Road Trip Part Five
I slept later than planned but still managed to be away by around 09:15. I knew that I had a long day ahead of me as I planned to ride to a place called Madonna di Campiglio in Northern Italy
The town is around 1,500 metres above sea level and is in the Brenta Dolomites in the Trentino region. I don’t ski and have never had any interest in doing so, but apparently this place is the number one ski resort in Italy with 57 lifts and some 150km of ski runs. That sounds decent to me but as I have said I don’t ski so can only really go on what I had read in that respect.
As an aside and perhaps of interest to car and bike enthusiasts is that it’s the location that the Ferrari Formula One team and the Ducati Moto GP team hold their media events in January of each year.
At breakfast there was only one other person in the room and it was obvious when she was asked what she wanted to drink that she was not a local, in fact she was Welsh. She asked me was it my bike outside – given that I had my textile trousers, bike boots and bike tee shirt on, she was on reasonably safe ground in asking if the single bike in the car park belonged to me.
She told me that her brother (who she was traveling with) had been admiring it the previous evening. Shortly after we had made our introductions her brother joined her at the breakfast table and the three of us soon struck up an easy conversation.
It tuned out they ran their own company (connected to medical supplies) and they used a manufacture based locally in Kobarid. It also turned out they were from my parent’s home city of Cardiff in South Wales – yet another example of the ‘it’s a small world’ type conversation. As with others that I had met they wished me well for the rest of my travels.
I loaded my bike but felt uncertain about the route I should take. The clouds were low and the roads damp. The weather didn’t look promising and I was also mindful of potential roads conditions given reports of loss of life in mud slides and the like in northern Italy in the previous two days.
I set off and thought I’d take a route that would see me heading back towards Italy rather than into the Julien Alps. I decided to pull up after having gone about 10 miles or so and stopped alongside the Soca River. I decided the decision I had made about my route was wrong. I reasoned (to myself) that if the weather and road conditions were bad I could mitigate for that by taking more care, stopping, turning back or finding somewhere else to stay en route – but what I couldn’t do was mitigate the disappointment I would inevitably have if I didn’t stick to my original plan. I would forever ask myself a series of ‘what if’ questions.
So that was it – decision made. I turned round and headed back as per my plan, which was to head for Srpenica, Zaga, Uccea and then eventually towards Villa Santina, Bolzanno and Trento then down towards Rovereto and then almost back on myself to the Hotel Cime D’oro in Madonna di Campiglio
It turned out to be the right decision because I went on to have what I can only describe as a totally fabulous days riding. Probably within 15 to 20 minutes of riding the roads were dry or drying, the scenery superb and there were enough hints of blue sky to confirm to me that the decision to turn back and head this way was the right one.
I knew next to nothing about Slovenia before I traveled there and to be honest I still don’t know a great deal but it really does have a fascinating history and a read of the Wikipedia entry provides a useful background and overview of the country’s history and move to independence in the late 1980’s. My limited knowledge meant that I wasn’t at all sure what to expect – but what I can say, albeit from my very limited time and travel there is that I found it to be a stunningly beautiful and welcoming country.
The mountains, lakes, rivers and roads that I saw as I made my way, provided exceptional sights. I traveled on into the Dolomites for more of the same and eventually into the Trentino area. It’s really quite difficult to describe how fantastic everything looked, if much of my travels to date had been like seeing the world through High Definition eyes then this was now like having my eyes upgraded to 4K Super High Definition – it was glorious.
I had a good map with me and one that I had received from an organization called Trentino in Moto – which is essentially an association of accommodations hotels etc. that provide good parking for bikes and good local information that is pertinent to bikers – if you haven’t heard of them it’s well worth checking out their web site.
It was from studying the low level map I had received that I decided to head towards Rovereto – and whilst heading in that direction I saw a sign for a pass, the name of which I just cant recall, and that involved taking the SP25 then the SP85 and then eventually the smaller SP53. I knew that I’d be adding a good amount of time to my day but it was simple decision to make, as I couldn’t say with any certainty whether I’d get the opportunity again.
I’d arrived at my hotel in the dark and on damp roads, I was tired, ready for a shower and ready for something to eat and I had a great day – so much so that I think it may well have been the best and most complete day I had ever had on a bike.
The Hotel Cime D’oro was pretty quiet but no doubt would be rammed in the skiing season. Check in was straightforward and I was offered the use of the underground garage for my bike. My room was fairly small but comfortable and the service in the bar was first class. After a giant sandwich and a couple of beers I was in bed and probably asleep in the time it took for the room to go dark after I had flicked the switch to off on my bedside light!
I slept well and woke ready for breakfast and although it was only Thursday morning I definitely had a feeling that this years trip was drawing to a close. The weather was cooler (as expected) and my plan was to head into Germany for an overnight stop, then onto Luxembourg on Friday and then finally to Rotterdam on Saturday for the P&O evening sailing and an overnight crossing to Hull.
Breakfast at the Cime D’0ro was ample and plenty enough to set me up for the mornings riding. By this stage of the trip my packing routine was more than perfected and it took next to no time at all to pack up neatly and get ready to leave. After bringing my bike up from the underground garage I clipped the panniers on and checked out and headed for the Stelvio Pass.
The Stelvio was around 75 miles or so from my hotel, but it wouldn’t exactly be quick to get there given the nature of the roads and in any case I knew that I could take in more than one other pass on the way there.
I headed first for Dimaro about 40 miles northwest of Trento and then onto the nearby small town of Ossana. After that it was Ponte di Legno, Valfurva and Bormio. Although the town of Bormio is noted for it’s hot springs a thermal bath wasn’t on my agenda that morning.
On my way to Bormio I rode the Passo Campo Carlo Magno, the Passo del Tonale and the Gavia Pass, there was also another pass before the Tonale that I turned onto and rode but I cant remember its name. The Campo Carlo and the Tonale were enjoyable and pretty open and flowing. The Gavia Pass was one of those that although I’m sort of glad I’ve been on it I would be in no rush to do it again. In many parts the Gavia is narrow, poorly surfaced and in its early stages its pretty tight. What it does provide though is stunning views. On the day I traveled on it the wind was very very strong, so much so that at times it caused me a little concern and at times a feeling of not wanting to be there – it really was that horrible.
Eventually I arrived towards the Stelvio Pass, a road that has been on my list to do for a good number of years. As I made my way onto the Stelvio the wind was blowing an absolute gale – and it made staying upright at times a genuine struggle which took away from some of the enjoyment.
I suppose the Stelvio is a pretty iconic pass for many bikers and maybe is one of the most photographed passes there is. It is unquestionably beautiful and unquestionably dramatic, at its peak it rises to about 2,750m and has 48 numbered hairpins up the mountain side. A few years ago it was voted as one of the best driving roads in the world – so it’s not at all difficult to see why it is on the ‘to do’ list of many bikers. But to be perfectly honest I was left feeling that actually it’s a bit overrated and it doesn’t make my list of top roads to ride.
It’s an incredible feat of road engineering and it is amazing in so many ways, but for me the nature of the (mostly) short stretches between hairpins sort of made the effort outweigh the enjoyment, with little opportunity to get into a clear flowing run.
Fortunately when I was there it was very quiet – and if I was anywhere near the Stelvio in the peak season I’d be sure to give it a miss, I can barely begin to imagine what a chore it might be when rammed with tour buses and tourists.
I’m sure there will be plenty who disagree with me but I genuinely think its an overrated pass – it certainly provides some of the most staggering views of winding switchbacks along with exquisite mountain views, but the truth is I wouldn’t bother to do it again.
I actually think the Gotthard Pass and some of the nearby passes to it in Switzerland provide more enjoyment (Grimsell, Furka Susten for example) and Id rather ride the Grossglockner in Austria any day of the week.
But opinions aside – I stopped at the top, took a few pictures and then continued on my way dropping down through a multitude of tight hairpins and generally enjoying the excellent views. Despite feeling it’s an overrated pass I’d still say it’s a ‘must do’ for a biker.
After coming off the Stelvio I continued on towards Fideris, Vaduz and in the general direction of Konstanz in Germany. The weather had been mostly decent for the day and although cold and way way too windy on the Stelvio the temperatures had reached a nice 27 in the afternoon as I made my way into Austria.
In Austria I rode on a pass whose name I don’t recall, but it was one that had wide-open roads complete with sweeping bends and all in all made for some pretty relaxed and easy riding. I had rain for the latter part of my time in Austria but eventually arrived at my overnight stay in Tengen in Germany. I booked a room at the Landgasthof Schutzen and the owner – a biker himself opened his garage for me to leave my bike next to his car for the night
The Landgasthof Schutzen was very welcoming and my room was clean, comfortable and nicely furnished. It seems a decent location to base yourself for a biking holiday, as its close to Switzerland, Austria and the Black Forrest – the food is good, the bar has a decent selection of beers and along with the welcoming host all the boxes were ticked.
The hotel owner and I chatted about bikes, football (he’s a Hamburg fan) and my journey and I’d be pretty happy to recommend this place for a few days if ever you are down that way. I also chatted with another guest who was staying in the room next to mine, he had asked me about my bike as he had seen it as he was checking in at more or less the same time I arrived. He was having a few days break (driving) but he was a biker and owned a Kawasaki 1200. We spent some time showing each other bike pictures on our phones. He was a decent enough bloke and I saw him again briefly over breakfast the following morning.
Breakfast was good and plentiful, and not for the first time on this trip I was packed promptly and made an early start (I was on the road not long after 08.00am – this time towards the Black Forrest as I decided to do some of the B500 towards Baden Baden.
I’ve done the B500 a few times now on various bikes and a couple of times in the car and it’s a decent enough road – way way too busy in the peak holiday season and especially at weekends but as I was heading that way on a Friday morning in late September traffic wasn’t something that I had to be troubled with.
The first few hours were lovely heading towards Blumberg, Loffingen, Tittisee and Frieberg but the weather was definitely turning cooler and I stopped to swap gloves from the ‘shorties that I been wearing for the last couple of weeks to a longer more regular pair of riding gloves
I had sort of been meandering my way up towards Luxembourg and had booked myself into a hotel in a place called Kautenbach. I hadn’t really bothered looking at a route as I was pretty familiar with the area of Germany I had stayed in the previous night and other than heading for the B500 I just let the day unfold – until I realized at around 1.30 in the afternoon that my almost aimless meanderings had left me a little under 200 miles to the place I had booked.
The weather looked to be getting darker and I decided to switch to an AutoRoute type road for a while and then was hit by an incredible cloudburst that made road conditions unpleasant. Not for the first time the change in weather was dramatic and more evidence of the oddly unsettled weather over much of Europe.
I pulled up under a bridge as the level of spay coming up off the road surface was almost blinding, after waiting a short while I set off again, back under blue skies and pulled into the next service station for fuel and bite to eat.
After grabbing a sandwich and a drink I ended up sitting on the kerbside talking to another British biker who it turned out was also heading in the direction of Luxembourg and who has also been on the Stelvio the previous day. Andy (from the Wakefield area) was a really decent bloke and we chatted and swopped stories for around 40 minutes or so. He had been on the Stelvio around 5pm the previous day and in addition to the gale force winds he had to endure rainfall – a pretty uncompromising combination on that road. In fact he had seen a couple of bikes on the floor clearly their riders had not quite managed the bends.
He didn’t have anywhere booked and I mentioned to him that the pretty town of Vianden would probably make a decent stopover, as I knew there were a number of hotels/B&Bs there some of which advertised as ‘biker friendly’
Andy had been on the road for a couple of weeks and his trip sounded more than decent – it also sounded like we had been in some of the same (or nearby) locations as he too had been down in Italy. His plan was to book himself onto the P&O crossing from Rotterdam the following evening – so with that and the likelihood that we would meet up again sometime on Saturday night on the boat we said farewell and I continued on my way to the Hotel Huberty in Kautenbach for my final nights accommodation on this trip.
It was around 6pm when I got to the hotel and the owner was at the window and waved me straight into this garage – and before I had even taken my helmet and gloves off he was alongside me introducing himself and giving me a warm welcome as well as asking me about my bike. He also showed me his fabulous machine a new Cam Am (his three wheel roadster).
Next it was into the hotel to be introduced to his wife and a couple of guests who were drinking in the bar – quickly followed by questions about my trip – where I had been and where I was going.
Later after getting cleaned up and over a beer I spent time chatting again with Rudi the hotel owner. He’s a warm and friendly bloke who seems to have had his share of decent cars and he definitely likes his Cam Am’s (I think this was maybe his second or third). He spent time showing me various pictures of bikes and cars on his Ipad – and it seems that he and his wife do quite well in attracting bikers and car enthusiasts to their pleasant hotel.
My evening meal was better than good – cooked by Rudi himself, and if you do stay there (and I can recommend it) then you MUST have some of Rudi’s apple pie. It was different than apple-pie I had previously had and in fact had a taste of ginger in it – when I asked him about this he told me it was made to his own recipe and was a popular choice with the groups of bikers who made the Hotel Huberty a destination and stop off on weekend ride outs.
My room was small and comfortable (and had a great Wi-Fi signal) and I slept soundly in an extremely comfortable bed. Breakfast on Saturday was good and I couldn’t help but think I was sure to come back and stay at the Hotel Huberty again at some future date … and to have some more of Rudi’s apple pie.
My packing routine after breakfast was a little different than on previous days, as this time I needed to pack in a way that I could easily just take one bag out of one of the panniers with a change of clothing and overnight gear for the night sailing from Rotterdam.
After that I was on my way first heading towards Wiltz, then Bohey, Tenneville, Vissenaken and Brecht and finally onto Rotterdam. I had no high expectations for my final day – and by now it felt like the trip was all but done.
Damp leaf strewn roads out of Kautenbach had restricted my early morning enjoyment a little and aside from a couple of stops en route to the Europoort at Rotterdam there isn’t a great deal to say about Saturdays ride.
Check in was routine at the port of Rotterdam and the last dozen or so miles to the port serve to illustrate the sheer scale of the surrounding infrastructure, which is home to a huge petrochemical industry that provides an incredibly pervasive diesel like stench in the air.
Although I would have been happy to continue riding across Europe I was also looking forward to going home.
As I stood by my bike reflecting a little on the trip the next bike that rolled up to take it’s place in the queue for the ferry home looked familiar – it was Andy … the guy I had met the previous day en route to Luxembourg.
It turned out that Andy had indeed took me up on my suggestion of heading towards Vianden for his overnight on Friday and then like me had sort of just ambled his way up to Rotterdam.
Although the ferry didn’t sail until about 7.30pm or so we were on board for around 5.30 and we arranged to meet later in one of the bars. Andy and I did indeed meet later on and it was good to share the evening complete with a few beers and a bite to eat with someone who I got on well with and whose company helped make the time pass quickly.
There is little to say about the overnight ferry home – in all fairness the boat seemed to be in much better shape than when I had last been on it. It looked like it had been subject to a decent and well thought out refit and was an altogether better experience than on previous trips, although I still think P&O could learn and make improvements from the service provided by Brittany Ferries.
I woke refreshed and had a coffee and cheese and ham croissant for breakfast – it was hardly a substantial breakfast but it was good enough and ticked the adequate box.
On all but one previous occasion when I have made my way home from Hull after a European bike trip it has always rained – but looking towards the coast as the boat made its way into the Port of Hull it was obvious that I would almost certainly be making my way home in bright sunshine and under blue sky.
The 100-mile journey home from Hull was straightforward, the weather stayed dry and other than a stop for fuel it passed without incident.
By around 11.00am on Sunday morning I was home and this year’s road trip was done.
Without doubt I had enjoyed a fabulous trip, pretty much been where I wanted to go and pretty much seen what I wanted to see – and plenty more besides.
The bike was filthy and showed the grime that you would expect after the best part of 5,000 miles, but apart from the single small scratch after dropping it on the streets of Pompeii it was fine.
Cleaning could wait for another day I had some serious work to do with a red velvet cake that had been made as a welcome home present
Other Posts If you have missed previous parts of the write up of the 2015 Road Trip along with accompanying pictures you can find them at the following links:
In 2010 I did another solo road trip down through France, Spain and onto Portugal and then back via the Alps. If you want to read about that trip the following links will take you to it:
There are also a number of picture sets with the above posts for the 2010 trip and these are at the links below: