Italian Job & Austrian Odyssey - By Trip Organiser Derek Melly
This summer 22 enthusiastic SCUK members on 14 Harleys set forth from the UK on an epic ride through five European countries. Our first overnight stop was in Metz in France. The next day we set off down the beautiful Rhine valley, passing through Basel and up through the Alps to Lucerne finally arriving at our second hotel. Day 3 had us riding from Lucerne to Torbole in the north east corner of Lake Garda, Italy. It also produced a surprise for our intrepid bunch when we dived off the motorway to ride the scenic St. Gotthard Pass.
We stopped on the way up for a photo call and at the top for coffee and more photos. For our first time continental riders it was an interesting introduction to riding on twisty roads and hairpin bends.
On the way up St. Gotthard’s pass.
Leaving St. Gotthard Pass we swept down past Lake Como, cut across the north of Milan and headed east to Lake Garda eventually arriving at our hotel in the picturesque little town of Torbole. We based ourselves here for a week using the time to chill out doing our own thing as couples and smaller groups and also doing two group rides. The first was a clockwise ride around Lake Garda.
At the southern end of the lake we peeled away from the shore and into the hills getting great views of the lake before descending onto the west coast. We stopped for lunch at the Gardonne Riviera right on the harbour jetty with good food, expensive boats and some even more expensive looking ladies, how do they keep those bikinis on? On the way back to our hotel we rode a route with a great number of tunnels, apparently made famous by the Bond movie “Quantum of Solace” according to member “Jackie the Italian” who knows about these things. Terry, as usual made a nuisance of himself with his loud pipes in the tunnels much to the annoyance of his mates and much to his own schoolboy delight. The next day was a rest day and then it was time to tackle the Stelvio Pass.
Note the 180 degree hairpin bends snaking up a steep hillside. As we were riding on the right side of the road the right handers were particularly difficult because you are on the inside and they double tightly back on themselves and rise up by at least 3 to 6 feet. The inside corner of the bend itself rises between 18 inches and 2 feet and there is no way you can stop or hesitate if cut off in the corner by a vehicle coming the other way. You cannot really see the road above you to see what’s coming and so to negotiate the bend you need to go quite wide before cutting back in hoping that there is no car cutting the corner while coming down the other way, (unless you are like Rob who didn’t give a toss what was coming anyway in his scramble to get to the top first).
It was one of the toughest passes I have ridden and this was corroborated by a number of experienced riders. I must say all our members deserve their Stelvio tee shirts. Lunch at the top in the decidedly cooler temperature at that height was followed by the ride down, slowly for some and little quicker for others. Once along the bottom the satnav did a thing, but we eventually found our way back to the planned route through various towns and villages before going up again and into the start of ............. another pass!
This time it was the Gavia which whilst not as difficult as the Stelvio was nonetheless a challenge and just when you thought you had reached the summit it started up again. To top it all, if we had thought the Stelvio was a bit shy on safety barriers that was like being wrapped in cotton wool compared to the Gavia which simply had nothing in the way of barriers. You stayed on the black top or screamed for a parachute!
The scenery was once again great and remained so as we made our way back to the hotel along some of the best riding roads we have ever encountered. Another great day out followed by a great dinner before collapsing into bed. In between riding days there were boat trips to other towns on the lake and it seems like a lot of souvenirs were bought by all.
On Sunday the 1st September it was time to move on to Austria and due to threatening weather I took advice and cancelled our planned route through small passes in the Dolomites and instead we used the motorway to head for Villach, the nearest town to Faaker See. We arrived at our hotel in Villach without incident. And then the rain started!!
For the first part of the week the rain put a dampener on things and part of the European Motorcycle Rally site was a quagmire. Eventually the weather cleared enough for us all to ride in to the rally and do a circuit of the lake with lots of other bikes before scrambling for somewhere to park. The rally itself was as good as ever despite the weather and with us being within bus distance we could all go to the site for retail therapy, drinking and eating, and listening to and dancing to the bands. Some of the bikes were awesome and there is so much merchandise you can spend all day browsing and shopping and picking up ideas on what to do to your favourite steed.
Most of us bought a raffle ticket to win a motorbike, but as usual it was won by one of the Mafia, but this time it was SCUK member “Jackie the Italian”!
The parade on Saturday passed close to our hotel so we all joined in or watched it with thousands of other spectators. Despite the wet weather there must have been in excess of 40,000 bikes there and we all had a great time doing whatever we enjoyed doing and hopefully the first timers enjoyed it enough to want to return in a year or two. It’s still the best rally in Europe by a long way; it’s free and best of all it’s not controlled by “the dead hand of the corporation” rules.
Friday was our day to ride in Slovenia. What a stunningly beautiful country. The ride turned out even better when we found the border tunnel was blocked but Rob and I mamaged to find a route going the long, but perhaps even better way around to Bled where we had a great lunch overlooking the lake.
Slovenia is a country you must visit if you have not been there before and one that needs further exploration. I intend planning a future ride to Corinthia in Austria (near Faaker See) to use as a base for day rides into and around Slovenia and southern Austria. It is simply stunning with great roads. Fortunately we happened to stop for a break at a farmhouse come restaurant that Rob & Mel had been to before and we met the owner who in his spare time hunts bears! Yep, real bloody bears. What a character. It was one of our most interesting stops.
Acting on information from our bear hunter host we decided to head off to them thar hills along twisty routes to meet up with the motorway and a quick blast back to Villach in time for another good meal at the Mexican restaurant in which we should have bought shares.
On Sunday we bid goodbye to Faaker See and started the long journey home. Rather than join 40,000 other bikes on the motorway north, we headed south west along minor roads before climbing into the mountains. We stopped for a break at a hotel with a garden for tea/coffee.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take the big kids long to enjoy the toys in the garden, although the hotelier didn't seem quite so amused. The girls seemed particularly happy to demonstrate their inner thigh strength!
Leaving the outdoor toys behind we moved on, riding through passes and Austrian national parks in the mountains. Again the views were stunning and we rode on some magnificent blacktop with sweeping bends. Austria is to my mind more stunning than Switzerland and that is saying something.
We hit Innsbruck in the evening and parked up at the back of the hotel. Having cleaned up we headed into the old town for a meal after splitting up into smaller groups. I know it sounds repetitive, but again there are some stunningly attractive buildings in the old town of Innsbruck alongside the river.
Monday saw us heading out of Innsbruck on our way to Neuchatel in Switzerland. After following the motorway almost to the Bodensee we eventually dived off the motorway to make our way up into the Swiss Alps. We stopped for lunch at the top at a small village called Buhler. Stunning views and the tiny restaurant went out of their way to serve us a very nice lunch. Back on the bikes we rode through the Alps via St Gallen, then onto the motorway to bypass Zurich, then towards Bienne and the lakes and finally along the shore to Neuchatel.
On Tuesday we passed through the town of La-Chaux-de-Fonds at the top of the mountains, then through a major Swiss national park. The road wound its way down to the river and we followed this to the French border at Biaufond. This spot that I found whilst doing the recce is so stunning that we just had to stop for coffee even though it was early in the day. The photos just cannot do it justice.
After coffee we moved off through the mountains again along some incredibly picturesque roads up hill and down dale through pretty villages until we had lunch at a restaurant that welcomes Harley riders in particular. Then off to Troyes where a great final meal together was had by all. A fitting end to really great 3000 mile trip.
I would like to thank all the road crew and stand in road crew for all their hard work over the 19 days. My thanks to Terry for the photography – he took well over 1000 photos! In particular I would like to congratulate those first timer euro riders who came through with flying colours when the going got tough. Lastly, my thanks go to all the members who joined me. It is the participation and fun you all bring in your own way to the trip that makes our club so special and bike holiday trips like this so enjoyable and so memorable.
"A great bunch of friends to have on a biking holiday" - Derek Melly.
If you’d like to view the many photographs on our club gallery please click on this LINK