Southeast Europe: Adriatic Rollercoaster Tour

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Ken Freund

Europe is a fantastic venue for motorcycle touring, thanks to its astounding variety of terrain and gorgeous scenery, ability to visit several countries and cultures within a short time and distance, and its long and fascinating history.

The Edelweiss Adriatic Rollercoaster tour promises “motorcycling at its best combined with spectacular scenery and Mediterranean flair.” And it certainly lives up to its name!

My friend Rosaly and I join the tour at the starting point in Klagenfurt, Austria, a provincial capital in the south near the Slovenian border. From there we go south for a loop through Slovenia and Croatia, which offers a wide variety of scenery, climate and culture. Our group of 20 riders is also quite diverse, with folks from their 30s through 70s, including several solo female riders and even a septuagenarian mother riding pillion with her son. Nationalities included U.S., French Canadian, German, Italian and Brazilian, yet everyone speaks English well enough to converse freely, and soon we get along like a big family.

Day 1: Meet in Klagenfurt, Austria

Everyone on the tour meets up at the Dermuth hotel, which is on a hill at the edge of town. It’s a clean, cozy place with a friendly staff that speaks English well and makes us feel welcome. Before supper, tour participants and staff gather in a meeting room for orientation, followed by a meet and greet. Afterward, we walk down the hill to the on-site restaurant, where we chat and begin to learn more about each other over an authentic and tasty Austrian dinner.

Day 2: Klagenfurt–Opatija, Croatia

After breakfast and a briefing, everyone checks out their motorcycles from the staff and gets them loaded. We ride out about 10 a.m. in two groups and head for the first mountain pass. Starting in Klagenfurt, we’re right near the border, and before long we’re in a long tunnel that pops us out in Slovenia.

The scenery is breathtaking as our ride takes us through the Karawanken and Julian Alps. Roads are steep and twisty, and most of the morning we follow beautiful streams and then rivers as they flow to the ocean, carrying snow melt from the mountains. It’s very scenic, and there’s so much to see that it’s difficult to watch the road. Logging is a main source of income here. Many towns have sawmills and barns where they dry the fresh-hewn lumber, and the scent of cut wood wafts through the air.

Tidy villages with chalets graced by window boxes full of colorful flowers line the roads, and cows graze serenely in the peaceful fields. We stop briefly at a rural World War II memorial where we are grimly reminded of the fighting that went on in this now placid region.

After lunch, we visit the vast Postojnska Jama limestone caves. This side excursion is optional, takes one and a half hours, costs 22 euros and is well worth the price. The tour starts with a long tram ride deep into the cave complex, which is a chilly 48 degrees, so bring a jacket. In 1819, the caves were opened to the public, and electric lighting was added in 1884. In 1872, rails were laid in the cave, which was the first cave train for tourists anywhere. After 1945, the gas locomotives were replaced by clean, quiet electric ones. With 3.3 miles of the caves open to the public, it’s said to be the longest publicly accessible length of any cave system in the world. Everything in the caves is on a grand scale, with huge stalactites and stalagmites and other beautiful and otherworldly formations. The vast underground Concert Hall room, known for its exceptional acoustics, has space for 10,000 people and hosts leading symphony orchestras.

Later in the afternoon, we leave the European Union and cross the border into Croatia, with a cursory stop at a checkpoint. Here they use the kuna as currency instead of the euro, so we change some money to have cash for drinks, snacks, etc. The group arrives in Opatija, a pleasant, small resort city on the Adriatic Sea, just in time to watch the sunset over the water. It’s a marvelous way to finish the day’s ride. The Hotel Ambassador, a tall, modern facility with commanding views of the coastline and a small yacht harbor, will be our home for the next two nights.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the January/February 2012 back issue.