These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.



A ride along the Danube: Bratislava to Komárno

By James Thomson

    The Danube south-east of Bratislava.
 The Danube south-east of Bratislava.
 Photos by James Thomson

One of the many charms of the Slovak capital is its superb position, where two of Europe's great natural features coincide: this is where the Carpathians meet the Danube.

The castle hill is, effectively, the last hurrah of the Carpathian mountains, by now a range of hills known locally as the Little Carpathians (Malé Karpaty). Stretching in a huge arc across eastern and central Europe, the Carpathians originate in Romania, curl east and north into Ukraine, and traverse Slovakia from east to west, partly along its borders with Poland and the Czech Republic, before they turn south to peter out at Bratislava. They might not be mountains here but they're still steep enough to get a fair-weather hiker wheezing. The effort is rewarded since the tree-covered hills, which are also accessible by city bus services, offer great walking and biking opportunities. In autumn, when the leaves change colour, the Little Carpathians are at their fabulous best.

Immediately beneath the castle flows the Danube, already formidable despite the hundreds of kilometres it has yet to travel before it reaches the Black Sea. Bratislava marks the point at which the river, freed of the hills and mountains which have constricted it through Germany and Austria, breathes out as it enters the Pannonian Plain. South-east of Bratislava, where Slovakia meets Hungary, the countryside is flat. Very flat. Which makes it very attractive to cyclists. Happily, there is a cycle path along the Slovak side of the river which will get you most of the way to Komárno on smooth asphalt.

    Looking south-east from the locks at Gabčíkovo.
 Looking south-east from the locks at Gabčíkovo.
 Photos by James Thomson

In fact, you can ride along either side of the Danube on Slovak cycle paths as far as the dam at Gabčíkovo, after which the path continues on the north bank only. At weekends and evenings the sections close to the city, especially on the south bank, are filled with cyclists, runners and in-line skaters, and lined with an impressive number of bars and cafes. After a few kilometres, however, their number thins dramatically and, for long stretches, it's just you and the river.

As with most cycle routes, it's in the towns that you're most likely to come unstuck. The route is in theory signposted, but some helpful souls appear to have gone around systematically breaking most of the ones close to Bratislava and Komárno. A map of the route (Dunajská cyklistická cesta, available in Bratislava bookshops) is therefore helpful, though some junctions in it are still unclear. Another advantage of having a map is that you can cut inland.

    The 13th-century church in Hamuliakovo.
 The 13th-century church in Hamuliakovo.
 Photos by James Thomson

Because excellent though the cycle path is, its lack of tree cover means there is no shade on hot days and no shelter from headwinds. These drawbacks are most obvious on the section of the north bank between Hamuliakovo and Gabčíkovo, where the cycle path runs along the top of a levee which forms part of the hydro-electric scheme on this stretch of the river. This leaves riders several metres above the surrounding countryside, grinding away into even slight headwinds; and to add to the fun, the river bank of the levee is made of a black, tar-like substance which soaks up the sun and emits a furnace-like heat on warm days. Fortunately, there is an alternative route.

Heading inland from Hamuliakovo takes you through the town of Šamorín then, via back roads with fairly light traffic, through a series of sleepy villages (most of which seem to have a pub, in case you need a drink), with the levee always visible, and rising ever higher, on your right. The occasional tree cover and slight undulations in the road make for a change from the monotony of the river.

    The Danube cycle path, overlooking the village of Baka.
 The Danube cycle path, overlooking the village of Baka.
 Photos by James Thomson

It's possible to re-join the cycle path at Baka, by taking the ramp at the end of the village up to the levee (this is the steepest bit of the entire ride). Arriving at the top, you realise that the level of the river (by now actually a navigation canal for the hydro-electric reservoir) is several metres above Baka, whose residents obviously have great faith in the dam's engineers, especially given the area's record of earthquakes: a massive quake, the biggest in Slovakia's recorded history, levelled Komárno in 1763.

After passing an observation tower from where you can watch huge Danube barges from across Europe passing through the twin locks, the cycle path kinks briefly inland before re-joining the river bank below the dam.

The path then continues along the river canal for more than 10km before it starts meandering through more heavily wooded areas as you approach Medveďov, where there is a bridge to Hungary.

Before the next village, Číčov, the sealed path ends and you can either take to the roads, or press on along what is now a gravel track. The surface is pretty good and should present no problems if you're on a mountain bike. However, it can be slightly trickier on skinny tyres.

    Village art in Číčov
 Village art in Číčov
 Photos by James Thomson

A sign at the turn-off for Číčov promises a penzión, the only one actively advertised on the 120-km route, though it can prove devilishly hard to find despite the relatively small size of the village (which has a small supermarket). The village greens sport some interesting wooden statues.

Following the road out of the next village, Trávnik, you pass a large gravel pit used by locals as a swimming pool, which makes an enticing place to stop for a dip on a hot day (by this stage you will have covered about 80km since leaving Bratislava).

If you've taken the cycle path, it sticks close to the river, passing three more villages, all the way to Komárno. The final stages pass the town's port and shipbuilding yards.

The road route is slightly longer and will feed you, for the final section, on to Route 63, a main road. This is not as bad as it sounds: the road is smoothly surfaced and has a generous shoulder for most of its length, making for a fairly easy ride to your inauspiciously named destination: 'komár' means 'mosquito' in Slovak.


These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2009, which you can obtain from our online shop.

Make your comment to the article...