River cruise itineraries that let you cycle around Europe’s most stunning locations are must-tries, says Sue Bryant.
Like wine and cheese, cycling and river cruises are a natural pairing. Many of Europe’s rivers have cycle trails running along the banks and there’s nothing more pleasant than taking a bike and pedalling a few miles without any traffic, soaking up the scenery.
As well as the obvious benefit of working off some cruise calories, a bicycle ride gives you a feeling of living like a local and seeing the landscape from a different perspective. If you stay on the riverside path, there are no hills and with the river as a reference point, it’s almost impossible to get lost. Many lines also offer guided excursions, hiring in bikes from local suppliers if they don’t have their own. Excursions let you be even more adventurous: explore bike-friendly Amsterdam, or do the 15-mile route from Cologne to Bonn.
Avalon arranges bicycle tours on most of its European cruises, each one accompanied by a local guide. The Netherlands is a good place to start as it is almost completely flat. An easy tour from Amsterdam on the day the ship is moored takes you through the busy city and out to the Waterland nature reserve, passing old wooden houses, windmills and narrow waterways along the Ijsselmeer. The whole area is criss-crossed with cycle trails and refreshments in a traditional Dutch pub are included. Avalon Waterways (0800 688 1803/avaloncruises.co.uk).
The Moselle is a tributary of the larger Rhine, flowing into it at Koblenz. Several cruise lines offer Moselle cruises, normally as part of a longer cruise that includes ports along the Rhine. Like the Rhine, the Moselle has a cycle trail running alongside, as the river winds its way in magnificent loops, with picture book villages strung out along its banks and medieval castles towering above the towns and vineyards. Some of the best Moselle ports from which to cycle include Bernkastel, in the heart of the wine-growing area, and Cochem, a medieval town of cobbled streets and half-timbered houses overlooked by a dramatic castle. Emerald Waterways, sister brand to Scenic, carries a fleet of bikes on board for guests to use. Emerald Waterways (0808 102 0160/emeraldwaterways.co.uk).
APT carries bikes on all its European ships for independent and group use. Two-week cruises on the Rhine, Moselle and Danube include a tour through Cochem; a ride from Regensburg to the Walhalla monument; and a ride through beautiful Baroque Würzburg. On the Danube, one of the most spectacular guided tours is Dürnstein to Melk, with a backdrop of steep hills, Dürnstein Castle – where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned in 1192 – and the Wachau valley vineyards. APT (aptouring.co.uk/0845 603 6738).
Viking River Cruises
While Viking doesn’t carry bikes on board, its ships call at plenty of ports where bicycle hire is both cheap and easy. In Vienna, for example, the ‘Boris Bike’ rental scheme is called Citybike (citybikewien.at) and it only costs €1 per hour after the first free hour (€2 for the third hour). There are bike stations all over the city, around the Ringstrasse, where all the main Baroque monuments are located, and at the entrance to the Prater park, for a more leisurely ride. Cycling is easy and safe; there are bike-only lanes almost everywhere and the terrain is flat. Just watch out for the trams and if it all gets too much, take a detour into the Burggarten or the beautiful Stadtpark for an iced coffee. Viking River Cruises (vikingrivercruises.co.uk/0800 319 66 60).
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
Uniworld caters for cyclists better than most, with a fleet of bikes on board for guests to borrow and the added bonus of optional guided cycle tours as part of each itinerary. On the Bordeaux, Vineyards & Châteaux cruise, two optional cycle tours are included, one from the pretty town of Pauillac, through the vineyards, and a second one from Bordeaux itself, an elegant city spread out along the riverbanks of the Garonne. Even a short ride along the riverfront is worthwhile here; river cruisers tie up right in the centre and the whole waterfront is buzzing with locals walking, cycling and jogging against a backdrop of graceful, 18th century buildings, many of which fall within the city’s protected Unesco World Heritage Site. Uniworld (titantravel.co.uk/uniworld/0800 988 5867).
Scenic offers complimentary e-bikes to its guests – bicycles with optional electronic assistance, which means greater distances and less effort. With the bikes come Scenic Tailormade devices, GPS touring gadgets, complete with an interactive map and commentary so guests can take individual guided tours. The devices are attached to the electric bikes, allowing you to listen to the running commentary as you cycle. One of the best places to aim for a longer ride is along the Rhine Gorge, overlooked by sheer-sided hills and vineyards guarded by ruined castles and riverside villages with geranium-filled balconies in summer. Cycling here is easy, despite the steep cliffs of the gorge; the Rhine Cycle Path, officially known as Eurovelo 15, extends the entire navigable length of the river, from Schaffhausen in Switzerland to Rotterdam, although one of the prettiest stretches is from Mainz to Cologne. The car-free riverside trail is perfect for cyclists of all abilities. Try a bike ride from Rüdesheim, leaving the pretty town behind and venturing out along the river into the countryside. Scenic (scenic.co.uk/0808 102 0092).
Feeling inspired by these cycling cruises? Then find your perfect itinerary here.