Dolomites by F650GS and French Fish (but not FF)
Wet asses and passes
Moto15 was wet. Not all the time, but more than one would expect for a European trip in June. A tale of an F650GS, two Varaderos and a Tiger 800.
Sign of the times
In the past, a hotel booking for 4 male motorcyclists would provide 4 separate beds. These days you have to be more specific. On more than one occasion this year, we arrived to find double beds prepared.
Early morning at Hythe, for the Chunnel, it was raining.
There are a few options for the route down to the Black Forest. If you want to sample some good roads before you get there, the Ardennes region is a good choice. Our route from the lunch stop at Chimay (of beer fame) to Bouillon (of soup fame) skirted the B-F-L borders and had beautiful twisty roads with little traffic. Not so good for progress however so we needed to take the Autoroute to Haguenau from Metz to make up time. It rained for the last 100 miles.
Black Forest gateaux
Rather than fight the traffic in Strasbourg or Baden-Baden, we chose a small ferry across the Rhine at Dusenheim. It’s free, fast and efficient. The Schwartzwald, popular with weekend German bikers (and it was Saturday) is always fun, but does have its hazards We passed one on the way up, who had already ruined his weekend. The surface is good, but the curves can tighten without warning – almost like the Nordschleife.
Um…..which way ?
Language lesson: The German prefix of Um... usually translates as around (if used inseparably) although there are many ways of using it. The example travellers are most likely to encounter is the Umleitung (Diversion). We found one in Bad Herrenalp (should be a clue in that name) and followed it diligently. The principle is that you keep straight on until you get to the next yellow sign. The signs took us up into the hills before disappearing and after 10 kms we stopped at a remote restaurant. The waitress was from Cheshire, full of the woes of poor local pay. Buoyed up by a good lunch and local gossip, we found our Umleitung signs again and eventually came back to the town where it had started! We suspected a German joke. On the bright side, it was not raining now.
Next morning it was raining, although dry before the Swiss border. We were expecting passport checks and encouragement to buy the AutoRoute Vignette, but the border post NW of Schaffhausen was deserted! We weren’t planning on using AutoRoutes (woe betide any users caught without), but began to think it might have been worthwhile, when the road through Frauenfeld and Wil proved horribly slow. The rain started again near Buchs. That we could cope with, but as we skirted Liechtenstein the looming storm ahead obscured the entire valley and was preceded by tornado-like winds. This was major weather, so we sheltered under a car-lot canopy as the storm raged around us; but it was relatively localised and lasted perhaps 30 mins. The Julier pass over to Silvaplana/ St Moritz was dry. Switzerland never was a cheap country, but these days the hotels and restaurants offer 1:1 CHF/EUR making it very expensive, even without a Vignette. This is only about 5% off the mid-bank rate, so it’s not profiteering; it’s just the inevitable rise of the CHF in an uncertain world.
The Stelvio Pass
Next morning, it was raining; hard. By the time we got to Bormio, it had slackened, so we hoped for a dry run up the Stelvio. At the top, cloud and rain and 4 deg C. but this pass is awesome in any weather. Loads of bikes and warm, dry recuperation before the 48 hairpins down. Concentration and all the width of the road are required for each right-hander - these are serious hairpins.
The Grand Tour
Merano was great. Our Pension was faded Edwardian elegance (E M Forster ?), full of old people (including us), a rather eccentric proprietor and at least one Room with a view. The river forming the view was in flood but the town that evening was dry, welcoming, pretty, and cheaper than Switzerland.
Next morning it was raining; hard: the run to Bolzano; horrible, but as we worked our way across to Cortina, there were some dry passes, if few glimpses of stunning Dolomites.
The Cortina hotel included a spa facility – pool, saunas, steam room and buckets of cold water, but no birch twigs. This proved a good end to each of the 2 days scheduled here at the extremity our tour. The tall elegant Rumanian waitress was initially aloof, but we won her round, although she did not participate in the sauna.
The luggage-free second day here was dry as we sampled many of the surrounding Passos - Dolomites finally at their best and why we had come! You can follow it here; start and finish in Cortina: Tre Croci; Cibiana; Duran; Fedaia; Sella; Gardina; Campolongo; Falzarego. A fitting climax to our tour, but now time to wend our way north and west.
Oetzi was here
The Jaufen pass must be a favourite of the Germans. Usually we found ourselves reasonably adept at pass-storming, in relation to other riders, but this time they screamed past us, cutting us up and taking no prisoners. We suspected this was their regular race track. Timmelsjoch links Italy to Austria and leads to Gurgelertal (named after a local beer drinker) and Oetztal (named after a local ice-man). The Austrians charge 12€ for this link, but you can’t be too churlish about it, as the roads are perfect.
Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome
Skirting to the north of Lake Konstanz, the rain started again for the last 100 miles to Sonthofen. Not pleasant, but the Bierhaus/brewery/hotel offered us a dry garage, a huge meal and buckets of beer – all proffered by cheery and bosomy Bavarian ladies. Actually we were tended mainly by the waiter, but we are not fussy (see Sign of the times) – and the value was the best to date. No cabaret however.
Next morning it was raining; hard; but by the time we got to lunch at Titisee (nothing to do with Bavarian ladies), the sun was out. Across to Freiburg and the last pass of the tour – the Col de la Schlucht west of Colmar. We made the most of it.
Despite all those great passes and Teutonic road perfection, when you get back into lowland France, the empty country roads are a welcome change. Our last night was by the lake at Langres, where we had good memories of a previous stay. A wandering Birmingham fisherman told us that the lake holds monster catfish and carp – he had caught a 79lb specimen only that day. He seemed as surprised to see us as we were him. I suspect the catfish was also surprised, although perhaps preferred to be quoted in kgs.
Magnificent architecture and lots of history at Fontainbleau. New to me and it did not disappoint, even if the long ride meant only a couple of hours viewing time. We now know what Pelouse Interdit means, for which education we thank a fellow tourist. Obviously we didn’t look threatening enough.
Revisiting Pegasus Bridge, for some more recent history, then crossing from Ouistram to Portsmouth: a good meal in the port, followed by late boarding, a few beers and bed; to awake back in GB. Not raining now.
Special thanks to Tom for setting up this trip and Mike and Steve for the rest of the company.