Bicycling Serbia-EuroVelo 6
Thru the Danube Gorge
Europe plays host to a sprawling network of bicycle trails. There are 14 long distance trails currently recognized. They are called EuroVelo Routes. We spent the summer of 2014 cycling parts of these fabulous routes.
Although numerous trails need more work to be considered complete, Euro Velo 6 has only a few regions where bicycles and heavy traffic must co-exist. It is the most complete of all the routes, with signage on much of the route and guidebooks & maps in various languages available. It is also considered to be the easiest of all the EuroVelo routes, meaning less climbing. It is 6,251 km total distance!
The entire EuroVelo 6 trail goes from the Atlantic coast in France to the Black Sea in Romania. We cycled it backwards, from Budapest to France with an add on section along the famous Danube Gorge in Serbia.
EuroVelo 6 goes right through Belgrade. We spent a few days in this interesting city before cycling the Danube Gorge section.
Kalemegdan Park on the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers, is an historic Fortress and is the oldest section of Belgrade.
For centuries, it was the town of Belgrade.
First records go back to 3rd century BC when it was inhabited by Celtic tribes.
For 2000 years, the fortress suffered continuous sieges and occupants: Bulgarians, Romans, Byzantines, Hungarians, Slavs, and Turks to name a few.
The sprawling city center of Belgrade hosts the popular Knez Mihailova Pedestrian Street.
A walk the full length of the street passes upscale shopping venues and a lot of restaurants.
At the far end, it leads into the oldest part of the city…Kalemegdan Fortress.
Much of Belgrade shows the wear and tear from monies spent on war.
Exterior masonry has not received recent maintenance.
The river banks along the Danube and the Sava have not been cleaned of trash and river debris.
There are many miles of wonderful bicycle paths in Belgrade.
Our favorites followed the Sava River and wandered through Ciganlija Park.
There are restaurants, sports fields, tennis courts, swimming beaches, picnicking, and many more activities in the park.
There are bicycle shops scattered along the various routes. They do a brisk business.
Bicycling Serbia -The Danube Gorge-Day One
Getting out of Belgrade-Bus to Smederevo-7/18/2014
Getting out of Belgrade is not easy on a bicycle. There is no bicycle path through the city center. Although the cycle paths are a wonderful network, they do not get cyclists past the heavy traffic to the north or south. Having spent several days in the big city, we were not anxious to cycle through the heavy traffic.
We have the Bikeline Guide books. The route they show to leave Belgrade is a clogged city street heavy with cars and trucks.
Once you get across the Danube, things improve, but it can be a white knuckle experience to get there.
We had read where other cyclists had done that. They were not exactly happy about the effort. They reported a lot of stress! The route crosses a bridge where even walking a bicycle is challenging!
Other choices were taking a train out, or a bus. Bikeline suggests taking the train to Ralja or to Mala Krsna, Serbia, both of which are just beyond Smederevo, Serbia. Other cyclists had made the comment that the service was a hassle… there were trains to another Ralja, the trains didn’t want to load the bikes etc.
We do think the train is more effort than the bus, and there is another Ralja.
Lasta bus lines is a convenient way to get out of Belgrade past all the traffic. They have numerous daily buses that go from the main bus station (be sure to take Lasta; they are bike friendly), to Smederevo. The trip is 1.5 hours and sets you up for a great start of your tour.
Smederevo is a relatively small town. Still, it took us an hour to find the Car Hotel. Very few people spoke any English.
Bicycling Serbia-The Danube Gorge-Day Two
Smederevo to Stara Palanka, Serbia- via the dike
38.8 miles/Ascent: 846 ft/Descent: 955 ft/Max Elevation: 402 ft
There are really 3 routes from Smederevo down the Danube. We decided to cross the river to the north bank and follow the route along the dike. Another route also crosses the river but stays on the main highway. Then, there is the route on the south side which also follows the highway.
From the Car Hotel in Smederevo, it was about 5 miles including crossing the bridge to the north side. As soon as we crossed the bridge, we could see a dirt track leading to the dike route which was visible from the bridge. The dike was paved in both directions as far as we could see. EV 6 signs posted distances in both directions. We imagined a fabulous day on this flat, section, forgetting that in about a mile, the route would turn to gravel.
For fifteen miles, we rode on gravel, packed dirt, and two single tracks, the middle having been taken over with thick grass. The path was quite good to Kovin, where there is a restaurant. We did not see any sign leading from the dike to the highway, so we stayed on the dike. That was a mistake. After Kovin, the farther we went, the worse the surface. Big potholes, deeper gravel, and lots of grass growing up in the middle made it very difficult for Anne and her trike. With 3 wheels, something was always bogging down. Even for a standard bike, the track was extremely rough and bumpy.
We did not see the Danube but for a glimpse or two until near Dubovac. There were some very nice estuaries and wetlands with a variety of birds. There was no shade anywhere, no water and no food between Kovin and Dubovac. We have not seen any other touring cyclists on this route. We have seen about six locals riding their bikes along the dike. There are also people who use the dike to access the wetlands for fishing.
When we got to Dubovac, there was a bar Café restaurant so we stopped for beer and coke. They had rooms to rent. Since Anne was so tired from riding in the grassy dike, we thought we would stop for the night and it was only 2 o’clock. But we looked at the rooms which were absolutely horrible. They wanted 14 dinar for two people and they had no shower. So we decided to go on to Stara Palanka where the ferry crosses over to Ram. In another kilometer, we got off the dike and the dirt and gravel bumpy road and got on pavement. When we got to the pavement we saw a sign saying only 21 km back to Kovin on this nice paving where we had just come from. Surely, that would have been a better choice.
We stopped in Stara Palanka for the night. On the main street, right at the water’s edge was a busy restaurant. We scarfed down a meal of mixed grill (Serbians are avid meat eaters) and salad. The hotel, just a few meters up the street, was a funky, but clean and comfortable place for the night. Watch out for the included breakfast however. Typical Serbian sausage, bacon and eggs all swimming in grease!
Took the ferry across the Danube from Stara Palanka to Ram. There is a steep climb up from the ferry landing. The Ram Fortress is accessed from near the top of this hill.
The paving from Ram is really rough; the road is paved, but it’s so patched up that you bounce all over the place. When we got to Zatonje, there was a little store where we could buy some supplies. From there, the EuroVelo 6 takes a left turn down a very steep rough street then comes out right on the Danube. Still, the paving is broken and rough chip seal. Each stone has its own elevation profile!
Silver Lake is a very pretty spot where the Danube forks into a secondary river channel. There are very nice hotels, very nice restaurant and the EuroVelo 6 now has a legitimate bike path that is smoothly paved. But it only lasted about one kilometer! (From Smederevo to Silver Lake would be a very nice ride if one stayed on the paved highway instead of taking the dikes trail which we took.)
V Gradiste, on the other side of Silver Lake, does not have hotels even though the town is quite large. There is an excellent tourist office however with English speaking young ladies to tell you that the hotels are back in Silver Lake or ahead in Golubac!
The final leg to Golubac is still rough paving, but not as bad as previous sections.
In the tiny village of Vinci, they have just finished a brand new official bike path through the town.
Wide, smooth and removed from traffic by a curb, it only lasted a kilometer!
Arriving in Golubac, signs assault you telling about Pilot Company. This is the gas station, bus stop, restaurant and hotel complex at the entrance to town. It is really a very nice complex.
We stopped to eat at the restaurant right on the Danube. Be sure to check for a room early on. The restaurant waiters get very busy and told us they were full, but that was not the case.
We wandered around town looking for other rooms and found very little, so we came back to Pilot.
Turns out they had rooms and were just too busy to show us. They are basic but very clean and have a small kitchen and fridge.
Bicycling Serbia-The Danube Gorge-Day Four
Golubac to Donji Milanovac, Serbia
35.4 miles/Ascent: 1276 ft/Descent: 1238 ft/Max Elevation: 667 ft
From Golubac, EuroVelo 6 enters Derdap National Park all the way to Donji Milanovac. It’s a beautiful ride along the Danube through the gorge.
The gorge actually begins at Golubac Fortress.
It is just 5 kilometers beyond our hotel at Pilot Station.
The Fortress is most impressive, a well preserved medieval fortified town guarding the narrowing of the Danube River.
The road is paved smooth although there are a few rough spots. But compared to the last few days, it’s heavenly.
There is food and water available at Brnjica, and Dobra. After that, there is nothing until just before Donji Milanovac.
We stopped to get breakfast at Toma Café in Brnjica which is right on the river. We had potato salad and tomato and cucumber salad with cheese for breakfast.
Other than that, your choices are typical Serbia meat dishes.
Today on the route we encountered other touring cyclists.
There were two from Belgium, two from Germany, and two from France with their two little children.
The French family was amazing. We can’t believe the amount of luggage they carried.
The wife carried luggage on her bike plus had the little girl on her own little bicycle being towed behind.
The husband carried an enormous amount of luggage on his bike plus he pulled a child’s carriage with the younger child in it.
They are traveling for three months. Bravo.
After half the distance to Donji, the tunnels begin.
Most of the tunnels are short enough that you get light from both ends.
We can remember two tunnels specifically where your headlight needed to be bright enough to see the curb along the side.
It’s after Boljetin that the big hill climb comes. It ascends 330 feet in 1.2 miles.
Going down the other side you get wonderful views of the Danube.
Donji Milanovac is a charming town sitting right on the river. There are numerous hotels rooms, restaurants, and cafés. There is a pretty park along the waterfront. Trash and graffiti however, is an ever present eyesore in all of Serbia. Such a pity!
The tourist visitor center is very helpful. They can get you a room. They speak English. We got a room overlooking the Danube. The only problem was, no one told us there was no water. The explanation? The whole town was out of water! Well, there were water bottles in every nook and cranny of the apartment, but water was restored after we got back from dinner! Be sure to ask, however, at the tourist bureau about water. This seems to be a long standing issue!
Bicycling Serbia-The Danube Gorge-Day Five
Donji Milanovac to Kladovo, Serbia
39.4 miles/Ascent: 1493 ft/Descent: 1562 ft/Max Elevation: 771 ft
This is the most scenic section of the Danube Gorge. Most of the road is flat and paved with good smooth tarmac. There are, however, too short climbs that are quite easy and the third climb which is a 10% hill for almost 3 miles. It gains 630 feet of the total for the day. There are four more tunnels left to go through. Two of them are about 400 m long. The other two are very short.
From Donji Milanovac to Tekija, there is no food or water or stores on this side of the river.
We noticed many more towns on the Romanian side, some quite large. Bikeline does not mention the difference between the two sides. These are some of our observations:
From Stara Palanka, where we crossed on the ferry to Ram, we could have stayed on the north side of the river and entered Romania shortly thereafter. The Romanian route is much flatter overall, with fewer and shorter ascents. It must be longer in miles because it dips into deep bays frequently. We only noticed one tunnel on the Romanian side. When you reached the narrowest part of the gorge, the road on the Romanian side climbed steeply for a short distance and went inland, thus missing impressive views of the gorge. That climb, however on the Romanian side was much shorter than the big climb on the Serbian side. Also, after Orsova, Romania, we noticed heavy truck traffic all the way to DrobetaTurnu Severin, Romania. The quieter highway 57 had been joined by E70 which was like a freeway.
The Serbian side has steeper climbs. There are 21 tunnels to go through. Traffic is basically light; people are courteous and give cyclists plenty of room. There are fewer towns along the route for water and food stops. Traffic gets heavy after Dernap Dam.
The big climb starts about mile 17 and leads up to the fourth tunnel. There is a lot of rock fall that has made scars on the road. When we went through, there was a lot of debris on the cliff side of the road that had not been cleared off.
One of the most interesting sites along the gorge is the Mraconian Monastary on the Romanian side of the river.
When you reach the fourth tunnel (which is the last tunnel going in this direction), just shortly after you will see the carved face of the Roman God Decebalus on the Romanian side of the river.
After the parking area for viewing the Roman carving, the road continues to climb quite steeply.
The beautiful ride continues all the way to the Dernap Dam.
From that point on to Kladovo, the ride is not particularly pleasant. Here the route changes from 25-1 to E771 which carries more traffic.
EV 6, however, soon ducks down through a residential area to avoid the road. This area is very industrialized.
But once you enter Kladovo, it has a nice pedestrian street with cafés and restaurants.
There are two hotels in Kladovo. One hotel Dernap costs about $60 a night and it’s a three star hotel. The rooms are clean but small. The new hotel in town is about $100 a night. There is a hostel up on the hill before you come into town. We did not check that out as we were hoping to find a room in town, but everything was full. We checked into Hotel Dernap.
The Danube Gorge was the section of EuroVelo 6 in Serbia that we wanted to cycle.
From Kladovo, we took the bus back to Belgrade.
EuroVelo 6 continues north from Belgrade through Hungary to Budapest.
We did not cycle that section. Although much of it was flat, easy cycling once in Hungary, we were limited in our stay in Schengen member countries to 90 days total.
Since EuroVelo 6 would now travel through Schengen countries exclusively, we had to pick out favorite spots to cycle. We had already used up 30 days in Greece!
So, from Belgrade, we got on the train to Budapest and started cycling again from that marvelous city. We cycled almost all of EuroVelo 6 to France and the Atlantic Ocean at St Nazaire.
All rights reserved. No part of this page may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including downloading, print screen, photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the prior written permission by the copyright owner.