“Singing not allowed,” reads the German sign at the entrance to the beer garden—a rather tough and unusual rule, especially in Bavaria, where the largest fair in the world is held. But Oktoberfest was yesterday. Today is our first riding day on an organized tour with Rob and Gretchen of Beach’s Motorcycle Adventures. They will lead us through the highest passes of the Alps to Corsica, one of the most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean, and then over to Tuscany, the touristic landmark of Italy.
Our first stop is a beer garden in Andechs that is known all over Bavaria for brewing a strong and flavorful beer. The brewery belongs to a 1000-year-old Benedictine Abbey, which might explain the strange sign. We can see the striking mountain range of the Alps from the abbey’s hill, and for the next hour we head in that direction. A secondary road takes us through rolling green hills to the dark green waters of Forggensee Lake, where we’re treated to a particularly impressive panorama of the towering mountains. A path along a small river leads us into them—and into another country. We’re in Austria now, but you may not know it if you missed the small sign. The landscape is well manicured and equally pretty. A similar inconspicuous transition and we are back in Bavaria to attempt the first alpine pass. At an altitude of 4,659 feet, Riedbergpass isn’t a giant, but it’s a great introduction of what’s to come in the next few days.
Furkajoch pass is a different matter. At 5,778 feet, it offers an outstanding view of the rugged Swiss Alps in the west. The ride down requires full attention as the pavement is not much wider than a car. After a long descent, we surprisingly end up between some small vineyards. Our cozy Austrian hotel, only a couple of miles away, is tucked into the historic part of Feldkirch right underneath a hill where the town’s castle sits.
Across the Alps
Today’s agenda has us crossing the Alps from north to south. Following the wide Rhine Valley, we soon reach Liechtenstein. As it is one of the smallest countries in the world, we cross it within a couple of minutes, stopping only at traffic signals. Going farther up the Rhine, the sun is still shining, but we’re hit by sudden heavy winds strong enough to shake small branches from the trees. The wind is almost hot. It must come directly from the south. The constricting valley acts like a funnel to enforce power. Up ahead, we see the reason for the strange weather. Hovering right above the highest mountain peaks are near-black clouds—and that’s the way we have to go! At the end of the valley where the wall of rock seems impenetrable, we are offered a choice. As tempting as it is to take the easy way through the tunnel along the highway that avoids the highest altitude, it just feels like cheating. It is not raining yet, so we opt for the pass.
Hairpin after hairpin, we climb into the treeless landscape of grass and lichens of all shades of brown between the rocks. The dark clouds make the stunning scene appear surreal. This is our reward, but our punishment soon follows. A bit down the pass, it starts to rain. It doesn’t seem too bad compared to the amount of water that must have just come down at Lake Maggiore. There is still flooding in places, and some large trees in the beautifully maintained gardens are cracked. At our destination, a grand hotel on the lake, big waves are splashing onto the shore.