A holiday of Hairpins Colin Williams goes round every bend he can find

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A Holiday of Hairpins

Colin Williams goes round every bend he can find

Raining! We couldn’t believe it, after weeks of dry weather July 2nd had to be wet. Fortunately, after about fifty miles the rain stopped and we began to feel more optimistic. After an uneventful crossing and blast down the autoroute we reached our overnight motel. It was noticeably hotter this side of the channel.
The next day was another case of mostly motorway driving to reach our accommodation in the northern Black Forest region of Germany.
Pension Williams (www.pension-williams. com) is a lovely, English-run, biker-friendly guesthouse, located in the very pretty village of Seebach, south of Baden-Baden. We had a lovely large room with balcony overlooking the picturesque valley. There is off-street, covered parking, and although they do nor have a restaurant, the owners will rustle you up something tasty. Alternatively, there are restaurants within walking distance of the accommodation.
In the morning we set off to explore the famous biking road - the B500 Schwarzwaldhochstrasse. The road runs across the top of the mountains at an altitude of 600-1000 metres and is a mecca for bikers. Sweeping bends run through the pine trees, opening onto views across the Rhine Plain as far as the Vosges Mountains in France. Venturing off the B500, the mountain roads zigzag their way down to the valleys, with lots of pretty villages en route.
Monday found us on the move to our next stop at Salzburg in Austria. Before we crossed the border we had to buy the compulsory motorway toll-sticker for Austria. These are available in petrol stations and cost 4.50 Euros for ten days.
Although not strictly speaking a biker-friendly hotel, the Blobergerhof (www. blobergerhof.at) is an excellent choice as it is set in the countryside, but is only a fifteen-minute ride into the city. It is an old extended chalet which well deserves its three-stat rating
The next couple of days were spent seeing the sights of the beautiful baroque city of Salzburg. A good tip is to buy the Salzburg Card, which costs 38 euros for three days and gives you free admission to all of the sights. If we had paid separately for all the things we did, it would have cost us 120 euros.
Thursday we were meeting up with our fellow West Country friends, Nigel & Lisa. They were sightseeing in the area around Berchtesgaden in Bavaria, which we had visited the previous year. We met them in Werfen, a town thirty-five miles south of Salzburg, which is famous for its ice eaves and its fortress. The narrow, five kilometre road up to the ice caves car park has a l-in-4 gradient and several very sharp hairpins. A cable car then whisks you further up the mountain, followed by a twenty minute hike to the Eisriesenwelt cave entrance. It felt very cold in the cave mouth. However, the guide happily informed us that we would not be cold for long as we had 1400 steps to climb once inside!
The ice caves are the largest in the world and looked very spectacular, being lit only by the carbide lights that the guide handed our. Later we visited the fortress of Werfen, which was used as the location for the film Where Eagles Dare. We spent a very interesting and fun afternoon exploring the interiors of this medieval building, which includes a weapons museum, and watching the impressive Birds of Prey display.
Next morning we met up with Nigel & Lisa again as we were going on to our next hotel together in the area of Carinthia in Southern Austria. We had decided to avoid the motorway and take a more scenic route. We made our way to the spa town of Bad Gastein, which is set 1000 metres up in the mountains. The beautiful 19th century buildings frame a 341 metre-high waterfall, which crashes down through the centre of the town. The road ends just after Bad Gastein. To continue south we needed to put the bikes on a train which passes through the mountain. A few panicky moments followed as both bike alarms played up. There must have been some interference around the station, but eventually the bikes were loaded for the fifteen-minute journey. When we emerged the other side the scenery was even more stunning, if that was at all possible. The ride through the Obervellach Valley in the blazing sun was wonderful and we soon arrived at our new hotel in the very pretty village of Malta, in the Hohe Tauern National Park.
Gasthof Hochalmspitze (www. hochalmspirze.com) is an English-owned hotel that caters mostly for bikers. John and Ros, the owners, are experienced motorcyclists and will do everything they can to make sure that you have a good time, from changing your oil to keeping the bar open till you go to bed! The rooms are en suite, spacious and spotlessly clean. The views from the windows are picture-postcard. The bikes go downstairs in the large underground garage/workshop and there is also a drying room for wet clothes.
As soon as we pulled up John was straight out to greet us with cold drinks and we felt immediately at home. If you stay for two or more nights you get a National Park Card which entitles you to free travel on the toll roads and free rides on many cable cars, plus entry to many local attractions; it saves you a fortune.
As it was only mid-afternoon when we arrived, we decided to go and ride the Malta Hochalmstrasse. This is a toll road of spectacular beauty with large waterfalls, the road ending at the Kolnbrein Dam. The road rises to an altitude of 1933 metres and there are nine hairpins and six unlit rock tunnels, a couple of which incorporate bends!
Much of the road is single-track and is controlled by traffic lights, if you catch it wrong the wait is twenty minutes, but who cares with that scenery? John warned us that after 6 p.m. the lights are turned off, so we made sure we got down in time; you would not want to meet a car head-on in one of those tunnels!
The dam is Austria’s tallest at 200 metres and they had just opened a ‘sky-walk’, which comprised a glass-and-mesh floored platform, suspended out from the face; not for the vertically challenged! A crane was positioned on top of the dam, from which very enthusiastic Austrians were queuing to pay 120 euros to bungee-jump off.
Our plan was to go to Lake Bled in Slovenia the next day to sample their renowned cakes. Our TomTom did not cover Slovenia, but Nige’s Garmin did, so John downloaded a scenic tour of about 200 miles that didn’t involve the motorway, therefore avoiding having to pay for another motorway toll sticker for Slovenia.
We headed south and up over the Wurzen Pass. At the top, a Soviet tank reminded us that we were about to enter the old Eastern Block, as did the change in the state of the road surface!
About six miles from Bled the sat nay suddenly directed us on to a new section of motorway; Slovenia has obviously been getting its share of investment since it joined the EU. We stopped at a rest stop cafe and asked if we could buy a motorway toll sticker, but they did not sell them. “If the police catch you they will fine you 300 euros” the guy cheerfully informed us “but you look lucky” and thankfully we were!
Lake Bled is crystal clear, surrounded by the snow-capped Julian Alps. With its island church and cliff top castle it is a truly beautiful place. It was another blisteringly hot day and everywhere was very busy, but we had our cakes and continued on our way. We crossed the border again, this time into Italy. We arrived in the town of Tarvisio which looked a bit run down and wasn’t helped by the blackening sky. We decided to cut back up on the motorway but the storm caught up with us about ten miles from ‘home’. Within half-an-hour the storm passed, which was good as John had planned a barbecue for that evening.
The food at the Gasthof was excellent, and with half-board at 13 euros for three courses, was also good value. There were ten other Brits staying, mostly on BMWs, and we all had a good laugh.
Nigel and Lisa were leaving the day before us, so they went off to ride the Grossglockner High Alpine Road. We were going to ride this road to get to our next hotel in a couple of days time. We wanted to go on the Reisseck Mountain Railway. It is an exciting journey, as a funicular takes you up the mountain, at a gradient of up to 82%. to a height of 2200 metres. You then board Europe’s highest narrow-gauge railway, which is perched right on the mountain edge, until you reach the Muhldorf Dam. Later we went to the little town of Gmund, where Ferdinand Porsche built his first car and there is now a museum.
In the morning it was time to say goodbye to Nigel and Lisa. We decided to take a look at the Goldeck Panoramastrasse, twenty hairpins in total and fantastic views across Slovenia and Italy. We thought the cable car to the summit started from here, only to find out it was on the other side of the mountain, but we eventually found it and it was worth the journey.

We left in the morning to ride up over the Grossglockner High Alpine Road www.grossglockner.at which had been the inspiration for the whole holiday. It is one of the highest roads in Europe and costs a hefty 18 Euros

for its forty-eight kilometres and thirty-six hairpins. However, the road is very well maintained and there are facilities especially designed for bikers. We had a voucher from the hotel so we did not have to pay the toll charge in any case.

The approach valley is gorgeous, with forested slopes and large waterfalls. As you climb higher, the trees are left behind and you reach the snowline. We took a side road which leads to the Pasterze Glacier, which is very impressive; the people on the glacier looked like ants, such is the scale of it.

There is bike-only parking located at the main viewing area, and free lockers for you to store your helmets and jackets. They certainly know how to look after their biker guests here! The highest point of 2571 metres (8435 feet) is the Edelweisspitze. This crag is reached by an extremely steep, two kilometre long spur road, with seven hairpins, and to cap it all, it is cobbled! You would not want to ride this section in the wet. At the top is the ‘Bikers Nest’, a lookout from where over thirty mountain peaks of more than 3000 metres are visible. It is a breathtaking place.
The descent down is equally stunning, with the road built out on stilts in a lot of sections. The brake discs were glowing by the time we reached the valley floor, and with the mountains towering over us we headed for our next hotel.

The Gasthoff Friedburg (www.gasrhof­friedburg.at) is a typical Alpine chalet, set high above the valley and located up a steep, winding lane. The owner is a keen motorcyclist and speaks very good English. The room was lovely and comfortable, and the view from our balcony was superb, as was the delicious food.

We stayed here due to the proximity to the highest waterfall in Europe, the Krimml Falls. The next day we went to see the falls, which drop 380 metres in three stages. Again there was motorcycle parking, with lockers for your gear. We got very wet in the spray, but in the hear, this was actually pleasant, and when the sun caught the spray, the rainbows were exquisite.
The Gerlos Alpenstrasse is another ‘must do’ biking road that starts close by, and a you climb up its eight hairpins you get some excellent views of the whole length of the falls. When we reached the village of Gerlos we took the cable car up the mountain and sat admiring the view, with only the sound of the cow bells to disturb us.
Unfortunately it was time to start heading home. It was a lovely ride over the Thurr Pass to Kitzbuhel, before picking up the A1 motorway towards Germany. From Munich to Stuttgart the A8 was a nightmare of roadworks and traffic jams. With the temperature in the high-thirties it was worth risking the 9 Euros fine for filtering, rather than just sitting there On our way back across France we stopped off to look at the very sobering First World War battlefield of Verdun.
It had been a fabulous holiday of 270C miles, the bike ran perfectly and the weather was great, what more can you ask for?

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