Expectations were high when Christa, the publisher of RoadRUNNER, asked me to put together my favorite route through Europe for her readers. “Great, how much time would they have? Two months? Maybe three?” I asked. “12 days,” was her short and definite response. That’s when it got tricky. Through my travels I have been to all the worthwhile places for motorcycles in Central Europe, and there are many. In 12 days? Impossible. Then I began to give it a second thought.
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One place I’ve remembered since my first visit is the Grand Canyon du Verdon in Southern France. I was stunned then and still am upon return. The name reminds one of the Grand Canyon in the United States, and its impact is similar, too, but the scenery is different and it’s not as huge. But it has one big plus: There is a breathtaking road with endless corners that leads right along the edge. Getting there requires crossing the western half of the Alps, which offer the highest passes and mountains on the continent and probably the most spectacular roads as well. The diversity of this tour is another plus: five different countries with different cultures and such geographical extremes as glaciers, the blossoming lavender fields, and the palm trees at the Mediterranean shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe, Lago Maggiore.
I start in southern Bavaria, which is easy to reach by plane from the BMW city of Munich. It’s pretty and right at the edge of the Alps. For this scouting adventure my wife, Danica, joins me. She’ll be a good indicator of whether the distance is comfortable on a pillion and if there is enough road variety. In early evening we reach the traditional town of Bad Tölz, Germany, which is so pretty it’s used as the stage of a TV series. After we check in to our hotel we enjoy a Bavarian beer in the traffic-free center, taking in all the beautifully painted houses around us.
Our first choice of the journey is easy to make. There is a nice, lonely road that leads us past Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze. We take a break at a café at the top of Fern Pass, which at 9,725 feet has the best view. Soon afterward we descend into the broad alpine valley of the large Inn River in Austria. An insider’s tip takes us to Piller Heights, with its spectacular lookout into the valley 3,000 feet below. Tranquility and view qualify the restaurant up here as a perfect venue for a lunch stop.
The Engadin, a picturesque area of Switzerland, is just around the corner, and we have to make a difficult decision. From here two big passes, Flüela and Albula, lead across a towering mountain range. We go for the Albula because it gives us the opportunity to see a historic train. Also, the narrow road on the downhill side is more demanding and a more interesting ride. Another plus: At the bottom we reach the small mountain town of Bergün. “We have to stay here,” Danica says. She immediately likes the place, and I can see why. This area has a well-preserved history, visible from each of its medieval-looking houses.