The route: 95km
- Leaving Schenkenfelden, take the R7 west until just past Libenschalg when it ends at the R28 Head south.
- At St Georgen an der Gusen, the R28 disappears and the signage changes a bit (some signs show it as R1). Follow the bike route signs to Mathausen where you can take the ferry or hike your bike up some stairs (there is a bike ramp, but it is STEEP) to the bridge over the Donau river. (We did the latter but recommend the former.)
- On the other side of follow the Eurovelo 6 to the west until you come to another bridge over the Enns river, then follow the R7 a.k.a. Ennsradweg south for the rest of the day.
(Note: we actually covered 105km due to wandering around a bit looking for our accommodations at the end of the day. Total route distance is 95km)
T had been promising me that Austria was flat. OK. Let’s face it, Austria has the Alps, and we would be riding through them, so Austria is NOT flat. But the roads through the mountains hug the rivers, which make them flatt-er than what we had seen.
Today was the day I fell in love with Austria. The first day I cursed those short, but very steep hills. But now, I was rewarded with the most beautiful views of mountain peaks that made any memories of pain and struggle, however recent, fade away.
The R28 bike route skirted us to the east of Linz, and we didn’t take the time to stop in. Our first 20 km from Schenkenfelden were all downhill, and we hoped to break the 100km mark making time like that. Our first town of interest was Gallneukirchen, just due east of Linz. It might not be high on everyone’s list, but for us, this small town’s efforts to encourage transportational cycling were inspirational. Just outside of townhall there was a “Radpoint”, with everything a cyclist might need—a tool station, a dispenser with another kind of ‘rubber’ (aka, tubes for your tires), and an e-bike charging station, as well as local maps showing bike routes, bike parking and a general info board to post bike-related items.
The charging station for the e-bike made a lot of sense around here, given the amount of hills. Yesterday we saw at least one old man cruising up a steep hill and wondered if he was superman—until T spotted his electric hub. Can we move here now, please? It is nice to see a place where cyclists are treated as the norm and not the freaks. It reminds us that we are normal. Well, maybe not us—but at least most cyclists.
Even in the absence of good route signs, there are good route signs
As we passed Linz, we were moving away from the main Austrian bike routes, as they would take us in another direction from our destination. We noted from opencyclemap, that there were route connections to the Ennsradweg / R7 heading south, but they weren’t clearly designated long-distance routes. In Georgen an der Gusen, we knew to head towards the Donau River and Mathusen, and luckily, there were plenty of local bike route signs. Once we hit the Donau, there was a wonderful local cycle route along the river.
At Mathusen, there was no simple way over the river. The options were to take a ferry across to the R1 and backtrack to the R7 or continue a couple kilometers further upstream (east) and cross at the bridge to the EuroVelo 6 in Ennsdorf then to the R7. We chose the bridge, which involved lugging our loaded bikes up about 30 stairs. Although there is a bike ramp on the side, the stairs were steep and the bikes were heavy. This may have been the single most difficult moment in all of our travels through Austria and seemingly out of character with the otherwise well integrated biking systems of Austria. Fortunately it was over in about 4 minutes.
After crossing the Donau we turned East on the EV6 into the farmlands around Ennsdorf and found our way to the Ennsradweg/ R7 bike route along the Enns river heading south toward Steyr. The Ennsradweg / R7 bike route, which follows the Enns river some 260km, is a smooth, well marked system of dirt and gravel paths, agricultural roads, riverside roadways and back roads running the length of Enns river. Pedaling from the confluence with the Donau south was only mildly strenuous even though we were going upstream.
Steyr- Austrian city charm
The second highlight of our day was the city of Steyr. On another trip, we would spend some more time checking it out. The old city boasts well-preserved architecture and charming surroundings along the banks of the Enns river. While Vienna feels imperial, Steyr feels like the Austria of the hills—with class and style. Schubert fell in love with this town, and there are plentiful tributes to him. Of course, perhaps the best part is that it can serve as a launching point into the mountains and real countryside, as we were about to experience.
As the road heads out of Steyr, the bike route takes you along a side road next to the railroad tracks and away from everything, including the busier road on the other side of the river. There were several passenger train stops along the way, making this easily accessible by public transport. I knew we were heading into the mountains, but was not expecting them come upon us so quickly and so dramatically. We were cutting through the river valley into a slice of heaven. The terrain was rolling, so some climbs and descents, but my breath was already taken away from the spectacular scenery.
Hillbillies in any language
We finally hit Losenstein, with the first marked campground in this section. We began asking people around town for directions. One couple strongly encouraged us not to go to the campsite, just a few kilometers up the road, and instead choose the gasthof in town. As hardy as we are, we decided to check out the campground first.
In a country dominated by order and tidiness, we came across our first Austrian hilbillies. Their place was at the end of the road, before it turned to donkey path into the mountains. There was a sign for camping. There were also car parts, washing machines and old tires littering the front yard. Yep. Hillbillies in any language, any country. We could hear music from inside, but no matter how much we rang the bell, shouted or pounded on the door, no one came outside. There was a flat pitch behind the barn that looked like a camping spot, with a bench and a water spigot. We thought about putting up the tent and answering to whoever showed up later. We thought better. In this steep and open country, there was no other good place to pitch a tent. As we rode away, two young boys, not more than 5 and 7 were on the hillside eating apples off the tree. Riding by, they threw apple cores at us. Yep. Hillbillies.
So instead we opted for a nice gasthof in town—Gasthof Eisentor. A tavern has been on that spot since 1250. At check-in our host directed us to the garage to securely store our bikes and helped carry our bags to our room. As with the tradition of the gasthaus we were invited to dine in-house and our gracious host did her best to make us feel welcome. Summer is mushroom season in Austrian and the house special menu featured local chanterelles. I had a wonderful dish of semenknodel and a creamy sauce with chanterelles with nice salads. The food here has been surprisingly lovely.
We briefly discussed our trip with her as she told us about the history of the building and the area. What was surprising to us was the relative casual attitude toward cycling tourists when we commented on the ease of accommodations with our bikes. “Of course we cater to bike tourists,” our host told us. It is really quite normal. We had encountered several bike tourists along our route in Austria. These small towns along the Ennsradweg all derived benefit from bike tourists, just like all other forms of tourism. Again, it was refreshing to be reminded that we were “normal” at least while we’re here. After chatting and eating for what seemed like hours we had to retire for a good night’s rest. We need to build our strength, tomorrow we are pushing deeper into the mountains and climbing to the riverside village of Wildalpen.