the Southern part

From the former Triangle Border to the Danube - Through the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria

Everything in view - former watchtower of the Czech border patrol

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. The starting point is near Hranice in the Czech Republic. Once you have set off, you will find it worth making a first stop at Trojmezí (Gottmansgrűn), the oldest settlement in this region, at the point known as the Triangle Border, where the borders of Saxony, Bavaria and the Czech Republic meet. Two kilometres past Trojmezí you come onto the beginning of the road used by military convoys alongside the former signalling fence, where you can still see an old checkpoint.

You then continue from Aš to Cheb (Eger), passing the Libá/Dubina checkpoint, and follow the Czech tourist board signs. Along this route you will find a large number of historic border stones. Near the Pomezí checkpoint on the Zelené Hory (Grünberg), note a restored stone lookout tower; the views are well worth the climb. Back on your bike, you continue towards Cheb and come to the former checkpoint of Svatý Kříž (Waldsassen), where a monument commemorating 82 victims of the Iron Curtain was erected in 2006 on the Czech side.

The trail now continues along the German side of the border to the village of Bayerisch Eisenstein (Železná Ruda). There, you cross the border again and cycle along the Vltava to Vyssi Brod, where you can cross into Austria and get onto the Kamp-Thaya-March cycle trail. From Kunšach you head north to the Draice nature park beside the river of the same name. The Draice valley used to be the site of the largest ironworks in Bohemia. The military supply route continues towards Nová Huť and thence to Přední Maršovina, where you can still see a building once used by the border troops which is now a guesthouse. North of Staňkovský lake, near the Chlum u Třeboně border crossing, you can visit a deer park. The original gate of the border fortifications still stands on the northern side of the park.

The next point of interest is south of the village of Artole, where you will see a lookout tower once used by the border troops. Soon after, you come across another piece of history on the outskirts of Čížov, in the form of a well-preserved section of the military supply route, including the barbed-wire fence and a watchtower. From the Mikulov/Drasenhofen border crossing, the trail runs eastward along a railway track, past the Valtice/Celnice border crossing and the preserved buildings used by the border troops. In the Soutok red deer park you can admire the pragmatic use made of the past: part of the fencing around the animals is made from remnants of the Iron Curtain. Finally, some 14 kilometres further south, you reach the confluence of the rivers Morava and Thaya, where the Czech section of the former Iron Curtain ends.

That brings you to the Slovakian section of the Trail. At only about 90 kilometres long, it represents a fairly small part of the whole, but thanks to the many sights and its picturesque riverside routes, it is worth an extra effort. First, the route runs along the river March. A few kilometres later you will discover the first traces of history at the side of the road: a well-preserved, complex defensive system consisting of some 100 bunkers and fortifications in the alluvial meadows. The Czechs built them in the 1930s as a defence against Hitler’s Germany.

You then come to the delightful nature reserve of Záhorie, where the Trail runs for several dozen kilometres through a mainly flat landscape of alluvial forests and meadows. You continue through forests, past the picturesque towns of Moravský Svätý Ján and Hohenau, with its ancient fortress that once offered protection against invasion by the Turks. You also pass a former barracks used by the border troops. After cycling along the Malolevarsky Canal and the Lakšársky Potok stream you come to the little town of Malé Leváre. Once again, you will find relics of the Second World War: a line of defence with several bunkers was built here on the model of the Maginot Line.

The trail carries on through expanses of forest, and you will still see some concrete roadblocks and tangled barbed wire left over from the past. The next stop is Suchohrad, which was regarded as a “place with no prospects of development” during the period of Communist rule. That is why no new building or settlement was allowed there and strangers had to be registered on arrival. The same fate struck Záhorská Ves, the westernmost place in Slovakia, which today looks like an open-air museum of the Communist era.

After Vysoká, where barbed-wire fencing split people’s gardens in two during the Cold War, you ride on beside the remains of the fence towards the Slovakian capital of Bratislava, passing through the wetlands of the March-Schwemmland nature reserve, one of the most important in Slovakia.

Barbwire has served its time on the Slovakian border

On the way you will also see the historic Devín Castle, a national monument dating from Roman times. Not far from there, you will find a memorial to the victims of Communist rule. The trail then continues along the Danube, between the slopes of the Carpathian foothills, through the suburbs of Bratislava and to the Austrian-Slovakian border crossing at Petržalka. Finally, you reach the capital of Bratislava, which is well worth a visit if only for its historic centre. This section of the Iron Curtain Trail ends at the intersection of the borders between Hungary, Austria and Slovakia, the site of a large complex of barracks during the Cold War.

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On the trail of the dual monarchy - The route through Hungary, Austria and Slovenia

The Hungarian section of the Iron Curtain Trail 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.

Leaving this triangle, you cycle through charming country with a number of small towns of largely historical interest, such as Jánossomorja with its Baroque church and important altarpieces. A very unusual sight awaits you a few kilometres on in Fertőd: the Palace of Esterházy, once described as the Hungarian Versailles. A few kilometres further west you can visit Sopron, a place that played a major role in the Cold War. This is where the Iron Curtain was first pierced, on 27 June 1989 when the then Foreign Minister Alois Mock and his Hungarian counterpart Gyula Horn jointly cut through the border fence. In August that year a border gate between Austria and Hungary was symbolically opened at the ‘Pan-European Picnic’.

Then you continue towards Hegykő, known for its thermal spas. You then follow the border, coming across places of historical interest where you may well want to stop off. Buildings such as the Baroque palace in Peresznye offer exciting insights into the colourful past of the region. Or you can take a trip to the beautiful nature reserve of Kőszeg that has inspired so many painters and composers. Retracing the past again, you can follow the Trail to Bozsok to look at the Roman aqueduct. In Horvátlövő, a name that already suggests a large Croatian presence, you should pay particular attention to the war memorial in the centre of town, which commemorates the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, the victims of the two world wars and the 1956 revolution.

The journey continues westward between fields and meadows, through the area round the river Rába, which forms part of the Őrségi national park and is familiar both to fishermen and rafting enthusiasts. The town became an important historical site in 1664 when it successfully drove back the Turks.

The trail now runs southward to the border with Slovenia. At Szalafő it is worth making a detour to the regional open-air museum. Art connoisseurs may also enjoy a trip to the village of Velemér, famous for its 13th-century, late Romanesque/early Gothic church with frescoes by Aquila János.

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The Balkans Through Hungary, Croatia, Serbia and Romania

Along the Danube - the Rumanian-Serbian border river

Leaving Slovenia behind, the trail now takes you along the border between Hungary and Croatia. The village of Bázakerettye, which was the cradle of the oil industry, is an interesting memorial to industry. Another memorial and a museum commemorate the first drilling for oil in 1935. A few kilometres further on, you come to the small village of Miklósfa where you can visit the Catholic church built in 1898/99, a splendid example of neo-Gothic architecture, and the war memorial built in 1994 in memory of the victims of the two world wars. Further south you cross the Danube-Drau national park, popular with naturalists and sportsmen, and continue until you reach Mohács. This is the site of one of the greatest tragedies in the history of Hungary, the Battle of Mohács in 1526, which led to the occupation of the country by Turkish troops. The trail continues through a series of small villages many of which, like Bácsalmás, offer museums or local exhibitions.

The trail then passes through what is known as the Memorial Forest, a nature reserve created in 1944, and approaches the border with Romania. Before you reach it, however, it is worth stopping off in Röszke to take a look at the relief of former Prime Minister Imre Nagy. Eventually you arrive in Szeged, the last town before the border with Romania and an important economic and cultural centre. Apart from its many interesting buildings, visitors are drawn by the squares in the heart of the town and the famous Reök Palace, a typical example of what is known as the Hungarian Jugendstil.

At Makó you finally reach the border between Hungary and Romania. You now follow the Serbian-Romanian border to the border between Serbia and Bulgaria, the starting point of the final portion of the trail. The next target along this stretch is the Serbian town of Kikinda, about 60 kilometres south, near the border between Serbia and Romania. This town with a population of 42,000 has many interesting churches, a popular national theatre that operates all the year round and a lively urban scene. The route continues southward via Žitište and Vršac, climbing hills of up to 650 metres in height. You will be rewarded for your efforts by views on either side of glorious countryside and acres of vineyards. En route from Bela Crkva to Berzasca along the Danube, you cycle along roads with hardly any traffic, although in return you are faced with further steep climbs with gradients of up to 12%. Your reward awaits you on the other side, where you can freewheel downhill.

You cross the Romanian border and then follow the course of the Danube and the Serbian-Romanian border for a few kilometres. You remain on the Romanian side up to the Derdap 1 dam, with views every so often of beautiful countryside. You then cycle along the increasingly steep slopes on the banks of the Danube, before once again crossing the border, this time into Serbia.

The ride then continues undisturbed between the checkpoints along the dam, built between 1964 and 1972 with its two hydroelectric power stations and two locks, enjoying the views of the Danube. Customs control on the Serbian side is relaxed and after cycling along the Romanian bank of the Danube you now continue for a number of kilometres inside the Serbian Republic. First you head off left towards Niš and Kladovo and then continue to Negotin, following the curve of the Danube.

You cycle along traffic-free roads towards Negotin, a small town with a population of 18,000, which became a modern cultural and economic centre in the 19th century after the Serbian revolution. Now, instead of continuing on the main road, you can allow yourself a small detour and take the quiet little roads leading from village to village. Eventually you will reach the border with Bulgaria, near Zaječar, which brings you to the end of the Balkan section of the Iron Curtain Trail.

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Through Bulgaria, Serbia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Greece and Turkey

This final section takes you to the end of the Iron Curtain Trail: the coast of the Black Sea, where well-deserved rest awaits you. 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.

Passing the popular spa town of Kjustendil you head southward. From here it is only 27 kilometres as the crow flies to the tri-border point of Bulgaria, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. To the west, the Osogovo Mountains rise to more than 2,000 metres. 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.

After crossing the river, you continue through Dragodan to the university town of Blagoevgrad, which is situated at the centre of southwest Bulgaria and is also the site of the American University in Bulgaria. The town was built on the site of the old Thracian settlement of Skaptopara and developed into a major trading and commercial centre in the mid-18th and early 19th century.

The trail then leads into the territory of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. You cross the border at Delcevski Prohod, which lies at an altitude of 1,085 metres. Then you continue through a wide valley towards Berovo. Some distance away you may see the Golak mountain, which is 1,536 metres high. It is worth stopping off at Lake Berovo near the town of the same name.

You now cycle through fields and meadows heading south towards the town of Strumica. The road is steep at times, but it winds through picturesque hills and offers wonderful views. You also have to tackle the Prevedena pass at an altitude of 1,167 metres. When you finally reach Strumica, you will find it a surprisingly lively place after the rather quiet town of Berovo. This region is of great historical importance as the site of early settlements dating back as far as 7,000 B.C.

Onwards towards Petric you return to Bulgarian soil and 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.

If you are feeling adventurous, you can continue beyond Goce Delchev, climbing several metres up and passing through abandoned villages and empty landscapes. If you prefer an easier ride, you can opt for an alternative route. Goce Delchev lies in a long valley framed by massive mountain ranges.

Welcome to a different culture sphere: a quick side-trip to Turkey

The trail continues along paths lined by pinewoods towards Dospat. You are now in the region of the Pomaks, Bulgarian-speaking Muslims. Dospat nestles on a slope, with the minaret of a mosque rising between tall buildings. You continue through Smoljan and Zlatograd, the southernmost town in Bulgaria situated in the Rhodope Mountains. After passing Ivajlovgrad, the trail now briefly enters Greek territory, passing the picturesque town of Petrotá with its bright, well-kept buildings and gardens, before taking you into Turkey. The contrast with the towns you saw earlier along this stretch makes it quite clear that you are now entering another culture. You now follow an exciting stretch leading from Edirne to Kırklareli. This route leads back towards Bulgaria along a northern curve until you cross the border again near Malko Tarnovo. Finally you follow the signs to Carevo. That takes you to the end of the Iron Curtain Trail, where you will be rewarded for all your efforts. For here, where the water is warmer than elsewhere along the Bulgarian coast of the Black Sea, you can finally relax and enjoy life on the beach.

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