This tour is awesome and as its my fifth time guiding it I was really looking forward to it, everytime I go back it just seems to get better! The weather was forecast to be brilliant as well, result!

The group met at Stop 24 Services on a sunny Saturday morning and without any fuss we rode to the check-in lanes for the EuroTunnel. Quickly through the check-in process and with hardly any time to grab a coffee, we rode on to the train and began our journey across the channel and into the unmistakable French countryside.

It’s always a bit manic riding away from the tunnel and unfortunately we managed to lose Adam and Andre with Andre’s wife riding pillion. Luckily Adam caught up very quickly but Andre found himself back at the tunnel. A quick GPS rerouting and they were on their way to the first coffee stop where we were waiting for them to catch up.

Riding across the french countryside, along the motorways you are aware of all the places that have recently been in the news as part of the 100 years since the end of WW1. Arras and Cambrai, with us also passing a memorial to the Canadians who fought in the war. It’s very sobering when you realise just how big that war was.

Our final stop before the hotel was at the Ossuary at Verdun which due to our late arrival was closed but we came back the following day as it was only a fifteen minute ride from our hotel. Our hotel was the lovely Les Jardins du mess, a 19th century building situated right in the centre of Verdun and positively lovely after a long day on the bike.

Leaving Verdun and after a visit to the Ossuary, we made our way across the large expanse that is France on our way to Baden Baden and our appointment with the famous B500 the following day.

Gasthause Auerhahn in Baden Baden didn’t disappoint and with a couple of beers and full tummy’s we went to bed dreaming of the roads tomorrow on our way to Hinterglemm in Austria. Riding the B500 is always a pleasure and on this sunny Monday morning it was quiet, dry and as special as it always is.

As we have to make a bit of distance up today a few hours are spent on the German autobahn to get us around Munich quickly. Daunting as they are the autobahns are amazing. You can be cruising along at 75mph in the middle lane overtaking trucks and slower vehicles while out in the outside lane cars are flying past at speeds unheard of in the UK! Unfortunately most of us were caught up in a large traffic jam as a result of a huge accident near Munich! 

Austria has got to be my favourite country on this tour and Hotel Glemmtalerhof as always doesn’t disappoint. In the middle of the town it has a pool and spa and food that is lovely. We are here for two nights!

The following day there is a choice of ride outs. Either the Eagles Nest (Hitler’s summer residence), the world’s largest ice caves near Tenneck or a ride up and over the Grossglockner pass. Most chose the Eagles nest option while myself, Adam and Maurice spent the day getting Adam’s chain fixed along with his wobbly front wheel and badly fitting brake pads. You wouldn’t think it had been serviced a few days before the tour! 

Once it was all sorted we then had to find somewhere to buy a new GPS as Adam had broken his…

After our two night stop in Austria we head ever south and tonight we stop in Postojna, Slovenia. Sounds easy but before that there is the Grossglockner pass to ride then the Plocken Pass after lunch, what a day!

The good weather gods were not up as early as we were today so the Bikes Point at the summit of the Grossglockner was shrouded in thick mist, which just means that we will have to go back there again to catch the view…

Today was a special day for our youngest member of the tour, Alistair, who celebrated his birthday and after a meal at the hotel a gorgeous chocolate cake was brought out with due pomp and ceremony much to Alistair’s embarrassment.

Day 6 and we are off to the caves in Postojna for a visit. John Raistrick and I took the time to have a few slow coffee’s while the group explored. I love ‘human watching’ and the coffee shop outside the caves is ideal for this purpose. Although the weather was sunny there was a slight breeze which increased in ferocity as we approached the Croatian coast near Bakar.

Unfortunately, the road was closed just after we left our lunch stop. The police had apparently placed a ‘Road Closed’ sign for everyone to miss, which they did. So after making a donation to the local police benevolent fund we had to find another route which didn’t involve the coast road. With the use of a map and some local police knowledge we found an awesome route through the mountains and forests to a small village called Breze and then on to a larger town called Ogulin before we headed to Grabovac and our base for the next two nights.

The following day saw everyone boarding the bus to the Plitvice Lakes which is a UNESCO world heritage site about twenty minutes drive away from our hotel. The walk around the lakes is always stunning and today as it was a bit later in the season it was much quieter with fewer tourists. This allowed the group to take their time wandering around the site. The weather was cooler than previous trips, so for the first time in my five visits warmer clothing was required even though it was very sunny. The trip takes around four hours but its not a route march and its split up at the mid point by a ride on one of the parks electric boats to the far end of the site where coffee and a bit of lunch can be bought before walking the final part which involves visiting the biggest waterfall in Croatia at just over 73m high. Leaving Plitvice the next day sees our group split up. Andre, Grieta and Rick ably guided by John are going to stay in Croatia riding the coast road down to Dubrovnik while the rest of the group will ride to Sarajevo in Bosnia.

Here is John’s account of their trip;

Day 8. Plitvice to Podstrana 

Having waved the Sarajevo group off from the Plitvice Palace in warm sunshine, the Podstrana four saddled-up and hit the road to Split.  After two brief photograph opportunities leaving Plitvice we rode the 136Km to Knin in warm sunny weather. The road took us past hills through agricultural lands and through small villages. The roads were quiet and in fair condition and everyone really enjoyed the ride. We enjoyed coffee and a light-bite sitting in the sunshine outside one of the cafeterias in Knin [Ali’s Scottish friend Bob and his wife pitched up out of the blue and joined us – adding that they intend to book a Magellan Tour in 2020}. After Knin, we headed off on the final 90Km to Hotel San Antonio. An hours ride on lovely roads brought us to the beach-side hotel in Podstrana .Service was good at the hotel and we were soon enjoying a quick bite beside the Adriatic; some also enjoyed a quick dip! After enjoying a drink while watching the sun-set we toddled off to the Restaurant Amigos for dinner.

Day 9. Podstrana 

After grabbing a cab, we spent a good few hours wandering the Roman Palace (Roman Emperor Diocletian) complex and the maze of streets and cobblestoned lanes that surround it. After lunch in the old town, we headed back to our hotel for a swim and some relaxation. Later that evening we all wandered along the seafront to Leoni’s.  We had a lovely couple of days, all four of us loved it!

Day 10. Podstrana to Dubrovnik

Andre’s birthday!

Fantastic ride along the coastal road to Makerska for morning coffee with lots of choices and places to park beside the sea. Back on our bikes for the ride down to Ploce to catch the ferry to Trpanj with the route providing lots of photo opportunities along the way. With our ferry tickets bought and the bikes in line for the ferry we then set off for lunch. Even with over an hour in hand, it was a bit of a rush at the finish (Andre had to take his lunch in a doggy bag).

Blue skies and calm seas for the ferry crossing and then back on the bikes for the ride down the wooded Peljesac peninsula to Dubrovnik. Everyone loved the ride and we all took advantage of the many opportunities to stop and take in the breath-taking views.The fortress and city walls of Ston were stunning as we rode past. We took our final photo opportunities just before the new suspension bridge approaching Dubrovnik harbour.

Meanwhile, the main group arrived in Sarajevo having spent the day riding some brilliant roads. Bosnia really is a stunning place to ride in with good roads and scenery that is outstanding. You can’t help but see the aftermath of Bosnia’s more recent history that is mixed with positive displays of new buildings and infrastructure being built everywhere.

Sarajevo is a truly vibrant city and our first nights meal in the heart of the old town was everything you would expect from the city where East meets West.

As usual, the following day we were met by Neno who was to conduct our walking tour of the city. The walk around the centre of the town is a real eye opener for everyone, mostly because we have based our views on what we saw on TV during the civil war.. Neno points out that Sarajevo’s history goes way back beyond the early 1990’s to the Ottomans and has featured in so much of our recent European history, it’s a shame to define it by what happened in the 90’s.

I’m sure the group enjoyed the tour but they were somewhat subdued afterwards because the stories told by Neno are still so raw and the evidence is all around.

That night we all enjoyed a hearty meal in the Sarajevo Brewery which itself was an integral part of the siege of Sarajevo, as it was the only constant supply of fresh water for the city having been built above a natural spring. Leaving the city the following day we rode to the tunnels used during the war on the edge of the international airport before heading to Mostar, another famous town again for many of the wrong reasons.

The bridge in Mostar was rebuilt after it was destroyed during the war and now it’s full of tourists waiting to watch one of the local men dive off it into the fast flowing river below, as long as the price is right! Philip and Hanlie actually witnessed a guy diving off the bridge but didn’t get a photograph unfortunately. In five trips to Mostar I’ve still not seen anyone dive in!

The hotel tonight was in the port area of Dubrovnik where we celebrated Andre’s birthday with an amazing chocolate cake provided by the hotel.

You can’t vista Dubrovnik without a trip to the Old Town and a compulsory walk around the walls that enclose it. This is a real treat pointing out landmarks used in the Game of Thrones TV program or just marvelling at the architecture in such a tightly packed city. With plenty of options for tours and walks, it wasn’t long before everyone split up to do their own thing.

Dubrovnik disappearing in our rear view mirror the next day saw us riding to a ferry taken by John and his crew a few days earlier. Passing along the peninsular and avoiding the two crossings in and out of Bosnia the roads are quiet and the views far reaching. If you can take your eyes off the road long enough to look!

Today it rained for the first time on our route to Zadar but I suppose we can’t complain, as tomorrow we would be riding along the Dalmatian coast and the weather forecast for that was said to be tremendous.

Breakfast done and the group leave for the coast. I’m always amused by the excited babble at the first coffee stop describing the roads and the views, knowing that it’s only going to get better! 

Villach is our destination after riding through Slovenia and crossing into Austria using the 7km long Karawanken tunnel.  The hotel provided us with an evening meal. There was also a tour group from Switzerland staying at the hotel and one of the ladies was celebrating her birthday. After the cake had been delivered some of us were surprised and perhaps a little shocked when Alistair got the birthday girl up for a dance to the music of the one man oompah band. It’s the first time I’ve seen anyone ‘vouging’ to Austrian oompah music then only to be out done as Alistair joined the impromptu ‘conga’ dance around the hotel restaurant and kitchens with twenty 70 somethings clinging on!! A special event if ever there was one, some things cannot be unseen! If the night was a special one the following day was equal in every way. Today we ride one of the most spectacular valleys in Austria in my opinion, although, some of the group took another route but there’s was just as good. 

‘Our’ valley was undergoing some major road works which saw a group of six of us waiting for thirty minutes for the traffic lights to change so we could ride the few kilometres of track and rough road to bypass the roadworks. I ‘won’ Nicolette for this part of the ride as Mike was concerned about his bike on the terrain which was fine with me. Setting a slow pace the group was broken up by other road users and John, Nicolette and myself found ourselves at the morning coffee stop well before anyone else. Then the phone rang!

Adam had somehow become detached from Mike and Maurice and had managed to get himself geographically misplaced, some would say lost but that’s perhaps unfair for an ex soldier… he was though! Anyway on with the story because it’s worth telling. In getting misplaced he had dropped his bike and now couldn’t get it back up and onto the road so we would need to go and help him. After giving me his GPS position it became clear he was very lost and couldn’t get back to the road because it was about three miles away from him. In fact, he appeared to be in a field on the side of an Austrian mountain… setting off back to the roadworks with Nicolette still on my bike we eventually located Mike and Maurice and transferred Nicolette back to Mike’s bike. John and I headed off to find Adam. Have you ever been on one of those roads where there is grass in the centre and then the road gets a bit worse and eventually there is more grass than road, then no road only grass! Suddenly my phone barks and I can hear a faint voice saying ‘Look down, look down’ and 200m below me is Adam waving at me. It’s still another half a mile to ride before we eventually ‘find’ him. His bike is undamaged but is lying on its side in a small meadow. After about 45 minutes we have managed to get the bike up to a track and reloaded. We eventually arrived at the ’morning’ coffee stop at 3pm with 180 miles still to do.

Meanwhile the rest of the group had either ridden over the Brenner pass or the longer Timmelsjoch to meet us in Oberammergau at our hotel. Apparently Nicolette enjoyed the ride on my bike Mike is now looking to replace his current bike, sorry Mike!

The end of the trip is getting close now as we ride from Germany to our final night hotel in the Vosges Mountains along some amazing roads that were used in this years Tour De France. The final meal of any tour is always emotive. We have been together now for 15 days and ridden many miles and tomorrow we will ride our separate ways once we get to the tunnel. However, good food and a glass of wine helped us get over the fact that this is our last meal together, although, Phillip and Hanlie almost didn’t make it having taken a slightly different route to the rest of us.

In the morning fortified with some strong coffee and some warm bread we all said our goodbyes just in case we didn’t meet up at the tunnel. It always makes me smile, even though everyone leaves at very different times we all nearly always end up at the tunnel together and have to say goodbye again…

So everyone arrived back in the UK safely, Alistair rode all the way to Glasgow, Andre, Phillip and Mike with pillions Grieta, Hanlie and Nicolette rode home to Wiltshire before starting their journeys home to Canada and South Africa while Rick, Kenneth, Francesca and I all had a beer in Hythe before riding home the following day (it was Kenneth’s birthday). Maurice and John sent messages to say they arrived safely although a bit wet. Darren and Adam made it home safely.

So that’s the final Balkans tour of 2019 finished but definitely not forgotten, where shall we go next year? Come on you know you want to… 

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