Motorbike Tour of Europe – We Rode to Italy and Back

posted in: Motorcycling, Outdoors, Travel | 10

Having had a number of holidays on our motorbikes, including some touring, earlier on in the year we decided to go one step further and do a bit of credit card touring. For those of you who aren’t sure, this road trip style basically refers to a multi-day journey for which you don’t organise your accommodation ahead of time, instead working it out along the way when you’ve decided where you’ll end up (using your credit card to book/pay for things as you go).

We had a destination in mind for our motorbike tour of Europe – back in January we skied in Obergurgl and decided during that week that we wanted to see the Alps in the summer. We also wanted to ride the Timmelsjoch Pass, a beautiful winding Alpine road between Austria and Italy. With twelve days at our disposal we booked a couple of Euro Tunnel tickets and somewhere to stay on our first and last nights on the Continent, packed up our bikes with what seemed like very little stuff (read my travelling light article, one on clothing coming soon), and headed south.

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Zoe on the Train

Me and my F650GS on the train.

Those of you who know me and how introverted I am will understand that to feel happy I have to be organised. So the idea of heading all the way to Austria (and Italy) and back without the promise of a bed for the night, every night, worried me – a lot. But the adventurous side of me relished the opportunity to tour with a bit of freedom to decide which way to head on a day by day basis rather than being stuck to a specific route. My brain was torn; there were arguments in my head between letting it all go and relaxing, and wanting to write down routes and get B&Bs booked. I had to remember that we were off to explore mainland Europe, where there would be towns and cities with hotels and restaurants that were easy to find, and if we had any massive problems we could very easily turn around and go home. It sounds silly but the fact that we were relatively close to home was a great comfort, although thankfully we didn’t come across anything that required us to make use of that proximity and bail out. Phew!

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Riding

Riding in Europe. The roads were mostly fab – especially in the Black Forest.

Apart from wanting a bit of an adventure this time around, just a few weeks before we took this road trip we had found out from work that our unpaid leave had been approved, and so our big North American road trip dream was going to become reality. This un-routed trip through Europe would be the perfect trial run; we could hone our touring skills and begin to make plans based on our experiences over the two weeks. Perfect timing.

Our first day riding was all about motorway. Not the best riding by any means, but it’s quick and gets the miles done. We rode from our home in Lincolnshire down to Folkestone, via central London thanks to the Dartford Crossing being closed, all the way hoping that we would get onto the train and into France without any issues – if you think back to July and all the problems at the Tunnel there were then (Operation Stack had been in force on and off for a couple of weeks with hours and hours of delays for tourist traffic, not to mention freight!). We were pretty lucky in the grand scheme of things – there wasn’t any queue to speak of to get into the terminal, but we were delayed by about an hour to actually get on a train.

Motorbike Tour of Europe - On the Train

Our bikes on the train. 

Once in France we turned left and headed straight into Belgium and to Bruges, where we spent the night. What a lovely little town! Cobbled streets, lovely architecture. It would be a nice place for a long weekend or city break, and you can get there on the train from London which appeals and has gone on my bucket list.

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Bruges

Bruges, Belgium.

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Bruges

No idea what the glass sculpture represented, but it was pretty cool. 

I’m not going to take you through each day at a time, but rather offer up a few highlights of our trip and a few photographs of the things we saw. The first place to give a mention to is Cologne (Koln), where we ended up on our second day because the weather turned very wet and we decided to head to a city to explore rather than spend much time on winding roads that were a bit greasy. So when the rain really came down we headed onto the Autobahn and straight to Cologne, boring but got the job done and meant we still had a decent day. Did you know that Cologne Cathedral has a shrine to the Three Wise Men (from the Christmas story), said to contain their remains?

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Love Locks in Cologne

Love locks in Cologne.

We used a cool book of motorcycle rides we have to find the “Romantic Road” through Germany which is supposed to offer some great riding. The only problem was it was really busy – obviously a main route with loads of lorries using it to get from A to B. The scenery was quite lovely, and we passed through some lovely towns and villages along the way, but it was so busy it put us off a bit. One of the highlights along this part of the route was Rothenburg, a touristy and busy walled town, but well worth a visit.

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Rothernburg ob dem Tauber

The main square in Rothenburg ob dem Tauber. Clock watching. 

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Gasthof Linden

The best guest house of the tour – Gasthof Linden – huge room, lovely gardens, friendly owner who sat with us at dinner pointing out places on the map we should visit. 

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Giraffe Thing!

Came across this freaky four-headed giraffe on a random stop along the Romantic Road.

One of the biggest highlights of our tour, and the furthest south we travelled, was the ride along the Timmelsjoch Pass. A toll road starting in Hochgurgl, Austria and going into Italy, it is well known for it’s amazing views, high altitude and hairpin bends. Personally I enjoyed the views more than the riding but LincsGeek relished each bend. There are lots of places to stop along the road to admire the Alpine view, and some sculptures to enjoy too. The road is only open between June and October (ish) and there was still snow to be seen along the route, and is very popular with bikers, drivers and cyclists. We shan’t forget those views for a long time.

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Timmelsjoch Pass

The view of the Alps from the start of the Timmelsjoch Pass.

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Timmelsjoch Pass

My bike in Italy!

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Timmelsjoch Pass

Just a few hairpin bends.

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Timmelsjoch Pass

Snow in the Alps.

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Timmelsjoch Pass

Bum in Austria, feet in Italy. Just about.

After a day off the bikes in Obergurgl (read about it) it was time to start heading home, but we weren’t about to hop on the bikes and head straight for Calais. We had plenty of time and a lot more to explore. It’s quite difficult on a tour like this to decide what to see and what to miss out, as there are so many places that are worthy of a visit. We decided there were two places we really wanted to see – Lake Constance and the Black Forest. From Obergurgl we headed to Bregenz which took us over some more spectacular mountain passes, this time in and out of the cloud and rain which made for a completely different spectacle. Unfortunately Bregenz itself was so incredibly busy we didn’t end up stopping there to see the lake, but instead (after a night in a motel) we stopped once we were further around the lake and in Switzerland, and ate ice cream with a rather fabulous view.

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Hahnetennjoch Pass

Low cloud in the mountains on the Hahnetennjoch Pass.

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Lake Constance at Berlingen

Lake Constance at Berlingen. The perfect place to sit and eat ice cream.

After half a day in Switzerland we headed back into Germany. We rode along the Rhine for a while, passing Boppard which brought back loads of memories of a similar road trip I’d done with my family as a teenager. From there it was into the Black Forest where we rode some of the best roads of the trip – quiet and fast, sweeping bends, amazing views.

Motorbike Tour of Europe - River Rhine in Lorch

The River Rhine. 

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Black Forest

In the Black Forest. Some seriously good riding here.

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Schiltach in the Black Forest

Schiltach in the Black Forest, a beautiful little traditional town perfect for an overnight stop.

Naturally, before heading back home, we had to make a stop at the Nurburgring just to see it. We didn’t ride it – our insurance doesn’t cover race tracks and to be honest I wouldn’t be confident sharing a track with loads of idiots on sports bikes (some riders/drivers were bad enough even on the roads in the area!), but it was great to see.

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Nurburgring

The Nurburgring.

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Nurburgring

Our ride to Italy and back took us and our bikes twelve days and 2,243 miles through eight different European countries. We had all kinds of weather from 30+ degrees under a blue sky to torrential rain and low cloud, testing us and our kit and teaching us that flexibility is key when it comes to motorcycle touring for fun. We stayed in some great guest houses and poor motels, ate all kinds of food, saw some amazing sights and had an absolutely brilliant time. And, thankfully, the whole credit card touring thing really worked – once we got into a routine after the first couple of days we were both very relaxed and had a proper holiday.

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Mountain Views

Riding towards the mountains.

We learnt a lot on this trip that will be useful when we head over to Canada and the USA next summer (six months to go!), including about what we should and shouldn’t pack, how to read between the lines of Trip Advisor reviews, when to just head to McDonald’s and order chicken nuggets, what order to do things in when arriving at a new guest house, how many miles we can reasonably expect to do in a day, and other such lessons. I hope we get an opportunity to explore more of mainland Europe in this way in the future, but first we have a very important and much longer trip to get organised.

Motorbike Tour of Europe - Map

Our route.

 

10 Responses

  1. Shybiker

    Fascinating! I love travel reports and this is a great one. They allow motorcycles on trains there? The very concept blows my mind. There isn’t a train in North American that does that. Bicycles yes, motorcycles no. Great idea.

    • Splodz

      Glad you enjoyed my little report 🙂
      Yea this is the Euro Tunnel, a vehicle train that goes from the UK to France. It’s very handy and means we can easily get over to mainland Europe, takes about 30-40 minutes – well after 3.5 hours riding to get to the terminal that is!

  2. bigdavezz

    Hi Zoe,
    neat trip report.. can I ask what you used to plot your route on the map above? I’ve used the EatSleepRide app for iphone before which is pretty good. Looking to use GPS tracking next year on our Wild West Tour to post daily maps to my blog.

    BigD

    • Splodz

      Thanks. We used the SpotWalla website and SWconnect app to track our movements, it was really easy to use (when we remembered to set it going) and has proved very interesting to look back at. We shall definitely be using it again for our next tour.
      Which date are you doing Wild West? We chatted to Tim from The Lost Adventure on the Eagle Rider stand at the bike show yesterday and were reminiscing about our trip.

      • bigdavezz

        Hi Zoe,

        thanks for the info I’ll take a look at Spotwalla..

        We are headed out on the Wild West Tour next May. Me and Kate made a point of visiting Tim too at the bike show. Had a good chat with him and La-La (she was the other tour leader when we did Route 66 with Tim last year) and was really good to catch up with them both.
        We spent quite a bit at the show too, getting some stuff for our Wild West trip… and we’ve decided the bike for us is the Indian Roadmaster. Tim’s looking into it for us….

      • Splodz

        Oh the Indian Roadmaster looks so nice, very good choice! How exciting. We shall be in the USA at the same time… you never know we might bump into you!

  3. Alison

    What a fabulous trip. I remember the Black Forest and lots of trolls at various stops. Gorgeous photos. Thanks for linking to outand about

  4. Galina V

    OMG, those hairpin bends leave me all aflutter just looking at them. I always admire your sense of adventure. Lots of beautiful memories.

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