The Amazon of Europe southern route layout

The Amazon of Europe southern route layout

The Amazon of Europe bike trail makes it possible to cycle over 1000 km along a cycle path that winds between rivers and forests, from Austria to Serbia

24/05/2022 -  Marco Ranocchiari

1,250 kilometres by bike through the meanders of three mighty European rivers, through forests, swamps, villages frequented by storks, lonely pastures, and border towns. It is the Amazon of Europe bike trail , the cycle path that crosses one of the most important river systems on the continent, home to a Unesco Biosphere Reserve shared between five countries: Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, and Hungary. The path was created thanks to two European territorial cooperation programmes to promote the sustainable development of an area with an inestimable naturalistic and cultural heritage, but financially fragile, and will be officially launched this spring.

A European trail

The itinerary proceeds in the direction of the current, from Mureck on the river Mura, in Austria, to the banks of the Danube in Mohács, in Hungary. Two paths are possible. The southern variant, in sixteen stages, takes place largely on the Slovenian and Croatian banks of Mura and Drava, and then runs along the Danube mainly on the Serbian side. The shorter northern route (eleven stages), on the other hand, remains on the Austrian and Hungarian sides. In both itineraries, traditional villages, mills, vineyards, spas and cities rich in history, such as Varazdin, Osijek, and Sombor alternate with natural beauties.

Rivers know no borders, and the whole region they cross has clear interconnections. The same cannot be said of the administrations of five countries, one of which is outside the European Union. A project for the sustainable development of such a vast area, therefore, could only rest on a supranational framework. The Amazon of Europe bike trail was created thanks to two European territorial cooperation projects, part of the larger Interreg Danube, a programme dedicated to the entire area of the Danube basin, from Germany to Ukraine.

During a first phase which lasted from 2018 to the beginning of 2021, the partners traced the itineraries by identifying the old cycle trails, passages, and paths already present in the area, careful on the one hand to enhance the most precious sections and on the other hand to avoid the most fragile areas. They then installed common signs and divided the route into intermediate stages, indicating the rest areas and the routes in both directions and on both banks.

The next phase, Responsible Green Destination - Amazon of Europe , which will end at the end of this year, is instead dedicated to promoting responsible tourism practices along the way. The goal is to achieve an integrated approach to land management, which holds together the need to protect the environment and genuinely sustainable development.

"From the beginning we have tried to directly involve local suppliers for hospitality, transport to and from the cycle paths, restaurants, luggage storage and so on", explains Anja Krajnik of Iskriva, the Slovenian Institute for Development of local potentials, project coordinator. "In the longer term, however, we hope that once the influx of cyclists is constant, more and more locals will see the potential of this project, and will try to adapt to our environmental standards and join the circuit".

Amazon of Europe, in fact, is an actual brand, complete with an official website  where you can find all the necessary information and make reservations. To assess the impact of tourism in an area that has not been frequented until now, the group uses models made by the Unesco staff.

The partners thus hope to foster zero-emission initiatives, pushing for green jobs in an area where, with the exception of the Austrian stretch and the Croatian city of Osijek, unemployment and depopulation are a constant threat. "At first the population was skeptical", comments Krajnik, "but over the years more and more people have realised the uniqueness of the place where they live and the opportunities it offers".

A threatened paradise

The UNESCO Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve was established in 2021, and many of its functions have also been funded by European cooperation projects. The only reserve of the United Nations to be shared by five countries, it aims to "create a model of international cooperation for the management of river basins, and at the same time build bridges between people and nature".

Historically a borderland with uncontrollable floods, the "Amazon of Europe" has been largely spared from the tumultuous development that has cemented and channelled the great rivers elsewhere on the continent. It is therefore a single green belt, 700 kilometres long, covering almost one million hectares in the heart of central Europe.

In the thirteen protected areas that make up the reserve, unique habitats have been preserved, which are essential for the sustenance of about 250,000 migratory water birds every year. The reserve is home to the continent's largest colony of white eagles, and many other endangered species such as the little tern, black stork, beaver, otter, and sturgeon. The cultural heritage of the area is also particularly varied, while there is no shortage of gastronomic specialities, such as the Sombor cheese made exclusively from the milk of the sheep that graze near the Danube in the surroundings of the Serbian city.

The area is crucial for protection from floods, the supply of drinking water and fertile soil for nearly a million people, and in times of climate change its protection is even more essential. Not everyone, however, thinks so. "Contrary to EU environmental laws and international standards, the management of rivers in Croatia, Hungary, and Serbia is still based on obsolete concepts", write the environmental NGOs headed by the WWF on the website  of the reserve. Despite UNESCO protection, they explain, there are projects for new hydroelectric power stations and for the regulation of rivers, which have so far largely been in the free state. New embankments would also impact some iconic areas of the area such as the wetlands of Kopački Rit  in Croatia.

Two diametrically opposed visions confront each other on the future of the Amazon of Europe. “If the cycle path is also successful from the point of view of sustainable development”, comments Krajnik, “it will make an important contribution not only for the population who lives there, but also for safeguarding the entire reserve”.


This content is published in the context of the "Work4Future" project co-financed by the European Union (EU). The EU is in no way responsible for the information or views expressed within the framework of the project. The responsibility for the contents lies solely with OBC Transeuropa. Go to the "Work4Future"

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