Europe: Royal Riding from Vienna to Nice

Europe: Royal Riding from Vienna to Nice
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.

Europeans gravitate to the Dolomite Mountains for hiking, climbing, skiing and, of course, motorcycling.

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).

We were free to engage in other activities that afternoon, and I thought a visit to a typical Viennese Heurigen (wine tavern) for a little Gemütlichkeit and samplings of the local vintages and food from the buffet sounded like a good time. But since we were scheduled for an early start the next day, we instead ordered some pizza and got our rest.

A clear blue, icy cold alpine lake on the heights of the Passo di Gavia.

Turned Away in Pogusch

The next day, Alex, our tour guide, and tour director Jakob and his girlfriend Monika meet me at the hotel. Starting our engines, we head out, stopping briefly at the Kahlenberg lookout to bid the panorama of Vienna farewell before continuing over the twisting terrain that crosses the Wienerwald (the Vienna Woods). As we travel on through the countryside, climbing into the Alps, thousands of sunflowers are lifting their heads to track the sun.

We're off our bikes and seated for lunch in Kalte Kuchel (Cold Kitchen), which, in actuality, is an Austrian hotspot where fellow motorcyclists like to meet. The prices are reasonable, the food is good and service is fast. And the abundance of like-minded people guarantees a cheerful atmosphere. Located amid the twists and turns between the Ochsattel (Ox Saddle), at 3,100 ft, and the towering Schneeberg (Snow Mountain), 6,880 ft, it also guarantees that you'll work up quite an appetite going from or coming there.