortably. A grade 4 ride - now that would be a different story altogether!
- Remember to enjoy yourself. Yes, you do have to get from A to B in one day but if it means jumping onboard a train for part of the route so that you can linger a while in a cute village or stop and watch a local marching band in full tune, so be it. It’s not the Tour de France and there aren’t any prizes for the fastest rider.
Footnote: I paid for my own tour at a discounted rate.
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