The transboundary cycle path from San Candido to Lienz
By Damiani Pierino
The San Candido - Lienz cycleway is the bike path for excellence in the province of Bolzano, past the old border between Italy and Austria, it leads to the Austrian town of Lienz. It's a very well known track and thousands of people during the summer travel the 43 kilometers that separate the two localities.
Its route runs almost entirely flat or downhill, along the Drava river by following the route which is slow in the first part through the wide valley of San Candido, then more sparkling with the approach of the shrinkage of the valley until you reach Lienz. The path is surmountable without excessive fatigue, and is suitable for any type of bicycle, particularly recommended for cyclists newly and children. The way back is to be made comfortably by train with an appropriate wagon for bikes.
How to get there
There are two possibilities:
- reaching San Candido by car: Udine – Tolmezzo – Sappada – S. Stefano di Cadore - Passo di Monte Croce Comelico – San Candido ( distance:146 Km.- time: 2 ore and 45 minutes). Once in San Candido you can leave your car at the free car park of the train station (excluding motorhomes) or at the paid card park of the swimming pool. From the latter parking area you have access directly to the beginning of the bike path.
- reaching Lienz by car: Udine – Tolmezzo – Timau – Passo di Monte Croce Carnico – Mauthen – Plochenpaß – Lienz, ( distance: 130 Km – time 2 ore and 10 minutes). Once arrived in Lienz, you can park at the train station and load the bikes on the train (in a special bikes' wagon) that takes to San Candido.
Both in San Candido and Lienz is possible to rent bicycles. For train schedules and bike rental costs please check: http://www.rentabike.it/italiano/treni_bus.html
Some information about San Candido
San Candido originated from a monastery built by the Bishop of Frisinga to contrast the Slavs, still pagan at that time. For centuries the dependence from the ecclesiastical point of view remained to the Diocese of Frisinga, the most antique in Baviera. The ancient ties with Frisinga led in 2007 to establish a twinning between the two towns.
In the division, in 1918, of the Tyrol between Austria and Italy, San Candido would be theoretically have to stay in Austria, but, for military reasons, it was assigned to Italy and there were built two large military barracks: the Cantore and the Druso, the first one still entrusted to the 6th Alpine Regiment.
The presence of the boundary in the village of Prato alla Drava also determined the presence of a large group of Italian officials: Guardia alla Frontiera (which no longer exists), Border Police, customs officials, a station ofCarabinieri, a Commissioner of Public Safety, a section of the Financial Police and various government personnel.
San Candido has been for years the terminal of the railway line coming up from Fortezza, while the 6 km of border line, even if in Italian territory, was managed by Austrian Railways. As long as there has been a strict customs control, the presence of the train-halls that linked Lienz, in the Oriental Tyrol, with Innsbruck, the capital of the Tyrol, was a characteristic.
You may start the ride leaving from the train station in San Candido or the swimming pool car park .
Once you exit S.Candido, march towards the Versciaco. After about 3 km of apparently going down flat ground we find the only actual hill, a bit challenging (200 meters long), but since it is the beginning of the trip, the energy to overcome it is certainly not lacking.
Just past the old border of Prato alla Drava, some small green tables indicate the bike path that, until Lienz, is referred to as "Pustertaler Radweg" (Bicycle route of the Val Pusteria).
In the Austrian section along the path, at fairly regular intervals, we can find water fountains and in the most panoramic places there are rest areas with benches and picnic tables. In the most critical points there are the posts to send SOS or requests for assistance and in addition there is also a point of free assistance, where irons, screwdrivers, pumps and commonly used keys are available.
After a few micro alpine villages you will get to one of the most important centers: Sillian. Here Loacker, a biscuits producer, has thought well to set up a shop for cyclists. Very successfully!
If traveling with children, stop for a moment in Sillian at the legendary Wichtelpark, a playground on the edge of the forest just a few meters from the path. Wide, with many interesting games, among which I can indicate a mythical water pump by hand, which feeds a system of very fascinating dykes.
The pedal-machines are not missing and there is a giant slide for daredevils. Really nice!
From Sillian we continue leaving on the left its fantastic castle and descend along the Drava River in Strassen. From here you can reach the beautiful village of Abfaltersbach, where the descent begins to become increasingly steep and faster. You have hardly any pedaling almost until you get near Lienz. The valley narrows gradually and the speed increases. We run through the woods on the right bank of the Drava.
After 20 km we arrive at the first refreshment point where there is a kiosk equipped with everything that we might need for a snack accompanied by a good beer or an excellent apple juice.
Resuming the ride after about another 10 km (32 km from the start point) we arrive at Thal, where we find alongside the track a lovely bar with a swimming pool which also offers the possibility of a cooling nice dip.
Restarting the descent we continue our pedaling. After 8 km on our right there is the entrance of the “Gola della Galizia” (study board) .
It 'a very interesting opportunity that can allow us to enjoy a sightseeing trip along the really striking falls and an original water mill.
In the area in front you can also make use of public toilets (WC) which are indicated because they are very well maintained.
We get on our bikes again and continue to Lienz and after 2 km, we arrive at the banner that signals the arrival.
After a short break we continue along the houses in the suburbs of Lienz, following the cycle path we get to the first road bridge over the Drava, we take it, continue straight and after the underpass we turn right and here we are at the station in Lienz.
At this point, before returning and if the time allows it, it is recommended to take a short visit to the town.
Some information about Lienz
The first traces of settlements are dated fromthe Bronze Age. Later the area was populated by the Celts and the Romans (about Second century BC), the latter ones set up a few miles from Lienz the city of Aguntum the existence of which today still bear witness the rich archaeological diggings.
In the battle between the Slavs and the Bavarians, the Roman city was destroyed by fire and later the region was subjugated to the reign of Charles the Great.
During the war 1939/45 in the immediate eastern suburbs of Lienz it was settled a field for the troops of collaborators,"Russian" ilk for the most part of the ethnic minorities. A church was officiated for them according to the greek-orthodox rite.
At the end of the war they were handed back against their will, to the Soviet authorities.
Lienz and the entire Osttirol had their own regional capital at Innsbruck.
To facilitate the contacts according to international agreements, in the second postwar period had been set up a train-hall, across the railway line of the Val Pusteria and the Brenner, considered, for the purposes of the rules of police and customs, as if it were still under the Austrian regime, without intermediate stops in Italy.
By introducing the regulations of the European Union it had decreased the need of the train-hall, replaced by a normal international railway service Lienz-Innsbruck with stops also in Italian territory.
The way back
For those who arrived by car in San Candido is comfortable taking the train to go back and load in it even the bikes. Those who arrived in Lienz only have to load their bikes in the car and get back to the road of return
Technical details of the cycling track.
Starting point: Piazza del Magistrato in San Candido
Route: San Candido (I) - Versciaco (I) - Arnbach (A) - Sillian (A) - Tassenbach (A) Abfaltersbach(A) - Mittewald a.d. Drau (A) - Thal (A) - Lienz (A)
Arrival: Lienz in Austria
Distance: 43 km
Time: 2 h 15 '(with two stops to take pictures of the landscape and relax the "backside")
Difference in level: San Candido (1173) - Lienz (673) 500 m downhill
Return: by train or through the same cycle lane