Saturday 4 February 2012

Meandering down the Dyje

Stage 6, day 3 (Monday, 26 September 2011)
Slavonice to Znojmo (86 km)

I know I tend to bang on about breakfasts in these write-ups, but they are vital when you have a full day’s cycling ahead of you. If I don't eat properly first thing in the morning, I grind to a halt well before lunchtime. Quality varies enormously from one guesthouse to the next. Yesterday's offering was almost up to German standards, with, among other things, fresh fruit, unlimited sausage and a wide range of teas to choose from. Today's, however, is feeble - bread rolls with sachets of jam and cheese spread, a single teabag floating forlornly in a large pot of underheated water, and, for a 50-crown surcharge, two greasy sausages. And if I hear Europe's “The Final Countdown” one more time on breakfast-room radio on this trip, I swear I'll put my foot through the speakers. Or more likely, being English, I'll just keep suffering in silence.

Slavonice town square

The sun was shining again on Monday morning, and outside the hotel - on Slavonice’s handsome historical square - it was even warmer than it had been the previous day. After peeling off my outer layer of clothing and taking some photos I pedalled east out of town on the official Greenways Prague-Vienna cycle route. It was a section I vaguely recognised, as my friend Ryan and I had previously cycled it en route to the Austrian capital back in 2004. Before long, however, I decided to turn right off the main road onto a cool, tranquil trail running through woodland close to the border.

Slavonice lies roughly halfway along the Prague-Vienna cycle route

After passing through the village of Písečné I followed the Moravian Thaya River for a short distance then climbed a short, steep hill to the border with Austria. A couple of miles further on I came across a roadside shrine on the Austrian side, where I stripped down into shorts and a T-shirt, slapped on the suncream and basked on a bench for a while.

Time for a quick sunbathe on the Austrian side of the border

I had intended to continue along the farm trail on Czech side of the frontier and pick up the Greenways route again, but the smooth asphalt surface of the parallel road on the Austrian side was too enticing to resist. I made brisk progress through the flat, open farmland. The wind was so light it barely bothered the long grass at the roadside. A farmer driving towards me in a tractor pulled right over to let me through and waved cheerily as I passed (something that Czech farmers rarely do). Austria was growing on me fast.

Near Vratěnín I re-entered the Czech Republic and rejoined the Greenways route, which took me steeply downhill to the River Dyje, over a bridge and equally steeply back up the other side of the valley. I remembered fondly how, back in 2004, Ryan and I had given each other the high five on reaching the top here.

Bridge over the the River Dyje

At Šafov I took leave of the Greenways again and followed a narrow lane back across the border into Austria at Riegersburg, where I stopped for a while to admire a handsome chateau. By now it was lunchtime, and a sign at the gate announced that the chateau’s coffee shop was open, adding “Mluvíme česky!” (“We speak Czech”). However, I needed a proper meal, so I decided to press on in search of a restaurant.

Riegersburg Chateau

I passed through the village of Felling, where pumpkins decorated with smiley faces grinned at me from well-manicured front gardens, and entered the Thayatal National Park. On the descent into Hardegg (the smallest town in Austria, so I have read) I touched 71 kph, which, as far as I can remember, is my top speed on my Circuit Ride so far. Near the bottom of the deep Dyje valley I rounded a corner and the town’s 12th century castle - perched on a high rocky outcrop - came suddenly and spectacularly into view above me.

Hardegg Castle

Footbridge over the Dyje below Hardegg Castle

I was getting seriously peckish by now, but I realised had no euros on me. This meant I had to ride reluctantly straight past the two restaurants in Hardegg and cross a footbridge over the Dyje back into the Czech Republic. I climbed back out of the gorge on an empty tank, passing walkers and other cyclists on my way. At the village of Čižov I briefly investigated the last remaining remnant of the Iron Curtain in the Czech Republic then stopped for a very late and much needed lunch in the shady garden of a small pub.

A preserved section of the Iron Curtain at Čižov

It was gone 3 pm by the time I hit the road again. I joined one of the most picturesque sections of the Greenways route and cycled off-road through the forests of the Podyjí National Park. All around, acorns rained down from the trees, creating a crunchy coating on the trail. I had some fun bouncing across tree roots down to a ford and rather less fun climbing up the other side.

At a spot called Šobes the Dyje snakes sharply to the left, forming a deep incised meander. Late in the afternoon I emerged on the ridge of the high, narrow peninsular enclosed by this loop in the river. I let out a spontaneous whoop of joy as the canyon suddenly came into view below me on either side of the trail.

The meanders of the Dyje close to...

...the Šobes vineyards

The south-facing slopes of Šobes are reputed to be among the top ten wine terroirs in Europe, with a microclimate similar to that in the Rhine and Rhone valleys. On our 2004 trip, Ryan and I had stopped at a busy stall selling wine straight from the vineyard and enjoyed a couple of glasses of crisp white in the shade of the vines. Today the stall was closed and I had the entire place to myself. I sat down at the same spot as last time and wondered whether there could possibly be a more glorious grape-growing location in the Czech Republic.

Another footbridge over the Dyje...

..."Maximum 6 persons. No swinging!"

A bumpy cobbled path took me down to the river. I crossed a swaying footbridge and on the other side turned off the Greenways trail again and joined cycle route 5000 for the final section of the day’s ride – an entertaining scramble across sandy scrubland and past more vineyards. The town of Znojmo - my destination for the day - suddenly rose into view on the steep opposite bank of the Dyje ahead of me, its historical buildings glowing gorgeously in the early evening sunlight.

Znojmo comes into view

I crossed the Dyje for the fifth time that day and rode up the winding road to the guesthouse - Pension Grant Lux - where I’d already booked in for the night. I rang the doorbell twice to no avail and was about to phone for assistance when a teenager opened the door. Somewhat flustered, he explained that his parents were out but that they were expecting me. While I was waiting in the entrance hall for him to find the key I noticed a glass case full of Wedgewood porcelain, which is traditionally made in Stoke-on-Trent, the English town where I grew up. As we climbed the stairs I realised that the whole place was decorated with British bric-a-brac. I asked the boy, in Czech, whether there was anyone English in the family. “My Dad is English,” he replied. “So am I,” I told him. He seemed most surprised.

Pension Grant Lux

Pension Grant Lux is located directly opposite Znojmo prison, but don't let that deceive you. It is without doubt the best place I have stayed at on my entire Circuit Ride. For the same price that I'd paid for my spartan garret in Slavonice the day before, I got a bright, spacious room decorated in English country style, complete with minibar and a proper bed with satin sheets. Best of all was the space-age shower, which even had a radio and telephone built into it. I spent quite some time in there playing with the various spray settings and steam-cleaning myself thoroughly.

Feeling refreshed, I walked out on the streets of Znojmo in search of food. A waitress at a coffee bar by the town hall recommended a posh restaurant on the upper main square, but that turned out to be completely devoid of customers so I opted for a cheaper but busier place on the lower square. Afterwards I nipped into a nearby pivnice (beer pub) for a half-litre of Hedgehog and a glass of Pardubice Porter. Later, back at the B&B, I turned on the TV and watched Stoke hold Manchester Utd to a 1-1 draw. All in all, it had been a rather excellent day.


Wissy said...

What a brilliant day you had. Lovely photos. Thanks again for sharing your trips with us.

Circuit Rider CZ said...

Thanks, Wissy. Glad you enjoyed it:-)

Karen said...

I have always wanted to see Znojmo. The sunshine in your pictures is especially appealing as I read your blog since we have howling winds and snow in Istanbul.

Circuit Rider CZ said...

Hi Karen,
Yes, it's nice to reminisce about the warm sun when it's so cold outside, isn't it? There'll be more of Znojmo in my next post, so stay tuned!

Anonymous said...

Hi Simon I just got around to starting my blog about Znojmo, I hope you will like it best wishes Derek

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