We had been warned by the locals - every time we mentioned the Drau River Cycling Path, they frowned and murmured something about "the Italians". But nevertheless we stuck with our plan of cycling the first leg of the Drau River Cycling Path. Our one-day cycling trip begins in the small town of Toblach in Northern Italy, and by the time we reach Innichen only a few kilometres down the road, we have curved around and slowed down for a number of Italian cyclists bumbling along. How did they get onto the bicycles anyway?
The extremely popular day trip from Italy to Austria is just perfect for Sunday riders not particularly used to cycling and to hilly roads: It goes downhill all the time, you almost wouldn't need the pedals. Starting from the Drau's source the path follows the valley down into Austria, easy cycling all the way.
Awareness of the other cyclists is, however, a minor challenge compared to the one, much more difficult task this route sets us: Finding the right place for a break! Innichen, the first possible stop, is a very cute little town, still on the Italian side with historical churches and a traffic-free old town.
But only six kilometres into the day-trip, not an option for lunch. We stopped for a strong black espresso anyway.
Half an hour later we reach Sillian, a somewhat nondescript small town and yet home to one of the best chocolate makers around, perhaps in the whole of Tyrol: Pichler chocolates. We had already come across their fabulous products in the shape of a special edition brandy chocolate. And in Sillian they now run a cafe, which meant incredibly tasty hot chocolate and a superb chocolate ball for us!
A further 3 km down (yes, always down) we passed yet another chocolate factory with a visitor centre, exhibition, shop and cafe: Loacker, one of those mainstays of Tyrolean sweets, wafers filled with chocolate cream. Or vanilla cream, or whatever variety you chose. All of them will have you “whisked away to paradise” - an alluring voice in the show room promises.
Although Loacker wafers are not our favourites we obviously had to buy some (nope, no free samples with the free entrance!), and eat some ...
And then we rolled down along the Drau River again, not quite the right activity to get rid of all the calories before reaching Lienz. At the end of the day's route, you can just hand the rented bicycle over to the rental desk in Lienz, they take care of bringing it back to Toblach for the next day's tourists.
Bicycles can be rented at Papin Sports in Lienz, Toblach or Innichen and cost 18 € a day, plus 2 € if you want a helmet. You do not need a Mountainbike as the route is downhill all the time.
Pichler's World of Chocolate: Kirchgasse 6, Sillian, +43 4842 6255, www.pichler-sillian.at, daily 8-18 h.
Loacker Indulgence: Panzendorf 196, Heinfels, +43 4842 606 00, www.loacker.com, daily 9-18 h.
***As the cycling trip was part of the research for our new Tyrol guidebook, the bicycle rent was sponsored by Osttirol Tourism.