MAGELLAN AUSTRIA AND SWITZERLAND 2018 TRIP REPORT
As always, meeting up with a group of ten strangers with the intention of going on an 11 day bike trip together brings with it a mixture of excitement and uncertainty. A 7am start at our usual meeting point of the Stop24 services on the M20 sees us heading for the Channel Tunnel in a whirlwind of names, faces and booking references!
Once through the check-in process and safely aboard our train there’s a half hour lull as we chug under the English Channel and this gives us a chance to start getting to know each other and nosy around everyone’s bikes. This year’s group is a truly eclectic mix! With ages ranging from 24 to 70, some have toured extensively while others have yet to turn a wheel on foreign soil. With a retired firefighter, a sales manager, a carpenter and a marathon runner amongst others it’s fantastic to see such a disparate group of people with a common interest become close friends over the course of a week and a half.
Day one of this trip makes use of a bit of French motorway early on to help cover ground through the immense agricultural landscapes of the north of the country. It also simplifies riding together for the first few hours until we pull into our lunch stop in Montcornet. With the toll roads behind us the pace of life does a rather abrupt emergency stop. Sleepy French villages clustered around cobbled squares with ornate bell towers float casually past, separated by miles of rolling wheat fields. The temperature rises into the 30’s and everyone falls into a steady rhythm. Today is the first day of a new law; a lower national speed limit on all single lane roads but there’s not a gendarme in sight. Just hundreds of French flags hung out to support the national team in the world cup.
The following morning, we visit the Douaumont Ossuary near Verdun. A monument to those who fought in that infamous battle and a strong reminder that the freedom to come on holidays like this is not to be taken for granted. We cover the remaining distance in Northern France throughout the day, passing endless hot, dry fields that stand out bright yellow against the cloudless sky. Combine harvesters trundle tirelessly up and down on both sides and the odd one creates a queue of traffic on the road to be easily overtaken. Eventually we cross the mighty Rhine and enter Germany where we’ll get our first taste of the epic riding to come. By the end of our second six hour riding day everyone is ready to enjoy a German beer at the fabulous Gasthause Auerhahn situated near Baden-baden at the very start of the famous B500 black forest road!
t’s the B500 that greets us at the start of day 3. Everyone is ready for a few bends by now and this famous forest road doesn’t disappoint! This is merely a taster of the mind-blowing riding in store for our group as we gradually head for the Alpine roads. Today is another long one but the scenery has begun to change, becoming more forested with mountains tantalisingly visible on the southern horizon! Our stop for tonight is in the beautiful town of Oberammergau, famous for it’s once-a-decade passion play and it’s extravagantly painted buildings. The group is really starting to bond now and with our third border crossing looming tomorrow we’re becoming an experienced touring team. This is helped along by a few beers with dinner and before we know it, it’s fist bumps all round. Including the waiting staff!
A short day of only 200km or so on our run in to Austria gives most of the group a chance to get to the hotel near Zell am See early. It’s a top-class skiing hotel that caters to walkers and cyclists in the summer and we’re here for two nights so it’s a perfect opportunity to do some laundry or chill out in the pool on the top floor! Some of the others want to do both of the optional ride outs listed in the tour pack for the following day so they keep their throttles pinned and head all the way up to the imposing Eagle’s Nest or Kehlsteinhaus, the Nazi party’s mountain hideaway built in 1938. Everyone is back in time for England’s world cup match against Colombia and the hotel even print off flags for us and set up a T.V. to watch during dinner! Even more exciting is the anticipation of riding the epic Grossglockner High Alpine Pass tomorrow, early nights all round!
Day 5 and everyone has decided to visit the Grossglockner. This is the motorway of alpine passes! The hairpins are wide with excellent visibility several curves ahead and as it’s a toll road, the surface is meticulously maintained. This sort of riding is one of the main attractions of the trip for a lot of our group and it draws drivers and bikers from all over the world. Bring your i-SPY Supercars book along with you to tick off that elusive McLaren or Ferrari! The whole day is spent riding back and forth and stopping for pictures with everyone promising themselves ‘just one more go’ until suddenly it’s 6pm and the tourist coaches and day-trippers have gone home, leaving the road blissfully clear. If you love riding your bike then this road should be added to your bucket list without a doubt!
And if you were beginning to think that things couldn’t possibly get any better you’d be in for a surprise! As despite a short stretch of motorway to speed our passage through Austria our next day sees us entering Switzerland, the 4th country of the trip. A minor satnav confusion leads two bikes astray at this point and they manage to tick off Italy on their list of countries visited before getting back on the right track! One of our group sums up the Swiss experience perfectly; “Riding through Switzerland is like being in an ultra HD, widescreen, 3D movie!” and he is from Wales so he’s used to a bit of dramatic scenery! Comparing Switzerland to Austria is like comparing Austria to northern France, the scenery is truly breathtaking, narrow mountain passes wind their way up jagged peaks with sheer drops to boulder tumbling glacial streams far below. Sadly, it’s raining today but it’s nothing a couple of plastic bags can’t fix! We stop for a break at the remote Fluela Hospiz, wedged high in the mountains before carrying on to Flims for our next night’s stay and a welcome honesty bar!
The 7th day on the road is the shortest so far. Most of the group decide to skip the visit to the Sherlock Holmes museum in Meringen and cut the riding distance down to under 70 miles. This is a welcome respite after some long days in the saddle and it’s great to arrive early at our hotel in Obergoms. This is a new hotel for this year and it’s fantastic! Perfectly situated at the foot of the Grimsel and Furka passes it’s in just the right spot for tomorrow’s free day riding the spectacular Swiss mountain pass loop. The owner is really warm and friendly and as soon as our riding gear is off it’s home-made honey schnapps all round. On the house! Everyone’s bike is safely tucked up in the secure underground garage ready for the morning. Great weather is forecast too, fingers crossed!
Day 8. Today is, for me, the main event of this tour. The second free day of the holiday with two nights in the same hotel providing a chance to leave the luggage behind and spend the day sweeping round endless hairpins over world-class mountain passes. The roads are in fantastic condition, wriggling up impossibly steep rock faces and soaring past waterfalls, glaciers, icy
lakes and lonely mountain refuges. The spine-tingling views are barely believable and the day’s giant figure of 8 route covers well over 100 miles worth of them! We’re really lucky with the weather today too, it’s clear and dry and photogenic and very few of the group complete the entire ride, concentrating instead on enjoying the photo opportunities and the immense scale of the panoramas all around them! What a day, I could babble on about it almost as long as I could stay up there riding!
After our fill of mountain riding we’re leaving Switzerland again on day 9 and heading back in to France. One of the group has a breakdown at morning coffee, a split radiator hose dumping most of the coolant out onto the road. Luckily, he’s an experienced rider and pulls in safely but it spells the end of the trip for his bike. He chooses to stay with the bike and wait for a local dealer to open in a couple of days’ time rather than ship it home so within a couple of hours we’ve got him settled into a lovely hotel in the beautiful town of Fluhli where he can relax until his bike is up and running again. (We kept in touch throughout the rest of the trip and I’m happy to report the bike was up and running two days later and made it safely to the tunnel and home without further issues.) We’re staying in the Vosges mountains in France tonight in a peaceful out of season ski station. The roads carve through cool, shady forests again as the landscape flattens out towards the end of the day. The hotel serves wonderful homecooked food and our meal is included again so the only thing to worry about after the day’s riding is what size of beer or wine to order!
Our final night of the trip is in a fabulous, hidden courtyard hotel, right in the heart of Reims. The roads are back to being flat and straight again but now we’re all used to riding abroad and a little bit of exhilarating cut and thrust city riding at the end of the day raises the heart rate as we pull into our secure underground parking! The city is the perfect choice for a final night. People who were strangers a week and a half ago are now close friends. The whole group sitting out on a pavement table watching the cosmopolitan evening bustle of Reims flow back and forth and swapping stories from the road, touring tips and, happiest of all, future plans. It’s lovely to see people who would otherwise never have crossed paths brought together through a common interest in motorcycles and travel. The bottle of Champagne bought by one of the group and very generously shared helps make it a tiny bit lovelier too!
After our final night, most people’s thoughts are turning to home and as is often the case, riders start to split off and head for the motorway. By the end of the day only a handful of bikes roll onto the Eurotunnel train and our final half an hour together. Before we know what’s happening light pours in through the windows and we emerge onto home soil. Most of the remaining group have a night booked locally in Hythe but as we say our goodbyes and touch wheels to tarmac I make a start on my three hour ride up the M1 and I can’t help but spend the journey home feeling as if I’m on the wrong side of the road…..