After our daily continental breakfast (included free in our 75 Euro per night room) at Gasthof Zum Schupfen, we said goodbye to our host, Evelyn, and set off on a long day of riding to get from Austria to Slovenia ( around 423km and 8 hours on the bike).

We had uneventful border crossings from Austria into Italy, Italy back into Austria, Austria into Italy again and finally Italy into Slovenia. Borders were either unmanned or we were simply waved through.

We took the A13 South from Innsbruck to Bressanone in Italy, then left the motorway to pick up the E66 heading East. We stopped at Sillian back in Austria for lunch and shortly afterwards headed South East picking up the beautiful B111 – a magical road in Austria. We passed so many SPARS (supermarket)  we’ve seen more in this little corner of Austria than anywhere else. We stopped again in Arnoldstein, refused and then headed South to briefly reenter Italy before crossing over into Slovenia. The road we followed passed through Triglavski Narodni Park, we followed the D206 North through the Park with the road weaving alongside the Soca River……its magnificent turquoise coloured water was so inviting….we had never seen water so translucent and clean….amazing. It even rivalled the glacial lakes we have seen in other parts of the world.

A wonderful and unexpected surprise was the climb to Kranjska Gora taking in 24 hairpins up and 24 back down, with a nay twist and turns in between…..truly spectacular! After dropping down on the Northern side of the pass we made our way out to the E61 motorway and blasted down to Ljubljana.

We had a short wait at the studio appartment we had booked online for 40 Euro. Nina was most helpful in showing us the features including how to lock the front door which required a violent shove to close…..Vince had to do this! We had picked up some provisions in one of the early SPARS and Vince made his Thai Green Chicken Curry….but this time we had the luxury of a stovetop and sink! It was around 7.00pm when we arrived and by the time we had freshened up and cooked dinner it was past 9.00pm …so our hopes of visiting the old town had to wait until tomorrow…..we are both exhausted!

Woke up to a damp morning in our forest campsite at Umbrail in Switzerland, at the base of the Umbrail Pass – this is the pass that we took yesterday when we peeled off near the top of the Stelvio Pass, having approached that from the southern side and been a little jaded with all the traffic – and it appears to me that Italian drivers in their little cars have a manic need to overtake anything in their way, even if the roads are single lane and large vans up ahead will eventually retard their progress – but that’s another story.

Kristoff – the German rider we were speaking with last night was already up and pottering round outside his tent so I fired up the Dragon Fly and boiled enough water for Karen, Kristoff and myself for a tea & two coffees. Kristoff and his riding mate Christian each have 850cc Tenere’s (Kristoff has 10 of them – including an ex-Paris Dakar one), and he was very interesting to chat with. Every year he & Christian go on a 3-4 week adventure ride, and they’ve done Morocco a few times, Turkey a few times, the Balkan states a fair bit, etc etc. Kristoff is a firefighter by profession but learnt his trade as car mechanic at a young age and loves tinkering with bikes, and has established a reputation throughout Europe as the go-to guy for anything Tenere-related. Christian woke up and joined the conversation, and asked if he could borrow our Switzerland map (we’d been gifted that in Tasch by Earnest) so I gave the map to Christian, and in return he gave us a map of Albania – so it all goes around in a big circle I think 🙂

We were packed up first so we said our goodbyes – Bernard stopped by as well to bid us farewell, and we headed into the nearby village to refuel and find breakfast. Refuelling was a small saga as the driveway of the petrol station was that steep I couldn’t get off the bike, and Karen needed to squeeze around the bowser to pass the fuel nozzle, whilst trying to not knock me over, as I was balanced so precariously on the slope. Refuelling finished we idled through town but couldn’t find food, so we headed back up (south) the Umbrail Pass to the top where it meets the Stelvio Pass road. We paused for a few minutes at the junction so I could fit the GoPro’s, and as we started up towards the top of the pass it started to drizzle. The road side was covered in snow and ice, and a few guys were out on their pushbikes, pushing on through the freezing conditions. We crested the top of the pass and saw a few bikes parked alongside the shop stalls there. but rather than stop we kept on going and launched ourselves down the iconic northern side of the Stelvio Pass. Our progress was slow and cautious as the road was wet and I wasn’t completely confident in our deteriorating front tyre, and when I saw faster bikes come up from behind I’d pull over a bit and wave them through. Google just told me that there are 48 hairpin bends on the northern side of the Stelvio Pass and 60 in total, and the 48 switchbacks we dropped down through this morning were a bit of hard work on our heavily-loaded bike.

When the road eventually straightened out we entered the little sleepy village of Trafoi and pulled over for a hot lunch of spicy spaghetti which was delicious. Back on the road it started to drizzle again, and we rode steadily down the valley, following the SS38 to Spondigna, where we turned northwards and headed towards the border crossing in Austria. Shortly afterwards Karen’s digital camera battery went flat so we stopped for a few minutes whilst she grabbed my camera out of the top-box – but the scenery we passed from that point onwards wasn’t quite as stunning as what we’d seen earlier in the day, and we eventually got funnelled onto the A12 motorway that led us into Innsbruck.

Our GPS led us to south Innsbruck and up the hill towards our hotel for the next four nights, but not without taking us off the main road and down a little goat track of a back road that reminded both of us of the rough track into the campsite we’d followed a week or so ago in southern Switzerland, but fortunately this track was at least sealed and it eventually rejoined the main road, not too far from our small but quaint hotel.

We’re about 8km south of Innsbruck, and tomorrow we’ll start on our list of chores, culminating in the bike service & tyre fitting on Wednesday. And on Thursday morning it’ll be “Slovenia – here we come !!!!”

PS: I don’t have any GoPro photos of the Stelio Pass I’m afraid – yesterday morning I updated the firmware on our two GoPros and without realising it, the upgrade changed the video capture settings and switched off the Video+Photos mode. I’ve checked the video but the camera lenses were smudged with rain drops so the video isn’t too flash. I’ll check Karen’s camera later and see what photos she managed to snap and upload a few of those, so watch this space !!!

A slow day and short ride today. The bike is booked in for new tyres and a service in Innsbruck on 17th June, and when Vince checked the front tyre the other day he found  it’s looking quite worn – the hairpin bends seem to have taken their toll, so rather than push our luck we opted to stay at Cima Piazzi camp site in Valdesotto near Bormio for a few nights. We moved on from their this morning planning to take the Stelvio Pass north from Bormio – Italy’s most famous mountain pass – but we were turned back by a policeman because it was closed til 2:00pm due to a cycle race, so we had lunch at a cafe and stretched that out for two hours before the road was reopened. When we started the pass it was a dog’s dinner with cyclists still on the road plus support vehicles and motorbikes and cars, and the ride was slow with the traffic and Vince had to be a bit cautious due to the state of the front tyre, so near the top of the pass we peeled off left to Switzerland and dropped down into a pretty little valley where we found a campsite nestled between the trees, so we’ve set up camp here for the evening.

Lots of riders stopped at the cafe we had lunch at as they were all turned around as well, so we chatted with some of them ( a group of Italian riders and a lovely Dutch couple) for a while, and did some research on the laptop.

It’s only 150km to Innsbruck and we’ll probably push on tomorrow and complete that, getting there a couple of days before the service is booked, but we have some chores to do and we can go sightseeing a bit perhaps.

The weather here is fantastic, even though it was raining heavily overnight and again this morning as we packed up the tent. By stopping early today we’ve been able to dry out all our gear so we’re set for a good night. We had sausages and mashed potato for lunch – but it was Italian style – flat sausage meat and the mashed potato had cheese and runner beans in it, so that was an interesting combination. Dinner tonight might be a tin of ravioli boosted with our last potato and some carrots ….. Mmmmmm 🙂

At the new campsite we met an interesting Swiss man, Bernard, who is 72 and was very friendly and helpful….even wanting to gift us a Swiss cooking implement! Vince also chatted with a couple of German motorcyclists who have just come through the Balkan states where we will be headed shortly. The people you meet really help make the adventure take shape.

We woke up early and made our way down to the dingy meal area attached to our restaurant for a continental breakfast consisting of (for Vince) a cappuccino, cereals and stale bread and (for Karen) weak tea and cereals. It was drizzling outside as I retrieved the bike from the garage opposite our hotel and started to load it up, but we were so keen to say ‘Arivadechi’ to Madesimo we didn’t want to stay longer and pull on our wet weather gear, so we headed off into the light rain as quickly as we could. 

I’d plotted a zig-zag course to our planned destination – a camp site near Bormio, the base of the Stelvio Pass, with zigs occurring at Chiavenna and Tirana, and the zag taking place in Saint Moritz. The first section of riding took us on a roller coaster hairpin-encrusted ride down the side of a mountain that I wasn’t expecting nor really prepared for. This section of road (Pianazzo) was amazing – the road and it’s many tunnels and hairpins had been chiselled out of the mountainside, a bit like an ant-farm tunnel. The road was wet and chopped up, and the hairpins were so close together it was almost a continual spiral that we descended. Again, Karen was put to good work looking forwards for oncoming cars, difficult to spot in the twisty conditions. 

After leaving Chiavenna we took the more gradual and open road towards Saint Moritz, enjoying the short but twisty Moleja Pass, and then followed the beautiful road as it wound up the hills and past the lakes leading into Saint Moritz. We pushed straight through and then stopped for a bite to eat from our supplies a bit north of the town, overlooking a glacier in the distance that Karen had spotted through the trees. 

The next pass we took was the Bernina Pass, and this was a little gem. The turns were a bit more open than previous passes, allowing for a more flowing ride, and the valley scenery was beautiful. Karen mentioned over the Sena’s that the Bernina Pass goes through a UNESCO World Heritage area, and it was absolutely breathtaking.

The remainder of the ride into our camp ground at Valdisotto was relatively uneventful, the only real challenge was locating the actual camp ground as the GPS led us to someone’s house by accident, and from there we had to do some exploring to find the camp site.

Once located, the next challenge was for Karen to deal with the Camp Commendant, who wanted our passports before checking us in. Karen flatly refused 🙂 We were allocated a cute little campsite up a horrendeously steep hill – it’s paved but an absolute struggle getting the bike up there. Nevertheless, I got the bike wedged into our little plot, Karen pitched the tent, and then (thanks to a local supermarket in Bormio that has a real butcher) she cooked a delicious steak with pepper & mushroom sauce, and mashed potatoes, carrots and peas over our single-burner Dragon Fly for dinner ….. MMMMMMmmmmmm – what a great way to finish an excellent riding day 🙂

Yesterday we’d discovered that the E35 & 2 roads were out, the only north-bound roads leading out of Andermatt, so that required some rejigging of our riding plans to avoid (to Karen’s distinct pleasure) re-riding the Grimsel & Furka Passes. Instead, after packing up our gear and loading the bike, we headed east over the Susten Pass, which was an absolutely brilliant ride. The road rose up through the lush forest before the trees fell away, replaced with rocky hillsides that the twisty road had been carved in to. Numerous tunnels had been cut into the rock to allow the road through, and in one spot a waterfall flowed over a tunnel and cascaded into the valley below, providing a beautiful sight as we climbed up the mountain side. We crested the pass and dropped down into the valley on the far side, making our way towards Wassen, a few km north of Andermatt and the point at which we could pick up the 16.9km long Gotthard Tunnel going south, and through which we travelled to avoid the road blocks around Andermatt.

Popping out of the tunnel in Airolo I hunted around for the start of the Gotthard Pass – the idea being to follow that north back to Hospental (near Andermatt), as from there we knew we could get to Andermatt and the start of the Oberalp Pass. The GPS was struggling to get a good fix on our location deep in the alps, and with roadworks and diversions to contend with I couldn’t easily find the road I needed, so we took some time out to have a ham & cheese roll and a coffee (coke for Karen) at Bar 69 in Airolo, giving me a chance to get my bearings. 

Lunch finished and paid for, we headed up the cobbled street and back into the woodlands, finding the start of the ‘alternative’ Gotthard Pass road – this is the pass we’d ridden in a north-south direction a few days earlier, and now we were redoing it in the reverse direction. The road was a delight to ride, and in places felt like a roller-coaster experience as some of the hairpin bends were suspended in thin air, and there was nothing beyond the flimsy barrier at the edge of the bend, except a long long drop to the valley below. The top of the pass was covered in snow and the views were lovely, but rather than stop we pushed on into Hospental and towards Andermatt, where low cloud cover had dropped down to ground level and made for eerie riding.

We took the cobbled road through the centre of Andermatt and found the start of the Oberalp Pass in the cloud, and headed east up the pass. In some spots the cloud cover lifted a bit and we could get glimpses of the cloud below, and in other places cows had massed alongside the roadway, laying down in the grass and chewing away, oblivious to the few cars and bikes passing by them, with just a few feet to spare. The pass was steep but short, and before long we’d crested the summit and dropped into the valley on the far side, following the twisting river almost all the way towards Chur, peeling off at Tamins to start the 13 south to Splugen.

We deliberately ignored the GPS that encouraged us to switch to the A13 motorway and stayed instead on the older, narrower 13 that ran almost parallel to the A13 in many places, but which offered a much more enjoyable ride. The road entered a narrow, deep gorge, and snaked its way up the hill. At one spot Karen noticed some huts carved into the rock face of the gorge.  We eventually popped out of the gorge and the road narrowed down to a single lane as it entered Splugen. 

From Splugen we headed straight south towards Madesimo in Italy, our overnight destination. The Splugen Pass was single lane only, and I lost count of the number of hairpins we wheeled around as they came up so quickly. It was a challenge to keep moving forwards at times up the steep and narrow track, and Karen was hard-pressed keeping a lookout for oncoming traffic dropping down from the roadway above us.

We eventually made the snow-covered summit, and shortly afterwards crossed the border into Italy, only indicated by a small hut flying the Italian flag. The road surface immediately  deteriorated, with pot holes and broken sections all over the place. We followed the high valley and lake for a while, before dropping down towards Madesimo. 

Madesimo was a ghost town, and our hotel – probably the only hotel open for guests in the town, was straight out of Stephen King’s “The Shining”. We’d booked via our room in Madesimo because it was 1/2 the price of a room in Splugen, just 22km to the north, but we knew nothing about the town. In winter it’s probably full of life & people, but to us looked like a set from “Dawn of the Dead” as no one was walking the streets. We got our room key – top floor, furthest from the lift (completely opposite to Karen’s request) and I noticed that no other keys had been handed out to other patrons. The ground floor foyer was almost completely dark, and we had to walk down some stairs to catch our lift up to the top floor. Our room was also very dark and oppressive. Karen  lifted out our wet camping gear and spread that out to dry, and then we went for a walk through the ghost town, looking for signs of life. We eventually stumbled across the only bar open in town, and had a drink or two, before walking on a bit further to the only restaurant open in town – a quaint pizzeria. Unable to read Italian we just picked two different pizzas from the menu, hoping for the best. Pizzas eaten, we walked back to our hotel as the evening grew colder in the night chill, locking our door in the hope that would be enough to deter any marauding zombies as we slept that night ….