Imagine the Alps in full bloom on a beautiful spring day… That’s what it should have been. We started an Explore the Alps Tour not knowing what kind of weather to expect.
Our guests from Canada wanted to enjoy an unforgettable ride together with their wife’s, without lacking any comfort. So they brought the wife’s riding gear but also rented a Mercedes SLK for them to follow the bikes. The bikes are, one BMW R1200GS, one Ducati Multistrada 1200 and me on my favorite BMW F800R. The day before the tour start, temperatures dropped down to only 5°C / 40°F with heavy rain.
Our ride starts in Munich, cruising little back roads towards the Alps. The cold and damp morning was soon replaced by some sunshine and invited for Lunch at a Restaurant’s outdoor patio, overlooking Lake Walchensee. We are now in the foothills of Germany’s tallest mountains following the German Alpine Road, to King Ludwig II his little Versailles Palace (Schloss Linderhof). It was in the 1870’s when Ludwig tear down the hunting lodge and built himself a small palace inspired by French Sun-King Louis XIV. The most astonishing, I think, is the man-made Venus Grotto, perfectly integrated in the surrounding natural alpine landscape showing man-made stalactites and stalagmites. There is even a man-made lake inside the grotto, where Ludwig liked to be rowed in his golden swan-boat.
We are here for riding, right?
So we decided to add another fun section across the Namloser Tal to our ride. That’s an about 30 kilometer (19 mi) long, lower mountain pass crossing an elevation of 1360 meter (4462 ft) above sea level. A real fun ride with a couple of switchbacks and many turns. A first test of alpine riding skills.
Next day we are in route to cover alpine roads throughout 4 countries. Bad weather of the last days has dropped the snow line to about 1200 meter (3937 ft) and one of my favorite crossings in western Austria, the Furkajoch Pass, is closed due to snow. So we bypass it via the 275 meter (902 ft) less high Faschinajoch Pass. At the top, at 1486 meter (4875 ft), it looks like we should have brought our skis. Lucky, we had no ice on the roads. We are crossing from Austria into Liechtenstein with a short stop at the Vaduz Castle, the residence of Hans-Adam II reigning Prince of Liechtenstein. The narrowest road I know of, along a sheer cliff, takes us to a restaurant overlooking much of Liechtenstein and the Swiss Rhine Valley. Our next highlight will be the ride, across Schwaegalp, another low alpine pass with just about 1352 meter (4.436 ft) above sea level, in the foothills of Mt. Saentis, the highest mountain of northeastern Switzerland. That takes us to Appenzell. The canton of Appenzell is best known by its cheese but also by its institution of democratic assemblies held in the open air, in which every male and female citizen over twenty years of age must (under a financial penalty) appear personally.
After a stroll through the historical downtown, including some birthday and souvenir shopping we are on the road again. Or should I say on the twisty’s again… A narrow road, following the ridgebacks of Appenzell towards Lake Constance, proves the skills of our Mercedes team. Lisa and Wendy are managing quite well with some help of the sporty technology. Me, Mark and Barry almost never need to wait for them, while riding a comfortable pace on the bikes. Back in Germany a Raclette dinner is ready for us. It is presented by a local Cheese Farmer family in traditional style. 4 half disks of different tasting round raclette cheeses are heated at the cut and the molten cheese is scraped on a dinner plate. We eat it with potato, fresh baked bread, pickled gherkins and pickled onions. To help digesting we get served pear schnapps. Lucky for our guests we are at dinner with the Van while the bikes and Mercedes are parked at the Hotel.
Its day 3 of our ride and the weather forecast is showing 100% rain with temperatures around 5°C / 40°F. So we decide to take the Van instead of the bikes, to visit the nearby Kings Castle of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein. The Castle Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for Disneyland’s Cinderella Castle. Best for taking pictures are the vistas from the Marien Bridge; a hiking bridge crosses a large gorge, with steep cliffs on both sides. Underneath runs a water fall from the surrounding mountains and to the north of the bridge everyone is taking pictures of the beautiful Neuschwanstein Castle. To visit the castle, hike to the bridge and to have some lunch at a Bavarian Restaurant takes up all morning. In the afternoon we are riding our bikes across the Oberjoch pass taking us very close to the snow level at just 1178 meters (3,865 ft). On the other side of the pass the road begins to dry up and some real fun is waiting for us in route to Oberstdorf where we visit the Erdinger Arena. A Ski Jump Arena with 5 jumps and the highest ramp at 125 meters (410 ft). A kind of elevator rail takes us up to the panorama-platform. The weather clears up a bit, but forecast is bad and temperatures going to stay very low. So we use the opportunity to ride to the local Motorcycle Leather Manufactures of Held. Held has a leather glove museum and the largest motorcycle glove ever built on display. That thing is even listed in the Guinness Book of Records, as the largest glove. It measures 2.82 m (9 ft 3 in) tall and 93 cm (3 ft) wide. The glove is an outsized version of the TITAN motorcycle glove, article no 2910, and color no 14 black/white. The hand size of the glove is 56 (normal size 9). It took 128 hours to manufacture the glove…
We buy some full suit rain gear to be prepped for the road ahead.
What a day, not bad for a wintery May day, even some light sunshine for the last section of the ride. But now it is definitely over with spring. The local Alphorn Music presentation has to give way to some of Bavaria’s strongest rains.
Day 4 was supposed to lead us from North to South across the Alps into Italy but it was obviously that this is not going to happen today. Most Alpine passes are covered in snow and after a short distance towards some of the fun motorcycle routes I had to make the safe call to turn back out of the Alps. Temperatures of around 1.5°C / 35°F kept our hardcore convertible driver team from opening the top and made them enjoying the cars heater system. Lucky our bikes have heated grips, together with the new rain gear we stayed relative comfy. As comfy you can imagine on a motorcycle, at hell rain near freezing…
As I look at the sky it seems to be slightly better towards the west, so let’s go west! We even find some short section of dry pavement while riding through the lush green hilly country side of pastoral idyll Southern Germany on our way to the Island of Lindau. Lindau surprises us with sunshine and many pedestrians strolling along the harbor. We are sitting in the garden Restaurant, watching sailors getting their Regatta ready for the Round-Lake-Constance Race. For a brief moment I even think about sunscreen lotion but that is not necessary because even Lindau get eventually disturbed by the rain.
For day 5 I need to go back to the drawing board. One reason is that our guests want to finish the tour in Innsbruck instead of Munich and the other reason is the heavy rain. It is May. It should be spring time, in full bloom with farmer’s busy harvesting hay. Instead we struggle along the snowline…
A mountain top excursion as planned is no option today!
We start riding along lake Forggensee to the famous church “Wieskirche” by heavy downpour. The church, built in 1745–54, is a masterpiece of Bavarian rococo, miraculously preserved, located in the beautiful setting of an Alpine valley. After warming up our feet (thank goodness for the heated grips) we are carefully maneuvering over the slippery pavement of narrow back roads to the open air museum of Glentleiten. With about 60 buildings on display it provides a detailed insight into the everyday life of the people of Upper Bavaria; their construction and building culture and their working environment.
We spend almost 3 hours wandering around and looking back in history. But last not least we have to cross the mountains to Innsbruck. It seams like we all getting the hang of the conditions and riding in total different rain style up the extreme curvy Kesselbergstrasse towards the Austrian Border. For some brief moments the clouds open just enough rewarding us with vistas of the magnificent Alpine landscape and giant mountain slopes around the Olympic village of Seefeld.
We made it! Innsbruck we are home! We accomplished 1200 Kilometers of curvy alpine roads in 5 days of riding. Not bad considered the amount of rain we endured. A German news agency said the water levels were the highest, recorded since 1501 in Passau, just east of Munich. Making the best out of those conditions was only possible due to the great location of our base hotel in Nesselwang and our local knowledge we build the Explore the Alps Tour on.
Thank you very much and hats off to our good spirited customers!