story & photos by Ray Nielsen
Last spring my daughter and I enjoyed a spectacular 12-day motorcycle tour through the Alps from Germany to France, into Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Austria and back through Germany to Munich. The weather was perfect, warm and sunny with no rain the whole time so our rain gear didn’t even get tested. The roads were excellent, mostly small country roads with little traffic, the switchbacks in the high mountains were exciting and the countryside we travelled through was so picturesque and varied.
We joined the Edelweiss Bike Travel Group and chose the 17 – 28 May trip. Not knowing what to expect weather-wise, and knowing that some mountain passes don’t open until July, we had to plan for snow, rain and fog. We prepared for the worst by taking full rain gear, including boot covers, heated vests and heated gloves as well. Edelweiss rents at least 20 different types of motorcycles, so everyone is able to use their favorite size and style. If you have never travelled in Europe and never in the Alps, there is the opportunity to take lessons beforehand so the extreme curves don’t take you by surprise. Our trip did not involve gravel roads but some of their trips do.
Our group of nine bikes and 13 people left Munich and headed north, passing through towns and villages that still have cobblestones and parts of city walls. Our first night was in a grand old hotel in Rothenberg where our luggage was waiting for us at the end of the day. The meals throughout the trip were all first class and the hotels excellent. Having tented outside the city years ago, I knew the way to walk around the city walls and we had time after dinner to take a little tour. On our second day, we biked through the Odenwald forest with plenty of twisty, hilly roads to keep us happy and spent the night in Heidelberg.
Each morning, we ate buffet-style breakfast between 7 and 8 and then met for a detailed information session about the day’s routes, which always included two possibilities. The guide travelled with the original plan and as long as there were at least two bikes choosing the alternate route, they were free to meet the rest of the group at the end of the day. We spent two nights at Obernai, France. The second day was a free day. We didn’t have to stay with the group, just meet at night for food and lodging. Heidi and I chose to join an Australian couple and biked to Strasbourg, a very large, interesting city. We took a river cruise and still had some time for sightseeing. It was especially helpful, entering the city, to be using their GPS and it also made finding small country roads very easy, allowing us to avoid the highways.
From there we travelled back into Germany, crossing the Rhine on a very small ferry and then through the Black Forest. This is where cuckoo clocks originated, so there were cuckoo clocks everywhere! We had fun riding through dense forests and higher mountains stopping at Titisee for the night. This area is much like Banff, Alberta, and folk were there to enjoy the scenery, lake and hiking trails.
The days were full, leaving by 9 each morning and stopping by 5:30 p.m. We couldn’t stop to take every picture we would have liked, but some couples had the passenger snapping away or taking movies. We hope they keep their word and send us some, as Heidi and I each had our own bike. We always stopped for a break mid morning and mid afternoon at a bakery where we bought our own snacks. Every lunch enroute was supplied by Edelweiss, three of them being picnic buffets in a scenic spot.
The route through the Swiss Alps was picture perfect. We stopped for two nights in Lucerne. On our free day, four bikes chose a really scenic ride along the lakes of Interlaken. From there we travelled to quite a height, stopping in Grimdelwald. My wife and I had camped there 30 years ago with our tent looking out at Eiger, Monck and Jungfrau. The mountains are still as beautiful and it was fun to show Heidi what we had enjoyed then. We were not able to bike to the Matterhorn due to snow and that caused the pass to be closed. From Lucerne we travelled around a great many hairpin turns, through long snow sheds and tunnels, and again the scenery was spectacular. We ended the day in Warth, Austria at a height of 2400 metres. This was actually a beautiful ski lodge and the skiers had just left the day before we moved in. Along the way we had eight-foot snow banks but the road was clear and the air very warm. From Warth we travelled back into Germany, stopped to see crazy King Ludwig’s castle in Neuchwanstein (the castle that inspired Disney) and back to Munich.
The group’s ages ranged from 32 years to 74 years (which is what I am!). The guides were very friendly and efficient. On our trip there were twelve of us plus two guides who alternated between guiding and driving the support vehicle. This van carried our luggage, a spare motorcycle, spare parts and picnic supplies. The various tours are graded as to difficulty: easy, intermediate, tough, and off road. Ours was intermediate and started with wide asphalt roads (including an hour on the autobahn, in and out of Munich)