Motorcycle tours heaven: could that be second name for Alps and Dolomites?
We wrote about the Alps and Alpine roads before. Therefore, on this BLOG you can read our posts like ‘Guide for riding in the Alps‘, like ‘Stelvio pass‘ and like ‘Grossglockner Alpine road‘, that will surely help in planning one of your motorcycle tours in the Alps.
In this particular post, we write about our AlpsTastic motorcycle tour– how it went back in 2016 season, and why is this a tour we’re so much looking forward to organize every year.
If you’re a frequent reader of our BLOG, by this time you surely know our specialty is organizing motorcycle tours. Not very ‘standard’ ones, not in big groups, and we’re definitely not lining them up like from an assembly line. In other words, we’re a small motorcycle tours company, that organizes every tour with a lot of passion and attention to details. As there are only 365 days in a year and our tours season is summertime in Europe, we do only 8-10 tours a year- which gives us a lot of time to devote to planning, choosing hotels, choosing itineraries and perfecting all details possible. From our experience, we noticed ‘the more, the merrier’ doesn’t often work with motorcycle tours, specially for the ones where all riders meet for the first time a day or two before the tour starts. Having that said, Alps are a perfect destination for implementing those rules, and let us tell you why: although often being mentioned as top 5 motorcycle rides in the world (and a dream ride of almost every rider), Alps are among the most challenging roads in Europe, mostly due to all hairpins and rider’s attention needed.
Motorcycle tours in general
Having our riding style in mind, along our AlpsTastic motorcycle tour we often ride very narrow, sometimes one-way roads with no guardrail on some sections- having a steep downhill either on left or right side. Staying in your lane and doing very tight turns to avoid any traffic from opposite direction is a daily routine in the Alps. We mostly stay on smaller roads (e.g. backroads) that definitely have less traffic; but even then riders need to act like there is traffic from the opposite direction, to increase their own safety.
Not to confuse you- as said, Alps are among most beautiful motorcycle tours destinations in the world, and a ‘must’ for every rider we always say. But they are meant to be enjoyed, and that’s not happening if riders are not comfortable on bikes, if there are too many riders in a group, or if there’s not a good understanding within the group. We’re talking about 50+ mountain passes through 15 days of our AlpsTastic ride; and over 300 hairpins for sure (though we never counted, heh- that could be a good task for the next tour). Now, hopefully you better understand what we meant with ‘the more, the merrier’ doesn’t quite work in the Alps.
But hey…. our main idea is not to scare away our potential riders, it’s quite the opposite. For that matter, let us show you how it looks like along one of our motorcycle tours, how it looks like riding the best roads in the Alps and Dolomites, and how it all went in July 2016!
For us, it all began on July 1st – day when we packed our van, our bikes and left pretty warm Croatia, to continue our motorcycle tours riding season in the region that’s still very pleasant- Alps and Dolomites. It was that time of a year we call AlpsTastic. It’s the Alps, and it’s Fantastic= AlpsTastic- simple as that! For some of our riders, vacation already started as they arrived to Munich (our start/finish point of the tour) early, having some time to explore around and peacefully process jet-leg within enchanting Bavarian atmosphere (for some, that’s 2nd name for wheat beer and ‘healthy’ food; while for some it can be a relaxing walk through many Bavarian parks, visiting galleries/museums with a stop in ‘BMW Welt’ etc.).
BMW Motorrad days in Garmisch-Partenkirchen
As usual, we align the tour dates in a way the tour either starts, or finishes on first weekend of July- which will surely ring a bell to any BMW fan out there- yes, it’s the famous ‘BMW Motorrad days’. All riders have a chance to visit Garmisch-Partenkirchen with us, and spend a few hours there. Although it’s not nearly as wild as world-known Sturgis and the answer to an obvious question asked by one of our tour members ‘where are the naked chicks?’ is: hmm, NO; it’s still an interesting event and a cool place for a stop before/at the end of the tour.
We arrived there after a nice ride along local roads around Munich, and immediately set one of our phrases of the tour: ‘Where is Mike?’ Apparently, in the mass of 50,000 plus riders, we lost one of our tour members. Luckily not a ‘big deal’ as whole traffic is controlled in a very ‘German’ way, so all the riders end up at the same spot eventually. So it was; as we parked our bikes, Mr. Mike arrived with a smile on his face. Thank you German efficiency!
Few hours’ time passed quickly with so much entertainment around us, so after lunch we were on our way back to Munich. A little cloud (with a lot of water going out of it) didn’t spoil our good mood- half dry we made it back ‘home’, just in time to get ready for an evening Euro Football Cup (UEFA 2016) match between Germany and Italy. And we’re in Germany. That’s timing!
Arrival day and some riding in Bavaria
Next day was July 3rd. Official ‘Arrival day’ of the tour. Two more riders were coming in that afternoon; while we used the morning to do our ‘Introductory ride’ along Bavarian hills and beautiful valleys. A stop by Erdinger brewery- the biggest wheat beer brewery in the world was a part of our ride, and we had great German pretzels there (!). Those were just an appetizer as our next stop was Weihenstephan- the oldest brewery in the world. Wow, the tour hadn’t even started yet, and we visited two breweries. Luckily, few tour riders were our past guests, so no one was concerned- it’s still an Alps tour, not a brewery tour, heh.
In the afternoon, we met the two last coming riders at the official ‘Welcome briefing’- place where all riders met for the first time. One could so easily see the true enthusiasm in each rider’s eyes as we went through all our riding ‘rules’, mentioned some of most famous mountain passes like Stelvio and Grossglockner, and officially started the adventure. All riders knew they have amazing two weeks ahead, and the dinner that followed couldn’t have been more fun!
Motorcycle tours through Austrian Alps
July 4. The day we actually get out and ride, and do some serious mileage. Starting in Germany, finishing in Austria. We left Munich behind, and approached closer to the Alps, with Achen pass being our entrance to this motorcycle paradise. Riders were still getting used to the bikes, so first 160km/100mi were very easy going. Our two following passes for the day took us over 2.000m/6.500ft, which was a thrill! That Alpine feeling was all around us, as we zig-zagged through the mountains. Ending the day in Austria meant it was time for schnitzels, kaiserschmarrn and apfelstrudels. Oh, if I only knew what will ‘Apfelstrudel’ mean to this group. After ‘Where’s Mike’, Apfelstrudel became the second ‘phrase’ of the tour. At a certain time, could be that having a strudel that beats the last one, was equally important as riding a mountain pass that beats the prior one. Luckily, we were in the Alps, so both were possible. Who can blame us- we’re on holidays, and we’re enjoying!
July 5. The Grossglockner day. The ‘first Dolomites view’ day. The ‘first Alpine coaster ride’ day. Man, we had a fulfilled schedule that day. In the morning, we did the famous Grossglockner High Alpine Road that’s known as ’48 kilometers of fun’. Trust us- if a road is located in the Alps, and has a name like that- it’s a ‘must do’ road for all riders. Although we personally prefer smaller, narrower and ‘hidden’ passes, Grossglockner is truly a road that is famous for a reason. Scenery is amazing, asphalt quality and curves are among the best in the Alps and there are many scenic stops along the way. That said, we made our way to Edelweisspitze, famous ‘Biker point’ for a breathtaking panorama view and, nothing less important, the best apfelstrudel of the tour!
We stopped by a rollercoaster (Alpine Coaster) along the way, as if riding all the challenging roads over 2.000m/6.500ft above sea level isn’t good enough for us, and had an exciting ride all the way down to the valley.
Later, we continued towards lesser known pass called ‘Staller-Sattel’, where the road is so narrow, that the pass has to be controlled by a traffic light as there’s no room for two cars to bypass. Now we’re talking. Away from all the buzz, is where the fun is. Needless to say, all riders enjoyed the pass a lot!
Motorcycle tours continue through Italian Dolomites
Few more miles, and we made it to the Dolomites- UNESCO World Heritage Site- mountain range in northern Italian Alps. With 18 peaks rising above 3.000m/9800ft, they represent some of most beautiful mountain landscapes anywhere in the world. And we stay here for two nights- in Canazei, small Alpine village that turns into a famous ski destination through the winter. Mountains and roads around, represent some of the best motorcycle tours areas in the whole Alps.
Day 4- rest day Canazei. Rest day in the Alps? Right…. Almost whole group was ready, and on bikes in the morning.
Honestly, it’s really hard to go wrong in this area. Our itinerary for the day took us on top of 6+ mountain passes, with Passo Pordoi being one of the most scenic ones, but also one of technically most challenging. For anyone planning a day there, we suggest 250km/155mi tops; preferably closer to 200km/120mi for an enjoyable day’s ride. It’s not that you can’t do more, but it’s the fact that doing more will effect the enjoyment of each pass you do. Along with mentioned Pordoi, Passo di Giau is not to be missed too. We had a great (rest) day!
Passo Stelvio and Passo di Gavia
Although it was hard to leave the Dolomites region behind, new roads and mountain passes were waiting for us. After 3 days of practicing tight turns and hairpins, it was time to do THE pass in the Alps: Passo Stelvio.
Our group successfully made it to the top, from where we enjoyed the view of all the famous hairpins. Of course, with the best ‘wurst’ sausages (note ‘wurst’, not ‘worst’) at 2.758m/9.049ft above sea level!
How was the ride? We always say Stelvio represents one of the most challenging rides in the Alps. It’s also one of the most dramatic ascents (if doing it north-south direction) in the Alps. It’s many things, but for most riders, it’s far from a great ride. The biggest thing with Stelvio, is knowing you did it (‘been there, done that’ effect). Afterwards it soon becomes just another pass that you wouldn’t repeat. It has to do with all the traffic, mostly from opposite direction- that not only limits your line, but often cuts in making your hairpin even tighter. A lot of bikers pass along the ascent, so you have to be very aware of what’s going on both in front, and behind you. Some may enjoy it for exactly for those reasons, but in the sense of touring/enjoying, there are many alternative passes along the Alps.
One of those passes that is somehow in the middle, is Gavia pass- that comes as a next pass just after a decline from Stelvio (turn left after a town called Bormio). Gavia represents a technically very advanced pass, much more into a ‘wild’ side compared to Stelvio. ‘Wild’ here would mean there’s hardly any riders on it, there are no tons of shops at the plateau, and there are sections so narrow, that two motorcycles can hardly bypass. We split here with most of the riders looking for a beer at our Hotel’s sunny terrace. L&M and myself proceed to Gavia, followed by another less known pass on our return- passo di Mortirolo. HINT: put this one too on your list if you like narrow, ‘deserted’ passes. Amazing.
Motorcycle tour AlpsTastic enters Switzerland
Switzerland was to follow. We made a short stop in Livigno, Italian tax free paradise (stop here for petrol, any technical devices like cameras, memory cards and of course, liquor) and soon after, we were riding those famous ‘Heidi’ sceneries of Switzerland. Perfect roads, picturesque surroundings and pure enjoyment. We reached Andermatt- our destination for the day, over a pass called Oberalp. The pass is so good, that whole group decided to do it one more time, making our way across (and back) the mountain again. Well, almost the whole group. Take two on ‘Where’s Mike’ happened here.
Rest day in Andermatt. Seven out of eight were ready to ride, so the decision was made easy. For many passes around that make an 8-figure, Andermatt is known as ‘Mighty 8’ in the Alps. It’s the Swiss region that offers as good riding as Dolomites in Italy (also known for the similar ‘figure 8’). Some say it’s better, some say it’s not quite as good. It’s really hard to comment here.
As I had some issues with getting an invoice for the fuel we tanked the earlier day, I had to go back though Oberalp pass that morning. Finding a mate for that was easy, so two of us did Oberalp as a ‘warm-up’ ride that day. 4th and 5th time, and what a pristine ride again it was! We met up with our group back at the hotel, and continued our ‘short’ 160km/100mi ride that occupied us the whole day. We couldn’t complain. It was just another day in the Alps. We did four and a half passes that day (half is for a ‘secret’ road we know about): famous Furka pass with its Rhone glacier that unfortunately keeps melting every year, known from a few scenes in famous James Bond Goldfinger from nineteen-sixties. That’s right, we rode where James Bond himself drove! Ha! Followed up with Grimsel pass, on to Susten later on. We stopped at the top of Grimsel for a light lunch. Some say if there is a price tag you can put on sitting at a beautiful terrace looking at happy bikers passing by, enjoying a perfect sunny day in the Alps, knowing you just did Furka Pass and you’re on your way to descent from Grimsel, the Swiss are doing a good job! We again won’t complain, it’s one of the best riders coffee spots ever!
View of Matterhorn, the world’s most photographed mountain
Morning of the day 8 was a bit difficult to process. It’s that day when we all realize half of the trip is already behind us. To set our minds off that, we stopped at Zermatt and spent a few hours enjoying a view of Matterhorn- majestic mountain that peaks at 4.478m/14.692ft. We were lucky with the weather, and at one second, we even saw the very peak!
After almost three days in Switzerland, we ended our day in France. It was now ‘Bonjour’ instead of ‘Guten Tag’, and escargot instead cheese fondue. Equally important, it was July 10, 2016. Final match of the UEFA Euro cup. Teams: Portugal and France. And we’re in France. After very exciting 109 minutes (overtime), Portugal did manage to score and French team came 2nd. Still not bad, but it did spoil the enthusiasm of all locals that continued their parties all over Chamonix. Thank god we weren’t a motorcycle tours company from Portugal, with Portuguese license plates on our bikes, hehe. Kidding.
Motorcycle tours through French Alps
Following morning was spectacular for riders that managed to get up early. We were the first group to climb up to 3.842m/12.605ft Aiguille du Midi that day. OK, we didn’t climb, we took the first cable car. Details, details.. Views were spectacular and no one regretted our early start- Aiguille du Midi is just one of those ‘things’ that makes an Alps tour even more special, and we recommend it to all.
Off we went through French Alps, again riding minor and less known passes like Col des Saisies through the Les Saisies ski resort. Those are just perfect roads for enjoying the nature, stop for photos without busses passing by, e.g. for truly enjoying the Alps. A few similar passes took us closer to Col du Galibier- bigger, wider mountain pass boasting with simply jaw-dropping scenery all around. Favorite pass for some riders on this tour.
Our rest day in Briancon was our first rainy day on this tour. Who could complain, as we had amazing nine days so far, and the weather forecast was still good for next few days. So we did what’s usually not done on motorcycle tours- we combined a bit of shopping, and ended up doing a few close-by passes in a car. Those were passes we counted only as ‘half of the pass’ as we didn’t actually rode our bikes up’n’down. Fair enough! To spice up things, we added some more adventure to this adventure- we went rafting through some pretty fast rapids. Our guide/skipper even gave us a chance to swim (actually, try to swim) in between the rapids. Well, the water tasted OK, and we weren’t thirsty anymore that day- that’s what I can say! We celebrated a bit in the evening- it was July 12- happy anniversary P&R!
Wednesday, July 13, 2017. The day we do the highest paved mountain pass in the Alps, Col de l’Iseran (2.769m/9068ft). Not to be confused, it’s not the highest road in the Alps, as there are some higher dead end, and also unpaved roads. But, the title ‘highest paved mountain pass’ is right. Temps were lower, so we warmed up at the restaurant on top. Afterwards, we continued towards Aosta, Italy- where we stayed in a beautiful family owned hotel, met all the family and enjoyed an amazing ‘mama’s cooking’ dinner. And some wine. And some more..
Col du Grand St. Bernard is always a thrill. Even if it’s -1 Celsius (30 Fahrenheit) and snowing. In July! Luckily, we saw only a few snow-flakes, but that’s what’s possible anytime in the Alps, and we were ready for it. This is where rain gear kicks in- it’s the last step of warming-up layers for riders on motorcycle tours. Underwear, t-shirt, fleece jacket, riding jacket (not mesh-one, hehe), rain gear. Does quite a good job. Naturally, we slowed down (we really did!) for a few miles looking at icy parts of the road shoulder/verge, and stopped for a few quick pictures. That’s the one when you stop for a picture, and seriously hope your memory card isn’t full, as you do like to avoid taking the gloves off… It was only a few miles and the road became nice and dry again. After all, Grand St. Bernard is a mountain pass at 2.469m/8.100ft above sea level.
Our destination was Interlaken (Switzerland again) and we enjoyed few smaller passes on our way. Made it right on time for a special surprise of the tour (yeeee-ha!) and wrapped up the day in a great place for dinner. Good craft beer, tasters, and burgers. Talking about local experience- no escargot this evening!
Just when you think we did all the best roads, comes Silvretta-Strasse in Austria. We made our way to Austria through Liechtenstein (fact: country with higher number of registered companies than population!), adding another ‘been there, done that’ country to our list. Before that, we took a scenic ferry ride across lake Luzern, and we explored some really out-of-way roads in Switzerland (some called those ‘goat paths’ by now, although they were fully paved and wide enough for at least one vehicle, hehe). Silvretta can perhaps be compared to Grossglockner road from our 3rd day of this tour. It’s a bit shorter (22,3km/13.8mi total), counts a few less bends (34 total) but it’s still an amazing road that winds up to 2.036m/6.680ft!
For our last riding day, we had only one more mountain pass planned. It was the last, but definitely not the least- Hahntenn joch in Austria. Enjoyment at its best again. Getting closer to Munich, just when you think we’re almost there, our group got stopped by a raging fast police officer that passed us all. It seems he had seen (almost) whole group passing where we shouldn’t have. Seriously officer? After a pleasant conversation, we luckily managed to change his face expression from ‘very angry’ to ‘intermediate angry’, and off we went. Details? Maybe later…
Last few miles it all looked familiar. Familiar town, familiar crossroads. Same hotel parking. As we were getting closer to our final destination, feelings were mixed. I believe I can speak for everyone here- knowing our adventure has come to an end made us a bit sad, but on the other hand, we couldn’t have been happier as we got back ‘home’ safe and sound, we had amazing weather and all in all, a fantastic ride!
That’s all folks. I’d like to thank to all our riders that made this trip as great as it was; I’d go back the same way any time. Thank you L&M, P&R, T, M and T! Thank you Luka for being a great support guide and our van driver, our help and our shadow! May this BLOG post always remind you guys about the fun we had, and shows all other riders how great the Alps and Dolomites are! Out of many motorcycle tours out there, it’s hard to go wrong with the Alps- all you need is a great group. And we had it. Ride safe all!
If you like riding in smaller groups where we often ride like a group of friends, having the most fun along the way, let us know. We’d be happy to book you a spot, no matter if it’s the Alps and Dolomites, if it’s Croatia and Balkans (Bosnia, Montenegro etc.), Sardinia, Corsica or Tuscany. What else to mention: Greece, Spain and Portugal? We’re here!