Biking in Austria with Elderhostel

I do not recommend the “Italy-Austria: Cultures and Landscapes” biking tour to anyone who is a strong biker or who wants to experience some adventure. The 14-day tour, offered by Elderhostel (11 Ave. de Lafayette, Boston, MA 02111; phone 877/426-8056, e-mail, placed great emphasis on biking safety. However, in my opinion, this emphasis was quite extreme and created a very rigid, boring biking experience.

In Italy, clunky 3-speed bikes were used; for the Austrian portion of the trip, 5-speeds were used. The average distance we covered in an hour (with two breaks) was 7½ miles. The 19 participants all seemed to be in good shape; average age was 65.

I took this tour in June ’02. The price for this program in 2004, land only, is $2,364, with a $155 supplement for a single room.

The tour began in Pavia, Italy, where we stayed at Hotel Monumento (Via di Vittorio; phone 0382933533), a quiet, comfortable hotel with an excellent restaurant. It was within walking distance of the Certosa (Charter House) di Pavia, a monastery built in 1396 that is very large with beautifully carved pink marble throughout and some lovely gardens. We were given a tour by one of the few monks in residence.

Pavia is an ancient crossroads on the pilgrimage route. To the west the road leads to Santiago de Compostela, and heading south it is on the route to Rome.

We biked from hotel to hotel along a very flat route (I don’t remember a single hill) through the Po River valley, stopping in Vigevano, Fumo, Piacenza and Cremona. In Cremona, home of Stradivarius, we were treated to a short violin concert in City Hall, which has a collection of violins.

We were bused to Krimml, Austria, where the landscape changed dramatically — mountains on both sides of us — and the air became much cooler. We biked to Niedernsill, Leogang and Lofer and ended the tour in Salzburg. Although our route, along a river valley, was surrounded by mountains, it was not strenuous. We had more hills than in Italy, but most of our trip was downhill.

Our Austrian hotels were comfortable, clean and quiet. Our last hotel, the Best Western Zum Hirschen in Salzburg, was excellent. Although the hotel wasn’t centrally located, it was easy to get around Salzburg by foot or public transportation, and the train station was only two blocks away.

Cedar Rapids, IA