Dresden to Prague by Bike
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Jacqueline George https://www.facebook.com/jacqueline.george.752
From Dresden to Prague by Bike
Although Central and Northern Europe have a large and vibrant populations, mostly it is a peaceful, rural place divided by large and lazy rivers. In olden times, these rivers were the only highways. Nowadays, roads and railways whisk passengers and freight on direct routes and the rivers are left in peace. For visitors, that is very fortunate because the historic towns along the rivers have also been left alone, and they are magic places.
The ideal way to see the countryside and get a feel for the history and people is by bicycle. And, as any cyclist will tell you, the nicest thing about large rivers is that they are flat. No exhausting hills and mountains to climb! One of the most popular routes runs the length of the mighty Elbe River from the Czech Republic to the Baltic Coast of Germany. A major trip of more than two weeks, but bicycles are flexible and a great way to start is the section of trail from Dresden to Prague. About 250 km or five easy days riding. For most people, this means you spend half a day getting to your next destination and have plenty of time for short side trips or visits to castles and palaces along the route. Unless you get delayed in one of the many bars and cafés along the way.
Fly into Dresden which, in spite of terrible war time damage, is a beautiful cultural centre that is certainly worth two or three days exploration. Besides the exciting bars and restaurants, there is magnificent street food in the Old Market. Enjoy the art gallery at the Zwinger Palace, and free evening music beside the river. Don’t eat too much, because your hire bikes will be ready outside your hotel in the morning.
Ready, steady, go!
The first stage of your ride starts right in the centre of town, on a dedicated cycle track beside the river. The track is excellent, wide and smooth, and you soon put the city behind you. Riding beside the river is naturally relaxing, as you keep pace with river boats and think only of the scenery passing by. A high point of this leg is passing through the rocky gorge of the Saxon Switzerland National Park – positively Wagnerian. The first leg ends at the old spa town of Bad Schandau where Germans used to take the waters a century and more ago. The town is used to tourists and has a range of good eating. Ask for the wild boar and wild mushrooms – food to dream of.
Crossing the border
Day Two is only a short 25 km ride and starts by crossing the river on one of the cheap and efficient passenger ferries – two euros per cyclist – and heading for the border with the Czech Republic. This is no more than a row of concrete posts with the Czech flag on one side and the German flag on the other. No x-ray scanners, no crusty immigration control, no customs – wonderful! And the river changes its name from the German Elbe to the Czech Labe. The valley here is wooded and interesting, but there is only a short distance to the town of Decin. This is a small but busy town and, by Czech standards, not particularly picturesque. However, if you are Australian, your camera will be clicking non-stop, especially around the prominent castle.
One of the many passenger ferries
For a typically Czech pizza (nothing like the pale imitations in other countries) visit the Pizzeria Pod Zamkem, below the castle and not far from the bridge. My favourite is the Diavoli but this must be accompanied by tartare sauce (tatarska omachka) for the full experience. And try the local Breznak beer.
On the third day, the trail heads to Litomerice, following the river along a narrow valley of woods and small fields. You are about half way between Dresden and Prague, feeling happy with the distance you have come and even more happy that you still have a lot of peaceful country ahead. Stop for a lunch break around the town of Usti nad Labem and you can take time out to visit the ruins of Strekov Castle. Litomerice is a compact old town, full of churches and classic buildings that will add to the photo album you are accumulating.
The next day starts by crossing the river and riding over flat parkland to the garrison fortress of Terezin. This is a massive star fortress build by the Austro-Hungarian emperor for defence against the Prussians and Saxons. It is extensive and more or less intact, containing a garrison town that held an army. It is worth seeing just for that, but it also houses a Holocaust museum and cemetery as the Nazis used it as a transit camp for Jews and partisans en route for Auschwitz and other death camps. After such a sombre setting, it is a relief to get into open country again, riding over fertile flat lands sometimes near the river and sometimes in the countryside. The destination for this day’s riding is Melnik, a town beside the river with a spectacularly sited cathedral and old town on a cliff top over the river. If you are staying in one of the little hotels or pensions up there, you will probably be pushing your bike up hill to reach it! The effort is well worthwhile as the views are magnificent and the old town so full of atmosphere.
The Town Hall at Melnik
The final day follows the river to Prague, with a short diversion before Klecany to avoid some bad tracks by the river. This involves climbing 90m over 4 km, not much of a strain even for the most unfit riders. As a consolation, the road winds down through Klecany and there are all sorts of friendly cafés waiting to offer you lunch. The riverside bike trail leads right into the centre of Prague, leaving only a short distance to cover to reach most hotels.
Arriving to Prague
Prague is a wonderful place to visit with its historic Old Town attracting many visitors from all over the world. The Charles Bridge and the castle complex on the other side of the river are things you just have to see, but try to do it early in the morning before the rush starts. Prague is famous for its café culture but you will have to search around the edge of the Old Town to find it in small, friendly establishments with mostly local clientele.
The trip from Dresden to Prague is a marvellous way to see Europe as the inhabitants see it. The majority of riders on the bike trails are just locals out for exercise, not travelling any distance, and you fit right in. Nowadays, English is widely understood and most restaurants can manage an English language menu for visitors. A great way to get fit and see the world, although with all the good food and beer, it is a challenge to lose weight.
There are several bike rental companies, and the Czech ones tend to be a little cheaper than the German ones. If you wish, you can travel in a guided group but you can also enjoy the freedom and excitement of a self-guided tour. Either way, expect your tour operator to provide comfortable bikes and book your hotels along the route. Expect a trip for 2 people, including bike hire, hotels and breakfast, to cost around Euro 900. More information about this route can be found here.