Wow – what a breath-taking trip covering six countries plus some of the most spectacular mountain passes in Austria, Switzerland and Italy.
It all started at the meeting point which for a reason unbeknown to me is called STOP24, one motorway junction away from the departure junction for the tunnel.
We were all mustered for 0700 and after the introductions were over, departed in an orderly fashion for the tunnel – our adventure had begun.
Lots of names to remember in our group of 20 people driving 15 bikes and once we were on the train speeding under the English Channel in relative tranquillity, I went through the basics of how we run these trips along with the good news that the weather in France was hot plus assured myself that everyone was confident with their various GPS devices.
Off we went, into rural France or perhaps not as rural as my GPS led us along the motorways (even with motorways and tolls turned off) to our first stop – a great start! Whilst everyone was resting I looked at why my GPS should choose this route and it transpired that because I imported the routes with my settings having Motorways ON, it saved that route and ignored the Motorways off settings I applied prior to leaving the UK. Problem solved and we split into smaller groups based on at least one person in each group being comfortable to both lead and with a GPS that they were confident with.
Arriving at Reims for our first stop, we were soon relaxing in the courtyard drinking some aperitifs prior to our dinner rendezvous at a restaurant on the busy pedestrianised area just outside. We followed dinner with a walk to the cathedral to see the light show however, because there was another event taking place at the same time, the first light show at 1030 was cancelled and only a few waited until the 1130 showing.
Off we went the following day to Germany, high temperatures forecast again as we crossed northern France along fast yet straight roads – they were so straight that I think I counted three corners all morning!
Our stop was in a lovely hotel just outside Baden-Baden which more importantly was situated on the famous B500 – one of the more famous motorcycle routes in Germany which follows sweeping bends through forest on good tarmac as it winds its way south-east.
A good night’s rest and we were off again with the anticipation of more exciting driving and we were not to be disappointed. Lovely fast roads with the mountains appearing as we neared Oberammergau which is just north of the Austrian border.
Another lovely hotel with a shared terrace which we took advantage of prior to leaving for dinner at a lovely Italian owned pizzeria nearby.
An early start the next day saw us driving through Austria past lovely ‘chocolate box’ villages with mountain pastures en-route for the Timmelsjoch Pass which creates a link through the Ötztal Alps along the border between Austria and Italy. The route up on the northern (Austrian) side is quite barren but once you reach the summit and descend on the Italian side the road gets more exciting as does the scenery. The hairpins transfix you and are yet a further taster of the mountain passes to come.
The heatwave across Europe was starting to take its toll on us all and we were in constant temperatures of low to mid 30 degrees centigrade. What made things worse was the amount of roadworks we encountered once we descended the pass which combined with hitting rush hour as we passed through one large town (having been delayed by the roadworks) plus the scary antics of the Italian drivers made everyone tired so we were all glad when we arrived on the shores of Lake Garda and our stop for three nights.
Most of us took advantage of the rest days to do just that – relax by the pool, swim in the lake or explore the town however one group visited Venice, another took the ferry across the lake to explore another town for the day whilst a few choose to explore the local mountain roads and get in some practice on tight twisties.
Leaving Lake Garda we headed towards Switzerland to take in one of the more famous mountain passes – the Stelvio – praised by Top Gear as one of the must do routes in the Alps.
Again heavy traffic as we left Lake Garda but this reduced after the coffee stop and soon we were being treated to mountain scenery with snowy peaks and nice roads (and lots of tunnels) as we made our way towards Bormio.
Turn right following the sign marked ‘Stelvio’ after leaving the town and we were off, change down, change down again, get a good line, lean in, lean in further, change up, open the throttle (not too much or it will wheelie), change down …… all this for nearly half an hour until we reached our stop near the top where the Umbrial pass starts its descent into Switzerland.
Our day continued in this vane as we drove on some wonderful roads with killer drops alongside! Our groups had split naturally by now with our fastest group racing ahead of the others whilst one group opted to take in an extra pass which is another tale altogether!
Flims, our overnight stop, proved to be every bit as spectacular as the roads we had driven on. Mountain vista’s surrounded us and our hotel was bang in the centre with underground secure parking for the bikes.
The following day saw us off to Meiringen with the option of driving over five passes should you care to do one twice! Again we had a split in the groups with some opting for passes that were not on the Magellan route however were just as exciting – the choice of routes in this area through high passes or valleys to our overnight stop gave everyone a day to remember.
After Meiringen we were to say goodbye to the high Alps and start our descent into France however our overnight stay was to be in a lovely hotel in the Voges Mountains. At a height of around 1000m this is a ski resort in the winter and yet again, we sat on the terrace savouring the mountain views before enjoying a lovely meal in the restaurant.
I remember telling everyone at that morning briefing to avoid taking the forest track to this hotel however, my navigation led us exactly there and we followed this track winding its way through the woods for nearly 7km – bl**dy GPS’!
Off to Belgium for our last night staying in the heart of the Ardennes in a town called Bouillon with our hotel in the centre overlooking the river with the castle to our left, perched on the hill. A lovely older family run hotel where we enjoyed drinks outside on the pavement terrace and were treated to a lovely meal in the evening.
Our last day’s ride to Calais and home was again in high temperatures (34 degrees C) and most opted to take the Autoroute after the lunch stop to catch an earlier train which made sense as the roads get busier as you near Calais with a lot of stop-starts. The Autoroute tolls for a motorcycle are not expensive and it saves a lot of time.
Everyone had a lovely holiday, rode through areas that were both spectacular and thrilling. We were unlucky to hit Europe during a heat wave but we were lucky enough to not get wet and the only day we missed out on a view was when we left Baden-Baden on the B500.
A great bunch of people who have made friends and will probably arrange to tour again together.
What an adventure and my next trip – France and Corsica kicks off mid- July.