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The Alps 2022

Due to Franck having an extra week’s paid holiday, we had this year the possibility of a bigger trip than our usual long weekend. A chilly Sunday morning at The Super Sausage, had me, Adrian, James and French Franck fill our boots with a Full English and chew over the main options. On the table was the North Coast 500 (Scotland), all around Ireland, Land’s End to JOG, up Norway, Green Spain and The Alps. The Alps won.

While looking for bike rental companies in Italy, I found a firm that offered escorted tours twice a year, the framework of this trip, was as Adrian described ‘just what we are looking for’. It was called ‘All The Passes Alps Tour’ and crossed all the significant passes of the southern Swiss and Italian Alps, as well as a bit of the Italian Dolomites. It went up from Milan to the lakes, then via The Simplon Pass and Furka (Goldfinger) Passes, to then stay in Andermatt across the Swiss border. It then had you stay two nights with the next day doing a loop of the big passes in that area. The third day moves on to another area heading east and overnight, with the following day again doing a day’s riding as a loop. Slowly working across the Alps from the west towards the Dolomites. We added in an extra day to tour the Dolomites. The last day was a long ride and we needed to be nearer Milan to fly home, so we added ourselves the last stop at Lake Garda. This framework was our basic plan, it was a couple of weeks’ research by Franck, Adrian and Anthony for a suitable motorbike hire company. I checked out hotels and car hire, with Adrian later in the spring planning the actual daily riding routes.

Once we established that the group was heading to the Alps, the first major hurdle was to decide how do we get to the mountains, do we ride all the way there and back, or hire vehicles? Since Brexit, the option of shipping bikes overnight to Geneva was now unavailable. The deciding factor for us was that if we rode two days on autoroutes through France, we would have no enthusiasm left for the smashing roads when we arrived. Also, the long slog back would destroy our memories of mountain riding. In addition, the four days of travelling would reduce the time we could spend in the Alps, so for us who only had a week, this was the deciding factor, we had to fly and hire. We are so very glad we did.

First day – approx. 182 miles
A 430 am pick-up with Franck was my start. At T5’s Pret coffee shop, I needed to phone Franck to deliver his coffee, having lost him already in the coffee shop, a bad omen for the rest of the trip perhaps? Met up with the others, Robert and Jim met for the first time and are now car buddies. Simple flight, with most of us, sat nearby. Milan was damn hot and humid, R&J headed off to pick up the hire car and we jumped in a taxi for a three-minute ride to the bike rental depot on Linate’s perimeter. 

As is the norm, some top-level faffing around is needed with: paperwork, fitting in your kit to the panniers and leaving your aeroplane luggage with them. After a while, Anthony arrived dripping in sweat. Having come up from Rome on the train, then a bus that dropped him off the wrong side of a dual carriageway way, he looked like an exhausted donkey having walked a big detour to get to us. It was great to see him again. 

I was introduced to my bike first, then bizarrely unbeknown to me, they wheeled out Franck’s instead, so I promptly packed it up and photographed the scratches and scrapes. I later spotted Franck’s name taped to the front, so we swapped the panniers around. I should have left them, as later I found my bike only had half a tank of fuel and no cruise control grrrr! About an hour later than planned, we arrived at the RVP, a Mcdonald’s across the dual carriageway and met J&R. Sounds like they had their own top-level-faffing when trying to locate their hire car at the airport. A stinking hot terrace and confusion over waitress service (incredible at a Maccy Dee’s), but soon suitable filled up we all left around 1330 hrs and plodded on to the glory that is – a busy inner city Italian autoroute, NOT!.

Blimey lots of traffic and lots of trucks, it was bloomin’ hot and humid. A slight Sat nav error made us have to describe and circle detour which was frustrating, it seemed ages until we were back on track, but Adrian told me not. The first section of today’s ride was a long slog up the motorway north towards the Italian lakes. The rain had been forecast and it looked dodgy, with a severe weather warning being issued by the Sat nav, but due to the heat, we kept off the rain kit until needed. Bloody toll booths, what a nightmare on bikes at the best of times, we experienced the usual problem of them not accepting a credit card, plus dropping a glove and the most irritating, a car in front of the barrier stopped while they argued with a microphone on the toll booth. This required both Adrian and me to try and paddle back out the lane, (what seemed like 100 yards) with the concern that we would be hit up the chuff by another car entering the lane, grrr! Twice we had gone one junction on from the toll and had to turn off, very frustrating. The rain started and I couldn’t zip up my billowing jacket, there was no place to stop, so I huddled down on my tank as best I could, thankfully it was a brief shower.

Rather than continue along the autoroute, Adrian had routed us along Lake Maggiore, which was charming, lots of elegant hotels and villas, very 1930’s, but it was grey, damp and showery, not very inspiring. Before the boarder we filled up with cheaper Italian fuel.

After the lake, The Simplon pass was a super introduction to riding the passes, with lots of tunnels that had open-sided cloisters, it was busy with lots of trucks. Having stopped at the summit to add layers, Robert & Jim passed us in their white Jeep Renegade. So we jumped back on our bikes and headed off in pursuit of the hare. We did catch them up at a roadwork traffic lights, gave them a few waves and received a few gestures back.  Then had to hopscotch numerous trucks on the short stretches between big bends, good fun with inter-bike coms. Off the pass, we needed to top up and also try and buy the Swiss Motorway pass stickers, a lot of faffing and no success as they only had car stickers. It was late afternoon when had reached the Rhine Valley floor and then headed up the next big one, the Furka Pass, as seen in 007’s Goldfinger. The weather became uncooperative as it started to rain, thankfully there were very few cars on the road. The route up was very hard and very technical, with lots of extremely tight hairpin corners, needing lots of concentration. We had been riding for four-plus hours by then, so very tired. We missed the fabled 007 scene with JB looking down on Goldfinger with a girl assassin on the third level up. Also the famous hotel on the bend. Super scenery despite the rain, back down the other side was less steep, so had more gentle curves. Turning one corner and the rain just stopped like flicking a switch and the road was bone dry, yippee. It gave us the chance to open the throttles and enjoy the empty roads, as they say in motorbiking, we made good progress into Andermatt. 

We arrived just after 8 pm and met the Swiss Mr Fawlty, a grump gig. We then manoeuvred the bikes into a huge underground garage, chucked our gear in the rooms and headed straight out into now torrential rain, in desperate search of a restaurant, as most shut at 9 pm. J&R arrived at this point. A few steps away we found a pizza/ pasta place that was happy to feed and water us. Beers and piles of pizza and paste were just the ticket. All of us had started the day around 4 am, with seven or more hours of driving and added to that the stress of a wet Furka Pass, so after eating we gladly headed off exhausted to our beds. A good start to the trip despite the rain.

DAY 2 – approx. 104 miles
I woke to the sound of church bells, then the gentle tinkle of cow bells. What a contrast, with a bright blue clear sky, it put a spring in our step. We met the now-friendly hotel owner in the charming breakfast room in what seemed like the loft. The hotel was refurbished in lockdown and it’s smashing, and really stylish. He told us about last week’s yodelling and Alpenhorn festival for 40,000, he said it was four sleepless nights! Nice breakfast and listened to Jim’s encounter with the high-tech jetting WC! He is now known as ‘Sparkling Jim’.

Today was going to be a loop, heading north and in an anti-clockwise direction and then back to stay a second night in the same hotel. From two buildings away, I filled up with fuel, but a blowback meant the bike and my arms ended up drenched in petrol. In this unmanned station, I found an old oily rag so was able to wipe the bike down and avoid Andermatt’s first fireball, although my gloves didn’t arf whiff for the rest of the day. 

The town is in a valley, with high passes out in three directions. As we came out of the town, we soon entered the Susten Pass, it was fantastic with dry roads and little traffic. Throughout the day we saw more and more motorbikes, the odd Porsche and mental cyclists climbing these very steep mountains at a snail’s pace. No trouble with the traffic at any point. The morning was brilliant and if that was it and we had to return home, then we would have been very happy, so intense was the ride, views and weather. A quick stop at the top for some mucking around in the snow. Both up and down had not been as technically challenging as the previous evening, it made for a relaxed and happy morning for all. 

On the way up the next one Grimsel Pass, it was very forested and we enjoyed popping past cars, then about an hour on from the snow stop, we came across three huge dams. We turned off the pass road and drove across one dam to a big hotel with super views down the valley. In climbing up from the car park to get a good view, Adrian spotted an old gun emplacement which added to the interest, we meandered around and like dogs fertilised the flowers at various points. It was interesting to peer through the firing slot to see the section of the road that the gun would bracket. The summit was only a mile or two up from here and we planned to stop for lunch. To our excitement up here, a Swiss Airforce Puma chopper entertained us, we also saw a line of three-wheeler Can-Am trikes, which we had always thought would be suitable for James, so had a nice chat with them too. It was sunny but windy so went inside for barley soup, or foreign sausage and fries. As we had been cocking around at the dam, it had delayed us, Adrian then spotted J&R pull into the car park, so they joined us for lunch. All gasped at the bill for two 1 litre bottles of water at Euro 9 each!!

On to the next pass, it started to drizzle. A quick ‘I need my winter gloves stop’, that was orchestrated with little notice by French Franck (who didn’t have a coms device’ like the rest of us). This had the following Anthony coming into the layby HOT and with the added blast of wind on an adverse camber, had him as the first man down. A French cyclist got to him first and helped him up with the motorbike, we then arrived. Adrian and Anthony spent time re-attaching his pannier, while Franck took the opportunity to babble away with the cyclist and have right old Gallic gossip. Heading off again and a few turns later we had arrived at this summit, but with rain and snow! Thankfully the roads stayed dry on the other side, so it was a good rundown despite the sleet.

Gothard Pass was to be the last one of the day back into Andermatt. For this we took the old pass road, which turned out to be cobbles, blimey they were slippery, it was very steep and the hairpins even tighter than we had experienced, many of these bends needed to be taken in first gear! Both Adrian and I had a slide, but both stayed upright. Not that enjoyable but a great sense of achievement. A one-euro piss stop was needed as usual at the summit. Coming down was ok. 

Back at the pad, a few went for a pre-dinner beer this evening, but I wrote this instead. We then returned to the same establishment for dinner, I suspect due to the attractiveness of the waitress. It was a really good meal, goulash and another Alpine nosh.  We went for a post-dinner stroll to see the petrol station that appeared in Goldfinger, 007 having slashed her Mustang’s tyres with the Seton’s spinners. Tomorrow we move on with a 7 hours ride and with the rain forecast again, we’ll have to keep our fingers crossed! Franck had great news, Chanel had achieved a 2.1 Uni degree.

DAY 3 – approx. 195 miles
An earlier start as we had a long cross-country route to relocate towards the east.  We had varied weather all day with heavy rain, stair-rods, torrential rain, some light showers and biblical downpours. After two hours we had to stop, to try and relax, not only were wet through, but very most of us had tenses shoulders from the mountain roads in the rain. 

The second leg had us up the St Bernardino tunnels which is one of the busy passes, the traffic was bad with lots of trucks and the rain torrential. When darting around the trucks, those of us with comms had the ability to talk the others around the traffic and say when gaps appeared, much easier and safer. We lost Franck and many miles further on when we had to take a turn, he was no way near us, so we darted into an adjacent store car park, ready to flash madly for him to take the turn. Unbeknown to us he was so cold he stopped to try and run around and warm up. After 10-15 mins we agreed Adrian would return down the mountain as we thought he had crashed or broken down. When Adrian came to restart his bike, it asked for a PIN code and would not start, it seemed to have reset its electronics. After a while, Franck arrived and after much ineffective Googling of the Motor Guzzi online manuals, we pushed the bike up hill to a petrol station, to try and fix it out of the rain. Having stopped moving and being drenched we were all shivering. Miraculously R&J pulled into the same fuel station as we What’s zapped them, thinking we might need a seat in the Jeep for ACB. Adrian had found the standard factory set pin code but couldn’t enter it, the bike’s software seemed to be a different model. The fallback was to use both of the bike’s keys, not helpful as he was only given one! Despite being drenched and dealing with ‘PIN-Gate’, Adrian stayed remarkably calm. The rest of us tried to look useful and keep from irritating the others while discussing the fabled robustness of Italian electrics in the rain. Adrian and Anthony started a long dialogue with the rental company in Milan to try and solve this. Once they had spent some time battling their way through ‘The bleeding obvious’. As with PC’s the solution turned out to be, to uncouple the battery, wait thirty seconds and try again. Amazingly it worked, much the everyone’s relief, this had taken an hour.

So we all quickly re-grouped and headed up the St Bernadine summit pass itself, in the still pouring rain, now with added fog as we reached the summit. On the way up we passed a dozen old chaps on tinny seventies vintage mopeds, amazed they made it up and in such hard conditions. We found a 200-year-old hotel at the top and made an RV with R&J. The interior didn’t appear to have been renovated in a century and seemed like a castle inside, a very atmospheric place. In a tight formation, we all went for barley soup to try and stop the shivers. While jackets and gloves gently steamed and dripped, having been skilfully draped around anything that didn’t move or was not another guest. Having left at 8 am and it was now 2 pm, we had only done half the distance, so had to head off into the rain smart-is, a dismal prospect.

Another two hours had our wet gloves, necks and boots icy cold and we had started to make mistakes, so went for a pit stop for warm drinks and in one person’s case a Tart Tartan (it was FP, not me). J&R joined us here later, and then we all went up the Juliette Pass and down into a busy Saint Moritz to experience its rush hour traffic. An uncooperative Sat nav took us up and down the wrong hillside road. The Autoroute, later on, was shut due to an accident, so we suddenly found our quiet road jammed solid in both directions, progress was hard. We wound around the mountainsides with the silent Autoroute above us. Too much traffic to be able to filter much, so it took a long time. The next leg was into Italy along a valley floor with local cars right up our tail lights, very scary as the demanding roads were awash with water with visibility nominal. This day was a 7-8 hour ride in some of the worst conditions I have ever ridden in, what a trial it was, all of us arrived drenched and frozen.

Thankfully our Livigno hotel (we are back in Italy) is smashing and Franck charmed the receptionist to open up the ski room, so we have biking boots on the hot-air ski boot racks; a full tumble dryer load; all be bedroom radiators loaded up, plus Adrian cunningly located the hotel’s boiler room with dozens of hot pipes to lay on the sodden socks and jackets, for them to spend the night steaming. 

The hotel owner also has two restaurants and guests got a 10% discount and a free taxi each way, so it was a ‘no-brainer’ for us. It was a good meal, we started with wood platters pilled with cured Alpine meats and sausages, then some had steaks, others a dozen prawns suspended from something that appeared no normally hang bananas. There had been complaints of me snoring (due to the deplorable pillow situation) so I dared to have a cocktail rather than beer, it made no difference and I now seemed to be called Margarita! By now a pattern has emerged, Anthony is a top-level-faffer taking some time to organise himself, and Rob & Jim leave planning the day’s drive once there are sat in their car. Adrian getting a bit fed up with leading all the time, so we are taking turns while still under his instruction. Franck is ignored much of the day due lack of a coms unit.

DAY 4 – approx. 129 miles
Beautiful and bright, with most of us wearing something that’s still damp. Adrian was quite dry until he sat on his bike seat, which had become a giant sponge the previous day. This day’s ride was originally a loop, but we adjusted the next overnight to stay near the bottom of the Stelvio Pass. It was a lovely day in the sun, the Bernini Pass was especially nice, as it was Saturday there were lots of bikes and cyclists. Coming down Bernini, Adrian points out the multiple viaducts that went around us, theses made the trains circle round and round gaining altitude. A pleasant mid-morning break on the patio of a small wood chalet, adjacent to a rail tunnel entrance. We then motored through Davos a very spread-out town, stopping across from their golden hotel, for Franck’s strange photo shoot. Then up to the summit for lunch by a lake. At this point, we have just realised this is an expensive way to do things, but the views are usually a bonus. It was very hot and sunny, Franck having swapped tops to the delight of the waitress and the camp waiter, who painfully gave us a mini-lecture on the superior nature of Swiss bread. Managed again to make this the RVP with J&R. Going down the other side, with rather tight turns and with few overtaking straights, we had a bunch of other bikes tight on our tail. I had a most enjoyable 10-20 mins keeping as tight to Franck’s bum as possible, to stop them breaking our group up, it was immense fun doing the switchbacks in this formation. Later we started to climb another pass and met with dozens of vintage tractors coming down, all brightly painted, and clean, often with seats mounted to the mudguards and parasols, it was a proper carnival atmosphere for everyone, except the cars, bikes and cycles stuck in between them.

Our overnight stop was in Bormeo in a very grand old Spa hotel on the slopes looking down the valley. While Anthony phoned all the restaurants in town to try and find a table for six on a Saturday night, almost impossible. Franck and I headed off to the spa kitted out in our towelling robes and in my case, very effeminate hotel slippers. Once in the dungeons, there were a couple of big indoor pools which you could swim or wade outside to infinity pools looking down on the gardens and the town below. Franck having been here before was excited about a room with a great big waterfall that ran the full length, for top-level pummelling of the shoulders, it was great fun. Adrian and Anthony joined us and we tried the multiple pool tubs and swimming pools scattered around the huge gardens. Rob & Jim having ascended and descended the Stelvio in error twice, had arrived late and despite having mastered What Three Words, couldn’t locate us in the grounds, they did eventually and so had a truncated tour with us as time was running out. The consensus was that it was too expensive to eat here, so a minibus took us to a pizza restaurant run by a rather aggressive chap who was a little rude to Anthony as we waited on the spiral stairs with a long line of diners. Due to the Anglo insults thrown at us and despite his accent, Anthony was able to convince the locals in the line that he wasn’t like us Brexiters, as he lived in Rome. He received a few consoling nods in reply and was told the owner was rude to everyone, it was his calling card. We eventually obtained a table, but it took them 40 mins to serve us, we had a good meal but decided against pudding to be able to get out this side of midnight. Franck persuaded us the 30 min walk would do our digestion the world of good. It turned out to be 45 mins, uphill and at altitude, I hated it, wheezing my way back uphill, the low point for me on the trip. Clearly even more unfit than I thought! Back in the room Franck seemed delighted with his princess bed and seemed to sleep like the good boy he is.

Day 5 – approx. 138 miles
What an incredible venue it was for breakfast, a very grand hall, the culinary experience was pretty memorable too. The odd couples walking around in their towelling robe was just shameful in such a place, we should have had words with the management. I think we all liked the idea of returning here again and everyone had forgotten the extra cost. I left with my panniers stuffed with all the bathroom potions for Mary and Katy that I could get my hands on. We had a reasonably early start to try and not be stuck behind too much traffic on the Stelvio, we checked out about 0900 hrs.

Immediately outside the hotel’s grand iron gates was the road leading up the mountain. Another beautiful ascent to the top, with a green valley much of the way, this is one of the three routes to the Stelvio, but not the famous side with the multiple bends. As we came up the steeper sections nearing the summit it was obvious there was something on due to the stream of bicycles charging down towards us. Us four bikers pulled over gingerly to a gravel parking lot to take some shots of the Stelvio signpost, but it took quite some time to cross the road in both directions. It would appear that we had managed to coincide with the cycle race and its 3,000 entrants now coming up the mountain towards us. When planning the trip, it was one of the focal points ‘doing The Stelvio’ and yet here and now we didn’t feel it was that important, having ridden so many spectacular passes already. I also hadn’t clocked that we would be coming down the Stelvio and not going up it. Once back on the bikes and slipped into the traffic it was a minute or two to get to the summit. When we did it was mayhem and jam-packed. The exhausted cyclists took up the road, there was a lot of agro trying to squeeze the motorbikes through this throng, I am not quite sure how many toes I ran over or the shins I clipped. There were very few manners shown by these continentals, so I have little compassion, despite the amazing achievement it was for them climbing the pass. I am not sure how Jim n Robert fared in their Jeep. A quick stop after the crowds for some photos of the famous twisting road below us. We then aimed downhill and into the herd of puffing and gasping cyclists coming up, with a few clearly very frustrated cars crawling upwards too. On our bikes we can slip in and out, but cars on an uphill route need gaps to overtake and slip into but give the 3000 in the bike race, space there was not! Glad we did it, but not the best pass we rode, it was far too busy to try it uphill and back down again, anyway, we needed to get to the Dolomites. We stopped about 2/3rds of the way down for a photo and then again at the bottom to stretch our arms. We found here a pretty red Porsche tractor that had been on yesterday’s vintage tractor rally. It had only taken half an hour from our stop at the Stelvio sign, to our second stop on the downhill section.

The rest of the route that day was more passes including the Jaufenpass Passo de Giovo and Timmelsjoy. We managed to video as we sped past a posse of day-glow Lamborghinis and Ferraris, we also came across a splinter group of tractors too. Across into Italy and in a valley, we hit some bad traffic jams, filtering was a problem with our panniers, a very frustrating hour (I think). We stopped for fuel at a small deserted petrol station that looked to be in someone’s driveway, so Frank went for a pissed in their garden. Due to the traffic, it was a late lunch stop and we tried to stop at small lakeside café but they had stopped serving. In the u-turn needed, I dropped my bike, like most of us I was hot and tired. A couple of locals stopped in a car to help me lift it up. We did find a really nice outdoor restaurant with big umbrellas for shade, the bonus was their traditionally dressed waitresses. We met Robert and Jim at the next summit for a break. The remainder of the route had the mountains changing into the spiky Dolomites. We rode with our jackets open and something very stingy bounced around my chest trying to get out, leaving me in a very uncomfortable state with multiple bites.

We finally arrived at Selva di Gardena near Colcofsco in the early evening sunshine, it was clearly a modern resort but had a nice character. The hotel was a bit awkward to locate, Robert and Jim leaving evidence in the form of tyre marks at the wrong hotel as they tried to wheel spin up their steep driveway (they later spotted the staff cleaning off the burnt rubber). Once we had located the pad, we circumnavigated the town to look for the entertainment centre. I headed off to a pharmacist, another sting for me as it was Euro16 for the tube of anti-bite jell, but it did work well. Although it took a long time for me to re-find the hotel. Our charming wood chalet was next to a hibernating chair lift, it was on a slope with great views of the green pastures and mountains around us. There was a huge underground garage beneath, with a Tracy Island Thunderbird 2’s hanger vibe. Lots of adults-only signs and a very unusual décor, clearly designed for the winter season, these had Jim convinced it was a swinger’s hotel, or at the least a brothel. Despite the strange swing seats in the restaurant, there was no other evidence to support this. We had a few chilled beers in the warm sun on the terrace. That evening we walked downhill to the small village’s semi-circular centre. Most of us were pretty peckish and went for a polenta specialist restaurant, much to Jim’s annoyance, although I think he grudgingly liked it in the end. I get the impression the rest of us really enjoyed it, despite the food looking like a Cumberland sausage sunk in a sea of semolina. The ice cream deserts are sculptures of apples etc, but Adrian’s cigar was by far the best.

DAY 6 – approx. 131 miles
This day trip around the Dolomites was planned by Anthony. It started off on The Sella Ronda, which in winter is a linked set of ski runs that encircles the Ronda Mountain, which takes a full day to do, in neither direction. There are roads that mimic the route and are favourites of cyclists. Adrian and I have skied here before and enjoyed returning to one summit that was very familiar to us and was the border in WW1 with artillery pieces still rusting in the hills, pointing towards the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

On a particularly busy switch-back, we came across two motorbikes down on the ground. We pulled over as a group and helped lift off one bike from the other. They had both been going in the same direction and fallen just after the apex of a right-hand uphill turn. Once up the chap brushed himself off and swiftly left. The fella under him was most indignant, as the other biker had lost his balance and fallen on top of him as he passed, but didn’t have the courtesy to say sorry. Both chaps and their bikes were fine, I suspect the crash was at a very low speed. It was the only incident we saw on the whole trip.

At one mountainside stop after an especially super downhill section, we pulled off into a gravel parking place for a piss and found a park bench with a noble view and so created a dead cool image of the four bikers looking well manly. Late morning Anthony brought us to a beautiful powder blue lake nestled in the mountains, with a steep bank and a titchy grey gravel beach. I tip-toed down to find the gravel collapse and my boots start to sink, so a very undignified and swift exit was sort. Panting back at the top, I then found Adrian giggling and claiming that I fell in, which was not how I would have described it, but the end result was probably the same! My muddy boots stayed for the rest of the trip and were unhelpful in my claim to have not fallen in, an aspect of the trip that seems reluctant to be forgotten!

Anthony found us a super spot for lunch at Ristorante al Lago. Apart from Franck’s shirt-free Putin impersonation, it was perfect. A millpond calm lake with the mountains reflected in crystal clear water. The restaurant sat on stilts in the lake, but we had a long table on a deck by the water’s edge, all six once again under an umbrella. The image of Jim paddling with probably stay with us all for years, like a 60’s Skegness postcard. There was some more lakeside riding and back up into the mountains. At Jouf de Sela we stopped for some rather Instagram-suitable shots of us nonchalantly leaning against railings with a dramatic valley below. The afternoon was full of lots of nice riding, plus the now infamous video of us charging past the Honeymoon couple in the white Jeep. That afternoon we stopped at the summit of another pass, some had a drink in the shade, and Franck chose to top up his tan. A few weeks after the trip, we saw that on the other edge of this café there was a huge avalanche killing at least 7 people trekking along a path and taking much of the mountainside away with it. That night we walked to a small pizza restaurant and ate another in their wooden basement, another nice meal.

Day 7 – approx. 138 miles
The group was now heading out the mountains towards Lake Garda in the south, but thankfully we still had some nice curves and passes to do before arriving at Bolzena and turning left down the main river valley going south. From here on it was rather boring, with quite a bit of traffic, much of it along roads running high up one side of the valley. It was monotonous, but we spotted a small curve of grass in a forested area for a break. After what seemed like hours we arrived at the lake and spotted a small picturesque palazzo on the lakeside, the shabby chic style that you would only find in Italy (or France or Spain). We found tables on a terrace by the water’s edge and sat waiting for Jim & Robert to arrive, then at that point, it started to rain, so we all scurried inside for a rather dark and dingy lunch. The forecast had said rain and yes, boy did it tip-it-down as we started to navigate around the lakeside tunnels. We lost Franck who was not kitted up for the rain and had peeled off. I then stopped for a biker who had most of his engine apart distributed along the lay bye and no breakdown assistance, with his campervan 60 km away. I was unable to help, so offered a shrug and found the others. The lake is said to be very beautiful, but we couldn’t see much and have been in the mountains, what we did see all seemed so busy and congested to me.

Our overnight was in this charming little historic hotel, located in a small port on the west bank of Lake Garda. With a pool and a large garden, the majority of which was a car park, full of Ferraris and other wealthy Germans play things. It was nice and hot, some of us had a dip and an hour or so reading or squabbling by the pool. We ate outside a short walk away, but with the threat of rain, there was some top faffing around with us manipulating the umbrellas, probably much to the annoyance of the other diners. Pudding was planned to be at the gelato booth near the hotel, but they had closed early. The café next door came to the rescue with these strange fridge puds, possibly made with mascarpone or provolone, but with different fruit or syrups on top, smashing!

Day 8 – originally approx. 82 miles
A quick breakfast re-think had Adrian cut the corner off the route and after an alfresco breakfast we mounted up the steel steeds for the last time, heading towards Milan’s Linate Airport. Within what seems only a short time we had lost Franck, as he seemed to head in another direction off a roundabout. In town the sat navs rarely agreed, so we assumed he would find Milan eventually. Not having ridden motorways much on this trip it was horrid and hot too. We had a brief break to wobble the head and rotate the shoulders, then headed back on the Autoroute and promptly missed a major junction for the airport which needed a detour. Franck tells us his sat nav also played up at that point too. As I hadn’t been given a full tank initially, I was not bothered about turning up with only ¾ of a tank, so the other two went to find a fuel station as I headed in to drop off the bike. All went well, with Franck a little frazzled having had problems locating a petrol station. We made an RVP at the airport’s left luggage to drop off the kit and then with Anthony’s bags distributed among us, went into town on the bus. We then left his luggage at the station’s busy Left Luggage and started an aimless wander around looking for lunch. We didn’t have enough time to see anything significant and hadn’t bothered to plan anything, so ended up eating outside at a city slickers lunch café next to a road junction, but it was pleasant enough to say our goodbyes. We then kicked Antony onto a train and barged our way onto the airport bus, then flew home. A bit of agro at the end, as it took something like an hour and a half (or poss longer?) for the BA aircraft to find an empty stand and to deliver the luggage to us. I think Anthony was well home and toasting us at that point

Our once-in-a-lifetime trip has inspired us all to do it again!

Some naff weather on a few days, but apart from that there was very little we would change. Some feel a 7 day trip would have been better and I agree, but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the Dolomites on day 6.

Odd and ends

From Milan the route goes northwest, moves west to east, then heads southwest back to the start, describing a big fat pizza slice.

All the accommodation had parking and places to eat within walking distance, except in Bolzano at the Spa.

Bike hire for eight days, with a medium-sized BMW 900, bank on approx. Euro 110/day inc insurance. All come with solid panniers and as we booked a group of four we had phone cradles provided at no extra charge.

Fuel in Switzerland was expensive and unless the vehicle already has one from a previous hirer that year, you will need to buy a Swiss Vignette/motorway pass (in the form of a sticker) for your windscreen.

All the passes are different and it will need a day before you get used to just how tight the u-turns can be. Some are so sharp and steep that you need to be in first gear even though you are on a motorbike! An enjoyable skill once acquired. The under-one-litre turbo engine Jeep by all accounts took some time to balance its power delivery with the technique needed for the hairpins turns. By all accounts that first wet and steep Furka Pass was a pretty horrid experience for them.

Having helmet coms units will at least double your enjoyment, not only for directions, but it is also helpful to give the all-clear when overtaking or cutting the corners on the passes. With three or more riders the communication net is spread very wide and ensures communication around the mountainsides. We had Cardo Pack Talk Pros.

We hired a mix of Moto Guzzi and BMW’s. Rather than big adventure bikes such as a GS, I would suggest you consider something lighter than your norm. As there are a lot of adverse cambers and gravel to stop on, I feel a lighter more nimble bike is best and is certainly more suitable than the BMW RT1200 I have at home.

Even in high summer, it can be cold and wet at the summits, we had two out of 8 very rainy days, as well as the odd bit of sleet and snow, this was in June. So dress as you would for an autumn ride in the UK.

There are lots of motorbikes, some sports cars and hundreds of cyclists on the passes, but it all works well. Especially on a motorbike, you can soon dismiss anything slow.

We had planned this as a once in a lifetime trip, but are all desperate to go back! Looking back now at the photos and Adrian’s GoPro videos, the stupendous scenery was the most memorable element of the trip for me.