Europe: Royal Riding from Vienna to Nice

Text: Doris Wiedemann • Photography: Doris Wiedemann

Teaming up with Moto Adventures to scout out roads for upcoming tours from Vienna to Nice, I arrive in Klosterneuburg, north of the Austrian capital. Company headquarters are located there between a church and residences dating from the horse and oxcart eras of the 12th century, but the carriages chosen for us - the BMW F 650, a KTM 900 and Ducati 1098 - are decidedly modern. No need to bring any parasols or sachets of lavender along. However, with the dizzying heights to come on such a trip, packing some smelling salts may be a prudent precaution.

In the morning, we quickly link up with Vienna's short but marvelous Ringstrasse. The construction of this broad horseshoe-shaped avenue was decreed by Emperor Franz Joseph I. The road, which was begun in 1857, opened to traffic in 1913, and in those intervening years, a massive, end of the century building boom also took place in and around its semi-circle. Virtually every architectural style and element of the times is exquisitely expressed in the opulent immensity of the homes and governmental buildings standing there.

We start our sightseeing at the incredible Hofburg. Once a Gothic castle transformed into a palace for the Hapsburgs, it has expanded into a multi-winged, interconnected Art Nouveau vastness that now encompasses the official residence of Austria's president, the National Library, the Treasury, some 10 museums, and even The Spanish Riding School, where the Lipizzaners still have more than enough room to practice dressage.

Then there is the (Neo-Romantic) Opera House, the beauty of the Burgtheater's (Baroque) marble façade, the Flemish flourishes in the (Gothic) Rathaus, and finally the city's (Italian Renaissance) university to marvel at and contemplate before we settle down in the midst of all the splendor to rest and enjoy our simple, soothing cups of coffee at the Café Landtmann. In doing that, perhaps we should look to the east with some appreciation for the Turkish influences in Vienna too. For without them, the coffeehouse culture that sprang up here might not have won over the West.

Another interesting tidbit of the many worth sharing about the Ringstrasse: none other than the great Dr. Sigmund Freud used to stroll its 2.5 mile length each day. And before we can ride away from it, we have one more landmark to see along the ring, the Romanesque/Gothic masterpiece known as St. Stephen's Cathedral. Housing 13 huge bells, its South Tower is 447.5-feet high, which became the height limit that no builder of spires could aspire to exceed throughout the country during the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy (1867-1918).

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