Enjoy a real symphony of superb scenery adorned with beautiful Baroque flourishes. Explore the Czech Republic’s gorgeous ‘Golden City’ of Prague in the Vltava Valley with its Mozart connections, then cycle north to meet the meanders of the Elbe at Mělník on the Bohemian Wine Road. Pass Dvorák’s birthplace and share in the sheer drama of precarious clifftop castles and fairytale towns nestling in the wooded slopes, their market-square façades rich in colourful swirls or topped with fanciful cupolas. Near today’s German border, you’ll soon understand why Děčin was one of Chopin’s favourite inspirational spots, being the gateway to the mighty sandstone outcrops of ‘Saxon Switzerland’. Cycling the Elbe River Cycle Path, it’s easy to criss-cross the river by means of bridges and local ferries to visit the numerous villas and vantage points along the route to the city of Dresden with its Royal Palace, once home to so many famous court composers.
Romantic, classic, gentle and dramatic – the scenery linking the two great musical cities of Prague and Dresden is inspirational and the Elbe River Cycle Path explores all the best vantage points. River bridges and local ferries give flexibility to swap sides to take in the sights. This part of the Elbe River Path includes the occasional hill and steep ascent when it leaves the river’s course, otherwise it is mainly flat. The pathway is less developed in the Czech Republic. The cycling ranges from unpaved tracks (gravel at times) to country roads and even, paved cycle paths.
Day One - Arrive & explore
Welcome to the Golden City of Prague – the place which the German poet Goethe called the “most beautiful gem in the world’s crown.“ From its mighty castle complex (Hradčary) above the iconic Charles Bridge (Karlův Most) to the town hall’s astronomical clock, or the view from the Petřín Eifel-esque lookout tower, there are simply so many wonders to see. Praha (Prague) in the Vltava (Moldau) valley stretches in all directions and across the centuries, a city dating back to the Holy Roman Empire which saw 400 years of Habsburg rule and it dotted with outstanding examples of modern architecture and design. Why not wander up to the castle or to Letná Gardens and see the city at night? What a start to a fantastic riverside adventure!
Overnight in Prague.
Day Two – Explore everything - from monuments to Mozart
A day in Prague to pack in the sights and discover some secrets too perhaps. Take a boat trip, a riverside stroll or tram ride to get your bearings. Mooch around the museums and galleries or head to explore the amazing cathedral of St Vitus, Wenceslas and Adalbert with its famous Wenceslas Chapel and crypt full of Czech kings. Picnic in the beautiful castle gardens or find lunch in Oberní Dům – the superb Art Nouveau Municipal House. Top tips include the Old-New Synagogue, the outrageously designed Dancing House (Tančiní Dům) on the Rašín riverbank or an evening at the Estate Theatre (Stavovské divadlo), a most beautiful historic opera house, where Mozart first conducted Don Giovanni.
Day Three – Castles & confluences
Time to take to two wheels and riverside paths which follow the Vltava’s meanders out of Prague, past the elegant Troja Palace. Today you’ll go with the flow all the way to the castle hilltop town of Mělník, where the Vltava meets the Labe (Elbe), with bridges, locks or ferries for assistance. Criss-cross at Kralupy to see both the Antonin Dvorák Memorial and the domed Veltrusy Palace before heading on up to Hořín Palace over the Vraňany canal. Mělník is a real delight at the centre of the Bohemian wine road. Be sure to climb up and visit its impressive castle and head round the back to admire views of the river confluence, visit the regional museum in the old Capuchin monastery or just sit and sip something local near the remains of the town fortifications – the Pražská brána (Prague Gate).
Overnight – Mělník.
Miles: 34 Kms: 55
Day Four –– Clocktowers & wine cellars
In the company of the Elbe (Labe) now, from Mělník all the way to Dresden, pedal out through Roudnice nad Labem with its eye-catching palace clocktower to destination of the day, Litoměřice. The haunting fortress town of Terezín which played such a grizzly role in WWII is close by and warrants a respectful detour, but Litoměřice is charmingly full of wine region gems, like the Dům Kalich (Chalice House) with its wine chalice-shaped cupola which is now a viewing tower. Don’t miss the 366 metres of underground medieval wine ‘caves’ under the Townhall; Baroque gems like All Saints Church and St Stephen’s cathedral, and Litoměřice’s museums and modern art galleries.
Overnight in Litoměřice.
Miles: 27 Kms: 45
Day Five – More castles & composers
Another Elbe-hugging day, passing impressive clifftop castles like the one at Střekov just before Ústi nad Labem (Ústi on the Elbe) in the narrow valley. The town is more modern in flavour, yet has retained a crop of historic churches, museum and palace (now a hotel). Further down the Elbe, Děčin is the former Sudetenland capital and the city which wooed Polish Romantic pianist-composer Frédéric Chopin and gave him much inspiration. Often referred to as the ‘Gateway to Saxon Switzerland’, it has to be the place to climb up the rocky hill to the Baroque castle and admire the view of the river and zoological gardens opposite. A Baroque rose garden lies along the north wall and you’ll find both a museum and hotel inside.
Overnight in Děčin.
Miles: 31 Kms: 50
Day Six – Borders & bizarre ‘mountains’
Only a few miles downriver today and you’re in Germany – and ‘Saxon Switzerland’, the national park which gets its name from the huge sandstone ’mountains’ which line the Elbe. The rock formations make the landscape almost like a fairytale at times with distant castles, stony peaks or needles peeping out from the wooded slopes, and little rope ferries which allow you to criss-cross the river to admire the view from the other side. Quarried sandstone from this area was transported across Europe to build now famous landmarks like Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen, Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and Antwerp’s Town Hall. Destination for the day is Bad Schandau with its colourful houses and cupolas and old brewery. A trip on the historic tram along the Kirnitz Valley is a must and don’t miss the collection of mountain flora in the botanical gardens.
Overnight in Bad Schandau or in the small Saxony castle town of Pirna.
Miles: 14 / 28 Kms: 21 /44
Day Seven – Rocky fortresses & dreamy Dresden
Two great vantage points start the day along the Elbe – Königstein Castle sitting on the sandstone outcrop and the Bastei Bridge viewing rock, just around the meander and across the river near Kurort Rathen, home to an arboretum boasting 28 varieties of rhododendron. Just beyond the castle town of Pirna, the suburbs of Dresden creep along the Elbe and it’s time to cross to Pillnitz to view its Baroque palace and ‘vineyard’ church. Finally, before heading into palace-rich Dresden – a city of real architectural contrasts- why not enjoy a stop at the Schillergarten beer garden by the ‘Blue Wonder’ bridge.
Overnight - Dresden
Miles: 28 / 13 Kms: 44 /22
Day Eight – Depart after breakfast
The Zwinger Gardens with their Baroque ‘Nympenbad’ fountains; the Royal Palace; Dresden Zoo,not to mention all the wonderful churches, museums and galleries… Wave goodbye, or maybe plan to stay another day to explore the ‘Altstadt’ on the left bank and reflect a while on everything the Elbe has to offer?
Extra nights can be booked in Dresden to allow more time to explore.
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