France, Italy, Austria & the Tirol, Germany & the Obersalzberg, Switzerland, France,
readers already know I run a Bed and Breakfast for motorcyclists in the
Languedoc region of 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 to get away on the bike. After all, all year long I cater to
motorcyclists on holiday and it wouldn’t be a “real” motorcyclists B&B
if the owner didn’t go anywhere on his motorcycle.
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. At first we didn’t get along too
good but she kind of grew on me. There is no other motorcycle I would consider
replacing her with; after all she does everything & does it well. Over the
years much has been replaced & rebuilt, although she still runs the original
crank and pistons. She starts first time, doesn’t smoke or use oil, is
reliable and has a kick starter option should the need arise....which in the
past it has on several occassions.
October of 2008 I decided that I was going to visit a bit of Provence, go over
the Alps into Italy, cut across to Lake Garda, see the Dolomites and then head
into Austria and the Tirol and maybe Salzberg before heading into Germany and
maybe the Obersalzberg region of Bavaria. The route back to France was to be
through Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The following account is from the
diary I kept.
2nd October 2008
Aude, to Castellane, Haute Provence
for day = 405km
Sunny but windy. Temp: 8°c / 16°c
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. Weather
is sunny but windy. The first part of the journey is via the autoroute, mainly
to get around Montpellier which is a horrible city to ride through, due to their
road system and the large amount of traffic. Not recommended for motorcyclists!
the autoroute around 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.
at Castellane will give me an extra five hours ride time advantage into Italy.
According to their internet site the campground I am looking at is open until
the second week in October.
the road towards Brignoles take the D562 towards Draguignan then North to
s/ Artuby before turning off on the extremely scenic D955 , following the route
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. The old lady cutting the grass tells me to put my tent wherever I please
and that she will see me in the evening to take the booking. It is now around
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. A sight to see. I have bought a
different tent this time. It is smaller and gives me more packing space on the
motorcycle. I set up the tent and empty a can of waterproofing spray over it,
especially the seams. I have no idea if it has ever been done or in fact if the
tent is waterproof but I have no wish to find out otherwise. I use the entire
can and am satisfied that it should be waterproof or at least water resistant
should the worst happen.
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.
The Pont Napoléon, Castellane, Haute Provence, France Castellane, Chapelle Notre Dame du Roc (from campground)
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 town 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 ardous 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
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. I find the owner and square up with
her...eight euros per night for the tent & motorcycle.
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.
realise it cools off much quicker here at night than it does back in the Aude.
It’s getting a bit nippy already. Luckily I have bought my warmer gear.
I also packed a small tiny canister gas heater which is great for raising
the temperature in the tent to an acceptable level should the need arise.
finished and time for a shower. I head over to the shower block. The block is
freezing although the water is hot enough and I spend several minutes under a
good hot shower. After drying off,
I wash up my dishes and head back to the tent. 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.
up around midnight feeling cold. I lean forward in my sleeping bag rummaging
around the tent for my gas heater. The gas heater thankfully found and
lit, the tent starts to warm almost immediately. I make sure the heater is
safely installed where it will not fall or get kicked over (by me!) and that the
tent is sufficiently ventilated. Within a couple of minutes the temperature in
the tent is up by a good fifteen degrees and now is around 14 – 15°c. The
ventilation is working well as I can feel a cold breeze coming in from outside
on my face. Sometime during the night a cat... a male cat has decided that he
will mark my tent and I awake again around 5am in total darkness to a horrible
stink. Not a good start to the day. The cat stink is strong but for now there is
nothing I can do about it so I try for a little more sleep.
3rd October 2008
France to Lake Garda, Italy, via the Col de Lombard.
Weather: am france, sunny but cool, followed later central Italy by heavy outbursts of rain. By pm Lake Garda dry. Temp: –2°c / 16°c
next time I awake it is to bright sunshine. I did not sleep too good, first the
cold, then the bloody cat. Cats are good for two things in my book; catching
mice and if not good mousers then violin strings! I appreciate a bit of good
Vivaldi! I head to the washroom for
a good hot shower (again). The shower is hot, the room freezing.....being almost
open to the elements......great combination. I then sponge down the tent with
warm water to try and remove that disgusting smell. Glad Laurence my girlfriend
is not with me...I fear she would already be headed home.
eating a good french breakfast with a hot cup of Ricoré coffee, I start to pack
up the tent which has dried off enough and doesn’t seem to smell too bad.
On with my warm weather motorcycle gear, warm up the BMW then head into
Castellane where I buy some fresh bread for sandwiches.
intend to ride up to and through the Gorges de Daluis and then cross into
via the Alps and the Col de Lombarde.
the route and it is truly a scenic one, fantastic. The higher the better the
scenery gets. The gorges are to be visited, 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 (alt 2350m). 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.
reaching the border there is a strange but marked difference between the French
side and the Italian side. The Italian side is bare; bare of buildings, bare of
ski slopes, in fact bare of anything artificial. It is heavenly it really is.
The road is almost a track, it is single lane and paved but that is about it.
There are small copses and lakes with not
a soul or a vehicle in sight. Wonderful, and all to myself. As the miles roll by
I see only one other person, an Italian on his bicycle, complete with panniers
and backpack. 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 go with them. This pass
isn’t even listed in a book I recently bought that lists the passes in the
alps; probably not a bad thing otherwise everybody would be coming up here which
would ruin it. The scenery is breathtaking the lunar landscape giving way to
lush tree covered mountainside as I decend. I stop to take some photos and
listen to the bells of the cows as they wander across my path.
Col de la Lombarde, on French Italian border (note BM Riders Club
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. Crossing this part of Italy is no fun. Commercially it is no doubt the
heartland of the country, but flat, straight and boring. Plus the roads are
badly signed. Just outside of Asti I decide to get on the autostrada.
There are two lanes of traffic, trucks doing 100kph in one lane and cars doing
between 110 and 180 kph in the other. Makes for an interesting experience. I
have never seen cars get as close at speed to each other as they do in Italy.
Forget the safety margins, the closer the better. God forbid someone is forced
to brake suddenly, there is absolutely no where for these nutters to go or time
for them to react! I keep well away and let them get on with it, the trucks do
the same, they have seen it all before! When one car wishes to pass another and
both lanes are blocked then its on the horn, lights flashing and no more than
10cm between vehicles. If that does not work why not try making a third lane in
the middle between the other occupied lanes? For the car in the fast lane it
means that he is obliged to then occupy as much of the slow lane as is possible
as well as his own to stop the vehicle behind from squeezing through. This all
changes abruptly when a police car comes up behind lights flashing. Everybody
gets out of the way, only to resume this diabolical driving as soon as the
immediate threat of a traffic ticket has passed.
the dark clouds I saw in the distance on my left all day long have converged
with me. It starts to rain. Do the cars slow down due to the dangerous and
slippery road conditions. Eeerrrrrr....No!
finally get off the autostrada at Brescia. It is dark early due to the
horrible weather. I pay the toll and then have absolute hell trying to find the Lake
Garda route. The signs are not continual. This is where I could really benefit
from a GPS unit. Finally, with pure luck I find myself on the western side of
the lake which is where I wanted to be all along.
far too late (and miserable too) to find a campground so I decide on a hotel.
There is literally mile after mile of expensive quality hotels here...but the
prices...well you have to laugh (or else you’ll cry). I ride on past the small
town of Salo and continue along the lake front road. It is now totally
dark. I finally stumble on a hotel that looks decent and looks as if will be
reasonably priced. The “Hotel 3 Lampioni”in Troscalano. I pull into
the driveway, heave the old BMW onto its mainstand and go inside to enquire. The
hotel is clean and tidy with marble floors and marble stairs as seems to be
common in Italy. A well dressed man is at the counter, obviously the owner. He
speaks perfect English and yes they have a room. En suite single for 30 euros
per night. He insists on showing me the room. Excellent value. Its large enough
and has a fully tiled bathroom with shower and toilet and the linen is crisp and
freshly ironed. A bargain at the price. He asks if I will be eating at the
restaurant as the chef stops cooking at 9.00pm and it is now 8.30. There is no
point in looking elsewhere to eat, besides I am far too tired to want to go out
again. I follow downstairs and check in. I will pay in the morning; I obviously
made a decent enough impression. I unload the motorcycle and lock her up. I head
straight up the marble staircase, modern but class with its hand forged wrought
iron railings and into my room where I immediately strip and hop into the 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.
are a few other couples at the restaurant which is always a good sign and some
of them appear to be locals...an even better sign of good cuisine. The menu is
bought and I pick a spaghetti with sea food and a carafe of red wine. I
know.....white wine with sea food....but in my book it all depends. Besides I
feel like a red wine and to tell the truth am not too fond of white or rosé.
The only exceptions are a good foie gras and oysters....now in either case a red
wine would be totally disgusting.
food spaghetti arrives within minutes.......if it is as good as it looks then
I will be well pleased. 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!! I have
been lucky. I dig in and enjoy. The red wine, whilst just a table wine is
equally good. The price? Fifteen euros with the wine. Fantastic value.
my plate although there was more there than I would have chosen to eat. 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.
4th october 2008
Garda to Mittersill Austria via the Felbertauern Tunnel
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
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.
the shower and down to breakfast. There are quite a few people this morning. A
simple breakfast but a good one, then its take care of the bill; go up to my
room and pack my things.
weather is sunny this morning. I hope it will hold. The last weather forcast I
saw for this region had predicted rain on saturday.....so for now the Gods are
with me....sunny but cool. I put on several 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 the BMW has been very comfortable so not too many aches and pains this
morning. 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 upolsterer 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. Rather than have it recovered again I
decided to source some high impact foam myself and give it a go. I found an oldy
worldy type shop in Narbonne where they specialise in anything made of rubber;
car belts, industrial belts, flooring, hoses etc....if it is made of rubber then
they have it. Some of the stock looks as if it has been in the store at least
fifty years, but still its the service that counts and that they are magnificent.
Helpful and smiling...just like business used to be conducted...before these
superstores and super hardware stores where the employees seem only to be there
to while away the hours and could care less about the customer. “The customer.....who’s
that and what’s that all about?”
pull out a long piece of high impact foam. Perfect. I take it, get it home, cut
it to size and then glue in multiple layers. 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. Beat that!!
the BMW and then crank her up and let her warm whilst I get kitted up. I hate
riding the motorcycle before she is warm and although many today will laugh at
my warming the engine up before use and point out it isn’t necessary, I would
strongly disagree. Not one of them I have met has the same mileage on their
machine and not one of them is likely to arrive at that mileage.
When I was flying, standard procedure was always...always...to make sure
that all the temps and pressures were in the green before the aircraft lined up
on the runway. A critical thing for an aircraft engine, there is much less
stress on the engine components when they are at optimum operating temperature.
It worked then it works now....just that Mr average no longer can be bothered to
take the time in this disposable world we live in....He’s normally a busy
executive with a busy lifestyle....and to be frank he just doesn’t give a damm.
The bike will be traded in as soon as the newer “better” model is out so
what does he care? Until that time he rests safe and secure with his
manufacturers warranty and his worldwide comprehensive breakdown cover....neither
of which I have.
up the old BMW. Using the old Krauser panniers makes life so much easier than
the old throw over type. I sourced a
small back pack to fit into each pannier. Different colour for each side. That
way on arriving I just take out the back pack and the pannier stays locked to
the motorcycle. These old Krausers have seen every type of weather that exists
and never ever have they let in the slightest drop of moisture....are they still
made that good?
bike warm and we’re off. Direction Bolzano and then
alongside Lake Garda is stunning. I stop several times to take
photographs. The small town
of Limone is absolutley amazing with its colourful rows of houses,
restaurants and shops bordering the lake. Then on to Rive del Garda
where once again I just have to pull over to take a photograph. It was only last
year that I was on the other side of the lake on my way to Venice and the
weather was fantastic back then too. I have been lucky.
These Italian lakes are some of the best in the world.
it’s goodbye to the beautiful captivating lake Garda (I will be back!) 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.....the direction I am heading in!! At Trento I head on towards Bolzano.
We are slowly working higher and higher.
quite a bit of traffic on this road probably due to it being a saturday. 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.
scenery is fantastic as is the weather. The sun is out and although not warm I
am comfortable enough. The further North I head the more snow I see......a first
this year for me as it does not snow very often in the Narbonne region....once
every ten years or so.
my turning and take the route towards Lienz, a well maintained route with
not too much traffic on it. The Dolomites start to appear and of course I
constantly pull over to take photographs. All this modern technology actually
slows me down! Before I pulled over to take a photgraph but was sparing of
camera film. It was expensive to buy and expensive to develop and you didn’t
waste it. You carefully selected your photographic subject and took one...maybe
two shots and then moved on. Now with digital photography you have a memory card
that holds potentially thousands of photographs..... with no developing or film
charges. The sky is your limit...the result for me being that I take even more
photographs than I did before. However, on the plus side, the photographs are
much easier to take and you can see what you have shot immediately....Somewhere
there is a happy medium I am sure.
The Italian Dolomites
in Northern Italy en route for Austria
to Lienz, now well and truly in Austria, where 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. There is a
lot of snow on the ground and the higher I get the more there is until I reach a
point where the route is blocked off. The chap at the roadblock tells me the
pass is closed....due to a heavy snow last night, but they hope to have it
cleared and opened by tomorrow afternoon.
the BMW around and decide to take the route North towards Mittersill. I will try
again maybe tomorrow. By the time I am back to the main road the sky is clouding
over and after fifteen minutes it starts
to snow. As soon as the sun is gone the temperature drops drastically. I am
really glad I have my winter gear on and especially my winter gloves....what a
difference they make.
Austria. Pass closed due to heavy snow (3798m)
Rte to the Felbertauern Tunnel, Austria
continue and the snow stops. The sun comes back out and I continue towards
Mittersill. As I climb higher there are more and more signs that a really heavy
snow storm has passed this way in the last day or so,
the snow is piled well over a metre deep at the sides of the road and the
trees are flocked. It calls for some photos.
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 full of warm air...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 virtual night the light blocked by a serious blizzard falling.
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, trying to make tiny
changes in throttle and motorcycle position. And not upset the motorcycle. I use
the back brake sparingly, very sparingly and only when necessary and keep the
bike in the higest lowest gear possible if that makes sense. Stay off the front
brake totally otherwise it will go down! Too low a gear and it is likely to lock
up the rear wheel, too high a gear and I have no control over using torque to my
advantage. There is no room for error or mis judgement of speed or angle of lean,
the slightest and I will be sliding down the road with the motorcycle, off the
mountainside or into the trees! Plus I am now freezing cold which makes it all
the harder to concentrate and make smooth movements and ajustments to any of the
above mentioned. 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.
Camping again is out but for different reasons than yesterday! Finally, the
blizzard dies away. 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.
into Aurach, a small village where through the now thick fog (it just
gets better and better!!) I see the lights of a hotel. I pull in off the road
and go see if there is a room available. There is indeed and at 43euros it is a
bargain. Not as much a bargain as in Italy but a bargain none the less..
is really nice, a large double bed and an en suite with a shower plus a large
cast iron bath tub...which will be appreciated. The furniture is in the typical
Austrian style of beautifully decorated hand painted pine. I am well pleased.
Plus there is a restaurant which is open at eight. Perfect. Could not be better!!
off my wet motorcycle gear and hang my jacket over the hot radiator. Hopefully
it will be dry by morning. I turn on the bath and run the hot water. Strip off
then into a tub full of hot water. Heaven, after the ride earlier! I especially
like the old cast iron tubs, they keep the water hotter for much longer than
these plastic tubs that are everywhere these days. I put on my headphones and
relax to some quality comedy “Hancocks Half Hour”. Nothing like it today ...and
the perfect matching of old recordings and MP3 technology. The episode is
“Hancock the Magician”; great humour even after all these years.
dressed and then it is time to head down to the restaurant. A good Austrian
steak with a garlic sauce washed down with a good German red wine. Followed by
that classic appfelstrudel and finished off with a fine cognac. Then it’s off
to bed. So much for the camping idea!
October 5th 2008
Austria – Berchtesgaden – Obersalzberg – Grossglockner – Mittersill
for day = 305km
Foggy cold start to the morning. Freezing fog clearing to a bright very sunny if
very cool day. Temp : -3°c / 6°c
up early and get out of bed. It is getting lighter outside....enough to see....FOG....and
lots of it. Thick fog too. Hopefully it will burn off as visibility is currently
from my hotel room to the other side of the road which is maybe twenty metres at
really sure of the route today, but I am rather tempted to head over towards Salzberg,
famous for being the birthplace of Mozart and then maybe towards Berchtesgaden
and the Obersalzberg which is famous or rather infamous for being the
place where Hitler and his cronies hung out, or rather had their country homes.
That aside it is supposed to be one of the most picturesque sights in
Germany...being just over the border from Austria.. I also wouldn’t mind
seeing where the Berghof, Herr Hitlers private residence once stood (before
being bombed by the RAF in 1945 and then subsequently blown up by the
Austrians in 1952). Now apparently there is virtually nothing that remains. Also
high above the Berghof in the
mountains stands the Kehlsteinhaus better known as the “Eagles-Nest”,
often mistaken for Hitlers house but acutally a gift to him from the
“people” of Germany for his fiftieth birthday. This was totally missed by
the allied bombing and survives intact and is according to my guide book not
supposed to be a tourist attraction which is in total contradition to what I
read on the Internet recently. We will see.
is a little hard to start this am but probably due to the fact she has stood
outside unprotected with the temperature this morning being –4°c. I knock off
the ice and kick her over a couple of times just to loosen things up a little,
then thumb the starter and she bursts straight into life. Quality engineering.
eating a good breakfast, I get packed and head out. The fog is clearing up.
There really is so much that I want to see in Germany and Austria but time and
funds are both in limited supply so I will do what I can and save the rest for
another day. I shall have to come back here that is all there is to it!
out north towards St Johann in Tirol. The fog is starting to really break
up now and the peaks of the snow covered mountains are bathed in early morning
sunlight. What a magnificent way to bring in the morning. The air is so clean
and fresh and invigorating...fantastic. Several times I pull over to the side of
the road to take photographs. ....a perfect time of year with the mountains
covered in snow, a blue sky and the trees with their autumnal colours. Quite
St Johann in Tirol, Austria
to Berchtesgaden, Germany
Austrian drivers are very fast and very aggessive. If you are not going the same
speed as they are, they will practically run you off of the road. They sit
literally inches off your back wheel until they can pass and then cut in
immediately and quite unecessarily. Absolutely no room for error at all which
makes it very dangerous indeed. Of course being in their heated leather
uphlostered Mercedes S Class, they are completely removed from the world outside.
After overtaking they all form up together and travel at the same speed. Drive
or ride at the same speed as everyone else in one of their “formations”
and you will not have a problem but too slow or too fast is not allowable.
Strange. The Italians on the other hand just have to be in front.....a bit like
the dog that has to pee on the post first. Let an Italian that has been on your
tail past and he’ll overtake like a demon possessed....then as soon as he’s
past he will slow down to the speed you were, and are still riding at. He’s in
front ....that’s all that mattered.
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. Truly a beautiful part of the world. I spend more time off
the motorcycle than on it taking photographs every chance I get .....and there
are quite a few. It is a bit on the cold side still but the breathtaking scenery
more than makes up for that, real picture postcard material.
is packed, people everywhere and cars everywhere. Far too packed for my liking
so after looking closely at a tourist information map on the outskirts of this
small Bavarian town I decide to give it a miss and head for the Obersalzberg
instead. I will visit Berchetesgaden later during the week maybe when everybody
is back at work.
printed a map out of the area before my departure and after a quick study I
decide to work my way up into the 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. The
scenery is supposed to be some of the best in europe and already from here it
looks very good. There are
no road signs and few of the maps show this area, as it is still after 65 years
a sensitive subject. I had printed a couple out on the off chance that I would
be in the area... time and weather allowing.
I follow my
maps out of Berchtesgaden and up into the Obersalzberg and find myself
surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen anywhere in the
strange thing I notice in Austria is how quiet the roads are between the hours
of 12.00 and 1.30pm. They have all gone for their sunday lunch. Then at
precisely 1.30....after finishing up their appflestruddle...... they all....and
I mean they all.... jump into their cars and go for a relaxing ride in the
countryside and then more likely than not, a good long hike in the
mountains...whatever the weather. There are hundreds of cars on the road. Riding
along you come to mass impromtu parking lots with hundreds of cars where they
have just left them in the middle of nowhere. Then come 4.30 its all back to
their cars and drive flat out headed home as if the devil was at their heels.
Strange but predictable with such impeccable timing....they must all wear Swiss
I find the
road and climb up into the hills. The weather is fantastic. I follow the signs
to the all new Intercontinental 5 star hotel. This hotel has been built
on the place where Herr Gorings house once stood, so in itself provides
quite a landmark and a starting reference point for anyone wanting to visit this
area in more detail.
down from the brand new Intercontinental (apparently a hotel that vets both its
clients and its staff for Nazi conections/intentions! Hello...this is 2008!!) is
the old Hotel Zum Türken. It is an idyllic setting. This was a private
hotel on the Obersalzberg until the 1940’s when it was forcefully purchased
from its owner (at a bargain price I would imagine) to become the new
headquarters of the secret police and the barracks of the personal SS guard of
the führer. A system of bunkers and tunnels was then constructed under the
hotel linking it with all the houses of the top officials on the Obersalzberg.
It served in this capacity until 1945 when it was severely damaged during the
British heavy bombing of the Obersalzberg. After the war the hotel was bought
back by its original owner and over a period of many years finally restored to
its former glory. It is to this day still owned by the daughter of the same
family and run once again as a private hotel.
I notice that
there is an entrance and signs to the bunker system under the hotel. I enquire
at the hotel. Three euros! This should be interesting. I pay my money and go
through a trellis style gate and then down a concrete spiral staircase
underneath the hotel. Apparently this was one of the main entrances to the
bunker system. There is a massive system of tunnels and rooms down here. Luckily
they are in very original condition and have not been rebuilt or spoilt by
having been re furbished for the tourists. The feeling is a little eary in the
least. I am the only person here and there are hundreds of metres of tunnels,
stairways, rooms and even machine gun posts. Some of it has seen action. At one
machine gun post there is clear evidence of a bazooka being used against the
emplacement with the heavy iron bars of the reinforced concrete exposed by the
blast and a hole about 40cm in diameter in the wall. Well built that’s for
sure. It is a proper rabbit warren here. Some of the rooms are signed and
several tunnels are bricked up. There is one that is marked “Hitler Haus”
which is dead ended (bricked up) but originally would have led (and probably
still does) to the Führers bunker itself complete with guard rooms, kitchen,
dining room, bedrooms etc The bunker system wasl designed to be pretty much self
sufficient and supplied with water from an underground well system that
still works to this day...having not been touched and last serviced in..1945!
Typical German engineering. Not only are there tunnels everywhere but at several
different levels, a real maze. It is a shame that some of it is still sealed off
after all these years as it is so interesting and brings it all so much closer
to home. Who was it said that by understanding history we can understand our
forty five minutes I decide enough is enough....it is a bit claustrophobic in
the tunnels and I have seen all there is to see, so I start retracing my
footsteps back out again, several times making mistakes. Finally, it is back to
the concrete spiral staircase and back above ground. I read somewhere amongst
all the information posted on the wall in the hotel entrance that during the
heavy bombing by the British in 1945 the workers and staff of the houses took
shelter in the bunker and that as a result there were no casualties. None? Quite
amazing looking at the photographs after the bombing as above ground there was
hardly anything left except ruins amongst an almost lunar landscape.
Back to the
motorcycle and I decide to try and find where the Berghof
should be only a matter of metres away. I turn the BMW around and head out of
the car park. I take a photograph of the Zum Türken in all its glory for the
album and then start to head down the hill. Almost immediatlely there are a
couple of overgrown once tarmac covered tracks on the left hand side. I pull
into the first one and put the BMW on its stand. So this is where is was. This
first entrance according to the map was the goods entrance and the second
the main drive up to the Berghof. Now there is absolutely nothing....a couple of
metres at best of overgrown tarmac are all that remains. I follow a well
walked track into the undergrowth. Several times I come upon evidence that
someone has been digging in the area, bits of broken brickwork exposed here and
there. Then there is a flat area. This must have been where the house once stood.
Back in towards the hill are the remains of the concrete retaining wall with
bits of piping sticking out and trees growing everywhere through what was once
the ground floor of the Berghof.
of the former Berghof & “famous” room with the view,
Obersalzberg, Germany Oct 2008 and
I work my way
forwards and come to a slope. 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 onto his
native Austria. I get out the camera and set it up to take as close as possible
a shot “from the window”. I take several, the benefits of digital
photography; that way when I get home I can see which one most closely resembles
the original view by comparing it with photos on the internet. A strange chilly
feeling that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
I start to
head back towards the motorcycle. There are several families that appear as if
from nowhere. They take photos of each other in front of the remains of the
retaining wall, unaware that there is anyone else around and when they finally
see me they look rather embarrassed. As I force my way through the undergrowth I
run into a whole family coming through in my direction. I am forced to stand
aside to let them pass. Father, mother, son, daughters and grandkids....all
heading for a nice sunday stroll in the woods to see where the haus of Herr
Hitler once stood. The son a tall blond headed chap in his late twenties smiles
and says “Hallo” in German and then smiles and follows up with a laugh a
comment about Herr Hitlers house.
I reply in
German that I am English and don’t speak much German. Bad mistake.......most
Germans speak perfect English and I have at once become the centre of attention
of the whole family who are then introduce themselves to me one by one....including
the grandparents that must be their late eighties ( age possibly a giveaway here??).
Of course having found an Englishman on the Führers turf as it were they
immediatley start to pose questions... How? Why? Where have I come from? Do many
English people know about this place? I answer the best I can without making it
too apparent that I feel uneasy about the whole situation. It is obvious here
that we have an entire family of rather errrrr patriotic Germans, bought home by
the son spreading his arms out to encompass the area saying “Es ist schade....nein?”.
We say our “auf weidersehen’s” and part. His car is parked right next to
my old BMW.....a brand spanking new M5 series convertible BMW. I find myself
wondering if I haven’t seen this chaps face somewhere before......I almost
always never forget a face. A famous German footballer perhaps? I think maybe so.
Remnants of rear retaining wall of Mr Hilters Berghof, Obersalzberg.
bit of background on the Berghof:
started life as a much smaller mountain chalet known as Haus Wachenfeld
built in 1916 by Otto Winter, a Buxtehude businessman as a holiday home. By 1928
Winters widow had rented the house to Hitler and by 1933 Hitler had managed to
purchase Haus Wachenfeld with the monies received from the sale of his book Mein
Kampf *(or “My Life”...probably better translated as “My Struggle”),
written whilst in prison. He must have made quite a packet on the book as he
also bought himself a nice Mercedes too!
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 spacious entrance hall “was filled with an unusual display of cactus
plants in majolica pots. The main dining room was panelled with hugely expensive
cembra pine. Hitler’s large personal study also featured a room complete with
telephone switchboard. 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 on his property or in his vicinity. (He was also a tea
totaller, a vegetarian...and loved animals......just goes to show you never can
tell!!) Among those filmed at the Berghof were Heinrich Himmler Albert Speer,
Joachim von Ribbentrop, and Joseph Goebbels. Modern lip reading computer
technology software has been able to actually identify parts of these
conversations. The Berghof served as Adolf Hitler’s principal residence for
for less than ten years.
featured in many top selling worldwide designer magazines of the time. In
an issue of the American Homes & Gardens in 1938 Hitler said “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.
Berghof and connecting the surrounding houses subsequently built in the area by
top officials in the Nazi party was constructed a network of large self
contained and self sufficient bunker systems. Kilometre after kilometre of
tunnels complete with kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, machine gun posts,
telephone switchboards, electricity generators and water systems, much of which
still survives today.. Hitlers private bunker had kitchens, guard rooms, as well
as bedrooms for him and Eva Braun. This bunker allegedly still survives,
although access to it is blocked off.
In April of 1945
the Berghof and the surrounding mountain side complex was almost totally
destroyed during a concentrated heavy British aerial bombing campaign. 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.
We must be talking literally about hundreds of tons of artifacts that were
looted, transported on American army trucks and then shipped via American ships
to the United States of America. 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 Hitlers
birthday in 1953 the remains of the Berghof were finally blown off the side of
Back on the motorcycle and its back into the Obersalzberg. I come to a clearing in the woods and signs everywhere. I pull over at a roundabout in the middle of nowhere. Below me there are parking lots jammed full of cars and tour buses....there must be a hundred tour buses alone. I read the signs and realise that this is the departure point for the “Eagles Nest”. I read somewhere that it was NOT a tourist spot?? I really don’t want to pass on a visit as I am in the neighborhood as it were, but there are far far too many people around. Maybe I will come back tomorrow and visit, assuming that it will be quieter on a Monday morning. I decided instead to head back south and if possible to cross the Grossglockner if it is open.
Obersalzberg, Germany seen from Berchtesgaden
I ride into
and out of Berchtesgaden.....a place that I would like to visit more without the
tourists...so maybe tomorrow for Berchtesgaden too. I stop at a small
tobacconist and buy a couple of stickers for the motorcycle panniers before
heading out of town the same route that I came in by. Soon I am in need of
petrol, so stop at a station that is literally on the border and must have
served as the old border crossing many years ago. These days there is absolutely
no way to tell that you have crossed from Germany into Austria and vice versa,
apart from a small sign that you will not see unless you are looking for
it and should you blink you will have missed it. Parking signs are larger.
I follow the
signs south to Zell am See and head for the
Grossglockner Pass (3798m)
Maybe it will be open as the weather is and has been far better than it was
yesterday. Fingers crossed.
Back on the
motorcycle and back towards Mittersill. I am getting cold now and have
only a limited amount of daylight left and don’t want to find myself riding
around in the dark....again. I know where the hotel is that I stayed in last
night and I will head that general direction. If I find something else on route
so much the better, if not, not a problem.
continue into Mittersill then turn right heading north towards Aurach. I came
this way yesterday but the weather was terrible and I saw nothing. It really is
very scenic with a fantastic road sweeping into the mountains. I come to the Thurn
Pass and see a beautiful traditional log cabin style gasthof on my right 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. I will see if they have a
room. If so, this is where I shall stay.
pull into the driveway below and climb the stairs to the terrace where there are
guests sitting enjoying what remains of the late afternoon sunshine. A little
cold normally for me but I have my warm weather motorcycle gear on, these people
are in shirts sleeves....brrrrrr. There is no one else around so I wander inside.
I find the patron and my luck is in, they have a room available. He insists on
showing it to me first, so we mount to the third floor and the room is perfect.
Large with a terrace on the back of the hotel looking over the mountains or
rather into the mountains. It is very reasonable too, 48 euros with breakfast.
This will do nicely....in fact perfectly. Shame Laurence is not with me, she
would have loved it! I follow him downstairs, check in and then have a cold beer
in the last of the sun. I ordered a small beer and this absolute monster
arrived...I told the young girl that I had ordered a small beer....her reply....”but
that is the small beer”. She disappears and comes back with an empty large
beer stein.....the small beer is good.....I doubt with the large stein that I
would be able to make it up the stairs to my room afterwards.
Gasthof Hohe-Brüke, Thurn Pass, Mittersill, Austria (highly
I ride the
motorcycle into their private driveway (after the beer?), put in on its stand
out of the way and unload it, lock it up and haul my backpack to my room. After
a long hot shower I relax on the amply large bed and at 7.30 I get dressed and
head down to the restaurant. There are several people already eating, it seems a
popular place for locals as was the restaurant/hotel I stayed in last night.
Always a good sign. The same young man who checked me in hands me a menu,
recommending the special which is a pork chop in apple sauce with fresh
vegetables. Sounds good to me.....so I order this with a glass of house wine. He
asks where I have come from and I tell him Narbonne in the South of France. He
knows it well, and apparently went to university in Nimes......just over an
hours ride from Narbonne. He works here in the family business until the end of
the month then works as a ski instructor at the nearby resort for the winter
season. His brother and sister continue the hotel through the winter and he
rejoins them when the ski season is finished and the tourist season starts for
arrives quickly and is really delicious. One thing I cannot fault so far in
Austria is the quality of the food. The coffee maybe, (after french and Italian
coffee what else is there...and believe me Starducks does not count or rank!)
but the food no. I finish up and for desert decide for the second night running
to go for the appfelstruddle.....fast becoming a favourite of mine and
especially warming on these cold mountain nights. And again it is followed up by
a glass of good french Cognac...where would the world be without good old french
Cognac? Often imitated, never equalled. Then its off to bed for the night. I
have yet to decide what I am going to do tomorrow......go back to Berchtesgaden
and see the Eagles Nest or take the Grossglockner. Either way I need to think
about starting to make a start soon towards home as I am now several days ride
from Narbonne, and one thing I don’t want to do is get caught in a snowstorm
that traps me in the Alps for a week or more and it can easily happen at this
time of year.
October 6th 2008
Tirol, Berchtesgaden, Eagles Nest, Innsbruck, Landeck, Davos Switzerland
day = 449km
and sunny. Foggy in the am with a spectacular view of the Thurn Pass from the
hotel itself! Temp: -8°c / 8°c
morning view from the Gasthof!!
take breakfast in the hotel and then pack and load up the motorcycle. It is a
cold morning....-8°c......in the sun! Luckily I have the kick starter and kick
the bike 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 ice
off the controls 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.
everybody for their hospitality and head on out.
I have finally decided to go to Berchtesgaden, see the town and then see
the “Eagles Nest” before heading back south. That is the plan but as with
all plans it is subject to change. I really wanted to do Salzberg too but time
is too short. Just have to come back next year after their winter when the snows
have all melted.
I head on
towards Aurach and pass the hotel I stayed at the night before. Both were
good, both were very good in fact. Then its on past St Johann in Tirol
and on to Bad Reichenhall turning off for Berchtesgaden.
This has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth....just has to be. I am
not in any hurry so just relax and take my time, the GS being an ideal
motorcycle for the region.....although I guess that it is back in the area that
is was designed for and built in, so it is at home in more ways than one.
is far quieter today thank goodness....everybody is back at work. I ride into
the centre of the old town and just park my motorcycle on the side of the
road....in the best french style of park anywhere you want. Maybe this is not
acceptable in Germany...(I know it isn’t in the UK), but do I really care if I
get a German parking ticket? Not really....I doubt .it is enforceable in france
and the worse that can happen is that you could get a wheel clamped...but in
this respect the Germans and Austrians authorities are not so retentive as their
British counterparts. I leave the
motorcycle and walk into town. It is extremely scenic with its old central
fountain and buildings many 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.
Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany
Back to the
bike and out of town, direction the Obersalzberg once again. 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”. I park the bike up and pay my parking
fee (1 euro). I am parked right next to a newish looking Harley Davidson covered
top to bottom in dirt sporting english plates. A look at the speedo reveals lots
of miles.... a real Harley rider...How rare. The owner arrives and we get to
talking. He is from Essex and has been over here a few days riding through some
attrocious weather en route to get here. Like me he is doing a whistle stop tour
before heading home and like me today is his last day before he heads back home.
I buy my
ticket for the next bus up to the Eagles Nest and then wait around 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
arrives....exactly on time....something I miss in france. Everybody gets in and
there are many different nationalities represented on just this one bus. I can
hear Slavic, German, French, English and American accents. Quite impressive.
Then the bus quickly filled... direction the Eagles Nest!
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.
bus drops us 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. Pretty sumptious. The elevator
is operated by the original massive Mann diesel engine hidden inside the
mountain, still used daily and maintained in perfect order.
On entering the Kehlsteinhaus
there is 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. "Happy 50th Adolf!". The edges are now
much chipped away, vandelism by American soldiers wanting a souvenir (I have
subsequently seen certificated (?) pieces of this red marble for sale on 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
sometimes given as the reason.
Construction took only 13 months
quite an engineering feat even by todays 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
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", at the very least
affirming that they were present at the Berghof during May of 1945.
Strangely enough they are not
alone. 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. So who knows?
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 suprisingly little “liberation” of artifacts by the liberating armies (ie 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.
Out of the elevator and we are
in the hallway of the Kehlsteinahaus itself. 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. I tread
The crowds are out already and
there are surely more to follow. I was lucky enough to be in one of the first
buses but there will be others crammed with tourists. Fortunately it is nowhere
near so busy as it was yesterday when I passed, otherwise I would have been
forced to give it a miss.
The views are spectacular views
and I see Mozarts town of Salzberg in the distance and in the other
direction Lake Konigsee. After a good look around and taking photographs
I decide to get out before it gets too busy. The bus ride down the Kehlstein is
again as good as the ride up.
Back at the motorcycle and time
to decide where and what I am going to do. I need to start heading back towards
france, so now would be as good a time as any. I get kitted up and fire the old
girl up and ride down the Obersalzberg towards Berchtesgaden making a last
minute decision to take the autobahn direction Munich and then down to
Hopefully I can cover a decent amount of kilometres this way. The autobahn is
about as boring as any motorway, any peage, or any interstate highway can be.
They are the same the world over and designed with one purpose in mind and one
only; rapid transit between points. For this they are ultra efficient. An hour
later I stop at Innsbruck to refuel. The woman at the station asks me if I have
a tax sticker for the autobahn on my motorcycle. She points to the Austrian
police who are outside going vehicle to vehicle checking and tells me it would
be wise to buy one as they will only wait until I leave to pull me over and fine
me for being on the autobahn without a permit. It is good for ten days and costs
4 euros something....which has to be the cheapest yet. Not like Switzerland
where they insist on selling you a years permit just to pass from one end of
their tiny country to the other .Still both are cheaper than in France where you
pay each time you use the péage.....which can really add up. I purchase one and
walk out of the petrol station. Whilst I am in the very act of applying the
sticker to the BMW a traffic officer walks up looks the BMW over and nods
approvingly, I am glad I paid the four euros.
Back in the saddle the aim is to cover as much ground as possible
before nightfall. From Innsbruck it is via autobahn to Landeck before
turning off and taking the old route to Susch, the plan is to follow the
road as far as Chur and spend the night there. As the light fades the
tempertaure in the mountains drops off rapidly. I reach Susch and am now in
Switzerland and back in the mountains.
I take the turning for Chur.
There is no traffic except myself as I work my way up the mountainside. I hear
the sound of a car below somewhere that is really moving. I look down the
mountain and there far below me a couple of turns back is an old bright red
Ferrari Dino from the 1970’s absolutely pedal to the metal coming up the
mountainside. I can hear the roar from that fabulous motor through my helmet and
on every corner the spinning of the tires. It is evident that he has decided to
catch me up......so I decide to make him work a little harder and open up the
old BMW a little putting some distance between us. We continue like this for
what seems like ages and then
darkness is upon us. I can see very little, the road temperature has dropped,
and the road is unfamiliar to me so I decided to concede and let the Ferrari
past. Within a minute the Ferrari
is upon me and I pull to one side and signal him past. When the opportunity
arises he pulls past waves guns the motor and gives a blip on those wonderful
Fiam airhorns that Italian sports cars seem to come with as standard. Then he is
off into the darkness and I find myself totally alone on the mountain. Driven as
a Ferrari was designed to be driven.
I continue onwards. The pass is
known as the “Fuelapass” and it has to be the coldest most desolate pass I
have ever ridden. This would be a terrible place to breakdown...I keep my
fingers crossed.....miles from anywhere and not another soul on the mountain
with temperatures now well in negative figures. 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
civilsation 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.
The Füelapass, Switzerland.....grim, cold & desolate!!! (Makes
Bodmin Moor look like a walk in Hyde park)
Finally I am over the top and
start to work my way back down the other side of the mountain. I pass a few
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. There is a board
with information at the foot of the stone steps. Very nice indeed.....and the
price? Ah here it is.....the small writing......485 Swiss Francs per night for a
single room!! I am not quite sure just how much that is in euros...Well not
exactly....but I would hazard a guess that one would not see much change out of
350euros. A little steep for a one nighter for a poor motorcyclist. I shall
continue onwards. Where am I anyway? I came over the pass from hell and into a
town where the price of a room for a night should be the price for a weeks board
and there are Bentleys and Astons in the driveway. I’m tired I must be
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 in my head. I have heard of this name before. I have it! This
is where the rich and the even richer come and stay and 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 somewhere. I am tired and exhausted and hope to find something soon. I continue on and a few kilometres down the road I come to a neon sign for a hotel. From the outside nothing extra special. It is open too. I park the motorcycle and wander in. 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. You bet. I hurriedly pay my 65 euros before the well presented owner changes his mind. I am “signed” in and he shows me to my room a really nice old room panelled in antique pine with a large four poster bed. This will work quite nicely....a bargain in fact. I am well pleased. He then tells me that I can park the motorcycle in the hotels private garage if I wish. I do indeed, so follow him back downstairs and then we wheel the BMW into the old stables, empty apart from a large set of truck wheels and tires and what looks susiciously like a Ferrari Mondiale parked in the corner in semi darkness. It is indeed and belongs to this gentleman. My second Ferrari in almost as many hours. He explains that he keeps it in here but only uses it a couple of time in the summertime every year. It is metallic blue and is a real beauty just oozing class. We lock the old GS up and then I thank him before heading up to my room. Time for a hot hot shower methinks, and then if there is time a good hot meal in the hotels restaurant.
Intentions, good intentions. I
take a fantastic hot shower......get out, dry off and then decide that maybe I
deserve another...so back into the shower it is. Then 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. Dreams of a nice juicy steak
are dashed. Reality sets in. There is a mini bar in my room. Tonights meal will
be...let me see....... a cold Swiss beer, a bag of assorted nuts and some
pretzels. Fantastic ( I am being sarcastic here). Deep in the stables is my
motorcycle and deep in my panniers on said motorcycle are all types of canned
food and soups....... all safely locked up for the night.Oh well.....could be
worse. I drink the beer, which actually is a very good malted dark beer
and down the nuts & pretzels. I won’t die of hunger. I watch a bit of
television.....french channels too....the weather for tomorrow looks good ...then
off with the tv and off to sleep in my nice large and very comfortable bed.
Tuesday October 7th
Davos, Switzerland, Sisteron
Total for day = 645km.
Weather: Foggy &
cold in the am, cold in the mountains, sunny in the pm Temp: -2°c / 7°c
I wake early in the morning and
decide to hit the road early, I will grab a bar of chocolate or something
similar when I fuel up and then stop for breakfast a little further on.
Down at the front desk, the
brother of the man who checked me in last night...an almost identical twin... so
definately the family business. I give him a list of what I took from the
minibar, pay the bill and explain that my motorcycle is in his garage. He goes
to fetch the keys and I follow him out. I load up the motorcycle and point at
the Ferrari. “My brothers pride and joy” he explains...no explanation
needed...universally understood. I thank him for his hospitality and he wishes
me a safe trip but tells me to take care as the road surface in places will
still be frozen. Appreciated & thoughtful advice, especially appreciated by
I set off, direction Landquart
and then onto Chur. It is light and the sun is starting to rise. Looks as
if it will be a good day thank goodness. I fill up the motorcycle in Chur and
grab a chocolate croissant and a couple of bottles of mineral water. Always a
good idea to have a spare bottle of water. Then back on the motorcycle fire her
up and its direction the Overalp Pass to Andermatt, followed by
the Furka Pass.
The Overalp pass
(2046m, or 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 and it
tastes so good. I continue on and then wind down the pass and into Andermatt.
is a beautiful small town nestled in the valley between the 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. I really
must come here and spend a little more time....looks like it would be a good
place to camp....in the summer time....I make a note!
Andermatt with its old cobbled streets
Then its out of Andermatt
and direction the Furka Pass (2436m). I was here in June of this year so am
familiar with the Furka. I climb and climb and stop to take photos. The sky is
blue and the weather crisp but warm when in the sunshine. 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
Furka Pass, Switzerland with Rhone glacier in distance... centre (just under
8000ft or 2436m)
I ride down the Furka and decide
to give the Grimsel a go. Last time in June, I rode the Grimsel Pass twice.....and
on both occassions the weather was so terrible that I never even saw either the
pass or the scenery. All I saw was thick freezing fog and snowbanks high on
either side of the road......and that in June. This time I hope it will be
I turn off at Gletsch for
the Grimsel Pass (2165m) and start the climb up to the pass and lake at the top. The
sun is still shining and it is clear.....but there again it was the same last
time until I hit the peak and then all hell broke loose and continued for thirty
or so kilometres. I hit the peak and it is crystal clear....the view fantastic,
the lake, the mountains, the snow,everything.. I park the motorcycle and get off
to take photographs. At last I have seen the illusive Grimsel Pass.....the one
and same as in the old black and white photographs I cherish that 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 and the Grimsel Pass. He would have
loved it today. Back to the BMW and I continue on down the other side of the
Grimsel. After several kilometres I decide to turn around, go back over the
Grimsel to Gletsch and then down to Brig and head out of Switzerland to France.
It is quicker and the roads more likely to be open. Switzerland is a great place
to be but I would not like to be stuck up here for a week, and not be able to
get home due to inclement weather, and did I mention that I am (supposed) to be
at a friends wedding & reception back in france on the 11th?
Lake & Pass, Switzerland (7,103 ft or 2165m)
I head down the Grimsel, then
towards Brig....after following the now boring road in a large
heading towards Martigny. Hardly a soul on it and I
eat up the kilometres and before I know it I am in Martigny. Somewhere
along the way I miss my turn off (Albertville) and end up heading towards Geneva
and Annecy....not really where I wanted to go.
I head around Lake Geneva before turning towards Annecy and then Grenoble where I join the Route Napoléon....very scenic and a really great road....especially for motorcyclists. Quite a bit of traffic on it this afternoon though. 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. Night falls early here and darkness is starting to fall.
As I am coming up behind a slow
moving truck placed to overtake, something is either picked up by it wheels or
falls off of it and comes flying into my motorcycle. I saw a blur, I feel 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 with disastrous consequences of that I am sure.
I brake as hard as I can without losing control of the motorcycle and
bring her to a complete stop in total darkness....not an easy feat I can tell
you. 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 speedometre 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. Then very very slowly I limp the motorcycle
towards the next town some 15 kilometres away just short of Sisteron.....there
is absolutely nothing in between. There I pull in under street lamps and for the
first time I am able to acess the damage and really see how fortunate I have
been. It looks from the impact marks as though it was a large chunk of tyre
rubber that hit.!
I am able to make a repair that
will hold. I have a spare headlight bulb that will work....apart from the fact
that part of the wiring has also been ripped completely out leaving me with only
the full beam circuit. It will have to do for now. As I start to patch up the
old girl the heavens open and it starts to tip it down. I hurriedly finish, load
up my tools and get back on the road. Full beam is bound to annoy but at least I
can continue. I now have no hope of making Castellane tonight and will find a
hotel as soon as possible. I continue on my way my high beam annoying several
cars which flash me to dip my lights.... Fortunately I come across a motel style
hotel within ten minutes. It is a nice enough looking place and I pull in.
There is a room available and it
is 50 euros with breakfast. A fair price, plus they have a restaurant as well.
The owner tells me to pay in the morning, so I haul my baggage up to the room
and then take a hot hot shower. It really feels good to get out of all the
motorcycle gear and after changing I head down to the restaurant.
I take the menu at 18 euros
which seems a little steep but when it arrives I understand why. Fantastic, for
starters guinea fowl and fresh vegetables and they really are fresh. Really
really good, helped down of course by a good red wine. I finish up with cheese
and a home made chocolate desert that is almost worth killing for, it is that
good, with a coffee and my by now customary Cognac of course...and I believe
that is me done for the day.
The weather tomorrow is
predicted to be heavy storms and there is a strong wind getting up outside in
support of this prediction.
I go to my room hit the sack and
sleep like a child.
Wednesday October 8th
North of Sisteron to
Total: for day = 387km.
really horrible!!!! And cold...very cold. And Rain lots and lots of it...riding
2°c / 8°c
I awake in the early hours. It
is still dark and there really is a terrible wind blowing outside. As yet there
is no rain but we will not be counting on that one and I will make sure that I
have all my waterproofs on....just in case!
I eat a good breakfast and then
settle my bill up from last night. The patron tells me to be careful as the
weather forecast is bad enough that the area from here down south is under a
storm warning for heavy storms and winds.
I pack up and load everything
onto the motorcycle. Direction Sisteron which is only a matter of a few
kilometres down the road which helps explain why the restaurant was so packed
last night. I pass through Sisteron wishing that the weather was better and I
had the time to stop and look around; ok so I have the time but I would rather
see Sisteron in sunshine....it looks a really interesting old fortified town
that would reward the traveller well. This morning due to the weather the
streets are pretty empty. As I pass through the first heavy drops of rain start
to fall. At least I am prepared, the question is just how bad will it be and how
long will it last. I am still a good five hours from home. I decide to take the
péage and see if I can’t put some kilometres between myself and any bad
weather that may arise, especially as the bad weather is blowing in from behind
me. Worth a try. I get on the the péage at Sisteron heading south. Lady luck is
not on my side. Within minutes the biggest deluge I have seen (since I was in
Italy a few years back ) unleashes. The amount of rain falling is so heavy that
I cannot see where I am going at all. 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. All of this is not good for a motorcyclist! I have my bright yellow (Triumph)
waterproofs on but it is still far too risky.
I slow down and get into the slow lane letting the trucks pass me but
every time one does the amount of water and suction created makes for a physical
fight just to keep the motorcycle upright and heading in the right direction.
Enough of this. I have had enough, I have never ridden on a highway where there
are so many people driving so “star dot star” dangerously in such attrocious
conditions. They are all totally insane and before this storm is through there
will be a serious accident of that I am sure. I am also equally sure that I will
reduce the odds that it includes me and decide to take the very next exit and
get away from this madness.
The next exit appears and I
exit. I have no idea where I am but I do not really care that much, it is just
so good to be away from the idiots.
The storm is still in full
swing. I continue on the old road that runs parallel before taking the turning
signed towards 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, especially if the weather does not ease up a little. I
am starting to get cold too. The temperature has dropped considerably since this
morning. It all seems rather ironic to me that I have ridden several thousand
kilometres across the Alps, through Italy, crossing the Dolomites, through an
absolutely horrendous snow storm in the Tirol, through Bavaria and back across
the Swiss Alps.........only to take the most severe battering of all, within
only hours of being home.
The storm increases in its
violence and now there is heavy lightening thrown in as well with deafening
cracks of thunder. As I am riding along concentrating as hard as I can, there is
a God almighty bang and a flash so intense that I cannot focus my eyes for a
split second. The ground and the motorcycle shook from that one, it felt like I
was riding in an earthquake zone for an instant. I am not riding fast, it is
impossible to ride over 45kph and there is virtually no other traffic on this
small route which is good news (unless I break down that is). That was really
really close...far too close....Then in front of me a tree starts to fall....in
slow motion almost movie like!! We’re
talking a large full sized BIG tree here!! As I brake as hard as I am able the
tree falls across the road blocking it completely some twenty metres in front of
me. Luckily there was no other traffic on the road at the time and luckily I was
not riding any faster.....had I been five seconds earlier it would have been on
top of me! Someone was looking out for me! I ride up to the tree and figure out
how and if I can get around it. There is a drainage ditch on one side that is not too deep...more
of a gulley. There is water flowing in it but I really have no choice to give it
a go, or turn around and head back looking for an alternative route....which
will have to include that auto route
.....and with this weather? I decide to give the ditch a go....after all
the old GS is an on road/off road machine is it not?. So slowly into the ditch we go, the cylinder heads touching
the sides, the wheels up past the spindles in fast flowing muddy water. The rear
tire grips and we move slowly forward...I’m standing on the footpegs which are
now just under water. Over and past a couple of long branches that brush my
jacket and helmet and we’re past......now to get out the other side and back
on the road. This proves more difficult than getting past the tree with the back
wheel sliding around on the muddy bank and threatening to dump the motorcycle
and me both in the ditch. The rear wheel spins and then the tire suddenly grabs
something solid and propels me up the bank and i'm back on the road. My best bit
of impromptu enduro riding for a good while..
The motorcycle may be doing fine
but my waterproofs are starting to give up the ghost. The gloves which have done
so well are starting to leak as are my boots......not helped by the ride through
the water filled ditch. It will only be a matter of time before I am well and
truly soaked through. Pessimistic? Not really, more realistic.
Six months ago I made a home
made repair to the coil. The last time I crossed the Grimsel Pass in horrendous
conditions the GS stopped on me...the engine just died. There was petrol but
there was no spark. I dismantled the GS by the side of the road and finally
found that there was a crack in the bakelite type material running the length of
the coil. Fortunately I had a can of WD40 on me and was able to feed the nozzle
into the crack and fill it full of WD40, this displaced the moisture that had
obviously caused the problem, and after the tank & seat were put back in
place she fired up. For the rest of that trip she gave me no problems. Back
“chez-moi” I removed the coil for closer inspection. I checked on a new coil
but the price of a new twin exit coil was pretty steep and besides this coil
worked fine....apart from the crack, so I decided to give it a go and see if it
could be saved. I flushed the WD40 out with a solvent, then took a Dremel with
tiny grinding wheel attachment to the crack and opened it up a little making
sure there was a good rough bonding surface. I then mixed up some Araldite and
carefully fed it into the crack along the length of the coil. When it had dried
I carefully sanded it back a little and then fed in some silicon compound as
used for sealing leaks, edging etc in bathrooms. Worth a try in my book!!
Anyways, this repair I had made
a few months earlier to the coil seems to be holding up well.....if it was going
to have given me any trouble it would have been apparent by now. The wonders of
araldite and silicon! In fact the BMW is running perfectly in such atrocious
conditions that it really is a testament to the design and build quality of their motorcycles
I finally arrive in Avignon
feeling (and probably looking) somewhat like a drowned rat. Not too far to go
now..... I take the ring road looking for signs for Nîmes and Montpellier. The
péage is signed everywhere but it is not that I am looking for. I want the old
route nationale. These are not signed at all well, the powers that be must have
a contract with the auto route operators to direct the traffice where possible
onto the autoroute....which is superbly signed at all times...they want my
money; they want your money too....the reason for all the bad signs! I finally
find the signs I am looking for and follow them to the auto route!!?? What the
heck! For better or for worse I just now want to get back to the house, get out
of this soaking gear, get into a hot shower and relax. Enough of the bad weather!
The péage will have me back home in just under two hours. I get on the péage,
open the throttle and sit there getting blasted by filthy roadspray for the next
two hours passing Nîmes, Montpellier and
Béziers before exiting. 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!! Exhausted totally.......but what a ride!!
The old GS was fine apart from
the fuel problem at the very beginning which took a whole ten minutes to sort
out. I was a little worried about my repair to the coil before this
trip...especially as I had forgotten an old if mucky and serviceable spare, left
on the office desk. But 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. I never did
get to go to Salzberg.....but in my mind I think I used this as an excuse to
justify another trip in the same direction, next year?? 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....and
the snow.....all part of the reason I wanted to go at this time of the year.
Bavaria and the Obersalzberg in Germany was very beautiful scenic wise and very
interesting from a historical point of view. Still 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 and I am glad I did it. 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 ridculous and a bit like train
spotting, but now I find myself mentally planning my next trip around a good
pass or two. So I appologise ( 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
So until next time & ride
de Cayless, Martin