France, Italy, Austria & the Tirol, Germany & the Obersalzberg, Switzerland, France
Written by Martin de Cayless
As many BM Riders Club members will already know I run a Bed and Breakfast for motorcyclists in the South of France. As such it is impossible for me to get away during the season, so every year I make room at the beginning and/or the end of the season. After all, all year long I cater to motorcyclists on holiday and it wouldn’t be a “proper” motorcyclists B&B if the patron didn’t go anywhere on his motorcycle.
My motorcycle for these getaways is a 1989 BMW R100GS that at present has in excess of 230,000 km on the clock. Originally purchased years ago as a back up motorcycle for my guided tours, she has stood the test of time; the other makes have come & gone but the GS has stayed.
Day One: Coursan, Aude, to Castellane, Haute Provence
Total for day = 405km . Weather: Sunny but windy. Temp: 8°c / 16°c
I set off from Coursan just outside of Narbonne and will take the old “D” routes wherever possible, direction Castellane in Provence on the Route Napoléon (a fantastic route for motorcyclists) where I intend to camp for the night. At Arles I notice that the right hand side carb is leaking fuel onto and through my boot! I pull over to the side of the road and see what the problem could be. A section is cut from the hose that connects to the carb from the fuel tank to ensure a snugger fit, but this is not the problem. Removing the float bowl reveals a jammed float with the needle also stuck allowing fuel to flow constantly. Easily rectified and five minutes later I am on the road again, the petrol on my right boot fortunately evaporating. I continue to Brignoles and then towards Draguignan before turning north to Comps s/ Artuby. I take the extremely scenic D955 into Castellane. Truly beautiful scenery with rivers and gorges following the road, a recommended route. I arrive in Castellane and look for “Les Lavendes” campground a small family run affair. I find a pitch that looks towards the old town of Castellane, with its ancient chapel perched high above the town on a rocky crag. After setting up the tent, I decide that a good walk into Castellane is in order. I have seen enough of the motorcycle for today...much as I love it.....so after changing into something far more comfortable I head into Castellane.
Castellane is a glorious old town on the route Napoléon and truly merits a visit. Old stone facades painted in the bright pastel colours of Provence, stone fountains, and old men playing pétanque in the square...how much more typically French can you get? I decide that a walk up to the chapel on the rock “Notre Dame du Roc” is in order. It is a long and arduous walk and I kick myself soon afterwards but I continue....puffing and panting the whole way. What a walk. Good for the system.....if you don’t suffer a coronary en route that is! Finally I arrive at the summit. It is well worth the climb. The views are magnificent. The chapel is open, the inside decorated with plaques and paintings on all available wall space many dating back several hundred years. The centre piece is a gold gilded statue of the virgin and child. The walk back down goes a lot smoother. Back in Castellane I buy a few groceries and a small bottle of red wine before heading back to “Les Lavendes”. A well named campsite as the smell of lavender is everywhere and very pleasant indeed. Dusk is falling as I fix my evening meal. Tonight a good cassoulet (ok so it came in a can...but it is a good one), with a glass or two of red wine. I get the stove fired up and we’re on our way. Fresh bread too. The chapel on the rock is lit up and is a wonderful site so get the camera and tripod out. A photo not to miss!! Then straight to bed.
Day Two: Castellane, France to Lake Garda, Italy, via the Col de Lombard.
Total for day = 586km. Weather: am France, sunny but cool, followed later in central Italy by heavy outbursts of rain. By pm Lake Garda dry. Temp: –2°c / 16°c
After eating a good French breakfast with a hot cup of Ricoré coffee its on with my warm weather motorcycle gear, warm up the BMW then head into Castellane where I buy some fresh bread for sandwiches. Today I intend to ride up to and through the Gorges de Daluis and then cross into Italy via the Alps and the Col de Lombarde. A fantastic route. The higher the better the scenery gets. The gorges are well worth a visit, completely unspoilt and go on for miles and miles. The only part of this first leg I find not agreeable is Isola 2000 a modern ski resort carved into the side of the mountain on the French side of the Col de Lombard. Building is going on there for all it is worth, ski slopes and cable car lifts hacked into the previously magnificent mountainside; how can you call this beautiful? The mountainside is ruined forever! I pass through the ski resort and the road becomes instantly much more winding and narrow as I climb towards the Italian border.
On reaching the border there is a strange but marked difference between the French side and the Italian side. The Italian side is heavenly it really is. The road is almost a track, single lane and paved but that is about it. There are small copses and lakes with not a soul, a building or a vehicle in sight. The road is one of the most beautiful roads I have ever ridden on. Watch out for the cow pats on the road and the cows that freely wonder the road.
I reach the main road and turn right heading towards Cuneo. The idea is now to make up some time by taking the main roads and autostrada towards Lake Garda. The beautiful scenery is gone and I am now on what I consider the most boring and un scenic part of the journey so far. Just outside of Asti I decide to get on the autostrada. At Piacenza the dark clouds I saw in the distance on my left all day long have converged with me. It starts to rain. I finally get off the autostrada at Brescia and head for the western side of Lake Garda.
I ride along a wet lake frontage road finally stumbling on a hotel that looks decent and looks as if will be reasonably priced. The “Hotel 3 Lampioni”in Troscalano. The hotel is clean and tidy with marble floors and marble stairs as seems to be common in Italy. En suite single for 30 euros per night. Perfect. Up to the room and a quick shower. Crank up the hot water...and there is plenty of it. Then quickly put on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt before heading down to the restaurant. I order a sea food spaghetti which arrives within minutes. It is absolutely piled high with mussels, clams, calamar and chunks of cod, all in a fantastic sauce. The pasta is cooked as only Italians can cook a pasta. Nobody else comes even close. This is W..O..N..D..E..R..F..U..L The red wine, whilst just a table wine is equally good. The price? Fifteen euros with the wine. Fantastic value. I choose a sorbet for desert and finish off with a coffee & a Cognac. Then its up to my room where I hit the sack and am asleep in seconds.
Day Three: Lake Garda to Mittersill Austria via the Felbertauern Tunnel
Total for day = 378km. Weather: Bright and sunny, not a cloud and no rain both were forecast for this area for the next two days....just goes to show how accurate 21st century weather forecasting is! Sunny into Austria but the higher I get the cooler it becomes. Temp: 12°c / -6°c
I wake up early, partly due to the main road that runs outside the hotel. A nice enough place but if I was staying several nights I would want a room on the back......that backs onto Lake Garda.
Down to breakfast. A simple one but a good one, take care of the bill; go up to my room and pack my things. The weather is sunny this morning. I hope it will hold. The last weather forecast I saw for this region had predicted rain on Saturday.....so for now the Gods are with me....sunny but cool. I put on my layers as today I will be heading into the Dolomites and then the Tirol Alps....where however sunny it may be, warm it will not. All in all the BMW has been very comfortable. Just before I left home I replaced the foam in the seat (which I had recovered and refoamed only the year before) which was leaving me in agony on all but the shortest rides. The upholsterer had used a foam which would be fine in an armchair but not on a motorcycle. The result was that after several hundred kilometres the foam would compress offering no support and virtually leaving me sitting on the seat frame. I sourced some high impact foam cut it to size and then glued in multiple layers and re stapled the cover back in place. The new seat trimmed and fitted by yours truly has worked wonders, and has made the old GS a pleasure to ride. And....all for the princely sum of TEN euros.
I choke the BMW and then crank her up and let her warm whilst I get kitted up. She runs much better warm. Direction today, Bolzano and then Austria. The road alongside Lake Garda is stunning. The small town of Limone absolutely amazing with its colourful rows of houses, restaurants and shops bordering the lake then via Rive del Garda.
Too soon it’s goodbye to the beautiful captivating Lake Garda and along the valley towards Trento. The scenery changes and there are fields of fruit trees lining the road. In the distance are mountain peaks with snow on them. At Trento I head on towards Bolzano. After Bolzano the road narrows considerably and we are on route for the “Passo del Brennero” or Brenner Pass that lies between Italy and Austria. The plan is to turn off just after Bressanone and take the route that runs to Lienz, Austria. The scenery is fantastic. I take the route towards Lienz, a route with not too much traffic on it. The Dolomites start to appear and I pull over to take a photograph or two.
Now in Austria, I refuel (noticing that petrol is much cheaper in a landlocked Austria than in France.??). Then its off in the direction of that famous pass the Grossglockner. The higher I get the more snow there is until I reach a point where the route is blocked off. The pass is closed....due to heavy snow last night, they hope to have it open by tomorrow afternoon. I turn the BMW around and decide to take the route North towards Mittersill. I will try again tomorrow. It is very cold indeed on the motorcycle and I wish I had heated grips.
As I climb higher towards Mittersill there are signs that a really heavy snow storm has passed this way recently, with snow piled well over a metre deep at the roadside and the trees flocked. Then it is into the Febertauern Tunnel. The cost an extortionate 8 euros but there is no other choice; this is the only route. The inside of the tunnel is warm ...it’s wonderful especially after the bitter cold outside. The tunnel is long over 5km and when I emerge the other side it is into a serious snow storm. The road is covered with a few inches of fresh snow and I end up following a snow plough down the mountain. This type of riding is exhausting mentally and physically. The kilometres seem to creep by. By the time I am at the foot of the mountain all of my energy is sapped and I am ready to find a hotel. The BMW and myself are both plastered in snow, I am physically shattered and my riding ability totally sapped. To push it any further than necessary today would be foolish indeed.
I come into Aurach, a small village where through the now thick fog I see the lights of a hotel. I go see if there is a room available. There is. The room has a large double bed, an en suite with a large cast iron bath tub...which will be appreciated. Furniture is in the typical Austrian style of beautifully decorated hand painted pine. There is also a restaurant which is open at eight. Perfect. Good hot bath and then down to the restaurant. A superb Austrian steak with garlic sauce and a glass of good German red wine. Followed by appfelstrudel and finished off with a fine French Cognac. Then it’s off to bed.
Day Four: The Hotel Zum Türken, the Berghof and the Obersalzberg
Total for day = 305km. Weather: Foggy cold start to the morning. Freezing fog clearing to a bright very sunny if very cool day. Temp : -3°c / 6°c
I wake up early and look outside.....FOG....and lots of it. Hopefully it will burn off as visibility is currently twenty metres at most. It’s minus 4°c outside and after I knock the ice off the BMW I kick her over a couple of times (great things kick starters!) just to loosen things up a little, then thumb the starter and she bursts straight into life. Quality engineering. I head out north towards St Johann in Tirol. The fog is starting to break and the peaks of the snow covered mountains are bathed in early morning sunlight. A magnificent way to bring in the morning. The air is so clean and fresh and invigorating...fantastic. A perfect time of year with the mountains covered in snow, a blue sky and the trees with their autumnal colours.
I take the road towards Bad Reichenhall and from there cut across country following the signs for Berchtesgaden. The scenery is absolutely stunning as I work my way up into the mountains. Picture postcard beautiful and everything so clean. Berchtesgaden is packed, people and cars everywhere. I will visit maybe tomorrow when everybody is back at work. I decide to visit the nearby Obersalzberg to see the places where many of the events that would shape our modern world were enacted or at least planned.. Unfortunately the Obersalzberg area of the Bavarian Alps gained international fame not for its outstanding beauty of mountains and lakes but from being the “home” of Herr Hitler. Apart from the “Wolfsschanze” this was where Hitler spent most of his time during World War II. There are no road signs for any of this and few maps show this area in great detail, after 65 years it is still a sensitive subject. I follow my home printed maps into the Obersalzberg and find myself surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen anywhere in the world. I am looking for the all new Intercontinental 5 star hotel. This hotel has been built on the place where Gorings house once stood, so in itself provides a good starting point for anyone wanting to visit the area in more detail. Just down from the brand new Intercontinental (apparently a hotel that vets both its clients and its staff for Nazi connections/intentions!) in an idyllic setting is the old Hotel Zum Türken. This was a private hotel on the Obersalzberg until the 1940’s when forcefully purchased (at a bargain price I would imagine) to become the new headquarters and barracks of the Führers personal SS guard. A system of bunkers and tunnels was then constructed under the hotel linking it with all the houses of the other top officials on the Obersalzberg. It served in this capacity until 1945 when it was severely damaged during the RAF’s heavy bombing of the Obersalzberg. After the war the hotel was bought back by its original owner and eventually restored to its former glory. To this day owned and run by the same family.
Reaching the Zum Türken I see a small sign advertising the bunker system. Three euros to visit. I go down a concrete spiral staircase underneath the hotel. This was the main entrance to the bunker system, a massive system of tunnels and rooms. There are hundreds of metres of tunnels, stairways, rooms and even machine gun posts. Some of it has seen action (see photo!) Some rooms are still signed and several tunnels bricked up. One that is marked “Hitler Haus” dead ends (bricked wall) but originally led (and probably still does) to the Führers bunker complete with guard rooms, kitchen, dining room, bedrooms etc.....all designed to be self sufficient, and all supplied with water from an underground well system that still works to this day...having not been serviced since 1945! Typical German engineering. Not only are there tunnels everywhere but at several different levels, a real maze.
Enough of the tunnels. Back above ground I decide to try and find where the Berghof once stood.....it should be only a matter of metres away from the hotel and I start downhill. Almost immediately I come to a couple of overgrown but once obviously tarmac covered tracks on the left hand side. I pull into the first one. This first entrance according to the map was the goods entrance and the second the main drive where famous guests would be greeted. Now there is absolutely nothing. I follow a well walked track into the undergrowth finally coming to a flat area. This must have been where the Berghof once stood. Back in towards the hill are the remains of the concrete retaining wall with trees growing through what was once the ground floor of the Berghof.
In front of me the view is that of the infamous “room with a view”, the picture window that Hitler had designed that would disappear into the house leaving a massive open window overlooking the mountains and his native Austria. I get out the camera and set it up to take as close as possible a shot “from the window”. A strange chilly feeling makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
A bit of background on the Berghof:
The Berghof started life as the much smaller mountain chalet “Haus Wachenfeld” built in 1916 by one Otto Winter, as a holiday home. By 1928 Winters widow had rented the house to Hitler. By 1933 Hitler had managed to purchase Haus Wachenfeld with the monies received from the sale of Mein Kampf *(or “My Life”...probably better translated as “My Struggle”), written whilst in prison.
By 1935 Hitler started to rebuild and expand Haus Wachenfeld renaming it the Berghof (or mountain house). No expense was spared. A large terrace was built and decorated with large colourful, beach resort style canvas umbrellas. The main dining room was panelled with hugely expensive cembra pine. His library was crammed with books on architecture, history, painting, and music. The great hall furnished with expensive Teutonic furniture complete with a large globe (showing current German conquests of course) not forgetting the beautiful huge red marble fireplace. The great hall even contained a small projection booth hidden behind one wall, for evening screenings of movies (including “banned” Hollywood productions). Many colour home movies made by Eva Braun survived the war and show Hitler relaxing with his guests at the Berghof. These guests included not only political figures but also painters, singers and musicians from throughout the modern world. Smoking on the property was only allowed on this terrace. Hitler did not smoke and strictly forbid smoking elsewhere. (He was also a tea totaller, a vegetarian...and loved animals......just goes to show you never can tell!!). The Berghof served as Adolph Hitler’s principal residence for for less than ten years.
The Berghof featured in many top selling worldwide designer magazines of the time. In an issue of the American Homes & Gardens in 1938 Hitler was famously quoted as saying to a journalist. “This place is mine, I built it with money that I earned.” Not to be outdone British Homes & Gardens magazine credited Hitler as being “his own decorator, designer, and furnisher, as well as architect” describing his Berghof as “bright and airy” with “a light jade green colour scheme.” It also noted that caged “Hartz mountain” canaries were kept in many of the rooms which were furnished with German eighteenth century antiques. The house was maintained in the style of a grand hotel with several housekeepers, cooks, gardeners, chauffeurs and other domestics. Hitler had his own personal vegetarian chef (who was not vegetarian) with his diet coming mainly from nearby newly constructed kitchen gardens and a large on site greenhouse. By the mid 1930s the Berghof had become so much of a tourist attraction that it was deemed necessary for the security of the Führer to impose severe restrictions on access to the area. In April of 1945 the Berghof and the surrounding mountainside complex was almost totally destroyed during RAF bombing. A few days later it was set on fire by retreating German SS troops, then systematically looted after American troops reached the area (A search on the internet will amaze one as to the amount of furnishings, silverware, pictures etc that were removed from the Berghof & surrounding homes by American troops in 1945...and for sale). Talk about pillaging!! This looting was applied equally to each and every of the other houses and buildings on the Obersalzberg. Literally tons and tons of artifacts were looted, transported on US army trucks and then shipped via American ships to the US. Unbelievable. The ruins of the Berghof stood until the Bavarian government (pressured by the Americans) finally gave the order for them to be blown up, so on the anniversary of Hitler's birthday in 1953 the remains of the Berghof were finally blown off the side of the mountain.
Back on the motorcycle and into Berchtesgaden. I would like to visit more without the tourists...so maybe tomorrow. Heading South towards Mittersill I come to the Thurn Pass and see a beautiful traditional log cabin style gasthof on my left as I take a corner. The front of the hotel is an amazing sight covered in flower boxes with brightly coloured flowers and bright coloured umbrellas on the terrace. I stop as soon as I am able to safely do so, turn the motorcycle around and go back. This will do nicely....in fact perfectly. I check in and then have a cold beer on the terrace in the last of the sun.
Day Five: Berchtesgaden, The Obersalzberg & The “Eagles Nest”
Total for day = 449km. Weather:Bright and sunny. Foggy in the am with a spectacular view of the Thurn Pass from the hotel itself! Temp: -8°c / 8°c
A cold crisp morning....-8°c......in the sun! I kick the BMW over a few times before even thinking about hitting the electrical starter. She fires up easily and I let her warm as I proceed to knock the thick ice off the handlebars and tank. I take several photos of the hotel, it really is splendid with all the flowers and the early morning sun, backed by snow covered mountains. A real postcard hotel. I have really enjoyed my stay here and wish it were for more than one night. Oh well maybe next year.
I decide to go to Berchtesgaden, see the town and then to the “Eagles Nest” . Fortunately Berchtesgaden is far quieter today....everybody is back at work. It is extremely scenic with its old central fountain and buildings many of them painted with frescoes of typical German Bavarian peasants and burgermeisters. It is not as sunny or warm as it was yesterday otherwise I could easily be tempted to sit in outside at one of the many street cafes with an expresso in the sunshine and watch the world go by for a while.
Back to the bike direction the Obersalzberg. I ride up into the hills admiring the scenery and before I know it I am at the parking for the “Kehlsteinhaus” or “Eagles Nest”.
The Kehlsteinhaus or “The Eagles Nest”
I buy my ticket for the next bus up to the Eagles Nest and wait for the bus to take us up the private road to the entrance tunnel. It is possible to walk up there but it looks rather a long walk... at the least a couple of hours..uphill...seriously uphill.......so maybe more. The road up to the Eagles Nest is quite amazing and it would be worth the entrance fee for a ride up this road alone. The views off the mountain are spectacular, and the drop off....vertical for several hundred metres. The bus winds it way slowly up to the drop off point in low gear, the ride up taking a good fifteen minutes.
The bus arrives at the parking lot opposite the entrance to the tunnel that leads into the mountain. The tunnel was hewn out of solid granite and runs for over a hundred metres into the mountain before entering into a dome roofed room, where the elevator ride giving access to the Eagles Nest some 124 metres above begins. The elevator itself is something to behold and is completely original. The entire surface of the inside is surfaced with highly polished brass, and complete with Venetian mirrors and green leather. The elevator is operated by the original massive Mann diesel engine hidden inside the mountain, still used daily and maintained in perfect order.
Out of the elevator and we are in the hallway of the Kehlsteinahaus itself. In the main reception room (today a restaurant and open to the public) a large fireplace of red Italian marble. This fireplace was presented to Adolf Hitler by Benito Mussolini. The edges are now much chipped away, vandalism by American soldiers wanting a souvenir (I have recently seen certificated (?) pieces of this red marble for sale on the internet!). The weather is clear but it is cold and there is much snow still standing. Be careful where you walk....a slip on the snow in the wrong place and a long long drop will be your fate. The views are spectacular views with Mozart's town of Salzberg in the distance and in the other direction Lake Konigsee. I decide to get out before it gets too busy and get the next bus down the mountain.
Background on the “Eagles Nest”
The Kehlsteinhaus was built by the Nazi party as a 50th birthday present for Adolf Hitler, commissioned by Martin Bormann. It was to be a retreat for Hitler and a place for the German state to entertain visiting dignitaries. Although the Kehlsteinhaus is on the same mountain as the Berghof and only a matter of minutes drive away, Hitler apparently only visited a handful of times, never staying longer than a matter of minutes. He suffered from Vertigo and this is perhaps the reason. Construction took only 13 months quite an engineering feat even by today's standards and that includes the mountain road and tunnels. It is situated on a ridge at the top of the Kehlstein mountain (1834 m) that it took its name from. The road is amazing, some 6.5 km long that in its time cost some 30 million Reichsmark to construct (somewhere around 150 million euros in 2008 terms).
In 1945 Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe, later President of the United States, claimed that the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division were the first to take Eagle's Nest. However, General Maxwell D. Taylor, Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division claimed it was his men of the 101st. Photographs and newsreel footage show 3rd Infantry soldiers relaxing on the Eagle's Nest patio, "drinking Hitler's wine". Other groups also claim to be the first include Easy Company of the 2nd Battalion 506th Regiment and the French 9th Armoured Company (composed mostly of Spanish Republican volunteers). The Kehlsteinhaus' museum states that it was “captured” by a unit of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division.
Regardless as to who actually “captured” the Kehsteinhaus, apparently no one was able to enter for a period of several days as the entrance could not be found to the generators which power the elevator shaft. The importance of this is that as a result there was surprisingly little “liberation” of artifacts by the liberating armies (.... the Americans....). Subsequently it was used until 1960 by the Allies as a military command post, before being handed back over to the State of Bavaria in the 1990’s.
Back at the motorcycle I decide to start heading back towards France, so ride towards Berchtesgaden then take the autobahn direction Munich and then to Innsbruck. Hopefully I can cover a decent amount of kilometres. From Innsbruck via autobahn to Landeck before turning off and taking the road to Susch. It is getting darkish by the time I reach Susch, but the plan is to follow the road as far as Chur and spend the night there. I cross the “Fuelapass”, it has to be the coldest most desolate pass I have ever ridden. The roads are starting to freeze over in places so I take it very easy indeed. Mile after mile of nothing and then I come across an old style coaching Inn in the middle of this barren landscape. There are lights inside and it is open but I continue onwards...I just want out of here and figure out that surely civilisation cannot be that far away. The minutes pass; they seem like hours.....maybe they are hours. I am cold, miserable and all I want to do is get out of this mountain range, get a nice hotel and get a good hot shower and a good nights sleep. As always I have pushed it too far and should have stopped fifty or a hundred kilometres ago...before I ever saw this Fuelapass.
Finally I start to work my way down the mountain. I pass houses set back in the woods. A good sign, there will be more. And sure enough there are. I come into a town...I miss the name completely and decide I am stopping at the first hotel I come across. After crossing an intersection, there is ...surely a mirage, a beautiful...almost regal looking hotel off to my left. The foyer is lit by a massive outdoor chandelier and there are a couple of cars in the driveway. Looks like I may be in luck. As I get closer it would seem that luck is not in the cards. The “cars” in front of the hotel are a brand new Bentley Continental and an Aston Martin Vantage. Hmmmm. I pull up outside and feel already as if I am trespassing in my old motorcycle gear. Very nice indeed.....and the price? Ah here it is.....the small print......485 Swiss Francs for a single room!! I would hazard a guess that one would not see much change out of 350 euros at current rates. I continue onwards. I ride through the main street of the town and see several other equally luxuriously appointed establishments with equally impressive porticos and names. This is too much........... there are no “normal” hotels for “normal” people that I can see. It is then that I see the name of the town..... Davos/Klosters. Somewhere a bell rings deep. I have heard of this name before. This is where the rich and the even richer come to go skiing. This is where royalty comes. Great......so much for a good reasonable priced hotel here then.
I continue out of town in the hopes of finding something more reasonable. A few kilometres down the road I come to a hotel. From the outside nothing extra special. It is open too. Inside the hotel is really really nice...maybe too nice? They have a room and it is 65 euros....if I am paying by cash. I hurriedly pay my 65 euros and am “signed” in, shown to my room which is a really nice old room panelled in antique pine with a large four poster bed. This will work quite nicely....a bargain in fact. Time for a hot hot shower methinks, and then a good hot meal in the hotels restaurant. Intentions, good intentions. I take a fantastic hot shower......get out, dry off and turn on the TV to see what the weather will bring tomorrow. Somewhere in between, given the warmth of the room and the relaxing of the shower...I fall asleep. I awake an hour later, much the better for my short nap but not much the better knowing the hotel restaurant is now well and truly closed. There is a mini bar in my room. Tonight's meal will be...let me see....... a cold Swiss beer, a bag of assorted nuts and some pretzels. I drink the beer, which actually is a very good malted dark beer and down the nuts & pretzels.
Day Six: Switzerland; Overalp Pass, Furka Pass, Grimsel Pass,
Total for day = 645km. Weather: Foggy & cold in the am, cold in the mountains, sunny in the pm Temp: -2°c / 7°c
The Overalp pass (6,197ft) is beautiful, the old GS perfect for the route. I fill one of my water bottles from a mountain stream high on the pass (after checking for cow sheep etc in the vicinity and I quote Will Rogers “Never drink downstream from the herd!”). The water is crystal clear and comes directly from the run off from the snow above. It tastes excellent. I continue on into Andermatt a beautiful small town nestled in the valley between passes. It really is oldy worldy with its cobbled streets ...which would be fun on the motorcycle in the wet I am sure....and its old Swiss chalet styled houses and shops.
Out of Andermatt and direction the Furka Pass. At the top of the Furka I stop to take some photographs of the scenery and the view of the Grimsel Pass and the Rhone Glacier (source of the river Rhône) on the other side.
After the Furka I decide to give the Grimsel a go. I turn off at Gletsch for the Grimsel and start the climb up to the pass and lake. I hit the peak and it is crystal clear....the views fantastic, the lake, the mountains, the snow, everything. I park the motorcycle and get off to take photographs. At last I have seen the Grimsel Pass.....the one and same as in the old black and white photographs my late father took when here in 1952 on his old BSA Gold Flash that he had ridden from England to Southern Italy and back via Switzerland. He would have loved it today.
Back down the Grimsel, towards Brig and Martigny. I head around Lake Geneva before turning towards Annecy and then Grenoble where I join the Route Napoléon....very scenic and a really good road....especially for motorcyclists It’s starting to get dark and I am hoping to reach Castellane tonight around seven pm or so, in time to pitch the tent and spend a last night camping. It is not to be. It is getting dark as I am come up behind a slow moving truck placed to overtake when something is either picked up by it wheels or falls off of it and comes flying into my motorcycle. I saw a blur, I felt the impact as it hits the front headlight surround, knocking out my headlight immediately and shaking the motorcycle considerably. Fortunately, very fortunately, the small bikini style fairing on the GS took the impact and deflected the object out of my path, otherwise it would have taken me clean off of the motorcycle. I brake as hard as I can bringing her to a complete stop in almost total darkness....not an easy feat. The impact has knocked out the headlight and ripped off the fittings that attach the small headlamp/cockpit fairing to the motorcycle itself, leaving the fairing almost dangling form the motorcycle, held in place by the wiring harness and the speedometer cable. I have lost both low and high beam but am able to get the parking light to work and with the help of a couple of bungee cords am able to make a temporary repair of sorts. I limp the motorcycle towards the next town some 15 kilometres away.....there is absolutely nothing in between. There under street lamps and for the first time I am able to access the damage. It looks from the impact marks as though it was a large chunk of tyre rubber. I make a temporary repair using a roll of electrical tape and bungee cords and put in my spare headlight bulb and fix the torn wiring harness. I have headlights! Back on the road I now have no hope of making Castellane tonight and will find a hotel as soon as possible. I come across a motel style hotel within ten minutes. It is a nice enough looking place and I pull in.
Day Seven: North of Sisteron to Coursan
Total: for day = 387km. Weather: Horrendous...really really horrible!!!! And cold...very cold. And Rain lots and lots of it...riding hell really!! Temp: 2°c / 8°c
I awake to a really terrible wind blowing outside. Trees outside my window bending and branches snapping off! I get up pack up and load everything onto the motorcycle, checking my repair of last night. It will hold. After breakfast I fire up the old BMW and decide to get on the the péage at Sisteron to try and out run the weather. No luck. Within minutes the biggest deluge I have seen unleashes. The rain so heavy that I cannot see where I am going! The trucks are throwing up so much water that it is impossible to see either them or any cars that may be in the near vicinity. Not good for a motorcyclist! I have my bright yellow waterproofs on but it is still far too risky. I have had enough and decide to take the next exit. With the storm still in full swing. I continue on the old road that runs parallel taking the turning signed Apt and Avignon. I am still dry and my waterproofs are doing a great job although I know that from many many years of experience this will not continue. I am starting to get cold too. I finally arrive in Avignon an hour and a half later now wet, cold and miserable. The rain is not quite so bad as it was earlier and the autoroute from Avignon will have me back home in around two hours, so I get on, open the throttle and sit there getting blasted by filthy roadspray. I pass Nîmes, Montpellier and Béziers before exiting. By now I am completely soaked. Two hours and fifteen minutes later I pull into my courtyard, walk into the house trailing & dropping wet gear everywhere and make a beeline for a good HOT shower.
Home Sweet Home!
The old GS was fine apart from the fuel problem at the very beginning which took a whole ten minutes to sort out. The GS never missed a beat and started easily under adverse conditions each time, every time. The high passes......getting on for close to 8,000 feet......the Furka and Grimsel posed no problems and the engine just purred. At the very highest altitudes there was a slight hesitation at 3000 rpm but nothing serious. She hardly used a drop of engine oil, maybe a couple of tablespoonfuls, although the oil in the gearbox was filthy after all those mountain roads and passes and all that constant shifting of gears. Not to worry. After every similar trip she has all oils and fluids changed regardless. The headlight and fairing have been repaired and are now as good as new, in fact probably better then new as I used this as an opportunity to make a quick clip system for the fairing and headlamp so now I can change a lightbulb in less than 5 minutes with ease.....unlike before where it was a real pain as any old style GS owner will tell you. Now its just four quick clips and two philips screws and I’m in business. The Metzler Sahara Enduro tyres were fantastic and I will be putting the same ones on again. Sure they are enduro rather than road biased but that should be evident in the name. Still on the road they handle really really well in all weather conditions and have good tread life. With the GS I get around 10-12,000km from the back and around 20,000km from the front which in my book is good value for money.
I saw most of the things I wanted to see and a few that I hadn’t really planned on seeing. The crossing of the Alps into Italy via the Col de la Lombarde stays in my mind as does riding around Lake Garda, even though I have been there several times. Then the Tirol with its magnificent mountain scenery and the beautiful autumnal colours of the leaves.....part of the reason I wanted to go at this time of the year. ....and the snow...which wasn’t part of the reason. Bavaria and the Obersalzberg in Germany was very beautiful scenic wise and very interesting from a historical point of view. I am glad I visited; you read the books, you see the films but it is almost surreal, this bought it home and made it very real. Switzerland and in particular the Grimsel Pass had to be done, it was a personal thing. Be warned that riding all these passes grows on you. I have several friends who have a book where they note each of the passes they have ridden, and each year they ride different ones adding them to their list. I used to think that this was ridiculous and a bit like train spotting, but now I find myself mentally planning my next trip around a good pass or two. So I apologise ( I know several will read this!!). They were right, it really is contagious. So all in all a fantastic trip and one I can recommend to anyone who enjoys their motorcycling mixed with a lot of nature, some very relevant history and unimaginable beauty. Another big plus is that it is not too far away from the UK or most of mainland Europe either.
So until next time!!
de Cayless, Martin