GRAND ALPS TOUR 2013. If there were just two weeks in the summer that one should put in their calender as a great time to get a taste of the ALPS... these would be the ones (and the tour) I would recommend. Two weeks, from Innsbruck to Chamonix, from Briancon to Lugano, from Balzano to the legendary Groß Glockner Pass where the snow is still receding and the chill of winter lingures. But the valleys at home in Seefeld are green and lush, the rivers gushing, the sunshine bathing us in balmy warmth as we prepare for our first day of riding.
Here some of our guests were already gathering a day before the tour started to partake in Angela's safety training and tone up their riding skills before heading off for 14 days of Alpine extasy. Others are in Innsbruck doing a walking tour of the beautiful city on the river Inn -- and home of course to many great skiers!
A jaunt to the famous "Nordkette" by way of cable-car makes immediately clear,
why everybody here can ski... and ride motorcycle. Mountains, mountains, mountains!
Meanwhile in the background angry skys were gathering back at the hotel:
But the forecasts westward were favorable, and so we hoped for the best and anticipated it would turn out to be another one of those legendary "Grand Alps Tours" with guides Angela and Paul.
Monday July 1. Riding Day One
Seelos Hotel in the north tyrolean town of Seefeld, just on the Austrian side across from Garmish-Patenkirchen with the Karwendel Mountain Range in the background is a perfect setting for aclimating to the mountains and this was or base for starting out. After a good breakfast we were all ready to ramble... Motors purring. Ready to go.
But as you may notice, one couple is without their gear! A litte UPS from the shipping company caused them to hastily consider how they could re-outfit themselves. And so they did. As the rest of the group sailed off through the tyrolean hills, we headed for the Edelweiss warehouse to see what Gabi could fish upn for the needy couple! This was a great chance to meet the folks in the office.
A rare treat and pleasant happening, to get a glimps of the inner sanctum and deliver some praise for all the dilligent customer service the gets done from the home office. With a size 49 shoe however, even Edelweiss was put to the test, so we jaunted off to Hall i. Tirol where we were able to put together a complete new outfit for the two stranded bikers. Here a Little view of the Inn-Valley. Even though we were just shopping, we still had some great scenery driving along the Inn Valley! Just a hint to the grand sites awaiting us...
Meanwhile the others were on their way by bike via Kuhtai, Landeck and Ischgl right down the Paznaun-Valley.
Kuh...tai appropriatly so because of all the KUHS (German word for Cow).
And here's Michelle making friends with the natives!
By evening we had caught up with the Group in Galtür and everything was back on trail.
For the bikers it was a sunny perfect day for getting their first taste of splendor in the hills around Kühtai, with its narrow roads and old world rural charm. In Vorarlberg they got a summer look at one of Europes most renouwned ski areas (St. Christoph, St. Anton, Ischgl). And at day's end we all were huddlign around the bar, telling tales and looking forward to our portal to the Silvretta Hochalpenstrasse with views of four famous "three-thousand-meter-peaks: Gross Seehorn, Silvrettahorn, Piz Bruin and Dreiländerspitz. These masive peaks are just the tip of a sweeping range of mountains that form the boarder between Switzerland, Austria and Italy -- all just a mountain cat's leap away from our back door.
RIDING DAY 2 - Galtür to Andermatt
Debby was the first to be suited and ready to go... having missed the first day because her gear never arrived, now newly outfitted, she was roarin' to ride!
As it turned out we took a Little short-cut down a private road with a local guide, because the official Silvretta-Strasse was closed due to a landslide...
There's Partennen! Civilization in sight.
The castle in Lichtenstein...
The main achievement of the day!
And Michelle considering buying a new helmet... Mediaeval style
And Tim imitating the cows from Kuhtai...
In short... a happy crew!
Then it's off to the next big pass of the day (Klausen)
Ooops... Watch that KUH!
What a landscape... Only seeing is believing!
The Klausen Pass with its ribbon of roads laid out before it...
"El Grande" Debby, Jim and Klaus at Klausen Pass:
Meanwhile... back in the van, your blogger Pazlo was taking the route through the Rhine Valley. And there I found a few of my own private highlights.
Just short of our final destination in Andermatt, I was able to catch up with the group in Altdorf for a tell-tale picture in front of Wilhelm Tells monument which stands on the spot where he made his famoust stand against injustice and successfully shot the arrow from the head of his son!
DAY 3 - Rest-Day in Andermatt (Four magnificent Passes)
But a good load of inclement weather at Grimsel Pass
Fog at Nufenen Pass, so thick we could hardly find each other
But spirits un-bent as we push on!
Nothing doing with sitting home. We have bikes and we will travel. Andrematt is surrounded by no less than 16 peaks reaching over 3000 meters into the sky. One can only imagine what kinds of motorcycling roads that may provide. And so... despite the rain and low clowds we headed out: St. Gotthard Pass, Nuffenen Pass, Grimsel Pass & Süssten Pass. A 200 KM day of endless curving!
And in case you're wondering what that white behind us is... it's snow!
As high as a two story house. But the roads were clear, and only rain and cold were chipping at our spirits. But we prevailed, and it was worth it. The evening had us all together again in an amicable restaurant with Swiss Fondu and good red whine. What a lovely finish to the day.
RIDING DAY 4 - Andermatt to Chamonix
After crossing the Furka Pass we arrived at the Rhone Glacier, headwaters of the famous Rhone river and one of the largest remaing permanent ice-masses in the alps. Other than this stunning geological phenomenon, we were warmly greeted by friendly marmets (albeit posing for a morsel of anything to eat)
After leaving the blustery glacier, the weather turned for the best as we cruised along the lakes by Interlaken und the ancient city of Thun. Beautiful! And then on to the french speaking part of Switzerland and the Col du Pillon just after Gstaad. A brilliant ride, and a few ladies were waiting there to greet us -- or rather Klaus!
Whether the weather was good or bad, we didn't notice. The scenery was still spectacular and our first glimpse of Mont Blanc was a pay-off for the entire day!
Indeed the icy tounge of the glacier nearly licks the town of Chamonix.
We had a lovely hotel there, and for breakfast wonderful real french croissants.
Day 5 - Chamonix to Briancon
This mamouth day of passes (Col des Saisies, Col de la Madeleine, Col du Galibier, Col du Lautaret) is just too grand to be captured in all its variations. Here a couple of impressions after looking back on Monc Blanc as we head towards Megeve ultimately towards that grandfather of all Tour-de-France passes -- Galibier!
All this excitement... and Darel decides to take a nap!
Then it's up to Galibier!
Definitely a victorious moment!
And going down is going to be fun as well...
That was a phenominal ride!
Day 6 - Rest Day in Briancon (naturally with riding!)
Doing a "short look" around the south of Briancon, we will visit one of Marquis Vauban's many impressive fortresses located at Mont Dauphin. This vast complex is nearly invisible from the distance. But when you are in it, it seems almost to be an entire city in itself. After a coffee break there in a cozy cool courtyard, we move on to a much smaller fortress at Queyras which has been in use since the end of the 13th century.
Father and son just having some fun...
And then it was off to Fort Queyras.
The best part of the day was still to come. A wonderful picnic prepared for us by Angela!
Everyone was thrilled, filled and stupified. A culinary delight and a setting to knock your eyes out.
That's our scout up there in the cliffs... keepin' a lookout for Saschquatsch. And shortly after lunch we vaulted up the last few kilometers to the summit. Here our Men in black posing for posterity...
The heat of the ride gave cause for a change of wardrobe -- and perhaps a bit of excitement for the ladies...
Day 7 - Briancon to Aosta
After having seen some of the most impressive passes the French Alps could throw at us, today it's on to an equally (if not even more-so) impressive vista. Col de L'Iseran. On the way, however, we were treated at our first rest-stop with a classic show of vintage bikes.
Here the hospice for wayfaring travelers at the peak of L'Iseran...
And here a little piece of real-estate which seems to be up for grabs.
Albeit the shopping and entertainment infrastructure is pretty thin up here.
But the view is stupendous!
And riding it back down was a LOT OF FUN!
Here a shot of our most faithful photographer catching a glimpse of herself in Jim's mirror!
Thanks Deb for all your great photos.
Day 8 - Aosta to Lugano
The Aosta valley is renowned for its strategic geological position at the boarder between Italy and Switzerland. Since Roman times it has been a throughway for commerce and cultural exchange. And interestingly it has also maintained a quirky kind of political independence, somewhat like the Basque region on the boarder between France and Spain. Hallmark to the fights to keep this passage open and free... Castles all along the way!
Then the route skirts the Po Valley, Italy's fruit and produce basket...
before crossing Lago Maggiore by ferry and continuing on to our luxurious Hotel in Lugano.
Day 9 - Lugano to Livigno
The splendor just won't stop. Ahead of us the idyllic residence of the rich and famous, Lago di Como, the infamous ancient travel-route through the gorge Via Male, then rugged transits over Splugen Pass, Julier Pass, Bernina Pass. A day of many Highs while zig-zagging back and forth along the boarder between Italy and Switzerland -- surrounded by Peaks reaching well over 3000 meters.
Day 10 - Livigno to Bozen
Today's highlight... a pass that sets itself apart from all other passes with no less than 48 switch-backs up to a peak that is widely recognized as the "mother of all alpine challenges." Stelvio! Simply a legend among bikers. But before that we stroll through a scenic remote region of Switzerland known as the Engadine. Just at the boarder to Southern Tyrol (which is also northern Italy), a cultural highlight awaits us in the town of Mustair. A UNESCO World Heritage Site. Erected in 725 ad, the church hosts some of the world's most significant medieval frescos.
In the following days we cruised the Dolomites, conquered Großglockner, witnessed magical rainbows at the Krimmler Waterfall and rounded off our Journey with a Honeymoon Dinner for two of our guests celebrating over 30 years of wedded bliss.
It's history now... but certainly for the members of our tour -- a legend.
Thanks for being here everybody. I'll be looking forward to seeing you somewhere down the road again. Thanks for being patient while I finished the blog, getting all those photos I collected from you sorted tweaked and cropped and uploaded. Send your friends to take a look at our trip... and most important -- leave a comment!
Cheers to you all. Stay posted, tuned in, check us out!
Your Blog-Guy Pazlo