The Iron Curtain Trail starts in the very far north of Europe, beyond the Arctic Circle, near the Norwegian town of Kirkenes. From there it makes it's long descent through the rarely visited east of Finland - well over a thousand kilometres of woods, lakes, reindeer and welcoming locals. It is the perfect way to to explore one of the continent's last wildernesses. As you get closer to the shores of the Gulf of Finland inevitably civilisation starts to intrude not least in the form of the magnificent city of St Petersburg, the former imperial city of Russia.
The section through the Baltic may be relatively short in terms of EuroVelo 13 as a whole, but it offers a remarkably wide range of countryside, culture and history, as well as the opportunity to discover three countries (and two capital cities) in quick succession.
This section of the EuroVelo 13 - Iron Curtain Trail is very varied and historically fascinating.
The German section of EuroVelo 13 - Iron Curtain Trail combines the routes of two existing cycle routes. First the cyclist is led along the Baltic Coast Route from the German-Polish border at Swinemünde to the Priwall peninsula at Travemünde. From there on, the “German German Border Trail” leads along the former inner German border to the Czech Republic.
The area where the borders of Czechoslovakia, the GDR and the Federal Republic of Germany once met marks the beginning of this stretch of the Iron Curtain Trail. Cycling along the EuroVelo 13 in Carlsbad and Pilsen regions offers a mix of forested mountain areas of Smrčiny, Český les and National park Šumava with visits of historic towns such as Cheb, Waidhaus, Eslarn, Furth i.W. and spas Mariánské or Fratiškovy Lázně. The Southern section around Železná Ruda/Bayerisch Eisenstein of Bavarian - Bohemian border and later on in South Bohemia is charaterized by higher altitude with mountain lakes and magnificent views. You can relax at Lipno lake with almost 50km2 the largest water reservoir of the country and popular site for recreation.
The section of EuroVelo 13 - Iron Curtain Trail along the Czech - Austrian border passes first the mountain regions of South Bohemia and Upper and Lower Austria. An amazing experience offers 50 km long stretch along the Schwarzenberg canal and passing through deep forest of Nové hrady mountains and further on the Bohemian Canada/Waldviertel region. Along the border several open air museums in Guglwald or Nové hrady together with charming historic towns like Slavonice and Gmünd can be visited. Another cross-border National park Podyjí Thayatal offers unique 350 m long stretch with IC near visitors center at Čížov. Through some fantastic wine producing regions, including South Moravia and Weinviertel, and there are plenty of opportunities to sample the latest vintage. In addition, there are lots of natural attractions along this section waiting to be explored.
Despite being only 90 km long, the section of the Iron Curtain Trail on the Austrian and Slovakian border is well worth visiting thanks to its many attractions and its picturesque riverside routes. The trail includes a visit to the Slovakian capital of Bratislava and the historic Devín Castle, a national monument dating from Roman times.
The section of the Iron Curtain Trail on the Hungarian and Austrian border begins at the triangle formed by the meeting point of the borders between Hungary, Austria and Slovakia. The main attractions here are the cultural sights, such as the sculpture park with works by Austrian, Slovakian and Hungarian artists near Rajka. Then there is Bezenye, which is worth a visit for its multinational character; its three names – Hungarian, Croatian and German – testify to its eventful past.
The section of EuroVelo 13 – Iron Curtain Trail on the Hungarian and Slovenian border is located almost entirely on the Slovenian side of the border. First crossing the border close to the Hungarian town of Kétvölgy, the route sticks closely to the national border making its way through quiet countryside dotted with small settlements such as Domanjševci, Prosenjakovci, Motvarjavci and Kobilje.
The border region between Hungary and Croatia is not a traditional centre for tourism and therefore is a great place to go to get a real feel for these two countries. As the border largely follows the course of the River Drava, much of this section of the EuroVelo 13 - Iron Curtain Trail is on the banks of this attractive river.
Starting on the Hungarian side of the border, EuroVelo 13 passes through a series of small villages many of which, like Bácsalmás, offer museums or local exhibitions.
Between Serbia and Romania the route passes several times over the border and partially overlaps with the Danube Cycle Route (EuroVelo 6). The treatment of the Danube border between Romania and the former Yugoslavia during the Cold War was an important factor in maintaining and increasing the isolation imposed by the communist regime by excessive militarisation, creation of control barriers, surveillance and intimidation of locals and monitoring of river transport. All of this kept the area outside of the tourist circuit for decades but fortunately, times have now changed and everyone can enjoy the stunning Iron Gates gorge.
The starting point of this section lies on the Serbian-Bulgarian border near Knjaževac, where you cycle through peaceful countryside and impressive scenery towards Dimitrovgrad.
From Kjustendil the trail continues towards Blagoevgrad. Heading east, you can already see the foothills of the Rila Mountains on the horizon and shortly after Nevestino you cross the Kadin Bridge, 100 metres in length, over the river Struma. The bridge is a historic monument, combining eastern and central European architectural elements with Renaissance influences. Parts of the bridge date back as far as 1470.
The route now takes you through a grassy lowland plain. To the right you can see the Belasica Mountains, to the left the Ograzden Mountains. In the Middle Ages, the Bulgarian town of Petric at the foot of the Belasica mountain range served as a stronghold in the wars with Byzantium. Today it is a centre for the processing of tobacco, fruit and vegetables.
On this final section of the Iron Curtain Trail, it will soon become apparent from the towns and villages that you pass through that you are now entering a different culture from the rest of the route.