The route: 80 km
- Keep following the cycle route R2 out of Graz: it starts out on either side of the river and joins back together near Kalsdorf
- At the Spielfeld, instead of continuing to follow the R2 river trail, take the road over the bridge and towards the Slovenian border crossing;
- Heading towards the border, pick up a bike lane and the cycle route D1; it is not always well-marked, so here are some tips:
- Not long after crossing the border and riding on the main road, the D1 turns up a side street to the west and takes back roads over to a side road that parallels the freeway A1;
- Then the D1 runs along the west side of the freeway;
- Take the fourth crossing over the freeway and ride along the east side of the freeway;
- When you reach Road 437 turn right, (or south) on the dirt path that runs along it: when you reach the huge, round underpass, take the bike lane to cross under the A1 freeway and reach the H2
- Take the service road along the H2 into Maribor –there are intermittent cycle paths next to pedestrian paths into Maribor, although car traffic is reasonable into town
Easing out of Austria…
The ride out of Graz was easy and flat. And filled with lots of other cyclists. The R2 follows the Mur river south on either side of the river. It is also called the Murradweg. We choose the eastern side, which seemed a bit more direct. It was also marked as the HR8, so you can follow those signs, as well. As you leave the city, the trail hugs the river. Once out of town a bit, the marked path routes you through residential side-streets. At Fernitz, the path hits the main road to cross to the east side of the river and continue south along the R2.
This last section in Austria mostly hugs the river, through the forest, with short sections that send you back the the road around impassable obstacles. The cycle path, sometimes dirt, sometimes paved, was always quiet and peaceful. There were also a few river-side cafes for cyclists (they are the only traffic allowed through here) to quench your thirst. It was a wonderful way to say “Auf Wiedersehen” to the beautiful cycling terrain and dedicated cycling paths that dominate the Austrian landscape.
Here in the south of Steiermark, it also becomes wine country, and there were some options off the main route to some wineries. With more time, we would explore, but the destination of the day was south.
A short distance past Hassendorf and de Mur, the R2 puts you back on the east side of the river. At Spielfeld, we separated from the R2. At the intersection with a main road, we took the road back across the river and towards the Slovenian border. The R2 continues east along the border, eventually dropping into Slovenia, and continuing to follow the Mur river into Croatia, just along the border with Hungary.
and into Slovenia!
As we head towards the border, we are pleasantly surprised to find a bike lane on this busy road, with ample separation from vehicular traffic. Just before we arrived at the border about 2 km away, we saw our first Slovenian bike sign for D1. Things were looking good, although much hotter, suddenly. It was as if the heat index knew where the border was, too, and decided to turn it up a few notches on the Slovenian side. We knew the further south we got, the hotter we would get, but such a turn right at the border was a bit unexpected.
Slovenia actually has some good freeway systems, so we hoped like in Czech Republic, that meant some nice back roads with little traffic. Not far after crossing the border, the D1 routed us onto road 437, and under the major highway, the A1. Not soon after crossing under the highway, however, the bike lane disappeared, although a good side shoulder remained in its place. In less than a kilometer, the D1 turns right, heading west down a side road. As we turned onto the road, a group of young cycle tourists, looking slightly confused, asking “which way to Austria.” T was disconcerted at first, recalling the google map warning we found during our trip planning in Graz, I could already see some green hills rolling in the background shouting to us to come ‘on down. We point them in the right direction and hoped that we were also heading the right way.
Stung by a dog, bit by a bee
The side street was a hilly climb, but our first views upon the spectacular landcape in Slovenia–here it was wine country. The back roads eventually brought us back to the west side of the freeway, A1, along a low-traffic service road that paralleled the A1, just as opencyclemap showed. We knew we had to make a couple of crossings back and forth across either side of the highway, but it wasn’t always clearly marked. We took the west side down until it hit a t-intersection and guessed it was time to head back to the east side. From there, we were a bit lost.
At one point, we tried to head down a dirt farm road (we always had good luck in the past!) T was a ways in front, when all of a sudden, he was coming back at me, yelling at me over the loud, barking dog to turn around and ride- fast! Somehow, when we’re not in the right place, something lets us know. When we picked the wrong campsite on top of a wasp’s nest, T got stung– and now nearly bit by a big and snarly dog protecting its turf. Luckily, it was the other way around– bit by the bee and only stung by a dog….
Confusion at the cloverleafs
So we headed back onto the main road 437, heading south towards Maribor. There was a dirt service road that ran alongside it for easy riding. We later learned this was the D1, but we were very confused on the ground, given the network of roads, cloverleafs and highway interchanges in this area. The highways were the only marked routes into Maribor, which obviously wasn’t an option for us. We knew we had to get back to the west side of the A1, but it was not immediately clear which of the several options would get us there. At the giant rotary of options, we started to take different routes. The problem was, they were marked by destinations, not routes, so it was hard to match up with our paper map.
First, we took the main road, which we quickly found heading south, but also east- the wrong way. Then, we spotted a cycle route sign– always promising. Even if it did mark a 20% grade to a dead end. Why not?
Up a very steep, but luckily short grade, we came upon a farm, a vineyard actually, and some closed gates. We asked some people in our best Polish (it is a Slavic language after all) and they responded in English that this wasn’t the way to Maribor. One of them tried to give directions but they didn’t make much sense on the ground.
Back to the rotary and we saw an old men riding his bike coming through a tunnel under the cloverleaf– “Na Maribor?” we asked. “Da,” he replied. We knew we had found the right track.
In the tunnel, some cycle paths appeared, and led us to another service road that paralleled the H2. At first, we battled the cars on the busy road, but as we got closer to town, the sidewalks began wide enough to have cycle paths next to the pedestrian paths. They were often a bit choppy, but at least provide an alternative to riding on busy street.
Once we got into the city, we followed signs for the center. While, as Lonely Planet says, there are no unmissable sights in Maribor, there is a certain quaintness and charm that relaxes you and makes you want to linger. We highly recommend a stop at the tourist information center. (We marked it on the google map link above.) They were friendly and helpful, pointed us to the campground in the area and even had a cycle map for the city for the best route there. We also picked up some hard copies of the cycle tourist information that the national tourist office produced.
For our campsite, we headed over to the Pohore ski hill, which turns into a hot spot for mountain bikers, especially downhillers, with the lift operating year-round. We opted to camp at the resort itself, which provides a flat camping area at the bottom of the hill for cyclists, along with showers and toilets. After a long and challenging route-finding day, we made it to camp just in time to set up and cook dinner before the sun set. And it was a beautiful sunset from the base of the mountain. We were looking forward to our days in Slovenia!!